Julie Phan

Julie Phan

Protégé, 2023

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Julie Phan is going goblin-mode. She travels between Toronto and Montreal practicing as a writer-performer, arts manager and stripper. Julie’s writing is openly hostile, characterized by her aggressive tone, off-beat sense of humor and frenetic lines of thought to explore agency, relationality and power struggle as a Vietnamese-Hoklo woman; counterpointed by her intimate understanding of people and unique somatic insights from her experience in dance performance.

She has been recognized as a writer by the Playwrights Guild of Canada (Robert Beardsley Award 2019), Major Matt Mason Collective (Wildfire National Playwriting Competition, 2021), the Jon Kaplan Legacy Fund (Young Canadian Playwright Award, 2022), and Tarragon Theatre (RBC Emerging Playwright Award, 2023). Julie is best known for disappointing her father as well as her work with fu-GEN asian theatre company (double bill, fearless).

She is currently an artist in residence at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

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David Yee

David Yee

Laureate, 2023

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Biography

David Yee is a mixed race (half Chinese, half Scottish) playwright and actor, born and raised in Toronto. He is the co-founding Artistic Director of fu-GEN Theatre Company, Canada’s premiere professional Asian Canadian theatre company. A Dora Mavor Moore Award nominated actor and playwright, his work has been produced internationally and at home. He is a two-time Governor General’s Literary Award nominee for his plays lady in the red dress and carried away on the crest of a wave, which won the award in 2015 along with the Carol Bolt Award in 2013. Yee has been in residence at Tarragon Theatre, Factory Theatre, the Stratford Festival, Cahoots Theatre and often works with theatre training institutions (NTS, U of T, TMU) to create new works for graduating cohorts using his unique Bespoke method of play creation. He currently teaches playwriting at the University of Toronto, and has worked extensively in the Asian Canadian community as an artist and an advocate.

2023 Protégé

Julie Phan

Acceptance Speech

This is an incredible honour. So much so, that I feel that it must be verging on a clerical error.

Mishka, Bernie and d’bi. When I first learned that we were the four, I thought how easily it could go to any of us, and how happy I would be regardless of the outcome, for whomever was honoured. I was just thrilled to be in your company. You are formidable, the three of you, and above that, you are kind. You are the sort of artists I am honoured to be counted among, but you are also the sort of humans I absolutely adore.

I can say the same for each human who has been a part of this Siminovitch process, from Aimee and Sam to Video Company. I think your kindness and the level of craft and care you put into this celebration is inspired by the kindness and care of Lou and Elinore Siminovitch. From what I know and what I’ve been told, I believe this to be the case. If Lou and Elinore’s legacy is that artists feel valued in a way that is so seldom felt, especially these days… then it is in good hands with you. 

Forgive me, as I rarely write in the first person. It’s been a sort of theme for me, these last few months, having to think and speak as myself, and not through a character I’ve created. Preparing for the documentary we’ve all just seen was an anxiety nightmare, as I’ve always been awestruck and envious of those who could speak passionately and articulately about their own artistic practice. When I hear myself try to do those things, my brain tends to grind to a halt. When asked about their art, other people – it seems to me – can situate themselves in the world to a degree that I have difficulty doing myself. They know, and have the ability to express, what they think and feel in a way that escapes me, much of the time. 

This, of course, can’t be true. I must have deeply felt and entrenched opinions about many things, as I am a person in the world. How can one live otherwise? Such a person would have the emotional equivalent to stereoblindness: blissfully unaware of life’s complexities and dimensionality. That can’t be me. 

This is how I become at odds with myself. Faced with a reality I know can’t be true. Knowing that I must be more than I feel is possible, but seemingly – to myself – incapable of reconciling that. This is how I turn to writing.

By writing other people, I begin to develop an acute awareness of my own feelings, my own place. Not as the centre, but as an observer and as a caretaker of the centre, who is always the character. Being in service of the journey someone else takes, fighting on their behalf in the face of obstacles I also create… curating a world in which my character’s stakes are larger than my own… I create a metaphor I can understand for my own life. This is a roundabout way of living and I wouldn’t recommend it to the average person, save for one relatively crucial detail: the centre of that process (it’s generous to call it a process, it’s more of a pathology)… is, necessarily, empathy.

We are living in an age where objective reality has become a contest of opinion. Society’s entitlement has outreached their compassion. In place of communities, we have individuals and their followers, each person now a community unto themselves, yet part of no others. We value tribalism over community, judgement over understanding, and intransigence over reason. We have reached peak Fountainhead.

The act of writing – on the other hand – is, fundamentally, an exercise in care. Which I find interesting since theatre is, also fundamentally, about conflict. Which means, as writers, we exercise care to imagine conflict. To do this, we must exhibit an intrinsic understanding of each side of that conflict in our work. We must seek to understand that which we cannot fathom, or worse, that with which we materially disagree. Every villain is a hero to someone, and so in our work we write only heroes and let the audience decide. This is the only honest way to create: non-judgementally, with consideration, and with kindness.

I teach playwriting at the University of Toronto, and I tell my students that there will come a time in the process of creating a play where you must relinquish control to the play itself. When the play will start to tell you what it wants to be. If you continue trying to make it the thing you want it to be, there will only be ruin. If you have been honest with your world, with your characters, if you have understood them and honoured them… then they’ll go the rest of the way and you just follow. 

This is what writing has taught me: how to listen to something greater than myself. Not just as a way to create, but as a way to live in the world. 

And so here we are, diametrically opposed to society’s preoccupation of the self, in pursuit of greater truths. Those truths will not be found in outrage, or follows, or commerce… they will be found in each other. 

Or at least, this is what I believe.

All of that being said, I am only able to create the work I do and continue understanding the world the way I do because I was lucky enough to have mentors who championed me. Without their support, I would have given up long ago. Ron and Lloyd, Jean Yoon and Yvette Nolan. If not for them, this would have been over before it began. And my mother. God help me if I forget to say my mother.

