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Selected by Nadia Ross

Sarah Conn is STO Union’s artistic producer and one of the company’s collaborative artists.  Since 2010, she has produced everything ranging from local workshops, events and performances to international tours for STO Union and regularly represents the company at industry events and conferences. Sarah creates and performs in plays, performance installations, site-specific theatre and live art, and has had her work presented at some of the top contemporary theatre festivals in Canada.

Acceptance Speech

Shaista: Hi Sarah.

Sarah: Hi Shaista.

Shaista: I think we’re both pretty excited to be here, right?

Sarah: Yeah, it’s pretty exciting.

Shaista: How do you explain the sobering moment when you finally realize that you’re insane. Actually, you’re all kinda insane too! Insanely committed to the work by continuing no matter how many barriers come your way. But seriously…what is theatre? I don’t know.  And I hope I never feel like I do because theatre has no beginning or end and is not bound to any one form or narrative. That’s what makes it undefinable and I hope that’s how artists of colour are seen one day beyond our identity markers. When  I think of theatre, I think of the power of stories and I think of the moments that happen in the every day. I think of my childhood neighbourhood, those brown Scarborough housing blocks, filled with families like mine, settlers, from elsewhere. I think of my mother rushing me to ESL classes in her beauty school uniform, yelling in farsi to run faster. I think of my father’s hands on the steering wheel of his cab, driving around the city, collecting stories to share. I think of that trip I took 3 falls ago to do a workshop with Nadia.  I arrived in Montreal with plastic bags stuffed into my broken boots, following an instinct. And how with time and compassionate dialogue, Nadia has become my mentor and a teacher of time, presence and resilience. I think of Sarah Conn and what it means to share this recognition with an artist whose dedication and kindness continues to show me what is possible when discipline meets creative force. I think of the countless people who have trusted in my abilities.  I am forever grateful and indebted to those who have challenged me to be more than what I could ever  think possible for myself (in farsi). From my heart,  thank you.

Sarah: In 2007 I sat in this theatre with my mom and watched STO Union’s 7 Important Things. I had never seen anything like it. Nadia and George, the performers, created this incredible intimacy in the theatre, as they casually shared deeply personal moments from their lives.

Intimacy has always been fascinating to me. How I relate to you, how you feel about me, what it takes for us to all be here together.

When I first started working with Nadia, she tried hard to discourage me. I think she wanted to make sure I was really serious about theatre. I’m extremely tenacious though, so seven years later, I’m still here, producing, creating, directing around the world for STO Union. That’s the generosity of this woman, and her dedication to passing her knowledge down.

The greatest gift Nadia has given me is her unfailing commitment to truth. It’s not easy to work with someone who loves truth so much. You can’t sweep anything under the rug. But it’s incredible to have someone who believes in you so deeply that she will tell you the truth, even if it hurts and even if you are quick to ugly tears, as I am. What I’ve learned is that truth is where real intimacy lies and, of course, art. It’s what allows us to be here together.

The truth is I’m so proud to be here. I’m so proud to be receiving this award in my hometown, in the city where I make my art, in a theatre I’ve been coming to since I was a little girl. I’m so proud to have the chance to further this legacy as truthfully as I can and especially that I get to do so with Shaista, an artist who is deeply compassionate and fiercely talented – essential qualities in these times.

Shaista: Thank you Sarah. Thank you Nadia. Our deepest gratitude to the Siminovitch family, the National Arts Centre and of course, Elinore who dared to pursue her passion and purpose with awareness and empathy. We are so grateful to the jury for recognizing Nadia’s incredible artistry, and to Nadia for making us her protégés.

Sarah: Nadia talks often about passing down a red thread of knowledge, that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. That, in receiving this knowledge and this award, we are also receiving the responsibility of carrying on – asking questions, challenging the art form and creating spaces where everyone is truly welcome. This is a responsibility that we don’t take lightly and that we are truly honoured to have.

Thank you so much.

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