fbpx Decolonizing Texts, Words, and Communication | HowlRound Theatre Commons

Decolonizing Texts, Words, and Communication

This week we are holding space for a series on decolonizing theatre practice, which is not an easy thing to do. Instead of asking for single-narrative articles from multiple individuals, we have asked communities to have discussions and share them to keep the conversation around decolonization diverse and complex. Each piece is itself a conversation and we hope you'll join! We couldn't possibly cover everything, so please add your voice and perspective from wherever you sit/stand/breathe in the circle.

The written word (particularly in the English language) has historically been used as a weapon of colonization, so we have chosen to include conversations in this series that utilize other modes of communication. The topic of this piece revolves around the primacy of the written word in theatremaking, so we asked a group of artists to record a live conversation. It's a small gesture toward decolonizing the format of written discourse about our work as theatremakers.—Madeline Sayet and Annalisa Dias, series curators.

Woman with red wristbands flipping off a statue
Still standing. #decolonizehistory #decolonizeyourmind. Model: Nodin Ferrin Cooke Ravensbergen. Photo by @ravensboogie via Instagram. 

You can listen to this podcast via Apple iTunesGoogle Play Music, or RSS Feed or just click on the link at the bottom of the page to listen. You can read an unedited transcript of the conversation below, or download a PDF.

Welcome to the Decolonizing Theatre HowlRound Series Podcast on Texts, Words, and Communication. In this podcast we were invited to explore how we might go about decolonizing the primacy of the written word and text in theatre. As you'll hear our conversation traversed wide territories, practices, lived experiences, concepts, theories, and dreams. We're so excited to share this excerpt of our conversation with you, as part of this groundbreaking series. 

In this conversation you will hear: 

DeLesslin “Roo” George-Warren, an artist, educator, and researcher who is a citizen of Catawba Indian Nation. Roo works for his community’s food sovereignty and language revitalization programs in addition to his work in the theatre world. Roo called in from the Catawba Reservation.

You'll also hear Jacqueline E. Lawton, a playwright, dramaturg, producer, professor, and advocate for access, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the American theatre. Jacqueline is based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Her deepest roots are in East Texas and Washington, D.C.  

You'll also hear Lisa Cooke Ravensbergen, a multi-hyphenate artist, creator, and writer, actor, dramaturg, director, and dancer. She called into this podcast from Kingston, Ontario where she is currently finishing up her first year of graduate studies at Queens University. Her blood sources from Anishinaabe and Swampy Cree territories in Manitoba (Berens River, Little Saskatchewan, Norway House) as well as from England and Ireland. She is an off-reserve, urban creature and is grateful to be raising her son in paradisal Vancouver, on unceded Coast Salish territory.  

And you'll also hear me, mia susan amir. I am an educator, cultural organizer, writer, director, dramaturg, and theatre artist creating immersive, interdisciplinary works. I was born in Israel/Occupied Palestine and I'm queer, disabled Jew of mixed Sephardic and Ashkenazi descent. I live and work on the unceded and occupied territories of the x?m?θkw?y??m (Musqueam), Skwxwu?7mesh (Squamish), and S?l?i?lw?ta?/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Peoples. I am currently researching the intersections between Crip and Indigenous dramaturgical process design in the studio, on the stage, and in the street.

Here's our conversation—enjoy!

DeLesslin “Roo” George-Warren: Well, I was really interested in something Jacqueline was talking about. I don’t think this is the right word, but like, trans-racial casting, or recasting traditionally white productions with people of color or with black actors.

Jacqueline E. Lawton: Yes. So—

Roo: I guess I was just hoping you would talk a little bit more about that because the thing that immediately came to my mind wasn’t along the lines of sex—I mean, wasn’t along the lines of race, but more along the lines of sex, which was the amount that recently, that they were going to do a female version of Lord of the Flies. To me it was mind boggling, because it kind of misses, to me, what was the big point of it. I think that it changes it in such a fundamental way, and maybe not in an ethical way, but I haven’t thought too much about it. So I was hoping you would share more of what you’re thinking about with that work.

