(with lemonTree Creations Artistic Producer Indrit Kasapi)
Last night, I received Canadian Actor’s Equity Emerging Artist Award, generously sponsored by Stage West, at a fabulous event attended by CAEA membership. Also honoured were Chick Reid, the celebrated Actor and Arts Educator; Bill Millerd, retiring Artistic Director of Arts Club Theatre; the formidable Lisa Brown, retiring Director and Founder of Workman Arts Theatre; and AFC (formerly The Actor’s Fund of Canada). I was an emo wreck leading up to it, because I take my work and being an Equity member seriously, but also because anytime something is from your peers it’s special…I wanted to do a good speech that made people laugh but also made them think but also remembered two people the community lost but also honored my teachers and collaborators but also was a bit political but also really made people laugh. Indrit Kasapi from lemontree made the presentation and my Mom attended, but I was really grateful to see people like Dustyn Wales and Sedina Fiati and Paula Wolfson and Deb Mcgrath as well….our community is a strong one and I’m grateful to have had a lovely night.
I’m sharing the text of my speech below to hold myself to what I aspire to as a working artist. Missing is the joke I opened with (after thanking CAEA and Stage West: “I never thought I’d be pushing 40 and still be an Emerging Artist!”) and me trying not cry during Indrit’s presentation (emo wreck, I tell ya!).
lemonTree creations (where I’m an Artistic Associate under Artistic Producers Indrit Kasapi and Cole Alvis), supported by Factory Theatre and Nininsky Lee Aquino, Magnus Theatre and Thom Currie, Toronto Fringe and Lucy Eveleigh made this happen and it means the world to me. Cole and Indrit’s powerful drive and vision, Nina’s incredible leadership, Thom’s loving rehearsal process, and Lucy’s community building all are ways of existing healthily in the theatre, of supporting an ecology that lets theatre artists flourish. They (along with Generator TO and Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, my favorite company in the world) are my theatre family, and it’s an exciting time to be an artist….looking to who the province just elected to govern, there’s lots happening for us to respond to: much escapism we can provide, much anger and frustration to vent, and much building of the culture and society we want to see.
As Equity members, we share a rich legacy of agitation for change. I believe that as much as it is our shared duty to be highly skilled, consummately professsional, and motivated workers, it’s also our shared duty to continue that legacy…in the words of Angels in America, “….and we all desire that change will come”. Some of us have heard of the 7 generations concept during Indigenous land acknowledgements; it’s a concept that Equity members should take the time to learn and take to heart. What are we doing for the next 7 generations of Actors, Directors, and Stage Managers? It’s not just about how much we get paid (although it is a bit about how much we get paid). It’s not just about our benefits (although I have a massage next week, thank you CAEA). It’s about the pride we take in our work and ourselves. It’s about looking out for each other.
There are two names I want to speak into the record: Jonah McIntosh and Scott J. Campbell. I don’t claim any special closeness to them or to their families, but as Equity members we are all connected. As Equity members, we must pay close attention to each other, to be there for the next Jonahs or Scotts.
As Michel- Marc Bouchard wrote in the play Lilies, “One can do anything in the theatre, even conquer the unconquerable”, so while I’m here I want to give gratitude for being able to do just that with the companies of:
MSM [men seeking men]
MacArthur Park Suite: A Disco Ballet
Little Pretty & the Exceptional
and We Will Rock You.
I’m also grateful for my frequent collaborators Mark Selby and Nicole Rose Bond for their sense of play, my agent Bella (who lets me do theatre and not just film/tv), and especially my best and favorite teachers David Charchalis, Dave Powers and Lesley Ballantyne because I have delighted in learning from all of you and passing that knowledge onto others. 20 years ago, Lesley gave me an incredible lesson. She said “the smartest thing any of us can do is say “Gimme! Gimme your knowledge, gimme your experiences, gimme your lessons.” and then shut up and listen. To me, that’s the best thing about working in theatre: no matter what stage of your career you’re at, there’s always someone who knows more than you do, and who you can go to and say “Gimme! Gimme your knowledge, gimme your experiences, gimme your lessons.” To my mind, we’re all emerging artists, always.
