The question of finding the time to define the future of theatre while being deeply immersed in making theatre was one of the main questions on my mind during the conference From Where I Stand: Canadian Theatre in Context this past weekend. I was glad to take a break from my many school projects to join in on this reflection of Canadian theatre history in conversation with other students and invited theatre practitioners from across the country.
The conference was opened with a wine and cheese Friday night. While waiting for Sarah Stanley’s keynote address I took a moment to look around me and acknowledge some of the most inspiring performers, technicians, managers, designers, writers and directors that I have ever met. I took Sarah’s guidance to heart. She said, in this country we should always act like we will meet again because Canadian theatre is still that small. While at the school it is easy to focus on our individual experiences determined by our specific program demands, I think it is essential that we bear witness to our parallel artistic development and how they differ from
program to program. After all once we move past these walls we will inevitably meet again so why not start getting to know each other as best we can now?
With just enough time to digest I joined my fellow students for a main course of theatre wisdom at the long table discussion on Saturday morning. Listening to all of the contributors define where they stand as being build from where they came from got me thinking about my own roots. I was brought straight back to summers savouring local stories at 4th Line Theatre. Being a small-town girl from central Ontario is one of the many lenses through which I experience theatre. As my focus has expanded past that I have often wondered if I could return and if so what that place would have to offer me now? After so much time away from home the more important question is, is there something relevant I could offer in return?
I left the farm to get a taste of the theatre scene in Toronto. The most nourishing experience was interning with the education outreach department at Soulpepper Theatre, facilitating story-telling workshops with youth with little-to-no previous theatre experience. Since I have been in Montreal my time has been more focused on my own personal artistic development with less energy to dedicate to community outreach. Which is why Annabel Soutar’s statement about theatre as a niche community that only speaks to itself really touched me. This movement from
a one-sided artistic monologue to a dialogue with non-theatre makers is what I think is really important in our active re-imagining of what theatre can be in the future. I truly believe that this should be part of our education at every stage in our development.
Another particular lens of mine that I would like to expose is that the last three years of my life have been spent in another dialogue, constantly in translation. The costume and set design program is the only bilingual program at the school in one of the only bilingual cities in Canada. Montreal has offered me a whole new palette to create from which has relied on a constant dialogue over difference which I think is essential in understanding the future of Canadian theatre. From where I stand, on my way out the door of NTS, I hope to continue having these conversations from different perspectives exposing not only the contrast between
anglophone and francophone theatre in Canada but also posing an inquiry into all other conflicting national narratives. Such as questioning why indigenous theatre in Canada has been pushed past the fringes of the festival circuit of our own country, finding a more engaged audience in the international scene.
If we take the time to gather like this more often, the question of what theatre in the future will be becomes much easier to swallow. I have no idea if I will be returning home after I graduate, working in a professional or educational context or in which language or culture I will be immersed. But I do know that wherever I end up I will be collaborating within a community.
We will be actively engaging in the future together not only through the work we do but equally through the conversations we have about the relevancy of this work. We have to continue taking time outside of our busy schedules to reflect on the theatre we are so busy making. If we can continue to come together, despite distance or difference, we will be able to share this experience of re-imagining Canadian theatre, one small bite at a time.