Jacqueline: Sure. So this, the idea of color conscious casting, or conscious casting, which looks more intersectionaly at race, gender, class, religion, actually stems from color blind casting. What color blind casting was attempting to do—this practice happened in the ‘80s—was trying to bring more opportunities for actors of color into the regional theatre and professional theatre through New York. So Joe...I guess, really in the ‘70s this really started. But Joe Pap at the Public Theater would cast actors of color in Shakespeare roles, and that would be the theatre that would be performed in the Shakespeare in the Park, so that when you came to see Shakespeare, the performers looked like the community in which you lived.

So, however, color blind, unless you actually are color blind, isn’t actually something that is a lived experience. So, that language is shifting to either conscious casting, where you are looking at how shifting gender, shifting religion, or shifting, looking at how class impacts, or specifically color conscious casting, we see this happening all the time, all black versions of A Streetcar Named Desire, there was a production of that on Broadway, an all black production of A Streetcar Named Desire. So the question, that you asked, is how does that shift the narrative even if you’re not shifting the text? But the story of race is not just a visual one, but I carry the history of my people on my skin. So, when you see me enter a room, you see a black woman and all that that entails, socioeconomically, based on individual perceptions.

To really make change, you actually produce more stories written by people of color, or written by marginalized communities featuring marginalized communities and the wide and varied forms that they exist. For some reason, that’s not the automatic choice. What the automatic choice seems to be is this conscious casting, which is exciting, because it does give communities of color, marginalized communities opportunities to play roles that were traditionally cast by white actors. So, but the question you asked is so once you actually placed communities of color in these roles, how does that only shift the narrative, but then how does that impact the individual performer themselves? So the question I’m asking with this play is we have black actors performing in this role at a time when there are race riots happening several blocks away, and this riot is making it’s way to the theatre while this black utopian big American musical is performing.

So, I’m going to really put a pressure cooker on the actors, these imaginative actors that I’m imagining, saying what is our ethical response here? Do we do this play for one actor if they’re big comeback, for the rest of the actors if they’re ... This is their make or break, this is it, this is what they’ve been waiting for. They’ve all got families to feed and bills to pay, and yet, what they’re doing is presenting the exact opposite of what the reality is when they walk out those doors and with their lives. So, I just want to mess with that, and really push that story forward. We’ve seen it happen, we’ve seen it with Trouble in Mind, we’ve seen the story told before. I’m just interested in how I can put how I can ... What it looks like, what it sounds like in this age of black lives matters. It’s not a contemporary play, it is placed in 1960s, but we’re experiencing it now. So that’s the language. So it went from color blind casting to conscious casting or color conscious casting. That’s specifically what I’m doing in the work. Does that help?

Roo: Yeah, I think you responded to my question really well. Yeah, it’s just ... You bring up so many interesting points, particularly in terms of this tension that the actors may feel, this ethical or moral tension in regards to you have this larger context of people speaking about their oppression or their political goals and aims, while acting out this fantasy that’s not really in line with the truth of their experience. I also wonder ... I mean, that also seems like kind of a more intense or more exasperated form of what a lot of black, indigenous, and actors of color experience being in the theatre realm, because so often we’re forced to be in plays that either explicitly or implicitly either pretend like we exist or that we don’t face the experiences that we face.

Jacqueline: Yeah. There’s a real danger to it, because if the people in the audience, if this is their only experience of someone different from them, then this is what they’re getting. This si literally the information that they’re being told about this community. I just feel like it’s dangerous and reckless, and what do you do when you are an actor and this is what you’ve been, this is what you want to do, you’re called to do this, and these are the roles that are being ... I think that each of us represents and example of what you do, we’re creating our own path. I’m finally funding to do it the way I want to do it, maybe the theatre will pick it up, maybe not, but I’ll find a way to get an audience together to experience the play. But what happens when you don’t have that, when that’s not your option? I just think it can be very dangerous. We know images are powerful, we’re image makers, and what we create impacts how we are received in literally everyday life.

Roo: You know, Lisa might have a different perspective on this coming from the Canadian settler contacts, but in the United States, the thing that is the truest about how Native American operate in the national conscious is that we’re completely erased. So Adrian King, she talks about the way that indigenous communities live and die by representation because even something that seems so innocuous to people, for example, right now I’m on this whole shtick of trying to get people to stop using the words tribe and tribalism to mean fandom, fanaticism, partisanship, or sectionalism. It’s like the small things have such an outside effect on us because most people, the only understanding they have of native people is what they see on the TV or the movies they watched when they were kids. So it’s so hard to come to them when the only kind of media or stories that they hear about us are told by people who aren’t us.

