Thursday, 23 February 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 will train in artistic direction with Marjorie Chan at Cahoots Theatre in Toronto.

(January 17, 2017)  I want to begin this entry with gratitude. Gratitude for the immense privilege I have in training with Marjorie Chan—an artist whose practice I deeply admire, who works tirelessly toward improving inclusivity in the Canadian theatre ecology, and whose belief in mentorship is both unending and endlessly inspiring. I must also begin this entry with gratitude that I may live, work, love and learn on Turtle Island. I am grateful toward the traditional keepers of Tkaronto: the Huron Wendat, the Anishnaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Mississaugas of the New Credit. Our land protectors past and present, documented and undocumented; the original storytellers of this land.


If you ask Marjorie what our training will cover she’ll probably say, “Everything. Everything in 16 weeks,” and then giggle infectiously. Today begins my first “everything” week as Artistic Director Intern at Cahoots and I’m just beginning to wrap my head around what everything looks like.  

(Nov 30, 2016 – Ottawa) Photo from the rally outside the Supreme
Court of Canada in solidarity with Clyde River First Nation and the
Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. Both groups are fighting for
the preservation and acknowledgement of their land rights. Discovering
what authentic solidarity looks like is a large part of Broadleaf’s current
journey. Michela Sisti’s PTTP entry outlines what the experience at the
Supreme Court was like. You also can find out more about Broadleaf’s
current project, The Chemical Valley Project
To begin to understand our mentorship, I’ll have to explain my practice a bit. I am a theatre creator, a performer, a musician, and also a self-declared environmentalist. The bulk of my artistic practice centres around this last identity and the company I co-founded and artistic direct, Broadleaf Theatre. It’s an organization seeking to authentically merge environmentalism and theatre praxis. We’ve yet to fully realize that goal and, in working toward it, I am constantly questioning, soul-searching and reimagining what Broadleaf is and what it does. What should “environmental” performance look like, feel like, speak to and about? What makes theatre the most appropriate space for these discussions? How can we make urgent, awkward and unheard conversations understandable and accessible?

While Broadleaf is just beginning its soul-searching, Cahoots has been doing its own for three decades now. I’m training with Marjorie to see what that soul-searching looks like: in the artists that Cahoots engages, the communities the company serves, the projects it incubates and produces, and the day-to-day considerations that shape its broader practices.


Marjorie often says that her driving goal as Artistic Director is to make Cahoots’ work irrelevant: to contribute to a future Canadian theatre ecology where genuine diversity and inclusivity are banal common practice. We’ve all got a long ways to go, but in the past thirty years Cahoots’ work has become central to the conversation: its decades long history of producing innovative and diverse Canadian work, its long-running program Crossing Gibraltar that focuses on diverse youth and newcomer outreach, and its new online resource DATT, Deaf Artists and Theatres Toolkit, are just a few examples. 

Cahoots is a place I look to for inspiration—a company chasing ideals, pursuing systemic change and honest conversations.


(December 12, 2016 – Toronto) Marjorie Chan, Jovanni Sy (via
Skype) and Indrit Kasapi reflect upon Cahoots’ history and
the national dialogue on diversity and inclusivity in theatre.
I’ve been lucky enough to take in a few sneak-peaks at Cahoots these past couple weeks. One of these moments was sitting in on an interview between Marjorie and former Artistic Director Jovanni Sy. Cahoots’ upcoming 30th anniversary presents a unique opportunity to reflect on the changing nature of diversity in Canadian theatre. Jovanni and Marjorie discussed the radical developments in representation at the NAC and Stratford over the past decades, they questioned the term diversity and whether work by marginalized and racialized artists should be framed as “diverse” or rather “authentically Canadian.” Importantly, they discussed the future of inclusivity in Canadian theatre: how artists must learn to serve communities that have yet to be widely acknowledged. Jovanni proposed that there will always be marginalized voices needing space, needing their stories told. In this way, Cahoots’ mandate will never truly be irrelevant. 

These next few months I’ll be observing Marjorie’s decision-making on casting, play incubation, season planning, community outreach and day-to-day tasks. The final show of the season, John and Waleed, also coincides with our mentorship. It’s a project where we’ll be exploring the creation of cross-cultural music and performance. Our mentorship ends with Cahoots’ 30th anniversary gala and, leading up to the event, I’ll be lucky enough to continue observing Marjorie’s conversations with Cahoots’ former Artistic Directors. 


I got involved in the environmental movement at 16 when I led my high school’s environmental club: a mighty 150+ membership, or about a tenth of the school’s population. It was thrilling to see the importance of environmentalism among my adolescent peers, who were willing to devote their time, talents and faith to combatting the seemingly insurmountable challenges of climate change. A formative moment from that time was when I spoke to Markham Town Council about preserving the municipality’s “Class 1” farmland, the most agriculturally valuable land category in Canada. The political movement to create this “Markham Foodbelt” failed but I was fascinated by the nature of the discussion around the Foodbelt—I’d never seen citizens of Markham so engaged, at times enraged, vocal and opinionated. I grew my understanding of environmentalism then: how local conversations on climate had to be constructed on the basis that no one is a villain and everyone defends what they think is best for the future.

Changing minds has always taken place at the grassroots level, person-to-person. Improving diversity in Canadian theatre took place through the hard work of companies like Cahoots. Pockets of artists have worked for decades to define and embed inclusivity in our current ecology, our language and norms. I am convinced that action on climate and environment in our theatres will mirror this evolution. I think about Beverly Yhap and the first few years at Cahoots: how it must have felt to champion a radical mandate, cultural inclusivity.

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 1, 2017.

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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