Similar good fortune has also provided me with peers and colleagues I hold dear and collaborate with as often as I can. My co-conspirators at fu-GEN: Deb Lim and Marissa Orjalo, Ramsay, Joanna, Alex Punzalen, Bensimon, Camie, Amy Lee and Omari, McGeachy… though my most enduring, productive and annoying collaborator in this artistic life has been the blessing that is Nina Lee Aquino. We built our careers together from scratch, just two idiots who didn’t know anything about anything. Though I suspect she actually did know something all along and never told me. It’s not hyperbolic to say that I wouldn’t be here if not for her. Not that she wrote a support letter or anything, she couldn’t be bothered, she runs the NAC for God’s sake. She is an exceptional artist, a generous collaborator and a terrible driver. And no one has terrified and inspired me more than her. This prize, in spirit, really belongs to both of us. In spirit. Not money. Spirit.

Stephen King said that every time he sees a first book dedicated to a wife or a husband he thinks, There’s someone who knows. “Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.” That in mind, I wish I could go back to my first book and dedicate it to Vienna Hehir. Because after a long life of not knowing, I am now someone who knows. She believes in me something fierce and I am grateful for every moment I have her by my side. The sun rises and sets with her. 

Thank you for this honour. I’ll wish I did it all differently tomorrow, but tonight this is perfect.

At last, there is nothing left to say.

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Berni Stapleton

Berni Stapleton

Finalist, 2023

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Biography

Berni Stapleton is a playwright, author, and actor. She is the Artistic Director of Girl Power Inc. She is co-artistic director of the Grand Falls-Windsor Theatre Project. She has spent her career making beautiful theatre in unexpected places. She has had almost forty plays professionally produced in Canada and beyond, including Ireland, the U.K. and New York. Her plays include the iconic Offensive to Some, Woman in a Monkey Cage, Brazil Square, and The Pope and Princess Di. Bernardine was writer-in-residence at Memorial University in 2019 and developed and taught their first introductory course in playwrighting. She has a new one person show in development called Antidote for Life: Memory, Madness, and the Performing Artist. She lives in St. John’s with rescue beagles Georgie Girl and Tiggy Duff. 

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d’bi.young anitafrika

d’bi.young anitafrika

Finalist, 2023

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Biography

Renowned Canadian playwright, activist, and theatre scholar, d’bi.young anitafrika, is celebrated for transformative theatre practices advocating social justice. A nonbinary African-Xaymacan-Tkarontonian womxn, their work, including the acclaimed Sankofa, Orisha, and Ibeyi Trilogies, demonstrates an unwavering commitment to Black queer feminist theatrical forms while rupturing colonial-systemic oppression. Accolades include three Dora Awards and numerous nominations, a KM Hunter Theatre Award, and a Global Leader in Theatre and Performance Award from Arts Council England.

Beyond writing, as Founding Artistic Director of Watah Theatre, d’bi.young has mentored hundreds of emerging playwright-performers into industry leaders. They conceived The Anitafrika Method, a decolonial performance praxis, nationally and globally applied in spaces like Soulpepper Theatre and the United Nations. 

Presently a PhD candidate, d’bi.young is completing the first monograph on the transformative pedagogies of Black womxn theatre-makers in Canada. 

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Mishka Lavigne

Mishka Lavigne

Finalist, 2023

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Biography

Mishka Lavigne (she / her) is a playwright, screenwriter, and literary translator. Her plays have been developed and performed in Canada, the United States, Europe, Australia, Haiti, and Mexico.

Her play Havre, created at La Troupe du Jour (Saskatoon) received the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2019. Copeaux, produced by Théâtre de Dehors (Ottawa) was awarded the same prize in 2021, as well as the Prix Jacques-Poirier. Murs, initially produced as a podcast by Transistor Médias, Créations In Vivo and the Théâtre Populaire d’Acadie, received rave reviews in France and will be produced for the stage in 2023.

Mishka also writes in English. Her play Albumen, produced by TACTICS in 2019 (Ottawa), received the QWF Playwriting Prize and her play Shorelines was staged (TACTICS) in 2023.

As a translator of both French and English, Mishka has more than twenty credited translations of theatre, prose and poetry.

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Marie Brassard

Marie Brassard

Laureate, 2022

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2022 Laureate

Actor, author and director, Marie Brassard is a singular voice in the contemporary theatrical landscape. Playing on the line between digital and living art, she subjects both artistic and human matter to the laws of transformation, yielding works of great maturity erected on the slopes of our virtual and dreamt realities. Through close collaboration with musicians and visual artists, she creates theatrical works of surreal execution that reveal her virtuosity and her highly innovative staging, where video, light and sound hold court. Her productions transport audiences to that liminal space where the lines between private and public begin to blur and the relationship between humans and technology becomes intimate. Her shows have been presented and enthusiastically received in many countries of the Americas, as well as Europe, Japan and Australia.

Acceptance Speech

Good evening.

I would like to start by congratulating my fellow nominees: Sherri Yoon, Ann-Marie Kerr and Ravi Jain. You have all of my admiration and respect.

I also wish to warmly thank the members of the jury, as well as the artist Laurence Dauphinais, who nominated me. I would also like to thank those who supported my nomination, whose generous and profound letters truly touched my heart.

I consider myself extremely lucky and honoured in this moment. Thank you to the visionaries of this unique and generous prize in the honour of Lou and Elinore Simonovitch, respectively a scientist and a dramaturge, as well as to all of the people who have financially supported it over the years.

No couple better embodied the relationship between art and science, which take different paths to travel through the same vast and unexplored territories of all that we do not yet know.

The curiosity that drives these explorers of new territories is a blessing. These adventurous spirits dare to show us how to see things from a new angle, inviting us to reimagine the world and its systems, and knock our certainties from their pedestals. It is thanks to having encountered similar souls that I was initiated into the world of literature, and then, of theatre.

I developed a taste for the unique at an early age. As a timid child and a political teenager, I only looked for adventure and escapades in places that were entirely unknown to me. Nothing made me happier than meeting eccentric characters. I admired these people. I wanted to be like them. My mother, Françoise, was one of them. She adored misfits and people who were different. She loved unexpected situations, parties, and big, flamboyant gestures. She passed this love of the unusual down to me during the few years I was able to share with her. She died young. I am now older than she will ever be, and, in some sense, I am living out her dreams. She was the first person to call me an artist; she affirmed it well before I eventually understood who I am.

I’m not a specialist of anything—I approach each new project as a beginner. I try to start with a clean slate each time, in order to leave room for a new image, something that will stun me. I have always been frustrated—and frankly, spooked—by dogmatic approaches that try to create and define and regulate uniform practices. I don’t appreciate instruction manuals or people telling me what to do. I want to believe that my intuition is the best guide I could ask for. I enjoy chaos, wrapping myself in silence and then plunging into cacophony. I enjoy wandering and wonderment, laziness and the altered state that is generated in our minds with prolonged inaction. I also enjoy the wild and unreasonable quality of the last sprint before a work is completed.