Lisa: Yeah. I have a lot of thoughts to that. Earlier this year, I actually did an interview where we discussed acting white, based on an experience I had a season ago or two seasons ago. I think part of what the challenge is is that there’s a default mechanism around the ownership of representation. There’s a colonial mindset that there is an I that defines words, and that there is an I that defines value in being seen, period. Then, in also being therefore represented, because there is an active appeasement that is essential to North American theatre. The marrow of that appeasement is about appeasing whiteness and patriarchy. A kind of historical telling that relies on exemption and exceptionalism. So to ask these questions, we’re asking the question about what part do we play in a system that relies on subjugation of anything that isn’t white, and especially isn’t male.

Part of that answer is to ask the director, you know, understanding the dynamic as a performer that there’s a role, there’s a hierarchy, especially when I’m not the director, because it’s a different hierarchy when I’m the director in the room, for sure. But refusing, I guess, an act of refusal. So when I’m in that performer position, more and more, especially after this experience I had, I’m refusing to carry the onus of what that representation is actually systemically perpetuating. I’m very simply asking the director, what is your vision? Have you actually taken the responsibility to consider what you’re asking me to subjugate within myself when the default, unspoken default in the room is for me and my character to be white. There’s not a lack of heartedness, but there’s a lack of intentionality in my colleagues, and the refusal to subjugate themselves in those subtle and profound ways that require an unmitting and relieving, you know? It’s really challenging on that side of the table, from the outside looking in, witnessing it. It seems like it’s really scary, it’s really unnerving, it’s really-

Roo: Unsettling.

Lisa: It’s unsettling the settler’s position.

Jacqueline: I really appreciate you articulating that, because on of the questions that I had was what does this look like?

mia: I think for me in the room, what it practically looks like, and this is maybe speaking from the process that I’m in right now is exactly what, Lisa, you’re talking about, how do we center relationship, and how do we build a sense of what our priorities are? Getting curious about what it is that informs our priorities, what narratives have we subsumed and internalized that in other spaces maybe provoke us to abandon relationship, abandon relationship to the context and reality of our bodies, and our hearts, and our minds, how we’re doing, abandon what’s between us, and abandon our relationship to where we are, and abandon even our relationship to the historic moment in which we’re working.

Like, in really practical ways, I think it has been inviting and normalizing our ability to suspend process when process is undermining the intention of relationship, and when we’re being asked to do things or be in ways that are inconsistent with the value of relationship. So if I’m unwell inside of the space, allowing that I can say, I’m not well. What are we going to do together to address that? What am I going to ask for from myself and how do I make that a contribution? How is that framed as a contribution, not as a stripping away of something from the process? That we are humans, bodies, spirits, hearts, minds, in rooms that are in places where things are happening, and separate from other places where things are happening.

Roo: That is, that’s something that I have a big issue with is both in the art world and in the theatre world, often I see an attempt or move to create a space without a place, like space without place. I think it’s epitomized by the terms like the white walled gallery or the black box theatre, where it’s supposed to be a space without context. Which of course, to me, feels like settler colonialism since that was a big part of the goal in terms of how the United States came about is the attempt to turn it into Terranolias, the land without people. Lisa and mia, you’re coming from the Canadian settler complex, but I know that up there, it’s a lot more common to do land acknowledgements than it is down here. I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard a land acknowledgement except for once or twice in the US.

But something that is interesting to me when they do these land acknowledgments is that we do recognize the first human, that they do recognize that the first human people or the people who didn’t feed the land. But then it stops there, and it presumes that the only important historical or ongoing relationship to the land is between the literal geographic area and the human people. But, kind of reflecting what Lisa was saying, also in my travel culture, the animals and the plants are also important beings on the land. So to me it’s just interesting that while people have begrudgingly started doing land acknowledgements, they don’t acknowledge anything beyond human geography relationships. I don’t know if that makes sense.

