Success in Society Through Theatre

by Caroline W

  • Literary (Genre) Drama
  • Literary (Genre) Other
  • Literary (Length) Medium (1000-3000 words)
  • Literary (Length) Medium (1000-3000 words)

Politics, corporate office, law, film, theatre; what do these professions have in common? All are dominated by white men. Certainly there are a few “raisins of diversity” in the mix as Philip Akin, artistic director of Obsidian Theatre Company says (Morrow), but the vast majority of stories in theatre in Canada are written and directed by old white men to promote the misogynic, hegemonic powers that continue to rule Canada. Theatre in Canada is a tool for promoting acceptance, equality, and diversity to continue to develop Canada’s diverse character. This essay will begin by illustrating the problems with the current lack of diversity; from there I will explore the space that diversity ought to occupy in theatre, and how diversity in theatre can improve diversity in Canada. In this paper, diversity is an all-inclusive term referring to the mosaic model of cultures and peoples living harmoniously while preserving and promoting individual cultures (Chiasson). Integral to this idea of diversity is the equality of all persons regardless of gender or culture. Although Canada is a leader in diversity compared to most Western nations, there is still much space for improvement. Looking at society in general, there are regularly acts of violence against people based on their religion, race, or gender. Events such as the assault of a Sikh man, walking home, when a car of white men pulled over to perform this hate crime (Elliot and Dehaas). Other events include the violence towards Muslim women in Hijabs, or Niqabs, such as the attack of Safira Merriman who was assaulted while attempting to enter a store with her two daughters (Fine). These incidents are terrifying examples of the hegemonic culture believing they are entitled to more than minority cultures. This idea is made worse with people who dehumanize other cultures to the point where violence against the other is rational. In terms of gender inequality, fifty percent of women in Canada will experience an incident of violence against them (The Facts About Violence Against Women). Those who believe misogyny is being overcome are sorely incorrect when reviewing that figure, or even reviewing cases such as the Jian Ghomeshi trial. Mr. Ghomeshi, although facing six charges of violence against women, with three victims in the courtroom was convicted of nothing (Hasham). Canada promotes and celebrates diversity, equality, and women’s rights; yet something is not working. Acceptance of diversity in society is not successful, how is diversity in theatre in comparison? According to Marion de Vries, women write twenty five percent of Canadian plays; and eight percent are written by minorities (de Vries). Where are the other sixty seven percent of Canadian plays coming from; white men. This figure does not include the works of classic playwrights such as Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekov, and other men who-although perhaps unknowingly-use theatre to promote misogyny, and the hegemonic culture. One example of Canada’s lack of diversity in theatre is the Canadian Stage 2016-2017 season. Out of thirteen shows, none of the directors, playwrights, or choreographers are from a minority (Nestruck). While many academics, our government, and minorities are fighting for more equality in theatre how is it that a company, which aims at representing Canada, fails to do just that. Canadian Stage receives half a million dollars a year from the Canada Council (Taylor), let alone what they receive from Ontario and Toronto grants. With that kind of subsidization, they ought to be doing more than hiring a few minority actors and stagehands. Even when minority female playwrights succeed at being produced such as Meghan Swaby who recently debuted Venus’ Daughter, the director was a man (Morrow); how can a man voice the concerns of oppressed women? It is crucial for someone with a similar background as the playwright to direct, as they would understand more personally the challenges the characters must overcome. Although the director had a similar cultural background, pieces with feminist themes require a female director, that is until the point in time when feminism has come to the point where all people are equal. Another issue in today’s Canadian theatre is the fact that many plays feature a close to all white cast, with perhaps an ethnically diverse maid, gardener, or other role. To appreciate diversity, all cultures ought to be featured in roles of all sorts. Improving diversity will not occur if all minority peoples are connected to domestic careers working under people from the hegemonic culture. Some playwrights attempt to bridge cultures by taking few generalized elements of another to enhance what would otherwise be a hegemonic play (Pavis), however instead of bridging cultures, this tactic can overgeneralize, isolate, or mock the minority further. The idea of taking what the hegemonic culture deems valuable and discarding the remainder sadly mirrors historical events such as the crusades, and devalues minority cultures. The inclusion of multicultural elements to humanize, and create equality must be done carefully. Borrowing elements from cultures is not always a solution to humanize cultures, and promote acceptance. According to Caroline Azar, playwright of Dink; to promote diversity, plays ought to be written for a diverse cast; focusing on a cast that accurately portrays the Canadian landscape; including sixty percent minority (Azar). By writing and casting in such a way that not only are opportunities created for actors who are minorities, but the culture of these minorities