In advance of National Indigenous Peoples Day, the Indigenous Circle at the Stratford Festival held an online panel discussion on the festival’s YouTube page this weekend – a passing of the mic from the Black artists who took part in the Black Like Me panel two weeks ago.
Indigenous artists who were set to be a part of the 2020 season were joined by Dean Gabourie, a former assistant and associate artistic director at the festival, to share their stories of “endurance, resistance and resilience.”
Jani Lauzon, the multitalented Métis artist currently nominated for three 2020 Dora Mavor Moore Awards (as director, playwright and performer), moderated and started things off by reminding viewers of Canadian history from which the Stratford Festival springs.
She spoke of the potlatch ban that made Indigenous ceremony and cultural practices illegal from 1884 to 1951; and she quoted from the 1951 Massey Report that led to the establishment of the Canada Council for the Arts and also declared that ”the Indian arts survive only as ghosts or shadows of a dead society.” (In that cultural context, the Stratford Festival was founded in 1952 – and made it to opening night, in part, thanks to a donation from Governor-General Vincent Massey himself.)
The Indigenous Circle members frankly discussed their sometimes mixed feelings about working at the Stratford Festival – and told stories about dealing with both racism and internalized racism during their theatrical careers.
Actor Quelemia Sparrow shared the pain and frustration that came from working on The Komagata Maru Incident in 2017: her struggles with an under-thought directorial concept that cast her as a colonizer and a bungled design that eventually resulted in her shipping her own personal regalia in from the West Coast.
Regular company member Gordon Patrick White, meanwhile, talked in a humorous way about battling through bureaucracy to smudge at Stratford, noting how stage managers used to have to accompany him as he smudged with an air purifier he dubbed the Recolonizer 3000. (The festival, as of 2019, allows smudging in its theatres.)
Gabourie told of his own renegade smudging in a previous era at the Festival – and shared a fascinating family history that traces itself back to Louis Riel’s grandmother and the technical director for Buster Keaton, who worked out many of the silent film star’s most famous stunts.
Toronto may be entering Stage 2 of Ontario’s restart phase this week, but, for theatre companies in Canada’s largest city, reopening is still a long way away.
While this was not altogether surprising if you’ve been following the results of audience surveys that suggest many theatregoers will wait for a vaccine before returning to playhouses, it is sad news nevertheless – and a decision that affects 100 freelance artists in addition to the staff at what is one of the most solid and celebrated centres for new plays in the country.
In the place of live theatre, Tarragon will be producing what it is calling Tarragon Acoustic – 18 audio recordings of plays from the theatre company’s 50-year history as well as a selection of unproduced new works. (It will also produce an online, interactive version of Rick Roberts’s Orestes – which was supposed to open the theatre’s mainspace season – in the fall.)
As theatregoers wait for those official Tarragon audio plays, this week CBC’s PlayME podcast is uploading an audio version of a play that was set to close the Tarragon’s current season until the pandemic hit: Three Women of Swatow, described as a “ferocious comedy” about “three generations of women grappling with their dark history.”
This one was highly anticipated because it was to be written by Chloé Hung. Born and raised in Toronto, Hung has an MFA in dramatic writing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts – and was quickly snatched up by the television world in Los Angeles upon graduating. She’s written for Selma and 13th director Ava DuVernay on her television shows Queen Sugar and Cherish the Day – and is currently developing a secret project for Netflix.
I was impressed by a Hung play I saw at the Next Stage Theatre Festival in 2016 – and was very much looking forward her regular-season debut in her hometown. Three Women of Swatow will be available in all the usual podcast places and on the PlayME website on Wednesday.
Two other theatre events to watch online this week
I had no idea that Unholy, Diane Flacks’s feisty, funny and sexy play about women and religion, had been recorded for television broadcast. Wonderful. It airs tonight on Vision TV at 9 p.m. ET – and then will be available online at unholyshow.com. This is a show that ended up on my top 10 list in 2017.
On Monday night, tune in to see how many awards Jani Lauzon wins at the Dora Mavor Moore Awards: Virtual Edition (on YouTube). I’ll be watching and writing up the winners of Toronto’s theatre, dance and opera awards for Tuesday’s paper.
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