- JESSICA Hartjes
Theatre in Nova Scotia has a serious problem and if something isn't done about it, it will go the way of the cod fisheries.
Theatre, like many arts disciplines in Nova Scotia, is dominated by white, straight, cis men.
Desperate to attract audiences, theatre companies will go to any lengths except for honestly representing the communities they live in. Specifically, larger commercial theatres completely ignore the voices of black, Indigenous and persons of colour in Nova Scotia.
A shining example of this is the use of the term "eskimo" during a scene transition in Neptune Theatre's A Miracle on 34th Street. The disregard for Indigenous voices is apparent—of the multiracial children's chorus, only white children spoke, and there were no adults of colour, completely erasing racialized families. When you do that, what you communicate to potential audiences is that this is an institution for white people. What I also want to see is women's stories on the main stage. The discussion around female-centric storytelling is steeped with the assumption that no one will watch it. Women aren't a niche audience, we're 51 percent of the population.
Of course, indie theatre isn't immune from this either—Noun by Brandon Lorimer at the 2016 Atlantic Fringe Festival depicted a post-racial world in which there was no concept of black people. In student theatre, Izzy Patterson's Salt for the King's Theatrical Society was disgustingly appropriative, using an Indigenous character as an object for white characters to perform actions around and dismissing the trans experience as a phase.
That's not to say we don't have some incredible exceptions—DaPoPo Theatre is the closest thing Halifax has to a formal queer theatre comparable to the legendary Buddies in Bad Times theatre, and is currently developing a full-length musical, KAMP, about the experiences of gay males in concentration camps in the holocaust. DaPoPo took a chance on Jacob Sampson's Chasing Champions before Ship's Company or Eastern Front Theatre saw it as profitable.
2b Theatre Company, through its current playwright-in-residence Shauntay Grant, is actively developing and scouting talent from black communities in Nova Scotia. It's a welcome change from the overstuffed, intellectual to the point of being inaccessible writing of past playwright-in-residence Michael Mackenzie.
LunaSea Theatre is the only women's theatre in Halifax, telling stories by women, with women, for the entire city since 2006. It unfortunately remains an all-white institution.
San Family Productions brought an incredible show to Halifax this year— Walter Borden's The Epistle of Tightrope Time brought audiences perspective of gay black men before all the white folks started gushing about Moonlight. Audiences were wowed again at the Atlantic Fringe Festival with Voices Black Theatre Ensemble's ONCE: Africville Stories. Of the theatre companies in Nova Scotia, these are the only ones to be run by African Nova Scotians.
Villain's Theatre advertised their production of The Spanish Tragedy as all-female, before amending it to acknowledge members of their cast and crew's non-binary identities. Finally, representation—and proud representation at that—of diverse gender identities on and off stage. This is the kind of theatre that makes sense to be in a Pride parade—what did Shakespeare By The Sea do to take up our space in our community?
Finally, I'd like to gush a bit about Keep Good Theatre Company. It's a fledgling company run by three incredible women committed to making quality work. It's not just entertainment for Keep Good, it's art. It's principles (though admittedly it falls into the same pitfalls of whiteness as LunaSea).
More people of colour, more women, more queer stories, more original works, more representation of these communities in administrative, decision-making positions, and more overall tact would be really swell for 2017. I'm optimistic, but have never been much of a realist. Make the world around you better.
Lara Lewis is an advocate for the arts, a member of Glooscap First Nation and a member of the LGBTQ community. She is a graduate of the Fountain School of Performing Arts and is currently a journalism student at King's.