Thought Residency: Jenna Rodgers

Thought Residency: Jenna Rodgers


I’m coming to you live from Vancouver, where I’m attending my first ever Push Festival. I’m wrapping up this residency in such a fitting way: surrounded by artists, thinkers, and makers who have gathered to celebrate and promote an international sharing of artistic work. That, and to celebrate the escape from the polar vortex that is plaguing the rest of Canada. Though, perhaps that, too, is a metaphor. We can’t ever truly escape the shit. The good weather and the bad are both connected to the imminent destruction of global warming, which we can pretend isn’t happening, just because it’s nice outside. We are in the muck too… and much of our best art comes from a place of trying to work through the shit that surrounds us, and generate something meaningful and relevant. So, I thank you for trying to glean meaning from this month of thoughts and questions, and I look forward to all the thoughts and questions that come as we continue to make our way through the muck.


The Bell Let’s Talk mental health campaign is ramping up, and I know this because I keep seeing their advertisements all over bus stops in every city I visit. And as I scroll through my never-ending Facebook feed, knowing that a deluge of mental health posts is coming… I’m thinking about taking a break. Which is maybe the opposite of what’s supposed to happen? And I acknowledge my year has been great, and I don’t have anything to complain about, yet I can feel the low drone of anxiety building. Maybe it’s the lack of sunlight, or the air pressure from the many chinooks we have had this year. Or maybe it’s this industry. It feels impossible to do enough, to be enough, to support all the people I care about, and to still take care of myself. So, yeah. I think I’m going to take a break, just for a bit. Until I can hold all the love and care and compassion I need to make art in this world.


Good morning. Today I’m on an airplane and … thinking about my carbon footprint, which has been significantly worse this past year, as I’ve had the great opportunity and privilege to travel quite a bit with work. Um. So how do we responsibly offset our carbon footprints? The amount that I fly can’t be fixed by vegetarianism alone. What are some other options?


It is widely acknowledged that our theatre industry is facing many challenges: declining audiences, declining revenues, and a lack of cultural diversity to name a few. How do we turn sinking ships? When is the right time to let something come to an end, and when do you play all your cards for an unprecedented resurrection? How do you gracefully close the doors of an organization? Who has the answers to these questions?


Hi. Good morning. I just did a facemask – #selfcare – one of those cute Tonymoly sheet masks that are trendy, or were trendy a year ago – I can’t keep track. It was labeled “brightening”, and packaged in a zingy yellow wrapper. I put it on my face, and then read the description on the back: “lemon mask makes dull and dark skin look radiant”. Oh. Good morning. Fuck the beauty industry and the microaggressions written on packaging for women’s skin care products that endeavour to teach any young woman that their body – their skin – might need to change for anyone else. Your skin is radiant no matter what tone!


I’ve just started work on two new play process in different stages of development. One is in very early days, and the other is well on its way to production. And… I’m reminded of how incredible playwrights are, and how their minds need to be cherished. They are our world builders, our storytellers, and the nerve centre of our theatrical process. So this morning, I’m offering a thank you to all of the playwrights who have led the way with bravery, talent, and generosity. Thank you.


In the world of equity, diversity, and inclusion work… I often feel like shows that are hopeful are ones in which the equity-seeking body has done the lion’s share of the work for the audience member. The show is palatable, consumable, satisfying. I had dinner with JD Derbyshire tonight, and she shared with me that in Zen Buddhism, the goal is to live fully in the present, so there is little place for hope, because hope inherently looks to the future. This really resonated with me, and my feelings about theatre lately. Not because I think looking to the future or having hope is a bad thing, but that I think it’s necessary and urgent to acknowledge where we are at, and that there’s a long way yet to go.


We’ve had our puppy, Bramble, for four weeks now. She just turned 12 weeks on the weekend, and starts puppy classes this week. And I am reflecting on how fun it’s been to have her in our lives, and how much change a small little creature can introduce into your world in a very short period of time. I’m thinking about how she’s teaching me patience, and how easy she makes it to see what’s really important.