Any director, anyone who practices this profession knows this. We need a great deal of time, of solitude, of doubts and fears. Moments where we would prefer to be elsewhere, doing something else. We need a good sense of humour, as well.

Lastly, it is through discussing with others that it is truly possible to find comfort and allow the embryonic ideas in our minds to take shape and body, to exist outside of us. In this way, we are able to invent new worlds and create realities that are refreshing to see.

I had the unbridled good fortune to be surrounded by a multitude of incredible artists and technicians, as well as exceptional actors who help bring these works to life. They are numerous, but I would especially like to highlight the contributions of composer Alexander MacSween and stage designer Antonin Sorel, who have for several years lent their intelligence and craft to the benefit of the projects I initiate through my company Infrarouge. I would also like to thank the formidable team of Catherine Sasseville, Jacinthe St Pierre and Anne MacDougall, who have loaned me their organizational and administrative talents. Without them, none of this would be possible.

To those who are just getting started in this profession and feel alone with their desires, who bear an inner turmoil that they do not yet know how to express. I would like to tell you that the secret might be to give yourself over to that, rather than trying to overcome it. The journey is the work. Time and persistence are our allies. Let the wind blow through you, listen to the breath that seeks to speak through us. Refuse conformity. Create new worlds, invent new realities. You are the artists and you are unique and as each new artist is born, alongside them is born a new language of expression.

In closing, I would like to introduce you to the person with whom I have chosen to share this prize, actor and director Philippe Boutin, who already has several fine years of experience behind him. I appreciate his complex, intelligent, humour- and poetry-filled works, and the way his productions bring people together. I can only hope that his creations can take on all of the scope that they deserve.

2022 Protégé

Philippe Boutin

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James Lavoie

James Lavoie

Jury Member, 2021

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Biography

James is a Montréal based set and costume designer for theatre, circus and other live events. He has designed over 100 productions that have been experienced by live audiences in over 20 countries across five continents. James is currently the artist in residence in the set and costume design program at the National Theatre School of Canada for the 2021/22 academic year.

A regular collaborator of the Cirque Du Soleil, James has designed the costumes for their permanent show, JOYA in Riviera Maya, Mexico which has been playing continuously since 2014. In 2019 he designed the costumes for MESSI10, premiering in Barcelona before continuing on its world tour, and that same year he created the costumes for ‘Twas the Night Before, premiering at New York’s Madison Square Gardens. James has also worked with the 7 Doigts de la Main to design the costumes for their show The Last Chapter in the United Arab Emirates. He has also regularly collaborated with the Chilean circus company Siete Comunicaciones to design sets and costumes for their South American tour from 2015-2018.

In theatre, James’ work has been recognized 6 times by the Montreal Critics Circle Awards (MECCA) and Montreal English theatre Awards (META) for best set and/or costume design. He has also received Ottawa’s Capital Critics Circle Award for best set and costume Design in 2014. His career has been marked by his contribution to the creation of numerous new Canadian plays, including set and costume design for: Jordan Tannahill’s Botticelli in the Fire and Sunday In Sodom at Canadian Stage, the English language premiere of Olivier Choinière’s Bliss at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto, the English language premiere of Catherine-Anne Toupin’s MOB at Centaur Theatre, Michael Mackenzie’s Instructions to Any Future Socialist Government and Bryden McDonald’s Bated Breath also at the Centaur Theatre, among many others. Other notable theatre productions include; set and costume design for Grease produced by Juste Pour Rire in Montréal, set and costume design for Innocence Lost at Canada’s National Art’s Center and the Segal Center’s Sherlock featuring Jay Baruchel and the subsequent North American tour featuring David Arquette.

James holds a MA Degree from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design (London, UK) in Scenography: performance design and practice.

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Gillian Gallow

Gillian Gallow

Laureate, 2021

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2021 Laureate

Gillian Gallow has designed close to ninety productions across Canada from new plays to opera, in small independent theatres to the largest stages in the country. Most notably she designed costumes for the Canadian Opera Company’s world premiere of Hadrian in 2018 and for Louis Riel in 2017. She has designed set and costumes at The Shaw Festival for five seasons and has done four productions with The Stratford Festival. Her work has also been seen at Soulpepper, Canadian Stage, The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, The Citadel, Theatre Calgary, and The National Arts Centre, to name a few. Gillian is a graduate of York University and has been nominated for eight Dora Mavor Moore awards, winning four. Across Canada, Gillian’s designs have been nominated for Evie Awards, Betty Awards, Sterling Awards, the Capital Critics’ Awards, and she is the 2018 recipient of the Virginia and Myrtle Cooper Award in Costume Design.

Acceptance Speech

The power of set and costume design exists in its silence. They are the haunted, charged landscape on a stage; the skin of a character crawled into by an actor. Design is the visual narrative that reaches an audience’s rational mind and irrational heart. The subliminal language capable of evoking intense emotion, even challenging our cultural biases. As much as design should be daring, bold and opinionated, so too must designers create with courage, curiosity, and a point of view.

But what are the elements that make a great design, that propel an artistic journey, that enrich an artistic practice? Much like the ephemerality of theatre, these answers can seem equally intangible. But as I consider the path which has led me to this moment, these answers become blindingly clear.

When I was a twenty-five-year-old design assistant at Stratford, I mentioned to Miles Potter I didn’t get a design gig in Toronto because I was told I didn’t have enough experience. He immediately asked me to design costumes for a mainstage production he was directing at The Grand Theatre in London. As an emerging designer, Peter Hinton took a chance, hiring me to design the set and costumes for an adaptation of King Lear he was directing at the National Arts Centre. What Miles and Peter saw was my potential, and they gave me an opportunity that was beyond my experience. As a young designer these votes of confidence were personally, and artistically, transformative. Generosity of spirit can change the life of a young artist.

These relationships are essential in building the foundation of an artistic journey. Theatre is created through collaboration – and the sacred trust we build together elicits discovery, experimentation, and risk. The carpenters, scenic artists, prop masters, cutters, wig builders and the myriad of specialized artists who bring a designer’s ideas to reality, are the un-celebrated, seldom recognized collaborators designers rely on. My designs would be nothing without their artistry and excellence.