Lastly, in my life there have been two constants. I’m grateful for the presence of two incredible women, because of whom I can stand on my own two feet. One is my mentor Chita, and the other is my mother Patricia. I grew up in a single parent/single income home, and with no alimony or child support, she raised me to love the theatre by taking me to everything, large or small, that came through Mississauga, Oakville, Toronto, Buffalo, and New York City. I really mean she took me to everything….except Starlight Express. because, in her own words, “I want you to have better taste than that”. In recognizing me, you are also recognizing her sacrifices and strength.
Let’s all work harder, create more, learn endlessly, give freely, and love theatre.
with my Mom, Patricia
In high school, I interned at Canadian Stage Company, and then worked at Dream in High Park for two summers. Through it all, I loved the company and was constantly excited by the work, the artists coming through the door, and the connection to the city…..and now, so many years later, I’m hard pressed to think of the last show I saw there (much less the last show I liked there).
The search is officially on for a new Artistic Director, as Matthew Jocelyn steps down after 9 years; this means that everyone (including me! hi and thanks for visiting!) has something to say about his tenure and the future of the company. I don’t know Mr. Jocelyn, but his much-written-about tendency to exclude theatre creators of color and reluctance to discuss issues around the multiformity of voices that comprise both the Canadian and International artistic community was the first thing that came to mind when I heard. The second was a question: Who should lead Canadian Stage Company?
I’d love to see a woman run the theatre (specifically, Sarah Garton Stanley, Jillian Keiley, Nina Lee Aquino, Marjorie Chan, Evalyn Parry, Weyni Mengesha, Yvette Nolan, or Djanet Sears come to mind). I’d love to see an artist of color like Ravi Jain or someone who will go to bat for queer artists and experiences such as Brendan Healy run the theatre. I’d love to see one of the younger bright lights of Canadian Theatre be given the chance to run it. However, more than anything else, I want to see someone who is going to revitalize that institution and make it somewhere that people are excited to visit and work again. That should be the guiding priority.
This year, I spent a month and half in Thunder Bay, performing in a musical at Magnus Theatre. Every day of the run from the first performance to the last performance, I was impressed at how the local community supported the theatre. People would slow down their cars to yell how much they loved the show. The cashier at the Grocery store was thinking of getting a season subscription for the first time. The kids at the local high school asked us smart questions about what it was like. Some people attended 3, 4, 5, or even 6 times. We sold out, we extended. People truly seemed to feel a sense of ownership with the theatre, like it was vitally important on a personal level to them that theatre was in good shape. Why has Canadian Stage Company struggled so hard to do the same? Yes, Toronto has more theatres fighting for oxygen, but Buddies in Bad Times and Factory and Soulpepper and The Musical Stage Company and Obsidian are all “buzzier” companies with less resources and supposed cachet. Canadian Stage Company has the size advantage, but what good is a big theatre on prime downtown real estate that’s only half full?
Much of Magnus Theatre’s success right now is due to the “revolution” started by their new Artistic Director, Thom Currie. He exploded the old way of doing things, and firmly positioned the theatre as equitable and contemporary: the production team was 60% female, he cast the show with individuals not types, included Metis and black performers, had a company that ranged from Stratford vets to new theatre grads working on their first show, and most importantly worked hard to integrate the theatre into its surrounding community. Yes, there is a difference between regional theatre and the ones in Toronto, but to suggest the search be based entirely on a standarized idea of diversity is to play into an oppresive hand. I don’t want a woman or a black person or a queer person to run the theatre because they are a woman or black or queer, I want them to run the theatre because women/poc/lgbtqs are among the best of the theatrical talent this country has: artists and administrators who are visionary and can lead it to success and can revolutionize it. All of the names I’ve mentioned in this post (and some I haven’t) can do that.
Canadian Stage Company has a great opportunity here to step up to their own name: producing and presenting Canadian stages. There’s lots of different kinds of artists in this country; let’s give this position to the person who is most willing to lead a revolution.