Activating Abundance: Diversity Document for Toronto Performance

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Activating Abundance: Diversity Document for Toronto Performance is a public, online document that aims to provide a relevant guide to Toronto performance makers navigating questions about diversity in their practices. It aims to provide a map of the common loopholes and traps that many theatre makers fall into when it comes to inclusion of diverse artists and fair representation in their work. It seeks to provide clarifying questions that encourage inclusivity and awareness around these issues in the theatre industry, in attempts to make a more equitable, reflective theatre landscape.

It is important to note that this is a work in progress. It is meant be shared, edited, and amended by you, the theatre community of Toronto, and will continue to evolve as long as it lives. The initial workgroup (which is made up of three Toronto theatre artists: Joseph Recinos, Camila Diaz-Varela, and Tijiki Morris) have started a draft, posted below. The initial workgroup invites you to edit, add, comment, discuss, and share the document written below. If you see holes in this document, fill them. To be a truly reflective and effective piece, this document needs your contribution.

To help you all get your minds going on this, the initial workgroup found these four questions helped to focus our thoughts. We hope they serve you as well.:

yo yo 
  1. Is there a crisis in art or society?
  2. If so, how does this crisis reflect in our performance ecology?
  3. Name 3 things you know about the Toronto performance scene. Then name 3 things that you don't know about the Toronto performance scene.
  4. Are artists activists? Should we be?

The Situation At Hand

There needs to be more equity and diversity in all levels of performance making in Toronto.

Self-identified diverse performance makers (artists, technicians, and administrators) often do not feel respected and truly accepted in many of our theatre spaces in this city.

Many of the practices of our biggest theatres do not reflect the diversity in perspectives, theatre practices, aesthetic practices, pluriversal ideologies, and realities that live in our city every day.

Many feel that the small, select few ‘welcomed’ into these spaces are treated as tools for grants, tools for pacification, and difference to be 'normalized' rather than as whole artists and human beings. This document seeks to verbalize this conflict and manifest solutions, by reaching out and inviting our communities to actively engage in these questions and work towards solutions to address the issue of diversity and representation or lack thereof.

Why is this important?

The arts and culture of a city reflect and provoke the discussions, mentality and imagination of that city. Not only to its own citizens, but to its country and beyond. It is our opinion that the theatre of Toronto does not represent the poly-cultural world of Toronto. We want to see these narratives and perspectives on the stages of Toronto and reflected in the art we create.

It is our belief that engaging with diversity and equity will create abundance for the theatre ecology of our city.

The practices of catering to specific audiences for their financial and honourable support and not including others is actually fear of scarcity. We believe that by engaging with diversity of culture, origin, voice, and practice we can create artistic innovation and abundance that will be a sustainable and inspiring force for our city.

Although this is not a new issue, we found that recently (this document began in 2014) there has been an escalation of conversation about inclusivity and diversity in the Toronto theatre industry. We would like to hold accountability to these discussions and see action. This is our attempt to engage our community to address the issues that are holding us back from our collective artistic growth and to find positive solutions under a united voice that is Toronto.

There is no "We" / There is only "We"

A single document, or a single theatre, cannot represent or speak for the plurality of practices and beliefs that we want to see on the stages and in our lives. We are not a singular we. "We" is plural and must not be used to hide or cover difference. False consensus is not the goal just as surface changes will not be enough.

We therefore accept and encourage respectful, delightful difference and contradiction. Idiosyncrasy and specificity are not the enemies of diversity and equity - they are central to the very core.

None of this encouragement of difference excuses abuse, oppression or being an asshole.

What is the change that you would like to see in our community?

Please write your responses below, and feel free to write your name and a time stamp beside them.

We would like to provide some clarifying questions for theatre makers seeking to create a diverse and representative work. They include:

  • How many of your performers from the GTA? Where in the GTA?
  • How many of your staff and colleagues are from the GTA? Where in the GTA?
  • Does your piece have more than one racial group represented in it?
  • Does your organization have more than one racial group represented in it?
  • How willing are you to engage in discussions of the intersections of race, class, gender, ability, and power?
  • How much of your own ideologies are routinely questioned in your practice?
  • To what extent will you challenge yourself to engage with contradictory ideologies?
  • Where is the epistemological root philosophy of your aesthetic practice?
  • How much power do you acknowledge in your ability and role in guiding a broader audience's process of imagination?
  • What norms are you supporting?
  • What norms are you challenging?
  • What norms are you creating?
  • In which systems are you participating?

Systems change

Systems can and do change. It is not enough to change who is fulfilling roles inside the current systems. The systems themselves must change.

We need to take an active role in designing and testing new systems.

We will no longer wait for gate-keepers or historic power players to change the systems that support their power. We will create real alternatives and new approaches that can be proposed and enacted to create a world more in line with the world we would like to live in and to leave to the future generations.

Performance Companies and Organizations

When identifying a theatre company's mission: maybe it’s okay to say “we support and foster the works of the European diaspora”. It’s not a grant hotspot right now, but honesty is always in style. Maybe then we’d have a bit more clarity and transparency.