Thanks to the generosity of the Stratford Festival Lab and the leader, the passionate and brilliant Ted Witzel, I got to support Jovanni as he led a unit at this year’s Stratford Festival Lab on “Decolonizing the Canon”.
Oy, that’s a big ask, especially from one roomful of artists. Even trying to introducing our performers to the vast range of contemporary works by East Asian playwrights and those from the East Asian Canadian diaspora, in the course of a single week, would be a fool’s undertaking. So we chose to focus on one play by of the great writers produced by China - Nobel laureate Gao XIngjian - as well as our own work in progress, Salesman in China, which is a backstage/culture-clash story set in the Beijing People’s Art Theatre in 1983, when Arthur Miller comes to direct Death of a Salesman.
What constitutes an East Asian or Asian Canadian play? Does Gao, an exile from China whose aesthetics and preoccupations are heavily influenced by both Chinese and European work as well as his own experiences in China, who sometimes writes in French, and who has never written what we’d call an “identity play”, still count as Chinese? Does my participation in the writing of this play (or in the leadership of this workshop) mean that it is no longer Asian Canadian or decolonizing? Do the Chinese even count as colonized? I was surprised by some of these questions, and I don’t have all the answers, but I think they are all useful ones to bring into the room and tackle.
I think Jovanni summed it the week up best: as individual artists, we can and must decolonize ourselves… but the people who can decolonize our canons and our spaces are the people who make the decisions about who and what gets into them. And the splendid plays that can change those equations are already sitting out there, well-known and well-recognized… and waiting.
For myself, I was most excited about working on our script and meeting the generous and open-hearted artists who joined us from the Festival company… and working with/ introducing the Festival to our four distinguished and remarkable guest artists: Jasmine Chen, Jeff Ho, Jane Luk, and John Ng.
Thank you to every one of you.