This past weekend, my company, Chromatic Theatre participated in the 10-Minute Play Festival as part of the opening weekend of the High Performance Rodeo. A longstanding tradition – six companies are invited to create a 10 minute play in 24 hours with only a prop and a prompt. I’d like to share a line from our team’s silly creation, Sparking Joy with Karie Mondo: “Your homework is to take some time to think about how the white gaze can prohibit you from living your true joy. She wants you to really reflect on the process of decolonizing your mind. This way, you begin to step into your power and live your truth”.


Today, I am thinking about audiences. Who doesn’t show up? And how do we open doors for them to do so? Is the theatre flexible enough to be relevant to outsiders? Especially out west, where we seem to carry a cowboy attitude: anything goes, everyone is welcome… yet, almost all of our artistic powerhouses found success elsewhere. So what do we do? How do we engage new audiences? Or how do we reinvent ourselves to be more relevant?


artEquity. This is a program that deeply shifted my personal politics, and helped me feel rooted in who I am. Today, connected with a number of my cohort, and I am thinking about how grateful I am to be connected to this incredible community of artists, advocates, and activists. These folks challenge me to be accountable and to continue to find ways to decolonize artistic practice. They ask hard questions that don’t always have answers, and are patient in our collective journey towards change.


I’m thinking about vaccinations and puppy cuddles; about strategic planning, and long-term organizational health; about volunteerism; about whether or not working from home is a gift or a curse; about family and travel and travel insurance; about contract negotiations and systemic bias; and really just hoping it all slows down in time for me to rest and try again tomorrow.


I’m currently participating in the Cultural Leadership Program at the Banff Centre, and we’ve been asked to ‘test drive’ an aspirational core value over the past couple of months. Something like… respect, honesty, beauty… a value we can use to guide our decision-making processes as leaders. I’m finding this a near impossible experience. I picked the value “truth”, and right now, I think that my truth is that the idea of leadership distilled into homework assignments makes me suspicious, … so what can I learn about myself from this suspicion?


Happy New Year everyone! Um, today… on a day where it feels like everyone is thinking about bettering themselves… what habits to form or break, and which practices to begin… I think I’m joining the fray. It’s not wholly formed yet, but I think it’s somewhere in the realm of starting a mindfulness practice. To do less, but to try to enjoy what I’m doing more.

My spouse and I got a puppy in mid December, and she’s teaching me … well, patience among many other things… but, but really more than anything else, she’s reminding me of joy and the beauty of unconditional love. So to everyone out there, I wish you all a joyful new year, full of the things that matter to you. You are loved.



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About the Author

Jenna is a Director and Dramaturg based in Calgary. She is the founding Artistic Director of Chromatic Theatre – a company dedicated to producing and developing work by and for artists of colour. She is an arts equity advocate, an active member of the Theatre Arts Collective for Consent and Respect (TAC), a founding member of Calgary Congress for Equity and Diversity in the Arts, and the Associate Dramaturg for the Playwrights Lab at the Banff Centre. Recent & upcoming Directing credits include: The Golden Handshake (Black Arts Matter Chinook Series); When She Was Good (University of Calgary Alchemy Festival); Timmy, Tommy, and the Haunted Hotel (Pape and Taper Theatre); Let the Light of Day Through (Lunchbox Theatre); and Winners and Losers, Cowboy Versus Samurai (Chromatic Theatre). Assistant Director: Nine Dragons, Wait Until Dark (Vertigo Theatre); In on It, Book Club (Lunchbox Theatre); A Bomb in the Heart (Downstage); and carried away on the crest of a wave (Tarragon Theatre). Jenna has had the pleasure of dramaturging work at the Kennedy Center, Lunchbox Theatre, Chromatic Theatre and fu-GEN Theatre. Jenna holds a MA in International Performance Research from the universities of Amsterdam and Tampere.