playwright

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

Guest Blog: Suvendrini Lena

Cahoots2015brochure-6593We asked Playwright-in-Residence Suvendrini Lena to reflect on her process.

Playwrights are people who hear voices. I’m always having conversations in my head with friends, frenemys, enemys, my child, my lover, and total strangers. So I imagined this interview with myself:

Why do you go to the theatre?

I go to the theatre to connect and feel in a way that is often difficult for me in the real world. Under the cover of darkness its safer (most times) to open up my heart and swim in the sea of emotion and experience that really joins us all together. I like to spend a lot of time on my own. I like to go to the theatre on my own because when the lights go out one is alone and immersed. When theatre is truly brilliant  I am tempted to dive so deep that I risk being carried out to sea. I take the risk.

Why do you write for the theatre?

 Because I am haunted by voices, not one but many, of people who have become entwined with me. To write them is to set them free. To set me free. And theatre, at  least on the surface, and perhaps in its essence, does not need, as poetry or prose or a painting might – a frame of reference, a perspective – characters, worlds, ideas can battle, undress and deflower one another.  The frame moves, is adjusted or broken.

What gives you the right to write about other people?

You mean people who are different from me, in particular more marginalized than me? How can I write the voice of a man who has been tortured, or a working class Tamil woman or an immortal Palestininan poet?

Is it emancipatory or oppressive to write the voice of another? Is there a difference if the sub-altern writes the voice of the colonizer, or the colonizer writes the subaltern’s voice. The black the white or the white the black?

Of course there is a difference.

I think the challenge is to work really hard to see and feel my own constructs and history and how it informs any voice I hear or write. But to step into another’s experience and write it –we can never actually do that – we always write what is within. We have to admit that writing a character will always be constructing an ‘other’. There is always a potential for violence and silencing in this. Seen from a different perspective, creating an ‘other’ is a radical attempt to understand, to exercise empathy, without which we cannot support diversity within community.

Wouldn’t it just be better to stick to what you really know. Yourself for example?

I’d have to write about myself alone right now. Memory is notoriously mutable. The past, the future – its all improvisation. And writing about family isn’t any better. I have caused the greatest pain through acts of misunderstanding those closest to me, whom I ‘know’ the best and with whom I share the most ‘experience’ – my mother for example.

The test is: Do the characters we make open us to the voices of others. Or,  when all is said and done or, have we just made ourselves more comfortable with the music we already like to hear, or the stories we already know. I think ultrasound reveals this struggle rather well.

Will theatre ever change the world?

Yes. The theatre of the oppressed for example, is rooted in the notion that the theatre, and the rehearsal space where we interrogate and re-envision the larger political theatre we all inhabit. Depending on what we rehearse, what we imagine, how we stretch and exercises our voices, and the voices present in the room, we change the world of the play and the world in which we play for better or worse.

Suvendrini Lena is a playwright and neurologist. Her first play, THE ENCHANTED LOOM will be produced by Cahoots Theatre in our 30th anniversary season, Fall 2016 in the Factory Studio Theatre. Her position is supported by the Ontario Arts Council.