Postmarginal Edmonton: Activating the beauty and value of difference

Jean Claude Boudreau Home, Modern Times In Depth

Postmarginal: Inclusive Theatre Practice, a three-day theatre retreat organized by Modern Times Stage Company and Walterdale Theatre in association with Theatre Alberta, the Citadel Theatre and the Edmonton Fringe took place – after two pandemic-related delays – at the Westbury Theatre, Edmonton from September 12-14, 2021.

The mandate: “Postmarginal values where we come from and the communities that make us strong. We embrace the creative inspiration that emerges from our differences, which are part of our multifaceted identity as human beings and artists. We aim to nurture theatre and performance that recognizes cultural backgrounds, speech accents, physical/mental differences, and gender identities as intrinsic components of creation. Our main goal is to actively, productively, and creatively explore new theatrical forms and vocabularies along with the work ethics and rehearsal strategies that facilitate them.”

The retreat – a living exploration of the intersection between dialogue, movement and practice – examines how inclusiveness can inspire new artistic possibilities, and help theatre communities navigate discussions around representation, identity politics, and EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion).

For Postmarginal Edmonton, the central question was: “How do we recognize and activate the beauty and value of difference?”

Nine storytellers were selected to present different perspectives on inclusion: Chris Dodd, Jesse Del Fierro, David Horak, Todd Houseman, Josh Languedoc, Brooke Leifso, Mũkonzi wa Mũsyoki, Shrina Patel, and Lady Vanessa

The retreat was structured over three days to give time for ideas and connections to form, and to help the event produce concrete actions. Professional facilitators Ez Bridgman, and Lisa Ndejuru led the retreat, while the two workshops on Day 2 were led by Meryem Alaoui (Somatics) and Art Babayants (Rehearsal Techniques). Peter Farbridge was the producer for Postmarginal with Eric Rice and May Kharaghani.

Day One: A Space to Give and Receive Eight stories gave participants a sense of the challenges faced by different marginalized communities: Indigenous, Persons of Colour, LGBTQ2S+, disabled, d/Deaf, and how these artists were travelling beyond their barriers. As they listened to these stories with ‘lenses’ — beauty, fear, What touches me?, What makes me uncomfortable? — participants were asked to generate questions specific to the Edmonton theatre community.

Day Two: Embracing the Complexity Two practical theatre workshops in somatics and rehearsal techniques started the day. The first explored the physical nature of empathizing with differences and the second presented a creation method of working across cultural divides (in this case, language). In the afternoon, the participants voted on the most important of the questions tabled to create their own discussion groups that could go deeper into the issues facing the community in terms of equity and inclusion.

Day Three: Forward into Action Participants were invited to propose and sketch out ideas for projects in Edmonton that could address the issues raised earlier. One of the projects that emerged was a new theatre company that could explore multilingual drama through the intersection of verbal and non-verbal disciplines.

The retreat allowed participants to freely exchange and connect with each other in an honest and secure environment, and some reported significant personal growth.

What has shifted for Edmonton is more connection, communication, recognition of each other between the professional and community circles.”  My fear has shifted. My energy has shifted. My cynicism has shifted.”

Over the three days, many questions, comments, and discussions were documented on a ‘harvest wall’ to give participants a view of the progress. Sound recordings were also made throughout the event of the discussions and workshops. This written and audio material will be processed by a professional research company to create a qualitative analysis of the retreat. Postmarginal will bring this report back to Edmonton, either in person or online, and follow up activities will be developed accordingly.

Postmarginal Edmonton was organized by Eric Rice and May Kharaghani of the Equity Committee of Walterdale Theatre, developed with the participation of local theatre artists and the financial support of the Edmonton Arts Council and the Edmonton Community Foundation, and support from partners Theatre Alberta and the Citadel Theatre.

Thirty-nine theatre artists, including members of Walterdale Theatre, Citadel Theatre, Freewill Players, Nextfest, Shadow Theatre, Fringe Theatre, the University of Alberta, MacEwan University, Theatre Alberta, and SkirtsAfire, attended each of the three days.

Photos: Brianne Jang of BB Collective