I’ve been developing The Archivist since 2014 in small iterations by participating in festivals and being programmed part of Why Not Theatre’s RISER Project. Last year during RISER, I performed 6 different iterations of The Archivist with 6 different formats and audience configurations. I was scared out of my mind but being able to work as an improviser and to make space for the audience to interact with me, was far more important than having a perfectly polished show. In the end, I was rewarded for the risks but going into the experience, there was a strong level of doubt from myself and others. I had to push through and allow my voice as an artist to take centre despite the very real possibility of failing publicly.
The decision to work in this way through festival circuits and collaborative producing models, allows me to have agency and allows me to take the lead with my work. I am not an anti-institutional artist by any means. It’s more that I think institutional spaces are not always beneficial for young artists, particularly at the beginning of their careers. Over the years, I’ve seen many artists of colour disappear after a couple of shows when they’ve attempted to operate and create from the centre. And let’s be real here, we all know we have major problems creating inclusive spaces in theatre outside of the fringe festivals.
Many artists who operate from the margins, work within their means and limitations. This approach of working with what is available has been a cornerstone of my practice. I don’t compare my work with others and I don’t aim to compete with realities I cannot access. Making attempts to fit into structures and formats that don’t make space for my experiences, is a battle I am NOT willing to fight. What comes first is protecting my creativity. And I don’t mean protecting it in a way that is super precious and delicate. I mean it in a way that protects oneself in the lifelong battle of enduring inevitable oppression. Ya feel me?
You take care of your mental and physical health. You strengthen your thoughts. You take the time to strengthen your vocals. You create space for clarity. You lessen your exposure to people and spaces that ask you educate or placate your struggles. You recognize and find ways to legitimize your practice outside of the dominant norm. This process requires every bit of your attention and it means making difficult decisions that are unpopular and not easily understood. And when you’re able to create a space for yourself to be strong, you can re-enter the center for a period of time to do your work, knowing the strength of your practice and your voice.
We are obsessed with youth. We are obsessed with making success happen at an early age. I’m 30 now. Still young. Still learning. But I worry for young artists of colour who are invited into spaces when they’re just starting out, knowing the challenges they will face. When I was working heavily inside institutional spaces, I spent a majority of my time combating political agendas and operating under the duress of identity politics. I had little to no time or support to do my work. Had I entered those spaces a few years later, I would have saved myself the pain of being disillusioned at such an integral point of growth. Alongside the making of art, I’ve also had to tend to the real damage perpetuated by those who live by the model of scarcity and fear.
I believe it’s crucial for artists of colour to have space to fail and to take risks boldly. We often romanticize failure but choosing to take the risk of failure is incredibly difficult. To choose to follow what speaks to you and what draws your curiosity while participating and challenging structures that were never built with you in mind, requires a certain kind of disciplined courage.
The Archivist is a response to these challenges and a response to the ways marginalized peoples are asked to maintain the status quo. Knowing that my work doesn’t fit into the traditional frameworks of theatre, is no longer something to be upset about. Knowing there are other platforms that exist outside of programmed seasons has been freeing to say the least.
What was not a choice became a choice in the end. What was limitation is now my freedom. I’m looking forward to the work I’ll be creating at 40, 50, 60 and onwards. I hope to see you in the audience.
SummerWorks Performance Festival
There are choices one has to make when attempting to have agency while creating work that addresses issues of power.
When p(ow)er is built on the basis of fear, I see the impacts of it, not only in my communities but on the very person(s) causing the damage. When you exert your p(ow)er in ways that are harmful, you are disempowering yourself in the process too. You are denying yourself an opportunity to grow and learn. Most importantly, you’re denying yourself a balance of care and love for yourself and others.
As a person who holds many identities, I’m continually bearing witness and experiencing these different states of p(ow)er in the work I create and in the industry I work in. It’s been very challenging to be personally accountable but the process has been deeply empowering. I wish there were more spaces of care that allowed artists to assess the implications of the power we have as creators.
As an artist, I’m not interested in re-enacting forms of violence and trauma. I am not interested in a kind p(ow)er that needs to be reassured through control over others. I am not interested in performing power for a bid for p(ow)er.
