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.


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


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.


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. 


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.


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. 

Winter Sprint

We invite Cahoots creators (current and past participants of our in-house development unit, HOT HOUSE) twice a year to spend some focused time in the studio, over a weekend. We encourage a thoughtful and supportive atmosphere, by putting out the coffee and being available for dramaturgy meetings. It is not quite a cabin in the woods, but it is the best that Cahoots can offer.


One of the biggest challenges for writers is to well and truly carve out time to work on their projects. The compensation for writers of the stage are so lean, that making a full time living writing plays is extremely rare.  Most, including myself, write plays for the passion of it, occasionally receiving small fees for my labour. For the writers in our unit, some will be fortunate enough to have received seed funding, or perhaps even a residency. As such, most of the creators have other busy working lives, as well as their personal ones. So, a few hours in a space that is not one’s own kitchen table, or a cafe can be just the thing to focus and launch a project.

There is an extraordinary repose and calm that emanates from the space when writers are here for the SPRINT. It is such a different energy from when there are rehearsals, or meetings. I like to think that the collective focus and stillness results in a more productive writing state. The power of the SPRINT too, comes from the short amount of time. There is no time to meander, or continually ‘research’. Writing time is precious, and with a dedicated block of time, it is possible to achieve so much. Several of the projects from that weekend, will indeed see the stage, most notably THE ENCHANTED LOOM by Dr. Suvendrini Lena, which will hit the stage next fall.  Dr. Lena is a practicing geriatric neurologist and theatre creator and mom. Now, if she can make the time to write –  what excuse do the rest of us have?

The participants of the Winter SPRINT were:

Kawa Ada, Kanika Ambrose, Jo Simalaya Alcampo*, Shaista Latif, Jani Lauzon, Suvendrin Lena*, Amanda Parris*, Rafael Renderos*, Donald Woo*

*current 2015-2016 Hot House Members

John & Waleed: A Note

JohnWaleed-WEB-2283The simplicity of the show, John & Waleed (which could be seen merely as a show about two men and their music), belies the virtuosity and artistry of these two musicians. Ostensibly, this show is about John Millard and Waleed Abdulhamid’s own lives (variously growing up in Southern Ontario and the Sudan), and their progression towards music, happiness, and, for lack of a better term, their ‘bromance’.

However, the deeper narrative thread is what I call the ‘colonialism’ thread, represented by the migration of people, and their music. Some of the connections are more overt. For example, the city of Kitchener (where John spent some of his childhood), is named after the British General who invaded Khartoum (the capital of Sudan). A funny coincidence, considering the two men onstage and their kinship. As well, the banjo was originally an African instrument, which travelled to America via the slave trade. Eventually, it was absorbed into minstrel shows, and now is clearly an instrument connected to the folk music of the American South. And yet, John on banjo supporting an African children’s song taught to him by Waleed, is both unexpected, and utterly right.


In many ways, the piece presents our shared colonialism without judgement; it simply was. In Canada, we all, whether we like it or not, are also a product of our collective histories. Both John and Waleed, through migration (though John’s family was from a little further back) brought them to Canada, then Ontario and eventually to Toronto. The same could be said of the music they carry with them, from the traditional, to their own compositions, the songs tell a migratory tale of their own. All that history conspires to bring John & Waleed to a time and place where they are able to engage in each other’s music and luckily for us, share it with us through our show. I hope you get a chance to experience the magic of their friendship with us.

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All photos of John Millard and Waleed Abdulhamid by Dahlia Katz Photography.