Thursday, 29 June 2017

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Kevin Matthew Wong

Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)

Kevin Matthew Wong trained in artistic direction with Marjorie Chan at Cahoots Theatre in Toronto


It’s early May and raining outside the Cahoots studio

The playwrights have all left.

We’ve just wrapped up the final Hot House meeting of the year, reading and unpacking three plays in development from the creation unit. Marjorie and I tidy the space and lock up the studio for the evening.

As we part, Marjorie turns to me and reflects, “To be doing what we do… we are so lucky."

We hug and part ways.

Diversity and Resilience

In my final few weeks learning from Marjorie at Cahoots, I’ve started to think about the links between diversity and resilience.

In Canadian theatre, our conversations around diversity on and off stage often include the idea that developing diverse artists and audiences is an essential part of ensuring the future vitality of our art form. I agree.

Likewise, in conversations on environmentalism, diversity—namely biodiversity—is recognized as playing an essential part in sustaining of our planet.

Within the environmental movement, the fight for diversity and a resilient planet has included advocacy, protest, direct action, decentralized leadership and the inclusion of many voices, in particular those of the Indigenous peoples.

Through my time at Cahoots, I’ve realized that meaningful progress on diversity in theatre requires similar action. If the theatre is to become truly open, accessible, diverse and resilient we will need strong advocacy and advocates, we will need to enact, share and replicate best practices, we will need decentralized leadership, open dialogue, will power and a multiplicity of voices.

Hot House to Broadleaf Creators Unit

Mentorship with Marjorie has impacted how I hope to run my own company, Broadleaf Theatre, which focuses on creating works based on environmental issues.

One of the unexpected overlaps in our training was the creation of a Broadleaf creators unit. Being able to sneak in on Cahoots’ Hot House meetings allowed me to better consider the needs and structure for Broadleaf’s own environmentally-focused creators unit.

The Broadleaf unit connects environmentally-focused playwrights and creators in the collective dramaturging of new works. Just as Hot House benefits from the diversity of its creators and their multiplicity of experiences and voices, the diverse styles and issues present within the Broadleaf Creators Unit enriches the work.

Social Amnesia

Recently I got to sit in on a design jam with the team of Cahoots and Obsidian’s upcoming co-production Other Side of the Game. During the design jam, director Nigel Shawn Williams discussed one of playwright Amanda Parris’ goals in the play: to explore cultural amnesia.

I came to recognise that a substantial amount of Cahoots’ work is about recognizing and counteracting social and cultural amnesia. Cahoots’ body of work includes numerous plays highlighting historic injustices and imbalances, as well as the mistakes and triumphs of both our friends and forebears.

Cahoots’ works remind me that when we forget our hard-won fights and the work of those who came before us, we risk repeating the mistakes of the past.    

Thinking about cultural amnesia and Cahoots, I then came to appreciate that a large part of Marjorie’s vision as an artistic director involves preparation for the future. These preparations have included the creation of Crossing Gibraltar, Cahoots’ newcomer and refugee outreach program, and recently the DATT, Deaf Artists and Theatre Toolkit. For Cahoots 30th anniversary, considerations for the future included creating the 30 for 30, a list of 30 diverse emerging artists who promise to make major impacts in Canadian theatre. She hopes that artistic leaders and companies nationwide will see them, recognize them, and importantly, engage them.

Inevitable to Incredible

30 years of Cahoots artistic leadership on stage at the Cahoots
30th Anniversary Gala.
These past 5 months I’ve been continuously learning about Cahoots’ 30-year history and the people that have carried the organization to this landmark. That learning culminated on May 8th when we celebrated Cahoots’ 30th anniversary with a gala at the 519 Community Centre.

For a moment, standing in a room full of artists and fellow “Cahooters” who have sustained and supported the company, this anniversary seemed like a natural and inevitable part Cahoots’ story.

But after a second, and a second thought—a thought about the hard-won and hard-fought battles diverse artists have been through and continue to face—the significance of a 30 year legacy began to sink in.

This was a moment truly worth celebrating.

Artifacts

During my final week of PTTP training I took part in the reading of a play from the 49—a list of 49 exceptional and under-produced works by diverse female playwrights which artistic directors everywhere can program tomorrow.

Coincidentally, the play we read was Marjorie’s a nanking winter—a powerful work inspired by the criticism and harassment of Chinese-American writer Iris Chang over her book The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, and by true stories from the rape of Nanking itself.

It was a profound few hours, jumping into such a rich text, written by my mentor, and then to discuss the work with her and my peers.

We discussed the role of the playwright as the audience’s perceived purveyor of truth, and the responsibilities that stem from that assumed role. Marjorie shared her own experiences receiving scorn on the street for her plays, which re-examine Chinese history.

Marjorie also spoke with us about personal change. She reminisced that “This play is an artefact of the artist I was at the time.”

I thought about that a lot and about how this report acts as an artefact of my own artistry.

I then thought about diversity of practice in the development of an individual artist.

Over the years, Marjorie’s artistic practice has morphed into a multi-hyphenated individuality.
I imagine she might be described as something like an artistic director-playwright-librettist-actor-mentor-teacher-professional ass-kicker (or something like that), and I’m sure she would agree that her work is stronger because of the diversity of her experiences.

I think that’s what PTTP is all about.

George Luscombe Award

Yes, I did get to learn from this year’s George Luscombe Award-winning mentor Marjorie Chan.

A final thank you to Theatre Ontario:

So this is goodbye to the PTTP blog (for now?), to Cahoots (for now), to seeing my mentor twice a week (for now), and to an incredibly formative and fortuitous time in my artistic life.

I want to take this moment to once more give thanks. Thank you endlessly to Theatre Ontario, Cahoots Theatre, Generator, Katie and Michael, and Banuta for making these past few months possible.

Thank you, Liza and Indrit, for being so welcoming, supportive, and for being such important parts of this mentorship and my learning.

And, of course, to Marjorie—thanks for taking me under your wing, for trusting me with being part of the incredible thing that is Cahoots, for being so gracious with your time, energy and care, for being a mentor, friend and champion of so many, and for realizing before I did that this experience would make a world of difference for me as an artist and a person. Thank you endlessly.

To close off, a final, a video send off from Cahoots:

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The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 2, 2017.

Learn more about Theatre Ontario's Professional Theatre Training Program

Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

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