Shaista Latif

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Shaista Latif

Shaista Latif is a queer Afghan-Canadian actress, dramaturge, playwright, director, and facilitator. She describes her work as being "about the margins, for the margins."[1]

Her works have been presented by Why Not Theatre’s Riser Project, Rhubarb Festival, Halifax Queer Acts, SummerWorks Performance Festival, Koffler Gallery, Ontario Scene Festival, Art Gallery of Ontario, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Mercer Union, Blackwood Gallery, and Undercurrents Festival.[2][3] Latif was the 2014-2015 Diaspora Dialogues playwright in residence[4], and was the artist in residence for Buddies in Bad Times Theatre[5] and for the STO Union.[6]

Life

Latif was born and raised in Scarborough, Ontario with her younger brother.[7] Her parents were avid activists and emigrated from Kabul, Afghanistan as refugees in 1987,[8] whereupon her father became a cab driver and her mother attended beauty school.[9] Self-described as "self-taught and community educated,"[10] Latif received training in New York and Toronto under artists Naomi Snieckus, Adam Wade, Melissa Petro, and Tracey Erin Smith. She attended the Human Resources and Accounting program at Humber College from 2006-2008, and George Brown College's Fundraising and Volunteer Management Certificate Program from 2011-2012.[11]

Self-Portrait (Shaista Latif)

From a young age, Latif enjoyed watching people tell stories at family dinner parties and weddings. She loved how stories unfolded and revealed themselves and how different people could tell the same story in wildly different ways. Eventually, she connected this love for stories to a love for storytelling through theatre.[12]

Originally, Latif had shied from the idea of writing about identity since that wasn't what she wanted to be known for. However, this changed in 2012. Latif began writing her own content after joining the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre's Young Creators Unit - a program dedicated to emerging artists which has produced several nationally touring productions such as Tawiah M'carthy's Obaaberima and Waawaate Fobister's Agokwe. Latif recognized that it was time to start writing her own shows because she couldn't see anyone like herself in theatre.[13] Since 2012, she has created and participated in thoughtful pieces centered around identity such as Graceful Rebellions, Doomed, The Archivist, and Almeida (The Glorious).

In 2016, Latif moved from Toronto to Montreal as a result of housing rent hikes in the GTA, though continues to travel between cities for work.[14]

Theatrical Work

Beginnings and Graceful Rebellions

Shaista Latif’s work centers on politics, particularly the politics of inclusion.[15] Her work primarily began with Graceful Rebellions which premiered at the Rhubarb Festival in 2013.[16]

Shaista Latif at Graceful Rebellions (photo by SummerWorks Performance Festival)

Up until this point, Latif had been building up experience in comedy and directing - she regarded creating material for herself to perform as a challenge.[17] Graceful Rebellions came from a lack of representation; Latif couldn't see anyone like her in theatre. After coming out in 2012, Latif joined the Young Creators Unit at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.[18] During her time with this program, Latif wrote a 25-minute show which eventually became Graceful Rebellions.[19]

The play follows three Afghani women of various ages and viewpoints (all played by Latif) navigating identity and cultural history through monologues;[20] a 14-year-old serving tea and candied almonds at her sister's engagement party all while dreaming of her own wedding, a young woman living and working as a boy to support her family, and a gay 17-year-old Afghan-Canadian girl pleading her case to the school principal.[21] The play represented Latif's story as well as larger issues surrounding sexuality and culture.[22] Latif wanted to use her own life as resource and material; for her, creating Graceful Rebellions "has been a release, and an understanding of where I belong in this world."[23]

The play was later published by Playwrights Canada Press in 2017,[24][25] and was also performed at the Halifax QUEER ACTS Theatre Festival in 2013, The SummerWorks Performance Festival in 2014, and the National Arts Centre's Ontario Scene Festival in 2015.[26] [27][28]

The Wanderers

Produced by the Cahoots Theatre Company and written by Kawa Ada, Latif served as the assistant director for The Wanderers in 2014.[29] In an interview with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Latif describes the play as "a complicated piece of theatre" which is violent yet poetic. Nevertheless, when she was asked to assistant direct, she accepted immediately, recognizing the necessity and power of Ada's writing. [30] Within Ada, she saw herself, and she resonated with the concepts of The Wanderers. The play unabashedly tackled war, trauma, mental health, and lineage, containing moments that were so raw and true that Latif found herself uncomfortable at times: [31]

