"It would be an incredible opportunity to meet again like this, consistently, with the same folks and new ones, to keep building. A retreat like this once a year would be amazing. There are too few opportunities for artists of colour to share space, strategize and create like this."
"I feel like we would need more of these meetings to build a better vocabulary as a group to really feel safe with what each of us needs to say."
Written by Valerie Sing Turner
L-R: Diana Bang, Amanda Sum, Ronin Wong, Laara Ong, Mason Temple, Donna Wong-Juliani, Jay Brazeau, Valerie Sing Turner, Chelsea Rose Tucker, Jessica Heafey, John Cook.
A big thank-you to everyone who contributed to making our way-too-short development workshop plus the public reading on December 10, 2017, a success! In addition to our fabulous cast, we want to acknowledge dramaturg Lisa C. Ravensbergen; Squamish Nation cultural consultant Latash Nahanee; public reading co-presenter Granville Island Cultural Society; funders BC Arts Council and City of Vancouver; as well as intrepid supporters Sarah Garton Stanley, National Arts Centre (English Theatre), Tompkins Wozny LLP, Starbucks, and SFU Woodward's. Audience members commented on the power of the piece, which exposed disturbing pieces of BC history through the use of poetic language and the personal experiences of one family. The development process has given Valerie lots of ideas and inspiration for the next draft, so stay tuned!
National Arts Centre, English Theatre Collaboration - Visceral Visions
National Arts Centre, English Theatre 2016/17 Artist in Residence - Valerie Sing Turner
John Moffat + Larry Lillo Prize 2017 - Valerie Sing Turner
Visceral Visions gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the Granville Island Cultural Society, National Arts Centre, City of Vancouver, and the BC Arts Council to this project.
Synopsis: It’s 1988. A family gathers to discuss what to do with Esther, a Chinese-Canadian WWII veteran, as they can no longer ignore her growing dementia. She keeps talking to Victor, her beloved brother, whose death she blames on the Japanese when he volunteered to serve in the Pacific arena during World War II. Her husband George, an Indigenous WWII vet, was Victor’s best friend. Their son, Gary, arrives with his Caucasian wife, Joanna, and their 18-year-old daughter Lucy, who is Poh-Poh’s favourite. Things are already tense when estranged elder daughter, Nancy, shows up with husband, Ken, and their two daughters Denise and Andrea, who have never met Esther and George because Ken is Japanese-Canadian and Esther refuses to acknowledge his existence. But the real fireworks begin when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney announces his plan to apologize to the Japanese Canadians and their families who were interned during WWII. Will the weight of Canadian history tear them apart?
Andrew Loewen, Omari Newton, Margo Kane, Brenda Leadlay, Shanae Sodhi, Kathryn Shaw
We are thrilled to release our first videos on Visceral Visions' new Youtube Channel!
Diversity versus Decolonization: an Honest Conversation in Technicolour (or How to Avoid Doing a Robert Lepage) is a timely conversation about cultural appropriation, presented by Visceral Visions and the Museum of Vancouver on November 28, 2018.
When someone mentions "cultural appropriation" or "decolonization", do you feel intimidated or confused – or even angry? Have you wanted to incorporate more equitable practices in your artistic work or organization, but feel paralyzed because you're afraid of making mistakes? Or maybe you're wondering where the line is between artistic freedom and freedom of expression (protest), or the border between censorship and criticism?
Using Robert Lepage's responses to community criticism of his productions of SLAV and KANATA as a jumping-off point, six brave panelists reveal their best practices on the RIGHT things to do through three case studies – real-life situations in which people like you found themselves in the midst of a very uncomfortable cultural controversy. Talking through the process of how they created a space that resulted in positive outcomes – while ensuring all involved felt respected and heard – we are pleased to present the evening's program divided into 4 videos, ranging from 14 to 24 minutes each:
- Introduction and full panel tackling the intricacies of history, cultural appropriation, and freedom of speech in the context of Robert Lepage's controversial work
- Case Study #1: Omari Newton (artist) + Andrea Loewen (former board president, Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards) discussing the 2015 open letter calling out the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards for systemic racism
- Case Study #2: Shanae Sodhi (artist) + Kathryn Shaw (Artistic Director, Studio 58) discussing the establishment of Langara College's Studio 58's very first student diversity committee in 2016-17
- Case Study #3: Margo Kane (Artistic Director, Full Circle: First Nations Performance) + Brenda Leadlay (Executive Director, BC Alliance for Arts + Culture) discussing the process of decolonizing the 2018 Unrestricted Conference
With Visceral Visions' Artistic Producer, Valerie Sing Turner, as moderator.