Most importantly, artistry is enriched by the love of those around us. My father, a banker, never questioned my choice to become an artist. Though he may have been worried about my ability to make ends meet, he never doubted my ability to persevere. My mother, took me to see theatre as a child, sewed the first costumes I designed in high school, stayed up with me into the wee hours of the morning to make a dress out of Tyvek for a show I wasn’t paid for. My life-partner and vital collaborator Christopher Morris, supports me during my long hours of work, listening to my crazy ramblings as I try to solve the puzzle of a new design. My seven-year-old daughter, Eileen, who is full of awe and wonder, reminds me of the magic and joy of our world. Love is a blessing. And through love and support, artists are made, artistic expression is deepened.

I am honoured to be this year’s Laureate for the Siminovitch Prize. Given the chance as a mid-career designer to take stock, and think about what’s important to me, is a life-changing gift that’s value is beyond monetization. This prize is an investment in Canadian Theatre, in an art that’s ephemeral. I promise to live up to the spirit of this award, to always pursue the intangible, embrace the trajectory of an idea, to innovate.

I’m proud to stand side-by-side with the other finalists – Linda Brunelle, Nancy Bryant and Michelle Ramsay, designers who continually test the limits of their craft, and push against the boundaries of design. They inspire me. I’m a better designer because of them. And I am humbled by Peter Hinton, who graciously nominated me for this award. Thank you, Peter, for a decade’s worth of collaboration. You have expanded the capacity of my practice and affirmed my belief in the transformative power of theatre in society.

I’ve been given the honour to choose two Protégés who embody the spirit of this prize. Joshua Quinlan and Joyce Padua are designers who exhibit incredible potential. Joshua’s set designs are bold and elegant. Joyce’s costumes are daring and artistic. Most importantly, their openness, curiosity, and collaborative spirit, make them the bright future of our industry. To all directors, artistic directors, donors, and philanthropists: continue to support emerging designers, they’re worth it.

I love, and am equally confounded by, the intensity of our obsession to create theatre, hour after hour, day after day when we know full well that what we labour over will disappear. The recent absence of theatre has made me realize how much I cherish this comradery. I look ahead, and see brightness; in the collaborations to come, the audiences who are joining us once again. To be a designer at this time, in the re-awakening of our world, is a gift.

Thank you for this honour. It means the world to me.

2021 Protégés

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Stéphanie Jasmin

Stéphanie Jasmin

Laureate, 2018

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2018 Laureate

“The Siminovitch Prize for a designer is certainly one of the few Canadian and even international awards given to artisans who work on the shadows; those who conceive a part of the dream that will take shape on a theatrical stage. It is with humility, joy and gratitude that I receive this honour to be nominated by the jury as finalist for this prestigious prize. I consider this “highlighting” as a real encouragement to continue to dig, to explore, and to deepen this work as a designer of images and spaces for the stage. This nomination gives me an incredible impetus as an artist to pursue my path and my search within a living and collective art form which I am passionate about and which is based on human connection.”

UBU co-artistic director Stéphanie Jasmin has a degree in art history from the École du Louvre in Paris, with a specialty in contemporary art, and a BA in filmmaking from Concordia University in Montreal. On joining the company in 2000, she began contributing her knowledge of visual arts and her command of the language of video and film to Denis Marleau’s ongoing exploration of new technologies. In addition to acting as artistic collaborator and/or co-director, she has designed the video for more than 30 UBU productions and designed the sets for more than half of them. She has written and directed two original stage plays, a portrait of sculptor Michel Goulet (Éditions Varia, 2007) and a number of specialized texts on the theatre. Since 2005, she has also been working as a dramaturg with several Quebec women choreographers. She regularly hosts creative workshops in Montreal and Europe.

Acceptance Speech

This evening, I am profoundly honoured to receive the Siminovitch Prize. I am, moreover, honored to have been nominated together with you, Camellia, Alexander and Itai, all three distinguished by such remarkable artistic trajectories.

I am also very moved, for it has taken me years to believe that I have truly earned a place in the theatre world. Coming, rather, from a background in art history and cinema, I had no training in the dramatic arts. Nonetheless, upon reflection, I realize that even as a child I had, despite my timidity, an urge to share my artistic intuitions and creative desires with others precisely by way of theatre. In my village school, in Neuville, I made up stories and assigned roles that I had my friends act out during recess. Together we mounted these plays in front of the other school children, in numerous performances on a small stage. It was spontaneous, an impulse. From where this impulse came, I cannot say, but it was clearly there. My childhood was nourished by books, which were everywhere in the house, for I had the good fortune to have extraordinary parents who always encouraged my curiosity about things and the world at large. I read constantly, voraciously, one book after another. This is how I did my travelling, projecting myself into fictions, exotic lands, other lives. I was also drawing all the time. For me, images and words have always been inextricably bound together, each nourishing the other.

My first shock in confronting an image occurred when just a child, as I faced paintings in the village church. Large nineteenth-century compositions by the painter Antoine Plamondon, arranged sequentially as episodes in a story to be told. The painting that made the greatest impression on me depicted an angel slaying a grimacing devil and threatening it with its lance in a rocky, indeterminate landscape. I later discovered that is was a copy of Saint Michael Vanquishing Satan by the Italian artist Raphael. This painting terrified me; it haunted me. It exuded a dramatic strength and a strange theatricality; the painting’s two protagonists were suspended in one moment, one movement, locked in opposing attitudes. It was an open window on a fragment of a story that escaped me.