"I have seen my own family struggle with displacement and adaptation. It has taken a toll on their mental health. For children of immigrants, we are the reason our parents fought to survive against all odds to be here. In Canada or elsewhere. Anywhere but “Home.”So when we disappoint our family and don’t live up to our legacy, we face great opposition and divide. This is brilliantly demonstrated in Kawa’s play."[32]

Doomed

In 2016, Latif was a dramaturge for Doomed, an autobiographical solo comedy written and performed by Jorge Moreira, produced by Ferocious Smirk Productions, and presented at The Toronto Fringe Festival.[33] The production followed Moreira's struggle with Attention Deficit Disorder while growing up and progressing into adulthood amongst a traditional Portuguese family in the 1970s. Overall, Doomed was brave, intriguing, and found humour in the everyday challenges Moreira faced.[34] The production received mixed reviews, but audiences and critics agreed that Doomed had seeds of potential.[35][36][37]

Almeida (The Glorious)

Latif was a mentor for Almeida (The Glorious), shown at the 2017 SummerWorks Performance Festival. Through an assemblage of monologues, poetry, and group performances, the ensemble piece explored young people's relationships to their ancestry and how their ancestry affects their everyday lives.[38] The piece was written by its performers, all of whom were participants in the AMY (Artists Mentoring Youth) Project. Despite their young lives, they each tell daunting stories of poverty, immigration, absent parents, bullying, sex work, mental health, Indigenous erasure, and psychological illness.[39][40] However, the stories are not told with self-pity or insecurity - they come from a place of humour, generosity, and assuredness.[41]

The AMY Project is a free performing arts training program for youth, women, and non-binary youth.[42]

The Archivist

In 2015, Latif began creating an autobiographical show titled The Archivist. This 60-minute multimedia production wove together family photographs and videos, dance, personal artifacts, and clips - all with the intention of telling her story. After her family emigrated from Afghanistan, Latif grew up poor in Scarborough public housing. She manages to combine serious themes with comedy; at one point in the play, the song A Whole New World from Aladdin plays along with footage of violent protests, fighter jets, and drones.[43][44]

Shaista Latif (photo taken by Shaista Latif)

"Otherness" - in terms of Latif's queerness, gender, and color - is a prominent theme of the production, yet Latif also touches upon her parents' activism, their parenting styles, and how her little brother was favoured due to his gender.[45]

The Archivist was produced as a part of Why Not Theatre's RISER project, a program which brings together senior leadership and emerging artists in order to support the risks that independent artists take as they to create and innovate.[46] It was performed at The Theatre Centre in 2016, toured with Ontario Presents in 2020, and performed as part of Ottawa Fringe's Undercurrents Festival in 2021.[47][48][49] It has enjoyed a nomination in the "Outstanding New Work" category and a win in the "Lighting & Sound Design" category in the 2016 MyTheatre Awards.[50][51]

How I Learned to Serve Tea

Created in associating with the Koffler Centre of the Arts and Why Not Theatre, How I Learned to Serve Tea is a series of on-going workshops and consultations centered around the politics capacity and resource sharing. Latif invites workshop participants to reflect on differences of identity and how to use these ideas as fuel rather than as limitations.[52]

How I Learned to Serve Tea was presented publicly by Why Not Theatre in 2020 at The Theatre Centre as a part of the Progress Festival. Progress is an international festival of performances and ideas presented in partnership by SummerWorks and The Theatre Centre. Works within the festival are curated and presented by a rotating set of Canadian organizations.[53]

Workshops are available for groups from 5 to 40 and they are subsidized for qualifying organizations or collectives - no group is turned away due to lack of funds.[54]

"I think we are all capable and deserving of knowing and living ourselves into these answers. This workshop invites participants to reflect and confront on who gets to have a seat at the table.” -Shaista Latif[55]

Learning the Language of My Enemies

Learning the Language of My Enemies was a two-channel video and sound installation that was commissioned by the Koffler Gallery. The piece confronts "appropriation and challenges the essentialization of Afghan culture by questioning the art world’s relationship to individual authorship and orientalism."[56]

