Author: Marjorie Chan

On Mentorship & My Mentors

{I was the recipient of the George Luscombe Award for Mentorship in Professional Theatre which was presented to me on May 30, 2017, at the annual Dora Mavor Moore Press Conference.  This was my speech.  ~ Marjorie }

 

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Photo by Colin Doyle

Thank you very much. I am very humbled to receive the George Luscombe Mentorship Award.  Firstly, I wish to thank TAPA,  Jacoba and the staff, their board, board president Andrea, and the Luscombe family for finding a way to acknowledge this type of work that is often invisible. Thank you to the artist Theo Dimson for this work, I will hang it proudly.  I also wish to thank the selection committee: Maja Ardal (Chair), Steven Bush, Ravi Jain, Karen Luscombe, and Anusree Roy.

I cannot forget to thank Andy McKim for nominating me! In addition to nominating me for this award, he has continued to listen to my ranting and crazy ideas with patience and encouragement. Thank you for your friendship and support, and being an inspiring mentor to me.

This award is for mentorship, which is extraordinary to me, since in many ways, I feel as if I am still learning every day, every moment, every project. I find such inspiration in working with others and exploring their potential, and seeing their passions play out.  I often come out of meetings with mentorees inspired and energized. For me there is no greater experience than beginning a mentorship in order to become friends, peers and colleagues.

Along the way, I have been helped and mentored by a great many people.  People, who told me YES, or Why don’t you try this? Or I think you would be great at that.  I am so indebted to them  – to the people who said YES to me.

(This is not a comprehensive list of my amazing mentors I have been blessed with, there are too many to list them all!) I want to thank:

Jean Yoon – Who came and saw me in an English farce and pink corset, in my 2nd year of theatre school. After the show, she told me I was terrific and then said, “What the fuck are you doing, and what about your own story?”.

Bill Lane – Who got me starting to write professionally at CBC Radio and let me do whatever I wanted as long as I wrote quickly. He taught me that I was a writer.

Kelly Thornton – Who boldly commissioned and programmed my first play when it wasn’t even written yet. She taught me discipline and courage and that I had something worthwhile to say.

Wayne Strongman – Who taught me I could write for opera, and fought for me when he didn’t have to, but because he knows that opera needs new voices.

Philip Akin – Who hired me for my first professional directing gig,  and put up with my inexperience, and bad temper. He taught, still teaches me, patience and humility and generosity.

Jennifer Brewin – Who talked me down many a ledge during my first year as an Artistic Director. She taught me to deal with things with balance, humour and grace.

I also want to thank Mr. (Kenzo) Kishibe, my grade 11 and 12 English Lit teacher in high school, who always spectacularly acted out the big male leads in Shakespeare much to our delight. We were working on the Scottish play, and I read Lady M across from him. After class, he pulled me aside, and told me, that he, being Japanese, and of a different generation, did not think that he could make it in the theatre, and so he became a teacher instead.  But he thought that I could. More than that, he thought that I should.  He said he would come see me one day. And in one of my first performances in Toronto with Shakespeare in the Rough in Withrow Park, he kept his promise.  I was so happy to see him come over that hill, no other audience member mattered more to me that summer. He taught me to believe. Mr. Kishibe knew that showing up, coming to a show can have an enormous impact.

No one understood that more than the last mentor that I wish to thank, who would come to a show anyway, in spite of it already being reviewed by a colleague, in order to show support and offer something nice to say. He implicitly and demonstrably understood that the power of an encouraging word could make a tremendous impact in the career of a young artist.  Whether that word was in person or in print. Of course, you have probably already guessed I am speaking of our dear, dear friend Jon Kaplan, whom we lost this year.  His kindness, his actions, his passion for our community exemplifies the values of this award. So I wish to thank him, on behalf of all of us.