I’m interested in performance as a means to explore potential worlds of care and empowerment.
This last year in particular, these four questions continue to centre the practice I am building….
How can we move into a state of healthy power, em(power)ment and success without causing harm to ourselves and others?
How can we address where our power comes from without guilt but with a sense of awareness and respect for the spaces and bodies we occupy and share with others?
How can we address our biases (ideological and egoic) while cultivating a balanced sense of self?
How can performance show a world of possibilities that can be applied in our day to day existence?
Sending strength and support for those who are making the choice to grow and learn.
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I want to sink into spaces like water colour, flowing tenderly against the grain of blank paper, leaking beyond the boundaries set forth by familiar shapes. I want this moniker Artist of Colour to be seen differently. Not as an address against whiteness. Not as a sign of non-normativity. Not as a state of exceptionalism or assumption. When you ask me to only refer myself to these three words, you’re asking me to inhabit a space of fettered representation. I want more for myself. I want more for others like me, like you.
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thinking of the relationship between exile due to lack of opportunity and the inevitable need to self exile to survive and to protect the creative process. thinking of the uneven rhythm and pacing of displacement of poor artists, poor peoples. thinking of marginalization as fraying- fraying as a movement to unravel a fabric too delicate, too precious, too precarious to hold the movements of othered bodies. thinking of making meaning. giving meaning. defining meaning without a means to an end. Someone asks me ‘do you have an end goal?’ i say no. how could i (.) how could i (?) these days i have a hard time understanding the difference between a period and a question. a tension between the direct and indirect. and movements are both indirect and direct. you see, i think an end goal implies some kind of reward. i think an end goal implies some point of relief. a return from exile. also some stasis. i can only recall a handful of moments of that feeling of relief. these releases seem to be so brief, so momentary before i am made to move again in process, in work, in existence because access to space and advancement has a direct relationship to class. frankly, i don’t have the class to excel in the ways that are afforded to others. we cannot talk about inclusion without a discussion of class. for many poor people, the movements that have been forced unto us are moving us further and further into the fray. i wonder if it’s possible to be consciously autonomous with the understanding that we are all weaved in together. thinking of what it means to hold the tension of fraying while attempting to thread into the weave. thinking of what it means to make a new fabric made up of these burred unrefined frays. An exile that has no end gives one time to think.
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she who is asked to speak
cannot speak without consequence
cannot speak without the fear of elimination
she who begins to turn words into images
learns to live with silences
learns to live with loneliness
she who is invited
often last minute
is asked to witness
is asked to absolve instantly
all forms of ignorance
with her presence
her love of words is quickly disappearing
so is her language, so is her tongue
she sliced and swallowed her sought for truth
when words became games for status and gain
now she mouths her words onto little white sheets of paper
hoping one day a sound may come from the fissures
turning glass into sand, sound into action
but she is practicing patience and patience is lonely
so she sits by the window
each night and each day
mouthing words like silent prayers
into the blankness, into the light
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I’ve been thinking a lot about mastery this past year. How much I resist knowing something to its fullest (if that’s even possible) and how much I hate a perfectly made sentence both spoken and written. This doesn’t mean I want my work to be in·de·ci·pher·a·ble but I’m searching for a way to communicate with you authentically and in the moment. To continue telling you the /tro͞oTH/, when I stumble over the words and mispronounce them, it doesn’t cause me any bit of grief. It actually makes me feel very happy and I get a kick out of it- especially on stage.Any time anything takes on a known (?), recognized (?) or predictable form in the performance and in my practice, it makes me want to destroy it immediately. The more I do this show, the more I want to simplify until there is nothing left but me and you. You and me together in this room. Last night I sat in the audience for a time and told a story- no not a story- a series of thoughts- and lead (?) you to create your own and it felt great to be among everyone else, to break this boundary between audience and artist. And there was a moment I wanted to stop and to sit in silence with you, both together and alone but I didn’t. I rejected my instinct because all I could hear in my head is “Do something! Be something.” Last year in the midst of