It was presented in conjunction with Nevet Yitzhak's WarCraft at the Koffler Gallery Spring Opening Reception and at the CONTACT Photography Festival in 2019.[57][58]

Filmography

In 2017, Latif voiced Soraya in the animated film The Breadwinner, based on the novel by Deborah Ellis.[59]

She also played the role of Karen in My Thesis Film: A Thesis Film by Erik Anderson (2018).[60]

Latif appeared on the Canadian sketch television show TallBoyz in 2019, where she played Meredith (episode “Clap your hands, everybody”). [61]

Latif’s work further includes This Is the Life, where she played Ann in 2009.[62]

Siminovitch Prize

Shaista Latif (Shy Alter)

In 2016, Wakefield director Nadia Ross was awarded the Siminovitch Prize and named Sarah Conn and Shaista Latif as her protégés. Ross selected Latif as a protégé due to Latif’s “fierce mind and outrageous humor,” hoping that Latif and Conn could always use their “mind and humour to the benefit of all” and bring their “curiosity to the task.”[63] Ross received a $100 000 prize, and as per the rules of the award, 25% of that prize was split between her protégés Latif and Conn.[64]

The Siminovitch Prize is “for an artist whose career is perceived to be gaining significant momentum, rather than a lifetime achievement award.”[65] Created by Lou Siminovitch and his late wife Elinore in 2001, the prize is awarded every three years to a professional director, playwright, or designer in theatre whose work is transformative and influential.[66] The 2016 jury members were Bob White, Micheline Chevrier, Linda Gaboriau, Mieko Ouchi, and Sarah Garton Stanley.[67]

Ross is the founder and artistic director of the STO Union where Latif was fulfilling her residency.[68] Additionally, Latif received mentorship from Ross while creating and performing The Archivist.[69]

