Last January, #UrgentExchange asked “Who is A Monster? What Makes A Monster? Am I Monster? #MeToo What Next?” - three days after the news broke about Soulpepper.
One year later, we partnered with PARADIGM productions and Daniels Spectrum to investigate how #MeToo has impacted the performance community: from triggers in the rehearsal process, to the changing role of the stage manager, to nudity and violence on stage, to the biases and blind spots that hold back change.
On December 9, 2018, we gathered at Daniels Spectrum following a performance of The Philosopher’s Wife, written by APT grad Susanna Fournier and produced by Resident Company PARADIGM productions. (Pictured: Generator’s Kristina Lemieux and PARADIGM’s Susanna Fournier and Alison Wong.)
Part One: Watch the Videos
We began with presentations exploring three perspectives across disciplines: Meghan Speakman on Stage Managing with #MeToo, Matthew Eldridge on Intimacy and Touch from the Perspective of Health Practice, and Andrea Zanin on Consent and Power: Lessons from Kink. Watch the videos below!
Inspired in part by this #UrgentExchange, the Toronto Star’s Karen Fricker wrote “One year after Soulpepper, what stage have we reached?” including reflections from both Meghan Speakman and Sedina Fiati. Read her article here.
Part Two: Read the Highlights
For the second half of the event, Generator’s APT Facilitator Sedina Fiati (pictured below) sat down with The Philosopher’s Wife team to talk about how they tackled these issues in the production. We heard from playwright, producer and actor Susanna Fournier, producer Alison Wong, and actor Chala Hunter. As a jumping-off point, we asked participants to share what they noticed about the production, and what their questions were (responses pictured below). You can watch the whole conversation on Periscope, or read some highlights below:
“It took me a long time to become the proud feminist killjoy that I now am.” -Susanna
On the Relationship with the Audience
Susanna “I think in terms of getting to a point in my practice as a playwright where I am now starting to really meet and develop audiences, for me I think the theatre contract is a stand in for a kind of social contract. So, I've invited you all to come into a space, and I’ve made something and brought other people in and I’m going to offer something, but I need you to come, and so, now we are in relationship with each other. I’ve asked you to come into relationship with me. And so I need to be aware of what my desire is, why have I asked you here, what do I think I have to offer you, what do I hope you might receive, and what am I hoping you might bring to this relationship that now we are in together.”
Alison “Introducing this work to an audience involved setting the stage, so to speak, for conversation. And really working with the intention that these plays are not meant to be let loose into the world and have them, necessarily, speak for themselves; the intention that we want to work in a way that allows the audience to come back to us, whether it is through conversation on the internet, whether it is through events like #UrgentExchange. Even the fact that it’s a trilogy, so knowing that we are building a relationship; the idea is that we want to build a relationship with our audience so that these ideas and the themes that are in the play continue to evolve and we continue to contemplate them each time we meet each other. And trying to, as much as we can with the resources we have available, to create avenues for that.”
On Theatre and Trauma
Susanna “I deal with a lot of difficult topics in my work, and I know that I am looking to create a kind of ritualized space; that potentially we can come together and grapple with some of these traumas in a way that creates even just a moment with which we can feel through them. Because I think if we are not willing to feel through them, they won’t pass through us. And so that is a really delicate thing, to go: I know I am purposely asking folks to come experience a wound, and I think if we can experience that together there is a possibility for changing a narrative around it, or allowing it to maybe leave our bodies, work through our body. I think theatre is a place for and of the body and I feel that I live in a very disembodied culture. And even sometimes in the act of theoretical talking about, of analysis around trauma, analysis around power, it’s like yes: in my head, and my body is not included. And what I find in theatre is when I am moved it’s because I am allowed to feel my way through the things I experience, not just intellectually, but in my heart, and my gut, and I guess that is the power of catharsis.”
On Power in Process
Susanna “I am learning a lot as a playwright and a producer. There is a huge amount of power you have as a playwright, in that I’m choosing content and I’m choosing whose story we are looking at and where should we look in a story in the same way the director can tell us where and who to look at. As a producer I feel that it is the most crucial realm of putting a different kind of politic in action, because I wield our culture’s powerful symbol, which is where does the money go. And you can create a process that reflects where you want to put that money. But you also choose who is on the team, how the team is going to gather, what are we going to talk about, what are we going to prioritize.”
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.”
Photos: Speakers Meghan Speakman (left) and Andrea Zanin (right); PARADIGM productions in conversation with Sedina.
On Yes and No
Chala “I had an experience of realizing that I think of no as a rejection, or as like, ultimately negative; as a creative rejection, as a personal rejection, when really what I discovered through this process was that yes and no are both just pieces of information towards greater understanding and more complicity, and that is very fundamental for me.”
Sedina “Our theatre training has trained us out of ‘no.’ Yes and… but the spirit behind yes and is let’s collaborate - it isn’t do what you want. It isn’t yes to anything. It means a spirit of collaboration and that’s what we should be entering into. ‘No’ means, close this door but open a different door. Because that means we have to be creative in the way we do things…‘No’ can be so generous because you are helping the other person navigate, instead of letting them walk into a minefield.