There was one time, I was teaching in Rexdale –  a group of students who were at risk of being kicked out. I really felt in over my head. They didn’t do their work, they didn’t seem to be listening, I wasn’t from that community. I did not think that I could reach them.  A young man handed his paper to me, the first assignment he had ever completed for me and I said, “Good thank you.” I put my hand on his shoulder as I read it. In that moment, I felt his entire body relax, and something gave way – gave way to what I don’t know – maybe an openness, a faith, a courage for a different path. For me in that moment, it was a good reminder that small words matter – your words, your actions, the space that you can create, can have huge ramifications. So for that young man, for Jon Kaplan, for all my mentors, I accept this award. Thank you.

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Andy McKim & Marjorie Chan | photo by Regine Cadet | Award Design by Theo Dimson

Our 30th Anniversary! Join Us!

A party like this one only

happens once every thirty years…

I am in the midst of writing grants, which along with the administrative tasks, also means envisioning future seasons, the productions, the programming, the plans. It is a part of the job that I really relish, taking ephemeral dreams and making them concrete.  As much as it is rewarding to look into the future, I have also had the recent pleasure and privilege of connecting with the former Artistic Directors of Cahoots over the last few months. It has been an extraordinary journey, listening to their stories of the earlier days of the company, the funding struggles, the battle for venues, and yes, the continuing advocacy for space on Canada’s stages.  Their stories were at times from a different era, and at other times all too familiar, but perhaps on a different scale. In many ways, the company’s role, defined 30 years ago, remains utterly vital and relevant.
Former Artistic Director (1998 to 2003) Guillermo Verdecchia articulated in his article “Seven Things about Cahoots Theatre Projects” (2005, How Theatre Educates, edited by Kathleen Gallagher) as such:
“Cahoots was founded in 1986, and was burdened, it seems to me, with the Herculean task of having to, in some way, defend, promote, train, assist, encourage, develop and produce virtually all those professional and aspiring professional, visible, ethnic, and cultural minority theatre artists whom the mainstream theatre companies consistently ignored and who couldn’t find a home or employment…”
And yet as Herculean as it may have been, (and perhaps still is), so much has been accomplished over these past 30 years. With 35 productions and counting, it means hundreds of scripts developed,  hundreds of artists engaged, thousands of audience members. Moreso, in our broader reach, Cahoots has hosted workshops, conferences, forums, resources, youth engagement and more. It is hard to encapsulate the enormity of 30 years of Cahoots. It is a legacy of work that does not live with me or our most recent production, but with the previous leadership, and all the artists, the actors, the writers, the designers, the funders, the supporters  – and yes Cahoots’ legacy lives with you.

On May 8th, we will celebrate our 30 years, first by honoring our past, starting with board volunteers, administrators and then with our artistic leadership.   Most of the previous artistic directors will be in attendance, including founder Beverly Yhap. Then, together as community, we will then honour and recognize the future, our 30 for 30 artists – chosen emerging artists who we believe will have impact for the next 30 years and beyond.

It is going to be a special evening as we look back to the leaders of the past, and look forward to the leaders of future. Won’t you join us?


With thanks,


Marjorie Chan

 

Monday May 8th, 2017
The Ballroom at The 519
519 Church St. Toronto, ON.

Cocktails at 5:30
Welcome ceremony
by Jani Lauzon at 6:00
Frank Hull performs at 6:30
Food service from Fabarnek Restaurant begins at 7
30th Anniversary Celebrations at 8 P.M.
Waleed Abdulhamid & John Millard perform at 9
ASL Interpretation provided  
The 519 is a fully accessible venue

TICKETS 

Director’s Thoughts: John & Waleed

Azzeddine Soufiane

Khaled Belkacemi

Aboubaker Thabti

Mamadou Tanou Barry

Ibrahima Barry

Abdelkrim Hassane

When a director sits down to write the program notes for a play, the question that they try to answer for the audience is, why this piece? Why now? As I began my notes, the only answer I could conjure were those names above – the names of the men who were killed at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec on Sunday, January 29, 2017 in an act fuelled by hate. How can there be such hate in our country? We want to answer, “This is not my Canada.” But sadly, it is.