References

  1. "How I Learned to Serve Tea." WhyNot.Theatre, https://whynot.theatre/work/how-i-learned-to-serve-tea/
  2. "Shaista Latif." Blackwood Gallery, https://www.blackwoodgallery.ca/graph/1frc69z1/people/shaista-latif
  3. Diaspora Dialogues, 8 Nov. 2020, http://diasporadialogues.com/mentee/shaista-latif
  4. "BLINK: Storytelling with Shaista Latif and Alisha Stranges." Harbourfront Centre, http://www.harbourfrontcentre.com/whatson/today.cfm?id=7824&festival_id=216
  5. "How I Learned to Serve Tea." WhyNot.Theatre, https://whynot.theatre/work/how-i-learned-to-serve-tea/
  6. "Shaista Latif." Siminovitch Prize in Theatre, http://siminovitchprize.com/laureates/shaista-latif/siminovitchprize.com/laureates/shaista-latif/
  7. Derry, Duncan. "Nominee Interview Series: Shaista Latif." My Entertainment World, 21 March 2017, https://www.myentertainmentworld.ca/2017/03/shaista-latif/
  8. Bhandari, Aparita. “‘Graceful Rebellions’ One-Woman Show Based on Experience as Queer Afghan Canadian.” The Star, 11 Aug. 2014, http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/stage/2014/08/08/graceful_rebellions_onewoman_show_based_on_experience_as_queer_afghan_canadian.html?rf
  9. "Shaista Latif." Siminovitch Prize in Theatre, http://siminovitchprize.com/laureates/shaista-latif/siminovitchprize.com/laureates/shaista-latif/
  10. "How I Learned to Serve Tea." WhyNot.Theatre, https://whynot.theatre/work/how-i-learned-to-serve-tea/
  11. "Shaista Latif." Linkedin, https://ca.linkedin.com/in/shaista-latif-460b3926
  12. Derry, Duncan. "Nominee Interview Series: Shaista Latif." My Entertainment World, 21 March 2017, https://www.myentertainmentworld.ca/2017/03/shaista-latif/
  13. Dupuis, Chris. "Shaista Latif Finds Home in Ontario Scene." Xtra Magazine, 5 May 2015, https://xtramagazine.com/culture/shaista-latif-finds-home-in-ontario-scene-67337
  14. Pitter, Jay. “Canada’s Housing Crisis: 10 Millennials on What It’s Really Like.” FLARE, 15 June 2017, http://www.flare.com/tv-movies/canada-housing-crisis-10-millennials-on-what-its-really-like. www.flare.com/tv-movies/canada-housing-crisis-10-millennials-on-what-its-really-like
  15. "Shaista Latif." Siminovitch Prize in Theatre, [1]
  16. Bhandari, Aparita. “‘Graceful Rebellions’ One-Woman Show Based on Experience as Queer Afghan Canadian.” The Star, 11 Aug. 2014, http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/stage/2014/08/08/graceful_rebellions_onewoman_show_based_on_experience_as_queer_afghan_canadian.html?rf
  17. Dupuis, Chris. "Shaista Latif Finds Home in Ontario Scene." Xtra Magazine, 5 May 2015, https://xtramagazine.com/culture/shaista-latif-finds-home-in-ontario-scene-67337
  18. Dupuis, Chris. "Shaista Latif Finds Home in Ontario Scene." Xtra Magazine, 5 May 2015, https://xtramagazine.com/culture/shaista-latif-finds-home-in-ontario-scene-67337
  19. Bhandari, Aparita. “‘Graceful Rebellions’ One-Woman Show Based on Experience as Queer Afghan Canadian.” The Star, 11 Aug. 2014, http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/stage/2014/08/08/graceful_rebellions_onewoman_show_based_on_experience_as_queer_afghan_canadian.html?rf
  20. Dupuis, Chris. "Shaista Latif Finds Home in Ontario Scene." Xtra Magazine, 5 May 2015, https://xtramagazine.com/culture/shaista-latif-finds-home-in-ontario-scene-67337
  21. "SummerWorks: Engaging, poignant & funny storytelling in Graceful Rebellions." Life With More Cowbell, 9 August 2014, https://lifewithmorecowbell.com/2014/08/09/summerworks-engaging-poignant-funny-storytelling-in-graceful-rebellions/
  22. Dupuis, Chris. "Shaista Latif Finds Home in Ontario Scene." Xtra Magazine, 5 May 2015, https://xtramagazine.com/culture/shaista-latif-finds-home-in-ontario-scene-67337
  23. Bhandari, Aparita. “‘Graceful Rebellions’ One-Woman Show Based on Experience as Queer Afghan Canadian.” The Star, 11 Aug. 2014, http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/stage/2014/08/08/graceful_rebellions_onewoman_show_based_on_experience_as_queer_afghan_canadian.html?rf
  24. Bhandari, Aparita. “‘Graceful Rebellions’ One-Woman Show Based on Experience as Queer Afghan Canadian.” The Star, 11 Aug. 2014, http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/stage/2014/08/08/graceful_rebellions_onewoman_show_based_on_experience_as_queer_afghan_canadian.html?rf
  25. "Shaista Latif." Blackwood Gallery, Blackwoodgallery.com, https://www.blackwoodgallery.ca/graph/1frc69z1/people/shaista-latif
  26. "Graceful Rebellions- SummerWorks 2014." blogTO, n.d., https://www.blogto.com/events/graceful-rebellions-summerworks-2014/