My fascination with this window on other realities, the work of art, later led me to attend the Louvre School in Paris. Years of study during which I was able, by encountering artworks in their materiality and presence, to nourish my artistic eye. I filled myself with them, observing their construction and function. Museums constituted a parallel city for me. I visited them daily, returning time and again to see a particular painting or sculpture, to draw or photograph specific details, like hands or brush strokes, that became miniature abstract compositions embedded in the large old paintings. This precious period of study and contemplation was certainly one of the most formative in my life. Moments of internal creation, moments in which we build nothing concrete, but nonetheless build many things within us. Years later, I returned to the Louvre to pace the halls with my daughter Clara. Rediscovering the artworks through my daughter’s eyes, I delighted in her comments on the Virgins in the Madonna and Child scenes, with their blue veils and long blond hair: some clearly enchanted by their babies, others not even looking at them! At the age of three, this is what concerned her most…

After this incubation period in Paris, I was moved to further explore my creation of images by pursuing studies in cinema. The painting-as-window became the framework for my composition of filmed images, an aesthetic that demanded creation, with actors and temporal duration. An image that I have subsequently had to create and construct before viewing, mounting it with many other sequences to create a fictional language of its own. The “film production” specialty was part of the Fine Arts Faculty at Concordia University. This specific feature of the program is crucial, for it was really about cinema, not as an important part of a cultural industry, but first and foremost as an art form, to experience and explore as such. Among those to whom I am particularly grateful is Marielle Nitoslawska, who taught me there with passion and epitomized for me the woman artist, she who was a photo and film director. Then, theatre entered my life, or rather it returned. It united, once again, my two passions, word and image. It became for me a sort of vast creative terrain in which to try out the experience of a real, concrete presence of bodies, places, images, and words in a single moment. A moment lived intimately through the presence and circulation of souls and bodies, and of words and ideas; a moment of communion open to a looking and listening that facilitates the passage of different states of mind, the movement from reverie to agitation, stunned wonder to wakefulness, of human thought. An experience that can apprehend the whole simultaneously, at a single glance. A glance, however, that is constantly in relation to other glances. In the auditorium as on the stage.

We are never alone with the theatre. Our first artistic intuitions, rough, incomplete, and sometimes improbable need to be shared at once with others, to be, at last, fully revealed in front of spectators. Thus, my encounter with theatre immediately plunged me into the heart of creation, the need to choose, the making of decisions, the following through with ideas, rendering them real and tangible. Theatre, as is often said, is a brutal art for it is true that the deadline, the looming certainty of the premiere, sometimes transforms it to a vertigo-inducing extreme sport. But it is often from this tension that it draws its force; it pushes us to commit to and expose what was no more than an imaginary vision and to confront it and offer it to others on the stage.

We are never alone in a theatrical work in the throes of construction. How, first of all, would I have flourished as an artist without the profound and fruitful collaboration that has bound me to Denis Marleau for almost twenty years? When I met him, he was already a well-known artist and director in the theatrical scenes of Quebec and Europe. His curiosity and passion for the visual arts, and for other arts in general, important and natural outgrowths of his conception of the theatrical art, allowed me, with my influences and scattered knowledge that came from elsewhere, to feel immediately welcome. His confidence prompted me to go ahead and present and elaborate my ideas head-on, and to create my images on the stage. The history of this spiritual sympathy and creative partnership continues to unfold, and when I reflect on all these experiences we have lived together, I am deeply grateful to him for having given me the chance to learn so much by his side, to conceive and elaborate my own artistic projects in the heart of a company whose theatrical mode of thought gains depth and complexity with each new production. I will also take this opportunity to thank the small but formidable UBU team, Lina, Gabrielle and Sylvain, who make my artistic dreams possible, as well as Jean-Michel Sivry who is UBU’s president but also a friend and first viewer whose artistic sensitivity has accompanied us for so many years.

In theatre, we are never alone. I am also grateful to Pierre Laniel, who gives technical support to each of my creations with sensitivity, openness, and a great inventiveness that allow me to realize even the most impossible of my video conceptions.

When I read a text, spaces very quickly form in my spirit and often these spaces are so well tied to the images that spring from them that a scenographic conception arises on its own. Video images and scenography are thus composed in unison. I return, therefore, to the first frame, for in my view theatrical representation is also in itself a global image, a representation to be seen, read, and felt in the same way as a painting. If the characters and the text are at the heart of the representation, they are also shuffled about, defined, determined by a sensible world that surrounds them and in which they evolve. There is, therefore, a visual aesthetic to be established, created, which, it strikes me, is every bit as essential as words.

In theatre, we are never alone. I must also thank Stéphane Longpré, collaborator, just recently named director of the École nationale de théâtre’s scenography program, who has so often helped me with his good judgment and generosity in our artistic creation meetings, ever refining the technical design of my props all the way to the completed stage set. I also acknowledge a deep admiration for Michel Goulet, a great artist and scenographer who has taught and intrigued me a great deal by his way of engaging in the underlying ideas of text and its multiple meanings, inventing scenic form that is autonomous and powerful on its own, like a sculpture or an installation.

We are never alone in theatre. There are also those who welcome our ideas, our desires and dare to believe in the project we have in our heads even before it exists… I am, therefore, grateful to Ginette Noiseux, director of Espace GO, for her confidence in me for almost ten years. Her inquisitive spirit, vibrant and caring, encouraged me and allowed me, among other things, to concretize this year on the stage my text Les Marguerite (s), which synthesizes, after a fashion, my work on image, for it is as much a scenic as a poetic writing; the scenography and video image being tied to the sense itself of the story which is told.

In theatre, we are never alone. If our relationship is direct, frontal and in the immediate present with the spectator, we also need interceders, mediators to relay its trace, its memory, synthesizing its relevant issues, prolonging its reflection. I must also thank Marie-Christine Lesage, a great analyst with a fine sensibility and a clear and brilliant mind, who facilitates the resonance of our theatrical practice both with students and in her writings, she, notably, who so successfully gives a voice to my work in her book Paysages UBU.

In theatre, we are never alone. And in the current state of the world which polarizes ever more people with extreme ideas that too often fragment and isolate the individual consciousness in fear and closed-mindedness, this meeting place, this place of assembly and discovery that is the theatre, becomes even more essential, precious. In a world where certainty, opinion and hasty responses are over-valorized, theatre encourages questions, doubts, critical distance, research and reflection. Reflection as thought, but also literally as reflection, a reflection distinct from the world to see it differently, speak it differently, dream it differently. Yes, reflection, for artists, in truth, do not invent so much. Sometimes they look at and observe just a bit better, longer, more attentively things, landscapes, people and draw our attention to the smallest details that nobody notices, like the universal matters that bind us all together.

Thus, I see theatre as an abstract, but not a mimesis, of the world. I see theatre as an experience of the other, of their difference, of their way of seeing, thinking, and speaking. I feel like a “transmitter” who relays the thought and imaginary world of an author, with its shadows and lights, one who accompanies the actors’ breath by inventing the armature that supports the actors. It is, at one and the same time, a work of creation that takes form on its own, which issues from my intimate experiences, but also displaces me, ceaselessly teaching me empathy, in its simplest definition: the capacity to intuitively put oneself in one’s neighbors’ place, to feel the same thing they feel, to identify with them. I borrow the words of Baudelaire, who spoke of imagination as the art of “revealing the intimate and secret connections of things, correspondences and analogies.” It is a “power of knowledge.” We are always learning.