This talk was programmed by Visceral Visions as part of its development of CultureBrew.art (formerly DiverseTheatreBC), a digital platform featuring a searchable database of Indigenous and racialized artists that is due to launch in June 2019.
To view all four videos, check out Visceral Visions' Youtube Channel!
And the Jessie goes to: Adele Noronha (Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role, Brothel #9 by Anusree Roy, produced by Touchstone Theatre); Valerie Sing Turner (John Moffat and Larry Lillo Prize), and Chris Gatchalian (Vancouver NOW Representation and Inclusion Award) at the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards ceremony, June 26, 2017
So there I was, sitting at a table on the main floor of the Commodore, with Chris Gatchalian on one side and Jack Paterson on the other, at the 35th Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards. Truth be told, I hadn't planned on attending this year's festivities on June 26, 2017; award ceremonies aren't really my thing, despite sitting on the Jessies board the previous year as part of the effort to address the systemic racism called out in an open letter from the community in 2015, when it was discovered that two out of four juries had zero representation of artists of colour. (It's kinda hard to say "no" when someone asks you to help fix something you've loudly complained about.) But I got a phone call while I was working in Toronto as guest artist with Canada's National Voice Intensive, advising me that I'd been selected to receive this year's John Moffat and Larry Lillo Prize for mid-career theatre artists. And now I was on my second gin-and-tonic, trying to stop myself from inappropriately blurting out to Chris that he'd won the Vancouver NOW Representation and Inclusion Award (I was on that jury as a member of the Jessies Diversity Committee), and alternately anxious that my acceptance speech was going to be cut off by the band for being too long, or worse, drowned out by the well-marinated colleagues at the bar for being too political.
But as noted in a recent Facebook post, that evening made me pretty damn proud of my theatre community. It's not often that we get to see meaningful social change within two years of an action. Out of the 27 regular categories, 20 or 74% featured at least one nominee of colour, with three categories dominated by artists of colour: Reneltta Arluk, Donna Soares, and winner Yoshie Bancroft for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Small Theatre; Raes Calvert, Aadin Church, and Tom Pickett for Outstanding Performance by Actor in a Lead Role, Small Theatre; and Shannon Chan-Kent, PJ Prudat, and winner Adele Noronha for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role, Large Theatre. Adding up all the other artists of colour who took home trophies – Laara Sadiq (Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Large Theatre), Quelemia Sparrow (Sydney Risk Prize for Outstanding Original Script), Alessandro Juliani (with Torquil Campbell, Outstanding Sound Design/Original Composition, Large Theatre), Rohit Chokhani (Significant Artistic Achievement, Large Theatre), Angie Descalzi (Mary Phillips Award for Behind the Scenes Achievement), Alexandra Lainfiesta (Outstanding Performance by Actress in a Lead Role, Small Theatre), and Carmen Alatorre (a double-winner garnering both Small and Large theatre prizes for Costume Design) – the 12 awards and 41 nominations for artists of colour represented a significant improvement over the previous 34-year history of the Jessies.
Building on innovations rolled out for the 2016 ceremony – the beautiful welcome and blessing by Elder S7aplek Lanakila (Bob Baker) and Sapkwus Slulum (Eagle Song Dancers), and a terrific mix of culturally diverse presenters and hosts (Munish Sharma, Tetsuro Shigematsu, Carmen Aguirre, Kim Harvey, Emilie Leclerc, Ming Hudson, Bahareh Shigematsu, Bryan Woo, Aliyah Amarshi, Raes Calvert) – the 2017 Jessies impressed even further by adding two ASL interpreters, an accessibility ramp to the Commodore stage (instead of the usual stairs), and a gender non-conforming house band, the awesome Queertet.
