Above: production photos from The Philosopher’s Wife. Cast: Chala Hunter, Aviva Armour-Ostroff, Susanna Fournier and Danny Ghantous. Photography: Haley Garnett and Bernie Fournier.
Chala “A question I have been asking myself in many rooms, as a performer, certainly, but just as a person on the street, or in my home, or in any community or room that I happen to be in, is about how I can embody a kind of equality or community or togetherness or how I can embody the way that I hope or wish power could function in our communities, in our society. And that’s a question; I don’t have the answer to that, but I’m asking it of myself in many different circumstances, and as I ask it, trying to catch myself when I am behaving in ways that I feel I have been conditioned to, out of fear, or learned power structures, or all sorts of things. And so I would say that within the rehearsal hall, especially having been a fairly involved part of the conversation around #MeToo or Not in Our Space, or many of these conversations around harassment and consent in the performing arts and in the world, I’ve been looking to embody in rooms, to be an ally. To show in my behaviour that I will ask questions, ask for consent, be respectful, but also kind of demand it for myself. And that means doing things that make me uncomfortable, like saying no, like asking questions when I don’t understand something but feel embarrassed to ask the question. Even standing next to someone that I feel might be vulnerable in a moment, and that’s an assumption, certainly sometimes, but I’m trying to trust my intuition in those moments and err on the side of being caring and hopeful, rather than this kind of silent ‘I’m going to stay away from a situation or moment that seems like it might be dangerous, or someone might be feeling a bit vulnerable, or they maybe they need some help. And I don’t mean that specifically in this process: I’m talking about in the last year of my life, and I operate in the same way in grocery stores now as well, which I find is necessary sometimes; crazy things happen everywhere.”
Sedina “Now I’m asking myself what kinds of spaces I want to create, and who do we need to be in the space for it to be affirmative and joyful, what do we need to say. …We really have to cultivate character in ourselves, as theatre artists, black performance artists. We are always like ‘In the room, in the room’ but if you are not that outside of the room, how will you be it, how will you suddenly summon up the courage, how will you suddenly summon up knowledge that you don’t have? It behooves us to keep having conversations like these.”
On Safety in Process
Susanna “We do need to always be taking the temperature in the room and go: How are we doing? Is this enthusiastically working? Or are we all like ‘Oh, knives in the air, elephants all over the place?’ And if that happens let’s talk then, before one of the elephants pierces another elephant. If we feel the temperature rising, we can always go ‘Are we ok? Is there something we need to discuss? Has something happened?’ Cause that might have happened two days ago. People’s reactions to things - I was chronically: something bad happens and three days later I’m upset. But I’ve learned to just kind of deal with it. We can’t expect everyone in the moment to react like, ‘Hi, I have the language and tools with which to do this.’ They may react three days later by having a small meltdown in a corner. I think it’s another reason why having producers in the room - or having outside eyes who are watching the process, just there for feedback - is really important. Because I’m still learning, and I still miss moments. There are still moments where I go, ‘I should have said something.’”
Chala “Asking questions is so important, just checking in with people, like kind of maybe more than seems reasonable, is important… There is so much talking that has to go down to make people feel safe.”