Beyond the Script.
I am in the middle of some major applications but I wanted to write this down because I want this knowledge to be witnessed and for our artists to be honoured with more integrity. I write this in humble service to all the BIPOC's out there who have and or are currently facing the violence of white supremacy in the arts with institutional leaders.
I reckon with the notion of being called a "playwright" because my work can often get commandeered by egotistical eurocentric arts leaders who want to usurp as much dignity, authority and decision making as possible in processes. And because writing a "play" is but one very small part of the work I do as a storyteller for my Salish Plateau peoples as I strive to live up to my artistic legal orders and cultural edicts.
I want to share a story.
During the rehearsal and creation of the ceremony of Kamloopa I was deeply thinking about all the ways we could honour Indigenous Matriarchs. I was thinking if we are embodying this transformation of the theatre into a long lodge, then I need to honour long lodge protocols and the ones that have been shared with me, particularly the one where my Nations honour guests at the ceremony. Kamloopa's mission statement was to ignite the power that lives within Indigenous Matriarchs - so we should honour them.
Now Matriarchy is a system not a gender, so this includes anyone who identifies as a woman, femme, trans or non-binary person, or anyone really feeling like they are channeling Matriarchal energy. The protocols we were baking into the ceremony was to refuse the oppressions of imperial patriarchy and as best we could, we wanted to presently and retroactively, honour Indigenous community members who have often been neglected to be acknowledged. We wanted to deeply bear witness to them at the top of the ceremony.
I remember I was so nervous at the dress rehearsal. What if nobody stands up?! Well then we can honour those not present and it will illuminate how white and patriarchal theatre is. What if we make Indigenous Matriarchs uncomfortable - ok we'll add in the protocol preamble "if you feel comfortable." What if, what if, what if. But integrity as Brene Brown states, is doing what is courageous over what's comfortable and by this glorious Universe we were going to be brave.
So Kaitlyn Yott, Samantha Brown and Yolanda Bonnell are greeting the witnesses as they come in, I really didn't want a "4th wall" because this long lodge was not a metaphor - and long lodge protocols state that we greet people into our gathering place. Lights go to half and Yolanda begins. I'm sweating, I've eaten too many of the prop cheezies and this tech diet of plastic cheese and microwaved vegan hotdogs really isn't helping but I take a deep breath and fall into the ceremony.
Yolanda, "...we would like to honour the Indigenous Matriarchs here tonight, so if you feel comfortable we ask that you please stand so we can bear witness and honour you."
Gulp, gasp, time collapse and tears.
They stood up. They stood up with pride and people were bearing witness to these powerful Matriarchs and I kid you not tears jumped from my eyeballs. I've never felt anything so immense in my whole life. I look to the trio on the stage and they are in shock. Yott starts to tear up. We're all overwhelmed with the ceremonial participation and my director brain goes chiiit did I just get the cast super emosh before the whole thing began?
Breath, this was the ceremony, this is what the script - which is simply a provocation - is supposed to do. The artistic ceremony was firing and impacting people and we hadn't even got to the prologue. Technically "the play" hadn’t even begun. We hadn't said one line from the script...
I recently had an arts leader come to a meeting and say, "I've read the script and we're not moving forward with it."
was this person going on about?
They read "the script" that was not even in a complete draft and I was at least 4 re-drafts away from a production draft. They “read the play" which from my Salish Plateau paradigm wasn't even possible - that is how they are making this "informed" decision.
I was also thinking this is the 3rd time in 3 years I have met this person and the other 2 times I called the meetings because of how unsupported and racialized I felt and 2 months prior they didn't even have the respect to stay to the end of the script reading and they never had a single meeting to discuss the script with me and now this "script" is how they are making their decision?! Well golly gee.
The racist, ignorant, white supremacist b.s was so dense I legitimately thought someone rolled a fog machine in and was pulling a prank on me. "Surprise Kim you almost believed how racist we were." I was waiting for someone to be like "just joking nobody can be this ignorant" but it wasn't a joke.
It felt like I was being pulled through a white supremacist steam roller in slow motion and my heart and spirit was being crushed moment by excruciating moment. How. How could this level of institutional gaslighting, racist decision making be taking place. How could this leadership think this is how you treat an Indigenous artist. How could this be their "best course of action." To obliterate the creative aliveness of an Indigenous storyteller whose been working 40+ hours a week for over 2 years but hey they read "the script."
To Arts leaders, decision makers, producers:
You must look way fucking beyond a script. If you have no capacity to do the hard and often uncomfortable work to meet artists working outside the eurocentric paradigm - don't get into a relationship with us because you are only positioning us for failure and trauma. Do not use us for photo ops when you have no capacity to get into the muck and do The Work. Do not create facades of support when you have no real commitment or the courageous capacity to execute.
And if you are currently in a situation where you are like - christ - this show is not for us. Say that. Do not shirk responsibility and blame the artist for your decision making and incapacities - cause that is some fucked up toxic traumatizing white supremacist bull shit. Have the sand to strike a meeting and say "We are not ready for this. We cannot support you in the way you deserve. We failed you.”
That I respect. That is choosing courage over comfort. That is being a leader with integrity.
I hope decision makers who are trained in canadian theatre are rigorously working on their capacities to know how to ask for help, admit gaps in knowledge and learn to make real commitments to building personal and institutional capacity and cultural competency. Cause I never ever, ever, ever want any BIPOC to go through what I went through.
Doing work outside the canadian canon goes way beyond the "script". So get to work or get off the government dime and make room for people who have the courage to know how to because your egregious failures are costing us all.
With respect to the many arts leaders who are having difficult conversations and to the BIPoC's who are never being paid enough to deal with this level of racism. We know the work goes beyond the pages, we do this for our communities, to give light to our peoples in the long lodges, inside the theatres we are so often kept from.
p.s that moment of honouring the Matriarchs before Kamloopa is not even in the published script. That part of the ceremony lives in the cosmic ether. Love to all the writers and creators whose work cannot be captured or wholly understood just by "reading it." I bear witness to you and your process. And deep love to the hundreds of Indigenous Matriarchs who stood up night after night and gifted us such brilliance and courage. I am humbled by your power and moved by your infinite presence.
p.p.s I respectfully ask you do not message me asking me if I'm ok. I am healing. Please do not even take the time to express how shitty this was - I know that. But please do go use your time (if you have it) to leverage your power to make sure this incontestable racialization never happens again.