Ethnic and cultural diversities

Ethnic and cultural diversities I: Histories of representation in Canadian theatre

In this video, Naila traces the high-stakes reality of storytelling as it relates to history. She argues that what some may take as the norm for theatre in Canada—a group of people performing in front of an audience of silent observers—is actually an inheritance of the settler-invader reality of ‘Canadian’ histories. She reminds us to pay attention, when we go to the theatre, to exactly whose stories are being told and whose stories are being omitted.

Histories of representation of race in Canadian theatre, Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae.

  1. Choose a number of what you consider to be ‘canonical’ or central theatrical Canadian works? How many can be classified as settler colonialism type theatre and why? What does this say about the continuing effects of colonialism in Canada?
  2. When comparing the largest theatre companies in Canada, what are their similarities, their differences, their audiences and their works? What is missing?
  3. If we were to imagine another theatre revolution like the ‘Art Theatre Movement,’ what would it look like? How would it be different from our current theatre?
  4. How can the ‘Art Theatre Movement’ be understood to have influenced expectations of viewers watching ‘indie’ theatre?

Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. University of Minnesota Press.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso, 1991.

Nafisi, Azar.­nafisi­fiction­democracy/

Rubin, Don. Canadian Theatre History: Selected Readings. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2004.

Ethnic and cultural diversities II: Representation in contemporary Canadian theatre

Naila invites us to explore three plays as a way of engaging contemporary diversities in Canadian theatre: Where the Blood Mixes by Kevin Loring; Angélique by Lorena Gale; and Yichud by Julie Tepperman. Each of these texts approaches human difference in nuanced and meaningful ways that underscore the urgency and importance of dealing with such difference in an ethical and egalitarian way.

Representation in contemporary Canadian theatre, Naila Keleta-Mae, University of Waterloo.

  1. In what ways has the notion of ‘co-opting difference’ had a reductive effect on other than-white-bodies in Canadian theatre and storytelling?
  2. How have the realities of dominant languages influenced the telling (or indeed the ‘not telling’) of stories from non-dominant cultures in Canada?
  3. How have the realities of viewership (ie, who has access to resources and to culture) informed the types of plays produced in Canada?
  4. Take a canonical text (one recognized as being a ‘central’ or ‘significant’ Canadian play). Provide examples of ways in which it might portray and work through realities of human difference more ethically and effectively.
  5. Why should audiences be aware of ‘contradictory’ stories when watching theatre or receiving information that presents itself as ‘true’? How might being aware of such contraditions influence the ways in which audiences interact with and respond to theatre?

Gale, Lorena. Angélique. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 1999.

Loring, Kevin. Where the Blood Mixes. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2009.

Tepperman, Julie. Yichud (Seclusion). Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2010.

Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”. Sister Outsider:

Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. Freedom: The Crossing Press, 1984: 114­123.

Ethnic and cultural diversities III: ‘Project Other’

Nina tells the story of the development of her ‘Project Other’, initially undertaken at Humber College, and then at the National Theatre School, where students are asked to play characters of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds than their own. The complexities of appropriation versus the sensitive portrayal of cultural difference are discussed and practical solutions to thorny issues of representing ‘otherness’ are proposed.

‘Project Other,’ Nina Lee Aquino, artistic director of Factory Theatre.

  1. How can the idea of a ‘universal play’—one with allegedly universally intelligible  meanings—limit one’s ability to accurately represent or display persons of colour that may be featured in such a play?
  2. How can asking participants in Nina’s ‘Project Other’ to do in-depth research on characters whose cultural and ethnic realities differ from their own serve to prepare actors-in-training to negotiate cultural and ethnic difference in their work as performing artists?
  3. What are some useful strategies that can be used in a training environment to negotiate potentially culturally offensive representations that can often surface in plays or in culture more widely; for example: racist depictions of other-than-white bodies such as ‘blackface’?
  4. How can partnerships and collaborations between artists of varying cultural heritages help creative communities—such as classrooms, studios, theatres, performance collectives, etc.— approach complex questions about representing ‘difference’ without risking the appropriation of stories from minoritized groups?

Plays referenced include

  • Banana Boys by Leon Aureus
  • Agokwe by Waawaate Fobister
  • BornReady by Joseph Jomo Pierre
  • Letters to My Grandma by Anusree Roy
  • Leo by Rosa Laborde
  • Fish Eyes by Anita Majumdar
  • Gas Girls by Donna Michelle St.Bernard
  • The Madness of the Square by Majorie Chan
  • Dreary and Izzy by Tara Beagan
  • Twisted by Charlotte Corbeil­ Coleman and Joseph Jomo Pierre
  • The Making of St. Jerome by Marie Beath Badian
  • Miss Orient(ed) by Nina Lee Aquino and Nadine Villasin
  • paper SERIES by David Yee
  • Dust by Jason Maghanoy

Ethnic and Cultural IV: Decolonizing movement: emerging paradigms & reconstruction

In this video, Michael examines the supposed ‘neutrality’ of a variety of Euro-American body training forms such as ballet, and proposes that movement training itself has been colonized by such inherited forms. He explores and argues for the possibilities of indigenous of movement practices to enable the decolonization of the body.

Decolonizing movement: emerging paradigms & reconstruction, by Michael Greyeyes, associate professor and graduate program director of the MFA in acting at York University and the artistic director of Signal Theatre.

  1. How are westernized teaching/studio environments built on, and perpetuate in turn, what Michael describes as a dichotomy between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’?
  2. How might learning colonial forms of movement practice—such as ballet—limit and/or expand the physical lexicon of an actor-in-training?
  3. What repercussions can there be for actors-in-training when colonial plays—in other words, texts marked by colonial assumptions and stereotypes of minoritized peoples—are shown and produced in post-secondary settings more often than plays or stories embodying more inclusive or diverse perspectives on culture and ethnicity?
  4. How have your experiences and training developed your own habitual ways of moving? How has your training ‘encutlured’ you? Are there unexamined cultural assumptions—ones that might exclude the experience of certain cultural groups, perhaps your own—built into your training?
  • Dan Inosanto
  • Jeet Kun Do: The Art and Philosophy of Bruce Lee by Dan Inosanto (1976)
  • Kodokan Judo by Jigoro Kano
  • Jiu Jitsu University by Saulo Ribeiro
  • MMF Fan’s Guide to Grappling: Sambo (by T.P. Grant)