John & Waleed’s first performances with Cahoots were in February 2015 at our venue partner, the charming Music Gallery. Since then, we have refined both the experience and the design, circling an ocean of themes whilst navigating around the uncomfortable parts of this conversation: colonialism, religion, privilege, race.

For example, the set consists primarily of a large sail, like one might find on a sea-faring vessel of yore. For me, the sail speaks of our journeys from afar, and the global migration of people. Living on the shores of Lake Ontario, on the land of the Mississaugas of the New Credit, the Haudenosaunee, and the Huron Wendat, makes many of us immigrants. Whether driven by economics, or war, or some other reason to search for a better life, we have made Canada our home. Connected by a colonial rope that binds us, we have been thrust together, in spite of our different beliefs, traditions and experiences.

For John & Waleed, they too are a part of this collective history of migration. Their geographic origins have shaped the belief-systems, which they, and their music evolved from. Waleed, first came to music in the Sufi centres of the Sudan, and growing up in Southern Ontario, John’s father was an ordained minister. Indeed, John’s hometown, the city of Kitchener, is named after the British General who invaded Khartoum, Sudan’s capital city. Even their instruments are linked. The modern banjo, most associated with the American folk traditions, originated in Africa, as the banjar. Made with gourds and animal skins, the instrument was recreated by those indentured and forcibly transported to the American south from Africa. Today, when John accompanies an African children’s song, on an instrument drawn from this colonial narrative, it is unexpected, yet also utterly right.

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Photo of Waleed Abdulhamid & John Millard by Dahlia Katz

Their own music follows this migratory tale, from the traditional, to their own compositions. Our shared colonial history is such that John & Waleed are in a time and place that, in spite of their different backgrounds, they can not only be friends, but also musical collaborators. The unique glory that is their music, is compounded by the fact that they perform it seemingly with ease. And yet, their virtuosity disguises the complexity and difficulty of melding their respective diverse musical approaches. It is through their hard work, and determination that our musical experience will be so harmonious. For me, it speaks to the respect and love that these two friends have for each other and their craft. As with any relationship that is important, it takes effort, empathy, and good will for success.

John & Waleed is more than just a show with music and storytelling about two friends. It can inspire and represent a way forward in tumultuous times. We not only identify with their camaraderie, and their friendship but we also desire to similarly act with respect for others that share our space. We aspire for peace for ourselves, our families, and our communities. In the cold, inky nights of Canadian winters, John & Waleed’s music can be a beacon to light the way.

It makes us want to affirm, “This is my Canada.”

So, welcome.

Marjorie Chan
Director, John & Waleed
Toronto, February 2017

(My note during the previous workshop performance of John & Waleed.)

John & Waleed is produced by Theatre Passe Muraille in association with Cahoots Theatre, onstage February 16 – March 5. 

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Conversations in Cahoots: Jovanni Sy

Welcome to the first post in the Conversations in Cahoots series. This year, I’ll touch base with former Artistic Directors and leaders of Cahoots Theatre, as we celebrate our 30th anniversary.

First up, a conversation with Jovanni Sy, who led this organization as Artistic Director from 2003 – 2009.   In 2008, in response to creating a more ‘Authentically Canadian Theatre’ Jovanni articulated Cahoots’ prime directive as follows:screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-11-10-47-am

Canadian Theatre systemically discriminates against many worthy artists from diverse backgrounds and it is the duty of all artists to correct this historical imbalance. Theatre is bigger than any one of us and no one has the right to stifle its fundamentally inclusive nature. Making our Theatre more inclusive is not only morally correct, it is vital to the survival of the art form we love.

(You can read the rest of Jovanni’s blog post here.)

