One of the things I was most surprised to discover when I started reporting on Canadian theatre was how frequently artistic directors seemed to be unaware of the talent working outside of their own companies and immediate circles.
When I’d bring up a great local show (never mind one in a different city) in a conversation or interview with an AD, he – and it was almost always a he back in the day – would often tell me he hadn’t seen it.
That the job of running a theatre can be too time-consuming for many artistic leaders to actually see theatre has been a longstanding problem with the system. It is part (but only part) of the reason why many theatre companies, for so long, overlooked BIPOC artists – especially behind-the-scenes talents such as directors and designers who don’t come in to audition the way actors do.
Last week, American Theatre published an article about a new initiative in the United States that aims to do the legwork for artistic directors who can’t – or won’t. (Because there are always leaders such as Factory Theatre’s Nina Lee Aquino who have long made scouting diverse talent a top priority.)
The BIPOC Director Database, an online open-source document, already contains contact information for more than 300 directors who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour, alongside easy-to-peruse summaries of their experience and aesthetic.
This great American resource was actually created by an ex-pat Canadian.
Kareem Fahmy, a director and playwright who has built his career south of the border, was inspired by the BIPOC Theater Designers and Technicians database created by Megan Sandberg-Zakian, with whom he runs a consulting service called Maia Directors (“for organizations and artists engaging with stories from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia”).
I gave Fahmy, originally from Sherbrooke, Que., a call yesterday to talk about why he volunteered his time during the pandemic to create the database. “The deck is very much stacked against directors of colour – and I know it because I’m living that experience,” says the director, who has found it hard to get on the radar of certain artistic directors even with a master of fine arts degree in directing from Columbia University and prestigious directing fellowships from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the O’Neill Theater Centre under his belt.
“The database was really for me the lowest hanging fruit of tackling that issue,” says Fahmy, currently one of the Theatre Communications Group’s Rising Leaders of Color. “As opposed to shaming people for what they don’t know, if you really want to engage with new artists that you’ve yet to bring into your circle, I can make it easier for you to identify those people.”
Fahmy hopes something similar might be created in Canada, where he has started to work on occasion. Have you heard of a similar project in the works on this side of the border? Let me know.
Last newsletter, I wrote about how I’d rather be in the Atlantic bubble than Ontario as a theatre critic right now. Another part of Canada where I’d rather be is the Yukon.
This week, Whitehorse’s Nakai Theatre and the Yukon Arts Centre are sharing a new live show. Nicole Bauberger, Sharon Shorty, and artistic director Jacob Zimmer are starring in 99 Stories Not About Gold – a night of stories and songs with special guests that has only two rules: The stories can’t be about gold and they can’t be in a book. A small live audience will be able to watch, safely distanced on the main stage of the Yukon Arts Centre, for the five shows that run April 20 to 24.
If you can’t travel to Whitehorse right now, why not head Around the World in 80 Plays without leaving your easy chair with Soulpepper Theatre Company.
The Toronto theatre company’s new slate of audio dramas kicks off on April 21 with a Canadian classic: Moonlodge, Margo Kane’s celebrated 1990 monologue about a young Indigenous woman’s hitchhiking journey across the United States. Jani Lauzon directs performer Samantha Brown in the new recording.
Subsequent weeks will involve audio adaptations of dramas from Russia, India, Argentina, Jamaica, Iran, Nigeria and Italy. And if 80 plays sounds a bit daunting, don’t worry – this Soulpepper series actually only features eight plays alongside CBC Ideas-produced companion documentaries that put each of them in context of nine other works from each country highlighted.
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