WE’RE STILL HERE!
And, yes, it has been a long time since you’ve heard from us. COVID hit just a few weeks after we closed our February 2020 production of Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men and this put us, along with most of our colleagues, into a kind of purgatory. However, this moment of stasis also created time and space for reflection. Between the global pandemic, the expansion of the Black Lives Matter movement, ongoing struggles for Indigenous sovereignty, and the exposing of various abusive artistic leaders across the country, there has been a lot to process and consider. Specifically, we’ve taken this time to begin a deeper education around systemic racism and decolonization while also challenging our past artistic practices.
HOW CAN WE DO BETTER?
As an arts organization founded and led by white settlers, it is impossible to ignore the call from marginalized communities, both in our industry and beyond, to do better. We’re in the early stages of examining our own culpability and exploring past practices. This will not happen overnight. It is an ongoing process as we dig deeper into exploring concepts of decolonization and anti-racism and figure out ways we can implement these concepts into our practice and future relationships with artists and audiences alike. In the meantime, we feel it is important to take public stock of ideologies and cultural practices that we were indoctrinated to view as axioms but were in fact – and this is perhaps the only true axiom present here – byproducts of an exploitative and damaging system. These ideologies include:
- “You must suffer for your art.” We were educated to believe that in order to make “great” art artists must suffer. Being overworked, under paid, and emotionally drained were just part of the process and paved the way to achieve true artistic greatness! Nope. Turns out it was just the damaging practices/ideologies of an exploitative system. You know who else makes good art? Artists who are well supported so they can be happy, healthy and stress-free allowing them to flourish and focus on their art.
- “Pain/Trauma is to be used/exploited in pursuit of High Art.” The use of personal trauma as a foundation for dramatic acting is a long-held practice. It’s also deeply destructive. If one can use their personal trauma in their acting in ways that are safe and psychologically healthy then we’re all for it. But this probably requires the use of a good registered psychologist. Drama teachers and Directors are not registered psychologists. Some think they are. They are not.
- “All artists are under paid – get used to it.” This ties back to “suffering for your art.” There is an overarching idea in our industry that anyone who is lucky enough to book a gig should just be grateful for the work and earning peanuts is justifiable because “hey, at least you get to do what you love.” Also, many times the only way to get an underfunded project off the ground is to reduce artist fees and negate our own producing fees entirely. It’s a toxic practice. No more.
- “Theatre should be your entire life – if it’s not you’re doing it wrong/won’t get anywhere.” Burn out is a very real problem in our industry. The work schedules set up as industry standards by the CAEA are considered sacrosanct. After trying to find a work-life balance for over a decade within this system we’ve finally came to the conclusion that it’s simply not possible for us. No more 6-day, 48 hour work weeks. ITSAZOO Productions now operates on a 5-day work week while paying the 6-day rate thereby increasing artist fees for labour while allowing artists vital work-life balance.
We’ve come to realize that the harm from these practices have had even further exacerbating effects on IBPCOC artists who can be exploited for their identities and have to deal with a myriad of micro and macro aggressions within a systemically racist industry while navigating all the other issues listed above. We are actively working towards creating internal HR policies and guidelines to make ITSAZOO a safe, accountable workplace for anyone we hire.
We developed a Talk Forward platform we’ve used on a few productions now. This platform allows audiences to engage with our work with a post-show discussion via a facilitator and guest speaker (usually an expert on some thematic aspect of the production). Often these Talk Forwards resulted in challenging conversations and tasked our performers, specifically IBPOC performers, with additional emotional labour – a job they didn’t sign up for. While Talk Forwards can be vital to some of our productions we will be taking greater care and transparency in the future as to how they are implemented.
Our production history shows a deficit in opportunities for IBPOC artists. Our more recent productions have sought to address this through both from and content but we are in beginning stages of this cultural redress. As we move forward with exciting future projects like The Café we will continue to challenge ourselves to be better allies and create more opportunities for IBPOC artists.
We are in the beginning stages of a journey that will likely have no end in sight. We are probably going to make mistakes. We want to learn from them. We want to do better.