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  28. Dupuis, Chris. "Shaista Latif Finds Home in Ontario Scene." Xtra Magazine, 5 May 2015, https://xtramagazine.com/culture/shaista-latif-finds-home-in-ontario-scene-67337
  29. "The Wanderers (2014)." Toronto Theatre Database, n.d., https://ttdb.ca/shows/the-wanderers/
  30. Latif, Shaista. "Shaista Latif on The Wanderers." Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 19 March 2014, https://buddiesinbadtimes.com/blog/blog-shaista-latif-on-the-wanderers/
  31. Latif, Shaista. "Shaista Latif on The Wanderers." Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 19 March 2014, https://buddiesinbadtimes.com/blog/blog-shaista-latif-on-the-wanderers/
  32. Latif, Shaista. "Shaista Latif on The Wanderers." Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 19 March 2014, https://buddiesinbadtimes.com/blog/blog-shaista-latif-on-the-wanderers/
  33. "Doomed." Toronto Theatre Database, n.d., https://ttdb.ca/shows/doomed/
  34. Bimm, Jordan. "Fringe Review: Doomed." Now Toronto, 4 July 2016, https://nowtoronto.com/culture/stage/review-doomed
  35. Richards, Whitney. "Toronto Fringe '16: Part XII." My Entertainment World, 4 July 2016, https://www.myentertainmentworld.ca/2016/07/toronto-fringe-16-part-xii/
  36. Akhtar, Saba. "Doomed (Ferocious Smirk Productions) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review." Mooney on Theatre, 30 June 2016, https://www.mooneyontheatre.com/2016/06/30/doomed-ferocious-smirk-productions-2016-toronto-fringe-review/
  37. Bimm, Jordan. "Fringe Review: Doomed." Now Toronto, 4 July 2016, https://nowtoronto.com/culture/stage/review-doomed
  38. Stevie. "Almeida (The Glorious) (The AMY Project) 2017 SummerWorks Review." Mooney On Theatre, 4 August 2017,https://www.mooneyontheatre.com/2017/08/04/almeida-the-glorious-the-amy-project-2017-summerworks-review/
  39. "SummerWorks Projects Vivid, Varied and Versatile: Review." The Star, 6 August 2017, https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/stage/2017/08/06/summerworks-projects-vivid-varied-and-versatile-review.html
  40. Stevie. "Almeida (The Glorious) (The AMY Project) 2017 SummerWorks Review." Mooney On Theatre, 4 August 2017,https://www.mooneyontheatre.com/2017/08/04/almeida-the-glorious-the-amy-project-2017-summerworks-review/
  41. Slotkin, Lynn. "More from SummerWorks: Almeida (The Glorious) and O Nosso Fado." Slotkin Letter, 7 August 2017, http://slotkinletter.com/2017/08/more-from-summerworks-almeida-the-glorious-and-o-nosso-fado
  42. Slotkin, Lynn. "More from SummerWorks: Almeida (The Glorious) and O Nosso Fado." Slotkin Letter, 7 August 2017, http://slotkinletter.com/2017/08/more-from-summerworks-almeida-the-glorious-and-o-nosso-fado
  43. Brimm, Jordan. "SummerWorks Review: The Archivist." Now Toronto, 6 August 2017, https://nowtoronto.com/summerworks-review-the-archivist
  44. Langston, Patrick. "Review: Three plays at undercurrents provide some bark and a lot of bite." Artsfile, 9 February 2019, https://artsfile.ca/review-three-plays-at-undercurrents-provide-some-bark-and-a-lot-of-bite
  45. Langston, Patrick. "Review: Three plays at undercurrents provide some bark and a lot of bite." Artsfile, 9 February 2019, https://artsfile.ca/review-three-plays-at-undercurrents-provide-some-bark-and-a-lot-of-bite
  46. Derry, Duncan. "Nominee Interview Series: Shaista Latif." My Entertainment World, 21 March 2017, https://www.myentertainmentworld.ca/2017/03/shaista-latif/
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  49. "The Archivist - The RISER Project." The Theatre Centre, n.d., http://theatrecentre.org/?p=7058
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  51. Bedard, Kelly. "The 2016 MyTheatre Award Winners: Toronto." My Entertainment World, 20 April 2017, https://www.myentertainmentworld.ca/2017/04/2016-theatre-winners-toronto/
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  56. @kofflerarts. "How I Learned the Language of My Enemies." Instagram, 2 April 2019, https://www.instagram.com/p/BvwdIKdg-qV/?hl=en
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  65. "Eligibility." Siminovitch Prize, n.d., https://siminovitchprize.com/the-prize/eligibility/
  66. "About the Prize." Siminovitch Prize, n.d., https://siminovitchprize.com/
  67. "Nadia Ross." Siminovitch Prize, n.d., https://siminovitchprize.com/laureates/nadia-ross/
  68. The Canadian Press. "Theatre director Nadia Ross wins $100,000 Siminovitch Prize." The Star, 28 October 2016, https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/stage/2016/10/28/theatre-director-nadia-ross-wins-100000-siminovitch-prize.html
  69. Bimm, Jordan. "SummerWorks Review: The Archivist." Now Toronto, 6 August 2017, https://nowtoronto.com/summerworks-review-the-archivist