Originally, when I was beginning this blog series, I struggled with what order should the interviews be posted, from beginning to end, or vice versa. In the end, as it happens, we’re starting with the artistic director, whom I consider my mentor, and who has had the most impact on me, and thus, his tenure continues to resonate today at our company. Cahoots, under Jovanni, was the first theatre company to offer me a writing residency, and then an internship (through the Metcalf Foundation). I remained Jovanni’s associate until he departed in 2009.

For Jovanni, he began his association with Cahoots in 1992, performing at a cabaret series, Kulchabash. (Jovanni points out that it is spelled like the Indian flatbread. Spend any significant time around Jovanni, and a food reference will invariably come up!) He recalls, “[I] did one at the old Equity Showcase at Dufferin and King. I sang a song, I don’t quite remember what I did, but it was my first introduction to Cahoots, [during] Lynda [Hill] and Jean [Yoon]’s time there. Jean was also at Theatre Ontario at that time, so any performer of colour found Jean right away. And Jean was kinda great at welcoming people…so I’m really grateful to her. Jean made me feel part of a community.” Jovanni, then continued to become playwright-in-residence under artistic director, David Oiye (1997 – 1998) which led to becoming Associate Artistic Director under Guillermo Verdecchia (1998 – 2003), and eventually, appointed Artistic Director in 2003.

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Myself, General Manager Kendra Fry and Jovanni in 2006

From 2003 – 2009, Jovanni curated a dazzling array of plays and new works, growing the development portion of Cahoots, and producing several productions a year. It was a period of growth, both onstage and off, marked by such successes BOMBAY BLACK, THE SHEEP AND THE WHALE and LIFT OFF! HONG KONG. At one point, there were 4 shows in the season, and 5-6 staff members squished into our tiny office on Spadina. Jovanni has said that he “loved the office at Spadina and Queen!” Why? “ Because there are so many places to eat!”

map-queen-and-spadinaAnd indeed, I remember fondly, planting ourselves and our laptops at a local cha-chaang-teng (a Hong-Kong style diner), where we would remain all day, ordering more noodles and tackling operating grants. When we didn’t de-camp from the office to write the grants, we were often motivated in an unusual way by then-general manager Kendra Fry. She would create a chart with all the granting sections that needed attention, and alongside each section, was a cookie from nearby patisserie, Le Gourmand. Jovanni recalls,
“We called them ‘crack cookies’, double-chocolate cookies with icing sugar on the outside, and the inside was molten lava.” Whoever finished writing a particular section, could eat one of the crack cookies. The competition was fierce. The cookies were that good. The grant was written in no time. Many, many years later, I would receive an email from Jovanni with the subject, “Very Important Announcement.” In the body of the email, Jovanni announced that he finally perfected and cracked the recipe for those infamous cookies, and would share its secrets, including this important one, “The key is to use mini-chips. Or regular chips, but pulse thscreen-shot-2017-02-02-at-12-07-32-pmem in the food processor, to break them down.” The details were always important to him!

Beyond cookies (which I can report, are still incredibly vital to our grant-writing process at Cahoots), when asked about a defining moment at the company, Jovanni had this to say, “I loved Ali & Ali [and the Axes of Evil], but I inherited it from Guillermo. I loved all the shows, but the one I am probably proudest of, is THE SHEEP AND THE WHALE, because it was such a massive accomplishment for a tiny company like ours to put up a 17 – hander onstage [in partnership with Modern Times Stage Company and Theatre Passe Muraille]. THE SHEEP AND THE WHALE, that was a coup to get that on.”

Indeed, it is a project that I continue to speak about, and reference. Directed masterfully by Soheil Parsa, and with Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace utterly transformed by designer Camellia Koo with shipping containers, this script from Ahmed Ghazali in its premiere English translation by Bobby Theodore told the story of transmigration and refugees caught between worlds. Ten years later, its themes still resonant and its tale seemingly ripped from headlines. And further, part of its significance was that, “It was a show where we gave thought on how to integrate community,” and when we began our celebrated outreach program, CROSSING GIBRALTAR, now celebrating its own 10th anniversary and a critical part of Cahoots’ success.