Kudos to the Jessies board of directors and producer Christie Watson for respectfully listening and responding to community concerns with empathy and energy. Enshrining representation and inclusion as a policy has not only increased well-deserved recognition of artists of colour; it has also resulted in a more wide-ranging slate of nominees across the board, with no single company or production dominating, as has happened in previous years. This kind of bold leadership has increased awareness and positive action among individual companies and artists, which reflects positively on the entire community – so much so that by the end of that night, I felt like we, as a community, had won something much bigger.
And my speech? Well, the band showed marked discretion in letting me finish to the end, and at the request of a friend, I've published it below. Congratulations to everyone!
In one of my mother's many photo albums, there's a picture of my younger sister and me when we were two and three years old. We're in my parents' living room, flanked by the couch and the coffee table. Marilyn is sitting on a towel; she's laughing. I'm standing next to her on another towel, a third towel tied around my waist, and the sleeve of a red sweater extending out from my hands like a rope, a serious expression on my face. We're in our underwear. And despite the fact that Marilyn is sitting, we're pretending that we are waterskiing, having seen a man waterski the day before when my family had a picnic at Shawnigan Lake.
In another album, Marilyn and I are about 5 and 6. This time, we're in the basement. This time, we're both smiling. It's a fairy-tale wedding. Marilyn is Cinderella, and I'm her debonair prince. Our costuming is slightly more sophisticated: Marilyn's in a long skirt purloined from our mother's closet; I'm sporting a jacket and trousers, a lace frill at my neck, my long hair tied back. My mom has captured for posterity the happy-ending of the play we had put on. Just for her.
My sister and I had a rich imaginative life, fed by the storybooks our parents read to us, the books we voraciously consumed ourselves, the characters we saw on TV, in movies, in theatre productions, and in our everyday lives. However, I never imagined that I would one day be standing here, accepting a prize to support the stories I myself would write for the stage. Because as rich as my childhood imagination was, it was, frankly, stunted. When I was seven, I was a princess in a community production of The King and I. All the adult Asian roles were played by white actors in yellowface. I remember my sister and I having dark brown make-up applied to our faces, hands, and feet; I guess they thought we didn't look "Siamese" enough, not realizing that Thai people come in all sorts of shades, and that royalty would not have the same dark skin as commoners labouring under the sun. I didn't see anyone who looked like me on a professional stage till my 20s, when I was in London studying music on a scholarship. It was an Andrew Lloyd musical in the West End. And yeah. The first professional Asian actor I ever saw onstage didn't even play a human being; she was a cat.
That little Asian girl in my parents' basement dreamed of being an actor. But she lacked the imagination to pursue that dream. Because she hadn't seen a real-life possibility, she got a degree in music, and pursued a career in classical music. Without seeing it, she couldn't imagine it.
In the age of the internet, it's hard to imagine that our imaginations might be stunted when the entire world is literally at our fingertips. But there's a reason why the CBC website no longer allows commenting on any story about Indigenous peoples in Canada, even when the story is positive. Because until someone has a living, breathing experience of another person that allows them to see the full humanity of that person, they will lack the imagination to see more than the stereotypes that continue to be perpetuated to this day. And if certain groups of people are completely invisible, the imagination has nothing to build on. Nowhere to go. Stunted.
We, the theatre community of Vancouver, specialize in living, breathing experiences. We need flexible and wide-reaching imaginations willing to seek inspiration in all kinds of places: a brothel in India. A poet's secret. A moonlodge on Turtle Island. An Indigenous WWI soldier. We need to forge a bigger space for Indigenous and culturally diverse artists in order to create meaningful living, breathing experiences that will inform our collective and community imaginations, and in turn, expand society's beliefs as to what is possible.
I want to thank the families of John Moffat and Larry Lillo for having the generous imagination to establish and fund this award. And I humbly hope that my standing here will allow more young people of colour to see that it is possible to imagine ourselves onstage, telling the stories that matter to us, and pursuing our dreams.
Featuring Artists of Colour in Lead(ership) Roles