And just as we will never be alone in the theatre, the value, the relevance and the impact of this Siminovitch Prize is to remind us that this collective impulse that is theatrical creation is constituted above all by the uniqueness of the singular voice of each participating artist. And it is as an artist, alone this evening before you, that I receive with gratitude this honoring of my work as an enormous encouragement and a great inspiration to its continued pursuit, as much as to the transmission, in turn, of my knowledge and passion to those who are just beginning their journey.

Thank you for your attention.

2018 Protégé

Max-Otto Fauteux

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Tara Beagan

Tara Beagan

Laureate, 2020

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2020 Laureate

Tara Beagan is proud to be Ntlaka’pamux and, through her late father’s side, of Irish ancestry. She is cofounder/director of ARTICLE 11 with Andy Moro. Beagan served as Artistic Director of Native Earth Performing Arts from February 2011 to December 2013. During her time, NEPA continued with traditional values for guidance, had an Elder in Residence, and named and moved into the Aki Studio. Beagan has been in residence at Cahoots Theatre (Toronto), NEPA (Toronto), the National Arts Centre (Ottawa) and Berton House (Dawson City, Yukon). She is now Playwright In Residence at Prairie Theatre Exchange (Winnipeg). Seven of her 28 plays are published. Two plays have received Dora Award nominations (one win). In 2018, Beagan was a finalist in the Alberta Playwrights’ Network competition. In 2020, Honour Beat won the Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award for Drama. Recent premieres include Deer Woman in Aotearoa (New Zealand), Honour Beat opening the 2018/19 season at Theatre Calgary, The Ministry of Grace at Belfry Theatre in Victoria, and Super in Plays2Perform@Home with Boca Del Lupo (Vancouver).

Acceptance Speech

Humlt. Oki. Aniin. Tansi. Sago. Yaama. Kia Ora kou tou, all our family all around the world.

Ndijnakaaz Tara Beagan. My mom is Pauline Harry, now Beagan, of the Coldwater reserve.

My father was the late, great, Lou Beagan, raised on the red soil of Epekwitk.

Growing up a white presenting Ntlaka’pamux/Irish halfbreed on Blackfoot land, I felt part of a rich and complex community, on the periphery as well, as I was a settler, too. So I watched and I listened.

When I was three years old, my sister Rebecca would come home every day from kindergarten and teach me the lessons that she had learned there. She’s now a magnificent teacher for grade five students in French.

The first praise I recall receiving at school was for writing out full sentences- words that my sister had taught me.

An indelible lesson:

Words have power. Words articulate and therefore can change the world.

Humlt. I rarely heard the Ntlaka’pamux language in my home growing up.

When my Mom was a small child she was seized and then incarcerated for ten years at a residential school, and so her birthright to speak her mother tongue was stolen from her. She has comprehension, yes, but she is no longer fluent.

Fortunately, like many survivors, she adapted quickly and she thrived, and she shifting her love for story into English tellings.

Because of the parents that we grew up with, we grew up in a home full of books and with appreciation for story.

Aniin. Tansi. Sago. I grew up not speaking my mother’s mother tongue, but because of my work in theatre, I’ve been gifted these other words.

Words from extremely talented artists who have language.

Words that help me understand the lands we live on, that we belong to.

I came into my storytelling sovereignty in Tkaronto, the gathering place.

Neechies of every kind live there, many of whom I got the chance to work with at Native Earth Performing Arts. The Weesageechak Festival is in its 33rd year and it is online right now. It is vital to know the storytellers that belong to this land. I am so grateful that there are so many of us.

Humlt. Oki. Aniin. Tansi. Sago. Yaama. Kia Ora kou tou.

Miria George and Hone Kouka co-direct Tawata productions in Aotearoa.

Their brilliant mahi, their genuine commitment to artistic korero have created an artistic home for storytellers that belong to the land. Their work illuminates our people and that light spreads in the best possible ways. Their Kia Mau festival connects Aotearoa to Turtle Island and to all of our cousins in Australia. Yaama, Moogahlin, Yirra Yaakin, Ilbijerri, Hot Brown Honey.

All the cousins across the world- we create our own safe havens for creation. Access to resources and platforms are often denied us, unless we make them ourselves. Rare is the Canadian ally who will acknowledge their privilege and step aside and share that place with us. It is simple to do so. You simply acknowledge your privilege and make room. It doesn’t mean you’re gone. It means that we’re standing beside each other. And our presence connects you more to your space.

Oki Diana and Owen. I’m grateful that my niece and nephew connect me to this place where I build home with Andy Moro, the most generous and love-centred of all people. Mohkinstsis is a glorious place and our settler artistic community has a long way to go to match the gifts that the Niitsitapi have offered. And some of you are doing that good work and we see you.

My mom is comfy in her home now, watching one of her kids receiving this huge art prize. And her son Patrick is in Amiskwaciwâskahikan working on a world premiere. When our Mom was still in school, the movie theatres in Kamloops were just desegregated. She and her classmates went and saw a movie at the theatre for the first time. It was a western, but it’s a good reminder that change is incremental.

The world is asking us to hear her right now. When we’re all taking care of the land, the land takes care of us. A clear road to that way of being is through hearing Indigenous voices. We are here. We are many. Thank you for listening.

Gookschem xhoo.

It is my great honour as the 2020 Siminovitch Prize Laureate to name a protege. This outstanding young Kwe is a huge talent who tirelessly expands her skills, driven by passion for her community and the unique voice she’s been gifted. She is humble, kind and wise. Joelle Peters, I’m proud to stand with you.

2020 Protégé

Joelle Peters

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Maiko Yamamoto and James Long

Maiko Yamamoto and James Long

Laureate, 2019

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2019 Laureate

For over 20 years, Maiko Yamamoto and James Long have been making experimental, intercultural and interdisciplinary works of theatre. Whether working together or apart, the pair use extended processes to create performances from intentionally simple beginnings with both new and existing collaborators. Their work is about a genuine attempt to coexist. Conversations, interviews and arguments collide with Yamamoto and Long’s aesthetics, resulting in theatrical experiences that are authentic, immediate and hopeful.