Lisa: It makes sense, because it’s about the nationhood, I think, how I understand that, and how we produce and cultivate otherness is about how we understand nationhood, and how we privilege that nationhood. So it’s why Trump can completely dismantle environmental protection initiatives, right? Because there is a hierarchy, and I just ... I’m like you in that I teach my son when he ... When you take a rock, you don’t just pick up a stone and take it, you actually spend time and ask it. You honor the nationhood that you’re holding in your hand, because you’re in relationship to a living spirit, a life, a singularity.

Roo: The life of the stone, or the life of a bird, or the life of a fish, it’s also, just to make it explicit, because this is, at least in our society as an, like settler’s society isn’t made explicit. But that because that things have life they also have sovereignty is so reflective in the US, at least, to like just take away sovereignty from things. For example, I mean, like you were saying, with the way this administration treats the environment, as if it doesn’t have sovereignty, as if we can just expect that things will keep giving, and giving, and giving, without ever giving back to them.

So, going back to what I was talking about with states in place, I think for me a big part of decolonization is to re contextualize kind of like what mia was saying, re contextualize the space that we’re in, like the theatre on Catabaland should be telling its story, and that story should involve the land that it’s from. But it should also involve the process by which these theatres came about, because a lot of these theatres, I mean, I would say most that aren’t brand spanking new have some really tough history that they’ll often alide over, and try to de-contextualize to make it this space without place, or this space without history.

Jacqueline: Then sometimes that’s intentional, right? Subtle. Y’all are bringing up so many amazing things. So, I’m thinking about how in Dallas, the art’s center was built up, gorgeous spaces, offering music, theatre, and dance, and how to do so, it gentrified the space. So those marginalized communities, communities of color who were creating art there no longer have those space or even access to the space because it’s too expensive now. They can’t even afford to rent and use those spaces although they were there before. But I’m also thinking about, mia, what you said ... Actually bringing together what everyone has said, this idea of equitable humanity.

So who are you in a space? So who are you in a space? What is the work you’re creating? What are the sort of practices that can happen when how you show up might damage others? How do we name those realities in the space as we’re creating work? The question, I teach theatre for social change, and I use Dani Snyder-Young's Theatre of Good Intentions. I specifically use that, and I say, and I always ask the students, so if we do this work in communities, first of all, were you invited to go into these communities? Did you have a conversation with the people? Did you ask them what they wanted or did you have your own agenda? Did you allow your agenda to adjust as you started to listen to people? Then really and truly, the care of ourselves in these spaces. So, as a playwright around the room, I always let actors, designers, directors know that I am in service of the story as much as anyone else is, because I’m a conduit through which these characters came to me.

But if I get in my own way with ego, then I will wreck it. So I just, so what you’re all speaking to right now, really talks to me about a healing practice, makes me want to cultivate a healing practice about how we show up in spaces, how able to recognize ourselves in each other in spaces, and the transformative nature, recognize forms of nature on us and other people, and the power and responsibility of that. So you’re bringing up some really incredible things for me. So it’s not really ... I’m just reflecting back a real sense of aliveness based on, in reflection of what you all are saying. Oh. Which is really powerful, and which is what I actually don’t see when I step into a rehearsal.

mia: I feel like what you are naming right now actually transitions us potentially really beautifully to directly address what we’ve been asked to address. So what we were asked to look at is how to decolonize the primacy of the written word and text in theatre? I think in a lot of ways we’re already talking about it, because we’re talking about all of the other things that fit in theatre, beyond the text, right? We’re already talking about process, we’re already talking about land, we’re already talking about relationship, we’re already talking about our bodies. But if there’s something that’s kind of the peak for folks around the how to decolonize the primacy of the written word and text in theatre, and why we might do that?