letting go of what I thought was my trajectory with this work, I wrote this status below.”I go to the theatre so I can receive. heal. change. transform. love. embrace. let go. and grow. I create so I can investigate. vent. invent. play. laugh. forgive. bloom. and contribute. It’s a beautiful and difficult cycle but one that is shared and must not be uneven in the exchange. I’m an audience member just as much as I am a performer. I don’t come to your shows to watch your mastery or technique/method, I come to see your vulnerability and joy. I come to bear witness and to say I see you and I see myself.”It’s been a year and I am still trying to understand the words and trying to live with them. I just fucking quoted myself. How could I do that? Well “a quote is a repeat or a copy out (a group of words from a text or speech), typically with an indication that one is not the original author or speaker.”I’m not. I’m not anymore. The year has passed and I am a different person. And those words are not my own. They’ve been created through many conversations over the years. Right now, with The Archivist, I am finding ways to take these words and to apply them to my practice. To make them active, to make them come alive. Just because you say it, doesn’t mean you practice it.This is what The Archivist represents to me. It is an attempt to tell an unwritten story. To place the text on a page, is a form of death for me. To know the show to its fullest, doesn’t do anything for me. I could easily write you a structured story from beginning to end but I don’t want to and I don’t think the audience wants that either. I think. Stay home. Watch Netflix. I mean all I can do is think and not know. And I’m okay with that but sometimes i get the message that we don’t want the risk of not knowing so we make assumptions of what the audience wants and we end up compromising the art. A new kind of betrayal takes place between the audience and the artist.I have faced a lot of resistance over the years with my content and form. I am very aware that it is because of who I am and what I represent. It’s fascinating to me, how much we talk about risk and failure but when it comes time to launch a show, launch a season, launch a festival, there is a type of need and address to talk about the work in a marketable way that I can’t fucking stand. How can companies afford to fail when so much is at stake financially? I’m also remembering the rejection I’ve received over the years because it was easier to disregard what I was working on without meaningful conversation because it presented too much of a challenge. Of course it was, of course it continues to be. That’s what I do because challenges exist in my life and in my art making and it will always be a challenge because we’re all so fucking depleted, stretched out and tired. I think it’s because we continue to do things the same way over and over again and think yes maybe this time it will be /ˈdif(ə)rənt/ I think companies cultivate an assumption of what their audiences want based on donor relations and successes of past shows. There are artists who may never receive support or advancement because it doesn’t fit with the company’s idea of their audience. I can only imagine how difficult it can be to run an entire company and to keep the doors open. It’s not an easy task. Believe me, I am having one hell of a time filling seats despite positive, meaningful and considered responses to the work. I guess I’m just sad. Everywhere I look, I see and feel a sense of panic.But how to make a living? How to get the word out there for your work without betraying your values and intentions? How to keep going when you continue to face forms of resistance? It’s great that I’m part of RISER. It’s fantastic. What happens after? I don’t know. But I know it’s not anything I can recognize. It thrills me and it scares me. It challenges my ego.The Archivist is not a show. It is a process taking form and the form will breed more forms and so forth. Will my audience be okay with that approach? I don’t know. I am finding out publicly. The work takes place on and off stage. 24/7. It is living. it is listening. i think we have lost our ability to communicate and to be present with each other. Audiences are not coming in droves to see our work. I am really challenged by this. I know I have finally found a form that works for me. I know people are connecting to the work, but how to expand my reach? How to do it as poor queer woman of colour?So if the audience is not coming to these venues, with all the lights, the fog machines, and set performance times, how can we bring ourselves to them- to you- the audience? I’m starting to really think that this is the last time I’ll be performing in a theatre. I want to perform in your living rooms, in small towns, alley ways, basements and outdoors. Don’t worry, I’ll still charge you admission but it won’t have to be $20, $30 + in order to support the cost of a huge venue I don’t know how to make use of. Venues with big spaces that ultimately separate me from you. You from me.Tonight, for those of you who are coming, we will sit in the pit of the incubator space at the theatre centre. There won’t be a separation between us and I will try to tell you a story with no beginning and no end. And we will go into the unknown together.
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