are also brought to life onstage, perhaps in front of an audience whom had never experienced that culture before. This brings about acceptance. Caroline also writes for a cast of sixty percent women, and her female roles are all heroines (Azar). By making women the heroines in theatre, all women are empowered. By creating women who are strong and independent, men also become more respectful of women and the space they fill in society. The style of writing that Azar follows not only fights the misogynistic aspects of theatre and society, but it also challenges the hegemonic ideals present in Canadian society. Another way to promote diversity through theatre is interculturalism, where the space between cultures is well studied and explored, in these pieces, generalizations are avoided and specific nuances and practices are explored (Feral). An example of an intercultural piece is Ravi Jain’s A Brimful of Asha, where Indian traditions clash with Canadian ideals. This play is a fantastic example, as it invites the audience to understand arranged marriages and the way that such a taboo idea in Canadian culture is integral to Indian culture. The piece itself is an invitation to find a way that arranged marriages of tradition, and Ravi’s hope to find his own wife in his own time can be merged. An important element of this piece is the fact that it is written by a minority, about a minority for all Canadians. Another important aspect of this piece in particular is the roles and treatment of both genders in another culture; in this play Ravi (a man) almost has his rights at finding a wife taken as his parents wish for him to be married on their timeline to a woman they choose. This seems to be more common for women, but this play gives a different perspective. Interculturalism is an essential part of the idea of the mosaic model of diversity; to live harmoniously and preserve culture there must be respect and understanding for cultures, and how minority cultures may fit within the hegemonic culture. Important parts of interculturalism are the cross-cultural exchange, which promotes understanding between cultures, and aids in preserving minority cultures identities (Chiasson). The goal of interculturalism in Canada is to protect individual rights, while overcoming discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or ethnicity (Chiasson). Two ideas of promoting diversity have been explored, and though they are viable options which can continue to grow and promote equality, more can be done. The most important step for diversity in theatre, and diversity in Canada is to produce new works from a diverse background. By experiencing art made by a minority, the majority can experience why certain rituals are followed, and the importance they hold for the culture. Traditions that may have been questioned, or thought down upon become celebrated with mere explanation and experience. Theatre is the strongest tool for diversity, because it so easily allows people of the hegemonic culture whom mainly interact with others from the same culture to experience the challenges of minorities. Without minority theatre, these members of the hegemonic society may never be able to experience and understand the aspects of the minority’s culture. All people are wrapped up in their own heads, many to the point where they cannot see other people’s challenges. By creating theatre that illustrates the challenges other people face, audiences are exposed to the trials of other walks of life that they would likely not otherwise think of. Theatre in Canada is not only a place of entertainment; it is a social tool for promoting equality and acceptance. While Canada is leaps and bounds above other nations, our society and theatre is not as equality focused as it may seem. To continue to promote diversity in Canada, the first step is promoting theatre with diverse playwrights, and directors, who feature diverse casts, as well as featuring intercultural pieces. Theatre in Canada can be a tool for change, however it needs an audience to support it. Work Cited Azar, Caroline. "Dink, Feminism, and Diversity." Telephone interview. 17 Jan. 2016. Chiasson, Miriam. "A Clarification of Terms: Canadian Multiculturalism and Quebec Interculturalism." The Management of Diversity (2012): n. pag. Aug. 2012. Web. 14 Mar. 2016. DeVries, Marion. "How to Succeed in Theatre in Toronto." University of Toronto, Scarborough. 16 Mar. 2016. Lecture. Elliot, Josh, and Josh Dehaas. "CTV Exclusive: Sikh Man Viciously Attacked in Quebec City." CTVNews. N.p., 1 Apr. 2016. Web. 02 Apr. 2016. Feral, Josette. "Beyond the Cultural Perspective, Toward Transcultural Identities, or Is Interculturalism Still Possible." CTR 139 (2009): 1-16. Print. Fine, Sean. "Muslim Convert Attacked While Wearing Niqab in Toronto." The Globe and Mail. N.p., 5 Oct. 2015. Web. 01 Apr. 2016. Hasham, Alyshah. "Jian Ghomeshi." The Star. N.p., 24 Mar. 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2016. Jain, Asha, and Ravi Jain. A Brimful of Asha. Toronto, ON: Playwrights Canada, 2012. Print. Morrow, Martin. "Respecting the Original Booty Queen | Culture | Torontoist." Torontoist Main RSS. N.p., 17 Feb. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. Nestruck, Kelly. "Matthew Jocelyn Ducks Real Discussion on Canadian Stage Diversity Failure." The Globe and Mail. N.p., 29 Jan. 2016. Web. 01 Apr. 2016. Pavis, Patrice. The Intercultural Performance Reader. London: Routledge, 1996. Print. "The Facts About Violence Against Women." Canadian Women's Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. Taylor, Kate. "Why The Canada Council's Theatre Budget Decision Has Some Companies Crying Foul." The Globe and Mail. N.p., 07 Feb. 2014. Web. 01 Apr. 2016.

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