Roo: For me, I think it comes down to my resistance to record, and it allows for people to experience my work without my actually being present. This is why I see so many benefits from oralcy or oral tradition, because it’s mandatory for there to be a relationship between the listener and the storyteller. The problem with record keeping, if we just look at the historical context, is I work on our language, and our last fluent speaker died in 1961. So, what you saw right before that was just these droves of anthropologists and linguists coming to our community and recording the language so that it can be preserved even as the Cataba language as a living thing was dying out. So there’s this way in which the record of us somehow replaces the reality of us.

mia: I have so many thoughts alive in my head right now. One is about, for me, right now, the expectations that we have about what language is supposed to perform in narrative, and how narrative is supposed to satisfy particularly conventions in order for it to be valuable. Whose conventions are applied, so white western approaches to storytelling and the way languages are supposed to function inside of that, which I think is already what you’re talking about. I think, for me, something that I think a lot about is how a thought is an embodied experience, and we have this Cartesian way of looking at thinking as, and language as only existing in one region of the body, and only being legitimately communicated through one region of the body.

When we look biologically, we see we have neural cells in our brains and in our chest, close to our hearts, and also in our stomach. So, thinking about thinking, or feeling about thinking, or feeling about feeling, from a totally other way of understanding what it means to have a thought and what it means to communicate a thought. That thought doesn’t necessarily rely on specific conventions of language to be communicated.

I think for me, I’m working in something that is really ineffable. I’m trying to create work right now that responds to embodied experiences for which there is no language, at least not in English. I’m not sure where to find the language to communicate what it is to live with a chronic illness, for example. How do you find the right words to transmit an understanding of what the body goes through? You can’t. But, when we think about the fact that as soon as we’re in a room together, we’re autonomically, our bodies are coming into synchronization. If we think about that fact, that we’re biologically connected with or without our consent, it’s not a thought we enact, it’s something that happens below even thinking, how do we lean into that way of being connected in order to create work that allows us entry to one another’s truths without ... I don’t know if I’m making any sense.

Roo: Yeah.

Lisa: You are.

mia: Also, I have this immense resistance to performing disability, and to making legible for able bodied, able minded audience what this life is, which is so many things, which is also the thing that allows me to feel the world very profoundly. So, not wanting to utilize the expectation of ease that audiences, I think, want. For everything to be legible and understandable, even if it’s not your own experience. When I talk, I’m talking about specific audiences, white, able bodied audiences that were trained culturally here that culture should perform something that doesn’t require us to be activated and to work, and to be implicated and involved. The culture is to be consumed or received in easy to digest pellets that allow us to relax in particular ways, and to maybe abstain from a relationship to the world, actually.

Jacqueline: So it feels to me what we’re asking is how to do this work in ways that do not rely on the capitalist colonial practices that have erased so many marginalized communities, because what I come up against in the American theatre is the erasure of stories, the narrative of omission. When season after season it is this het white male playwright, that story is getting told, and slowly, slowly there’s the one slot for the woman playwright, the one slot for the black playwright, and that we don’t get off that black/white dichotomy because we don’t know how to have a conversation about race in this country.

Then it pushes further, and we get one, one, one, one, so we tokenize voices. Only one playwright is allowed to go forward every two years, so you get one voice all over the American theatre, and then another voice might come through, then back to that same voice. So for me, what does this look like that looks like our own thing, our own practice, our own way of bringing work, stories of our communities?

Then it goes down to that place about value. You talked about value. Because we want people to come see it, how do we fund it, and oftentimes if you’re trying to get funding you have to show a standard of excellence, right? That standard of excellence is based on the white regional theatre, or whatever that has been in the past. So what I feel like this question is asking is how do we do this work in the way that either uses the Pablow’s practices, but does not reconstruct the damage and omission that those practices cause? Or how do we just burn it all down and build up our work, our way, for our people? Not saying no one else can come, but that lens is not their lens. It’s our lens.

Roo: How are certain members of society prevented from participating in that because of the supremacy of text? When I was in Washington DC, I worked with a lot of low literacy adults, and many of them were really fantastic storytellers. But I’m just thinking that in none of the theatre contexts I’ve ever performed or really viewed, would they have a place to perform their kind of theatre, or to tell their kind of story within this thing we call theatre because of their lack of access to the written word, to the text? So that might be one entry point into this question as well.

Lisa: What if we operated in such a way that we are not in performance to that privileged gaze? That’s the question. It’s not about how we use text or don’t. It’s not about whether we embody text or we appropriate it and say fuck you and make it a performance art piece. I don’t think that that’s ... Those are methods, it’s a way through. But I think the question is what are we actually doing if we’re just doing it the way we’ve always done it?