We finish with Jovanni’s thoughts of the current state of the industry, and in particular, how he feels things have changed in regards to culturally diversity onstage.

“It feels like deju vu. In Vancouver, I feel we’re having conversations now, that we had in the ‘90s. I haven’t been in Toronto for 5 years and while there is still work to be done, it feels…well, Stratford looks radically different than when I started 25 years ago. The NAC [National Arts Centre] looks radically different than 25 years ago. So, I’m heartened that some larger institution seem to be aware, and to have some responsibility [for representation]. Now [because of Canada Council] diversity is entrenched across the board. But now everybody is worried it will become a tick-box and you run the risk of tokenism and cultural-appropriation.

Diversity discussions never go away. Diversity, by its very definition is always about who is on the margins and the periphery. And there is always someone. There is always someone not present at the table that should be at the table. You don’t notice those people on the periphery until they organize, politicize and demand a voice and place at the table. We can’t foresee who will be on the margins, 10 years from now, who is going to demand their place at the table.”

It is Cahoots’ continuing mission to create as welcoming a table as possible and invite people to participate and partake. Join us for our 30th anniversary and beyond.

 

Jovanni is currently the Artistic Director of Gateway Theatre in Richmond, BC, where he has led Chinese-language programming called, The Pacific Series.

Courage & Cost

Home from one of my favourite nights of the year, Animiikig night at Native Earth’s Weesagachek Festival which is an evening of excerpts of new work. What really resonated with me tonight is the idea that the sharing of stories, and in particular, ones grown from our own bodies and beings, have cost. All shared stories cost the one doing the sharing, because there is much at risk. All the more so, if the storyteller is a person of colour. And even more acutely for a woman of colour. It has cost, and it takes courage.

When I think back to my favourite works of my own – well, the ones I really hold the most dear, they are also the ones that cost me the most. I cannot say that those particular works were done with the most self-care. And yet, in hindsight, the risk was worth it. I am not saying so to be boastful or romantic about it – just being honest.

In any case, I am writing about this, because Suvendrini Lena’s debut script The Enchanted Loom, makes me feel this way – in that it reveals an artist at their most raw, most vulnerable, most honest, most authentic. It’s a gorgeous, completely unique voice that sheds light on trauma in a way I have never seen or considered before. To me, that makes it very exciting art indeed.

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The Protest, featuring the ensemble of THE ENCHANTED LOOM by Suvendrini Lena. Photo by Dahlia Katz

Opening Tonight: The Enchanted Loom

If any play or work could accurately reflect a Cahoots’ aesthetic over the last 30 years of staging diversity, it would be THE ENCHANTED LOOM. Suvendrini Lena’s debut play is a deeply theatrical and political work nestled inside the very personal story of a family in crisis. The first time that I encountered her script, I was struck by Suvendrini’s authentic and accessible way in which she portrays medical text inside a highly dramatic scene.  It was later that I learned that Suvendrini is also a practicing doctor. As such, she brings her own discipline of medicine to her incisive work as a writer, working across disciplines in the truest fashion. Not only does this require a sophisticated knowledge of the medical (neurology, in her case), but also a nuanced sense of drama and dialogue. Add to this, the playwright’s exploration of the diasporic Tamil community, in order to bring light to the tumultuous ending of Sri Lanka’s civil war through the eyes of one family, her play speaks uniquely to the stories of our city, and our time. At Cahoots, we feel obligated to explore and expose society’s scars through the safety of our practice, while many around the world and here in Toronto, are directly impacted from such conflicts. In Suvendripeacock-feather-20067282ni’s play, she speaks of a feather, that can break the axle of wheel. Cahoots is a small company, but in bringing long-neglected stories to the stage, we strive to be that feather.