Last December, OneLight Theatre hosted a day-long discussion about the state of Canadian theatre in The Crib, its intimate space on Gottingen Street. The response was so overwhelming that this year’s forum has expanded into the Dalhousie Arts Centre for an entire weekend of disussion, philosophies and performances.
Beginning on December 10, the event will include panels, paper presentations, performances and opportunities for attendees to socialize and discuss forum topics. OneLight’s managing director, Maggie Stewart, says the original performances, The Scrubbing Project by Turtle Gals and Otakose Mayi Kesikaw—Yesterday Was a Bad Day by KS Callihoo are new items on the agenda.
“It’s not often that you get more than a couple different theatre artists in the room that are aboriginal that are working in Canada,” she says. “In Atlantic Canada there are no professional aboriginal theatre companies. None.”
According to Stewart and artistic director Shahin Sayadi, the company’s goal for the forum is in the title itself: “The Canadian Theatre Identity Crisis: Challenging Eurocentricity Through Aboriginal Myth and Ritual.”
“We are hoping to bring people together to see what they may not have seen before and see it in a very concrete way through performances, through discussion panels, and through bringing together a critical mass of aboriginal theatre performers,” says Stewart.
She feels that in a country that prides itself on being an ethnic melting pot, we tend to disregard areas where its contents aren’t mixing well. “People are doing what we should be recognizing as art but because we are only able to judge it against western standards they’re getting overlooked,” she says.
Sayadi and Stewart describe theatre as a storytelling art, a vehicle for transporting ideas, a form of communication. But like all communicative efforts, if there is a difference in the style or presentation of the ideas being expressed, there is often a block in the message. One of the forum’s aims is to clear away the blockage.
“We have different languages. We speak different languages and we understand different languages, and then all of us are trying to fit all of this into one common language,” says Sayadi. “And really, the forum is talking about how all of this is going to fit into one common language.”
“How do we exchange these ideas and find commonalities and find communication?” adds Stewart. “It’s not that we’re all working from Eurocentric perspectives, it’s just that the people who aren’t working from those perspectives are not being heard. They’re literally not being heard. On stage they’re not being heard and that’s the problem: It’s very easy to say they’re not there because you can’t hear them.”
The main focus of the forum is to challenge Eurocentric theatre philosophies and to unveil the myth that Canadian theatre is derivative only of western ideas. But Sayadi and Stewart stress the importance of starting the definition of Canadian theatre identity with an examination of aboriginal theatre. This starting point is the only logical one.
“The reason we chose aboriginal theatre and not, say, immigrant theatre, or even feminist theatre, is that it’s disingenuous to say you’re going to look at Canadian culture and not start there,” says Stewart. “That’s the root of Canadian culture. You must start with the aboriginal contributions and then what was built on top of it after.”
Stewart says that the members of OneLight Theatre are putting on the forum so they too can learn about and try to understand different types of theatre.
“Overall, what we’re really excited about is that we’re not just bringing aboriginal theatre artists together,” she says, “we’re bringing local theatre artists together, academics, and basically all sorts of people to the table to just talk and to compare perspectives.”
The Canadian Theatre Identity Crisis, December 10 and 11 at the Dalhousie Arts Centre, 6101 University, $12-$30, 425-6812, www.onelighttheatre.com.