Roo: I think you’re exactly right. The danger, the fear that people have of this proposal of decolonization, particularly people who are invested and benefit from the way the theatre works at the moment. The theory is that we will bypass them as gate keepers, and then they won’t have the power. It’s the same ... I see this tension also, Dr. Kim Tolbert talks a lot about this liberal multicultural project of the United States and how it’s typified by more and more inclusion into the settler’s state while never actually addressing the issues at hand. I see that theatre and pretty much any other place that is really relying on this message of inclusion, but they also operate on that logic, which is that well, we’ll maintain the powers, but we’ll just include more people in it. So, that will be the way that we fix things. I think that what decolonization proposes is a lot more radical, a lot more scary to people.

Lisa: Yeah.

Jacqueline: Yeah. Which is why I think systems of how we make theatre may have to change, because unless everyone coming to the theatre, everyone funding the theatre, supporting the theatre, sponsoring the theatre, buys into that space of I’m coming here to disrupt my everyday, to displace myself and bring greater awareness and understanding, then how does it happen? That’s why underneath the question for me is how do we create this work without relying on all the ways the work has been created before, which asks, nay, demands we all be really comfortable in what we’re being presented with. Or, only shown just a little bit.

So I just, part of my question is what in our curriculum has to shift? Where does it start? Where do we start to unravel the capitalism and all those structures so that we can do the thing ... I agree, I think theatre should really ignite and make you uncomfortable, and just show ... It’s the next version of the human condition. We are a mess in our glorious beauty, you know? I want to see that on stage. But I’m ready for that. I’d go in wanting to see that and leaving with great disappointment when it’s like blah, you know? But not everyone is there, and not everyone are often times the ones with a whole lot of money, making sure that what they want to see gets performed on stage.

Lisa: I was just thinking, too, about other conversations I’ve had where there’s also this inside that space, I think we’re talking about audiences now, we’ve shifted a bit. But that there’s also this interesting ... I don’t know if it’s a dichotomy or an expectation, about what is worth our attention, too. So, there are indigenous playwrights and theatre makers, and the work that you do, Roo, that sounds like you do, that unsettles the settler position. It unsettles the comfort of that expectation of how comfortable I’m supposed to be in the world as a settler. So, then they go, well, I don’t want to support that work, because I’m going to go and I’m going to be uncomfortable. So I don’t really ... You kind of have to earn it. So you have to make me laugh before I come and see the quote unquote, head B show.

Roo: I think we’re kind of circling around this question also. We focus so much on who is on the stage, but I think for me, it’s really true that theatre is co constituted between the audience, and the performers, and the space, and all these other things. So I think a big part of decolonizing theatre will also be changing who is coming into ... Who is viewing these works, because at least in my experience, it’s predominately older white people. I also think that there’s this aspect of telling different stories to different people.

So, I recognize that most of my work is not really meant for other indigenous people, it is meant to unsettle settler communities, because when I do these tours of these different areas, and I recount these indigenous histories, native people are like, yeah, we know these stories. Yeah, they’re really painful to hear again and again. Whereas, for non native people, these are shocking new stories that they’ve never heard before. It makes me think about my elders when they tell stories, depending on the context, depending on what has happened to me recently, depending on if it’s me or me and a bunch of other people, or if it’s non Catabas versus Catabas, they’ll tell a different story depending on those contexts. So I think maybe another piece of the puzzle, and maybe at some point in the future when we get asked to speak together again, we can talk a little bit more about the audience aspect of it, and who we’re telling the stories to, and which stories we tell to certain people.

mia: And whose bodies are normalized in that space, and how is that structure and infrastructure we embedded. So, thinking about bodies that, for example, can’t sit upright in chairs, for whom that is an absolutely intolerable act, the expectation. Bodies that can’t sustain and withstand chemical exposure. Like, whose bodies do we even conceptualize in the space, and how are we fighting and demanding that these spaces be constructed? For me, this is something that I’m engaged in every day of my work with my collaborators. Again, and again, having to reiterate what it is that I think my body needs in order for me to even be able to appear in the studio. That being a constant invisible labor that I’m expected to perform that then has a burden on my capacity to create.

