When you are finally up on the moon looking back at Earth, all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people?
—Frank Borman, astronaut from Apollo 8
The planet is not terra firma, it is a delicate flower. And it must be cared for. It’s lonely. It’s small. It’s isolated. And there is no resupply. And we are mistreating it. Clearly the highest loyalty we should have is not to our own country or our own religion or our hometown or even to ourselves. It should be No. 2 to the family of man and No. 1 to the planet at large. This is our home and this is all we’ve got.
—Astronaut from Mercury 7 in 1992
Exploring the astronaut effect—the notion of standing on the outside and looking in—was the central theme of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres meeting, where Dafina McMillan, TCG’s director of communications and conferences, and I were plenary speakers in May of this year.
I opened my session with the quotations above, two astronauts’ poetic perspectives from the heavens. From them, you get a sense of Earth as tender and beautiful, tiny and ancient. And you can imagine, if you elevate to a perch somewhere in space, at a certain time of night, that you might be able to watch as curtains rise and fall on performances taking place inside buildings and barns, in cities and towns and in clearings in the wilderness—all giving off that primal heat created by people sitting together and experiencing a story playing out on stage.
Indeed, there is a subset of planet Earth that is planet Theatre. Even if our national languages differ and we are separated by governmental borders, we have a kind of unspoken vocabulary and recognition of others in this world, an instant sense of connection and family.
Dafina and I experienced this familial recognition with our Canadian theatre counterparts. And as we spent the days exploring issues in our respective theatre ecologies, as seen from an imaginary 90,000 foot perch, the opportunities for collaboration and shared learning became increasingly clear. One of the major topics in Canada, as it is here, is how to build a more equitable and inclusive theatre community. This gave the conference theme its second meaning, as the organizers addressed how some people may feel like outsiders, unable to break through and break into the workings of theatres across the country. Many people feel they are on the outside looking in.
Given this shared area of concern, TCG’s equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives, as outlined by Dafina at the conference, were enthusiastically received. We learned that much of what we’ve invested in—such as the Diversity and Inclusion Institute and our Spark Leaders program—are needed and embraced beyond our own borders.
On Day Two of the convening, the Canada Council joined the conference to unveil its new funding model. Some of the ecological dynamics at play in the Canadian arts ecosystem mirror our own and are encapsulated in the new approach. The council will streamline its programs from 147 down to 6 non-discipline-specific program categories: Explore and Create; Engage and Sustain; Creating, Knowing and Sharing Aboriginal Arts; Renewing Artistic Practice; Arts Across Canada; and Arts Abroad. Among the key themes in all six categories are diversity, professional excellence, innovation, and broad sharing of artistic work and skillsets.
Of particular note is how the Aboriginal Arts program is structured. It will be guided by Aboriginal artists’ values and worldviews, administered by staff of Aboriginal heritage, assessed by Aboriginal arts professionals—and its impacts will be measured and reported on in an Aboriginal cultural and artistic context.
In the 2012 international issue of American Theatre, which focused on the Canadian theatre scene, Nicole Estvanik Taylor wrote about the proximity of certain U.S. cities and major Canadian theatre towns: “It’s a short distance from Seattle to Vancouver, which boasts more than 100 professional theatre companies. But Seattleites are more likely to hear about a hot new play from Washington, D.C., than one premiering a 150-mile drive up the Pacific Coast.”
It’s true that we are not regularly visiting and collaborating with our theatre friends and family to the north, with a few exceptions: Following a brief Facebook post I wrote about being in Toronto, Zak Berkman of Pennsylvania’s Peoples Light & Theatre Company commented on my post that he was at a café just a few blocks from where I was staying. He happened to be in town for 24 hours to see a few shows and meet with colleagues. I tagged along with him to an exquisitely rendered Of Human Bondage at Soulpepper Theatre.
Let’s hope these border crossings and the perspectives they engender become more commonplace. Maybe it’s time we all switch from being outsiders looking in and become full-fledged citizens of a unique and beautiful theatre planet.