They founded Theatre Replacement in 2003. The company’s work has been presented in 43 cities and venues across the world. As freelance artists, they have directed, written, taught and created performance with a diverse range of companies and institutions.

Both are graduates of SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts Theatre Program. Yamamoto has a Masters of Applied Arts in Visual Art from Emily Carr University of Art & Design, and Long holds a Master’s Degree in Urban Studies, also from SFU.

Photo by Stephen Drover.

Acceptance Speech

First and foremost, we would like to offer our heartfelt thanks to Lou and Kathy Siminovitch, the Siminovitch family and friends and the Siminovitch Prize Board for creating and continuing this remarkable award — one that recognizes and celebrates Canadian theatre makers at such a critical moment in their careers.

We are deeply honoured to be this year’s laureates. We feel proud to have been nominated alongside such amazing artists — artists whom we greatly respect and admire. To Ravi, Christian and Christian — thank you for the work you do, and for continuing to be the artists we look to to inspire and provoke us.

And our thanks to the Siminovitch Prize Jury: Vanessa, Marie, Émilie, Bobby and Adrienne, for all the work that went in to what must have been a very complicated decision, and for opening the conversation up for the first-ever co-nomination of the Siminovitch Prize.

We would also like to extend our deepest thanks and admiration to our friend and colleague, Anita Rochon, for having the vision to first suggest, and then put forward our names as co-nominees. And to Cindy, Veda, Kris, Peter and Conor for writing such fine and generous letters.

And thank you to our team, past and present, at Theatre Replacement. And always and forever, a humble thank you to our respective partners Nicky and Kevin for supporting us through our artistic obsessions, frequent travel and the fact we as a creative pair often spend as many waking hours together as we do with them.

Thank you. Merci.

We are two artists who stand here together today, because over 20 years ago we committed ourselves to the challenge of making performances that replaced the theatre that we were largely seeing around us at the time. Theatre that we couldn’t recognize ourselves inside of. We met this challenge through allowing our individual experiences, perspectives, interests, histories and beliefs to come together and collide inside of our processes. The collision was exciting — and we quickly discovered it made the work better. It was also a key way in which we could really support each other and our growing practices as two very different artists: one female identifying, one male identifying. One Japanese Canadian, one Waspy-Hybrid Canadian. There are also differences to us that are not so apparent: our upbringings, our relationships, our politics, our families. In the work we’ve created together and apart, these complexities are called out and celebrated in numerous ways because we believe this makes our work speak to as many people as possible and look like and reflect the place we come from.

It is a curious thing to stand here and receive a prize in ‘theatre’. The Canadian prize in theatre. And one that originates in central Canada, which as a place and an idea, remains a distant reality for us in Vancouver. We have always situated ourselves as outsiders and ‘theatre’ as a word and form has felt like something separate, removed or sequestered on a stage. Something that asks for a suspension of disbelief rather than an interrogation of it. Something that in its content and construction privileged certain voices and methods — methods that, once again, feel far away from the place we work.
We are a product of place, and while it may be a false or lingering mythology, Vancouver still functions and identifies as an alternative one. A petri dish of new-comers and wanderers and escapees. A place of small independent companies making things in an environment free of the institutions and traditions of central Canada. It could be said that we make work like nobody’s watching and perhaps it is because of this anonymity that we, as a community of artists and companies, have remained immensely supportive of each other in both our failures and successes.

There are far too many comrades and members of our community to name individually. To the Progress Lab companies, we salute you.

To Norman Armour, Heather Redfern and Cory Philley, there is absolutely no way we would be here today if it were not for your constant support and faith in our experiments. In many ways, we are just a couple of working class kids who have always just got up and gone to work, day after day. Each of you showed us how to do that while never taking anything for granted. Thank you.

And to Ker Wells, who left us far too early, and who was one of our first mentors and directors, and had a big hand in setting us on the path of experimental creation, we miss you.

We believe in experimental practice because by nature it alters the existing structures of a process, or a studio, or a public site. It challenges the dominant ways of being and thinking. It breaks with the traditional. It allows us to create new ways to be together, and to connect. Add to this a process that is shaped through purposeful collaboration, and you can imagine that the rooms we work in often look more like a laboratory than a rehearsal hall.

Because we choose to collaborate the things that separate us as artists and people — things that all too frequently pit people against each other — are the exact things that allow us to rise up and connect.

Because we collaborate, I had a place to make my own work and to find that my individual experience of the world had value. The stories I wanted to tell were centered as opposed to marginalized. They drew strength and grew relevance through the care of collaborators who were equally invested in them.

Because we collaborate I have been invited into conversations that demanded I interrogate my own privileges as someone occupying this body and history. To challenge my small town Ottawa Valley perceptions and attend to the stories and experiences of the people I worked alongside of.

Collaboration has always been our strength. And as much as it is a gift and makes sure we get a lot done, it’s not easy. It often means shutting your mouth and having your heart broken, giving more than you take and also fighting for things no one else can quite yet see. You can feel like the thorn or the hero. It requires generosity. It takes courage. And it takes time.

Our choice to build a shared practice led by experimentation and collaboration with each other, and with the artists and people we have been lucky to work with, defines who we are as directors. It has given us numerous opportunities to share the stories of others who might also feel like their experiences have value, or who want to be invited into conversations.

And so the biggest thanks go to each other. For as much as we’ve shaped what we’ve done, it has shaped us. It has made us the artists, the people, the friends, the parents, the mentors and the directors we are today.

To you Maiko, I thank you for your honesty and patience and continued compassion.

For your persistent practice of gratitude, for teaching me how to say thank you. For demonstrating how kindness can accomplish as much as provocation and for being my closest and most complicated friend.

And to you Jamie, for always challenging me to be better and harder and to not settle for less. For being my biggest cheerleader and also my toughest sounding board. Your friendship has been one of the most meaningful of my life.

We hope to stand here as evidence of dedication to a craft and form of expression we have chosen to build our lives around. And we also stand here as evidence of our own privileges. We run a publicly funded company. We do it in a city that is becoming impossible for our fellow artists to live. We do it during a climate catastrophe, and we continue to do it on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples.