So if I’m not even able to enter the room and have my body be safe enough, because I don’t believe in safe spaces, but safe enough, if I can’t even get there, how are the stories going to be told? I have a lot of other things that are going for me that allow me to show up in spaces, but this is real. Yeah. Especially when the institutions that we may or may not be interacting with are so unwilling to engage in even the most minor of discomforts. It also dismantles for me the understanding of what theatre is supposed to do.

So, we’re moving it as a consumable item, which was already talked about, and as a thing that brings us in and towards itself, towards each other, towards where we are. If we start re conceptualizing what it is that theatre is doing, then we immediately have to start re conceptualizing what the space that holds it immediately offers to the people who are in that space, both the performers and audience. Even troubling the language of performer and audience, and really understanding what do those languages do to us immediately in terms of establishing hierarchies, in terms of establishing behavioral norms, in terms of establishing responsibility, in terms of establishing the way in which the whole relationship gets monetized. All of these layers that are really impose barriers that seem kind of antithetical, actually, to the work.

Lisa: You talk about the fighting, and I think in a way, Jac, when you were talking about this earlier to, like having to fight against mia, like, I can’t remember how you said it. But you talked about fighting against, just constantly having to fight to kind of be in the room. Asking the question, like, how do we not fight? I guess. Part of it is because there’s a sense for us that we have to fight, because there’s often an unconscious resistance that’s embedded in a system that’s served a kind of body and a kind of way of theatre doing and making that we are going, hmm, it didn’t really work for me.

So, there is something that unless those bodies of their own volition, I think we’re circling back to the beginning now, we have our conversation. That unless that work happens inside those bodies, separate from us, that then, I think only then will we start to be seen not as that threat, or not at the, oh, I’ve got to guard myself, because now I’m going to go into this show that’s going go challenge me, as opposed to I go into that same show and I feel sad, and I feel seen, and I feel honored. But this person beside me is like, oh my god, I’ve got to guard myself, because it’s going to be a hard thing that I’m going in to experience right now.

I’m just like, oh my god, that was so awesome. Right? So, I feel like maybe another layer inside this question that we’ve been offered is where does your resistance to the people reading this conversation, the call to your own resistance, this is a call to every time you go to theatre, could it possibly be, every time you make theatre, every time you create a circle that people are entering into, and that you are entering into, what is your call to resistance inside you that… That’s my question. Now my resistance is about mothering, and I have to go and get my child from school. But, I think I want to think about these things that you guys are offering. I’m very curious to see the transcript of it. I feel in my sick brain, I don’t know that I really covered everything. But I wanted to say thank you to all three of you for your immense openness and brain power, and generosity. I really, really see you and I appreciate what you’ve brought to the conversation. Yeah, I love you.

Roo: Native scholars have been talking about this thing called visiting as research, visiting as ceremony. So, I just really love this way of doing research and thinking by visiting with one another. So thank you to all three of your for having such a lovely conversation.

Jacqueline: Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Just, deep love and appreciation. Thank you for exploding my mind in these two hours.

mia: Yeah, likewise thank you for showing up as mostly strangers. Showing so much willingness to vulnerability and care, and to finding the immediate intersections and to pushing each other with so much love. I feel immensely privileged to have been in this conversation with the three of you, and I’m so grateful. So thanks for answering the call, and literally and figuratively, and showing up to this work. It’s been a really beautiful honor. I really hope we get to keep talking in different ways.

Lisa: Field trip to Jacqueline’s house. See you there.

mia: Yeah.

Lisa: We’re on our way. 

Bookmark this page

Log in to add a bookmark
Thoughts from the curators

This series explores ways in which theatre artists can decolonize their practice and the field.

Decolonizing Theatre Practice / Decolonarizar Practicas de Teatro


Add Comment

The article is just the start of the conversation—we want to know what you think about this subject, too! HowlRound is a space for knowledge-sharing, and we welcome spirited, thoughtful, and on-topic dialogue. Find our full comments policy here

Newest First

Subscribe to HowlRound

Sign up for our daily, weekly, or quarterly emails so you never miss the latest theatre conversations.

Sign me up

Supporting HowlRound

We fundraise to keep all our programs free and open and to pay our contributors. Thank you to all who make our work possible!

Donate today