Your house has a smell.
Not a good smell or a bad smell. Just a smell. You probably don’t notice the smell because you live there. You’re used to it.
Whiteness as a social construct is like the smell of your house. We don’t really notice it because we’re used to it as the default.
Every so often, a situation arises that raises awareness of the sets of assumptions and conventions in place based on the assumed default of Whiteness. Google #OscarsSoWhite, “Black Hermione”, or “Mother Courage/Tonya Pinkins.”
Over the past 18 months, several situations have arisen that challenge Vancouver’s theatre community to examine assumptions around race and representation onstage: the ReaCT open letter to the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards Society addressing under-representation of artists of colour among the Jessie board, juries, nominees and award-winners; a letter to Arts Club Theatre decrying the representation of a Chinese character in their production of A Christmas Story: the Musical; and, most recently, actions (1, 2) by the Latino community challenging the casting of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Motherfucker with the Hat.
Each instance pushed Vancouver’s theatre community to re-examine values and expectations, current practices and possible alternatives, and what shared principles – if any – the community has the right to hold itself accountable for.
In this edition of #cdncult, we’ve collected three perspectives on Vancouver’s on-going discussion. Pedro Chamale writes about the tensions between finding his voice as an artist and advocate. Amy Lynn Strilchuk unpacks some White Girl guilt and discusses how entire organizations can promote change. And Lisa C. Ravensbergen poses a possible process to communally develop shared values and best practices around race, representation and cultural production.
This edition is not as a definitive portrait of the Vancouver theatre community’s struggles with “diversity”, but rather a snapshot of a community in flux that is, most importantly, willing to consider change.
Time to open the windows and let some fresh air into the house.