So, with these privileges, privileges that in no small part have resulted in us being up here tonight, also comes a responsibility to seek out and support deeper dialogues and new, or at minimum, better conversations about our histories and our potential futures. Some of these conversations will be straightforward, fast and immediately satisfying and some will be enormously difficult. You might have to shut your mouth and have your heart broken. You may have to say things no one else wants to hear. You may have to give, or even give back, more than you take, but we will move forward.

Our work is about a genuine attempt to co-exist.

We wrote these words years ago and we return to them time and time again as a manifesto — a guiding principle that we hold ourselves to throughout any given creative process.

Being honoured by this prize helps confirm that our investment in the meaning behind these words has been worthwhile. It also reassures us to go further in our efforts; to encourage our many collaborators, colleagues and audiences to do the same, and perhaps most importantly, to empower and challenge the next generation of artists to take this idea to new places we could never have imagined.

And so on behalf of both of us, and from Vancouver, we say thank you so much again — merci beaucoup — for this incredible honour.

It is one we don’t take lightly, and it makes us very excited for what’s ahead.
Onwards.

And now, it gives us great pleasure to introduce you to our chosen protégé, an artist whose work by nature — in both the forms he’s innovating, and the content he’s proposing — looks to create completely new territories for Canadian theatre. Please welcome to the stage, Conor Wylie.

2019 Protégé

Conor Wylie

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Conor Wylie

Conor Wylie

Protégé, 2021

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Mr. Wylie is a Vancouver-based director, performer, writer, creator, and a member of A Wake of Vultures, an ongoing and dedicated interdisciplinary collaboration with Nancy Tam and Daniel O’Shea. He is a current artist-in-residence at Theatre Replacement, where he recently co-created MINE, a show about mother-son relationships performed live using the sandbox videogame Minecraft. Past works include a multimedia space opera called Visitors from Far Away to the State Machine and a satirical motivational keynote speech called eatingthegame (both with Hong Kong Exile). A graduate of Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts, and a recipient of the Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award for Emerging Theatre Artist, his current projects include GIRL RIDES BIKE, a collaboratively written sci-fi motorcycle chase through a post-scarcity society; and K BODY AND MIND, a fractured and minimalist theatre performance that aims to dissociate its aural and visual tracks, creating an imaginative puzzle for the audience, like a radio play overlaid on a silent film.

Acceptance Speech

Thank you so much. Thank you to James and Maiko. Thank you to Elinore and Lou Siminovitch and the whole Siminovitch team. In a profession where a feeling of abundance is sometimes hard to come by, this abundance of love, of sharing, of resource is rare and humbling. Thank you.

It is an honour to be present here with all of you.

I often find the present moment overwhelming. Our world feels like it’s living in a very dangerous present, doesn’t it? I’m an anxious guy. In the face of so many terrifying possible futures, my nature is to run and hide.

So I’ve made this tool I’ve been using lately: whenever my present self is faced with a difficult decision, if my present self doesn’t know what to do, I ask my past and future self what they think I should do.

My past self says be thankful, and I am. Thank you to all my loving and supportive family. Thank you to my mom, Mo, who comes to every show—two or three times—in each tour stop. To my sister, Aleia, to Leo. To my father, Mike.

Thanks to my teachers at Simon Fraser University and before, for instilling a spirit of collaboration early on. Who teach that the borders between directing, writing, designing, performing, are borders best left open.

And thanks to all the artists past and present who have shaped me, A Wake of Vultures, OOOO, the Progress Lab companies, and all my friends in our current home at the Greenhouse.

Thanks to Jasmine, who most deeply knows the nuances and dreams of present me.

For reasons that are partly a mystery to me, a lot of my work today looks to the future. On my own, and in collaboration, I keep writing about utopia. About desirable futures. Maybe because today, it seems so difficult to imagine.

I have this memory of being in high school English class, and utopia being a dirty word. Mature authors wrote about dystopia. Utopia was childish. Impossible they said, because the world was not homogenous, and so the presence of conflicting desires meant someone would not have what they want, and thus the perfect world would crumble.

But the future societies that keep appearing in my and our work, are not perfect monolithic utopias. They’re more like a network of little circles dotting the earth. Each circle contains a different group, a different society. Each circle is heterogenous, filled with people who hold very different values, beliefs, desires. Our utopia is actually a series of micro-utopias who intersect, and who understand that they must all to some degree, collaborate with one another.

For me, James and Maiko sit at the centre of one utopia, one that includes our shared office at the Greenhouse in East Van; it includes the Vancouver, Canadian, and international performance communities; it includes the East Van Panto and its pop songs and silly wigs and card-carrying socialist politics and the thousands of East Vancouverites it brings together each year. That’s like a mid-sized utopia!

Not in the classical sense, but I don’t much care for the classics. Thousands of people hold up this utopia: staff and volunteers and collaborators and organizations. But at one intersection, at one centre from which all that incredible capacity emerges, there are two people, Maiko and James, who see each other, for all their similarities and differences, and agree that they will get more done if they work together. For me that could be the smallest level of utopia, and also one of the most powerful, two people in relationship.

A few years ago in Iceland, James and Maiko decided they would introduce me to people as their son. We pretended to be family for a couple of weeks and confused the heck out of a lot of people. We still text each other as Mom, Dad, and son.

A running joke, but also a deeper truth. My theatre mom and dad have been there for over 10 years of my life: through so many anxious and angsty moments, through loss, through triumph. My dad passed away seven years ago, and in his absence, Jamie’s advice and presence holds a special significance in my life. My biological mom, my mom, travels around the world to see me perform with my theatre mom, they e-mail each other without me, it’s the best.

These moments where my past and present meet—like another one at my dad’s celebration of life, where my friends met my wacky family and saw deeply who I came from, and my family met my kooky friends, and saw more wholly who I am as an adult in communion with my peers—these moments where past and present understand each other deeply, are so confirming, and healing.

And now I just wanna invite future in a bit, right? But it’s scary. Future’s not looking so hot right now, right? Right now, future me wants to run and hide.

But here’s my dedication:

In the face of fear, I won’t close the door, I’ll open it. I won’t run and hide, I’ll seek community. In the face of scarcity, I’ll share. In the face of uncertainty, I’ll trust. If we must fight, we’ll fight together, and then heal together. I will strive to build bonds and relationships today that will be strong enough to be called out, questioned, broken, and then be repaired and built anew, tomorrow. From past and present me (and I am my family, my friends, my mentors), to the future: remember, we can get more done, when we work together.

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