Image: Name, Title, Description
What an incredible honour this is to accept the Siminovitch (sim-in-ove-itch) prize for directing. I would like to send a heartfelt thank you to the founding donors of this prize for creating this remarkable opportunity in my life and the lives of other recipients and for what it means to our Canadian Theatre Community. Thank you to BMO (BeeMo) Financial Group for supporting this prize and organizing this evening. I extend my gratitude to the jury chair Maureen Labonte and jury members Marcus Youssef, Marti Maraden, Marie Clements, Alain Jean, and Jillian Keiley. As well, thank you to Matthew Jocelyn who took such care with my nomination.
It is really beautiful that this award celebrates the remarkable story of Lou and the late Elinore Siminovitch, and the conversation between the arts and science that existed between them. In the spirit of what this Prize celebrates I want to mention some years ago my collaborators and I at Electric Company were commissioned by Dr. Michael Hayden from the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics to create a play called The Score that would later become a feature film for CBC’s Opening Night. The commission was for a project that would create dialogue around the ethics in the advancing field of genetics. We dove into our research with full access to Michael’s lab and his team of researchers. And what was so surprising to us at the time was that we found a reflection of ourselves as artists in this scientific community: the same passion to move towards the unknown, to explore ideas and articulate questions, to pioneer projects towards the greater good of humanity and driven by a bottomless curiosity for the work. We made some wonderful friends and I believe helped create meaningful dialogue within the larger community. So a special thanks to Lou and Elinore who saw into one another’s hearts, who understood the shared ideals of these two fields that are more alike than different, and in whose honor this award continues.
When I received the call from Maureen that I was to be the recipient of this remarkable prize I was stunned and rather overwhelmed, and when I hung up the phone the first thing I thought was “How did I get here? What was at the origin of this obsessive passion I have for the theatre?”
And right away I found myself considering my family and how they raised me with such dreams and so much faith in life.
I grew up amidst an abundance of practical, essential acts of creation: Grandma’s prolific pottery, her weaving, embroidery, paintings and pastries. Dad working away in the shop at night making jewelry or furniture or carving personalized cutting boards for all the women in the family. His garden. My cousins, my brothers and I making hand made cards, haunted houses, radio programs, super 8 films and forts. Grandpa’s Garden. Grandma playing the piano, me playing the piano. Grandpa bursting into song upon meeting someone, always finding one with their name in it. And the songs at family campfires led by my Aunts and Uncles, handed down from generation to generation. In this incredible application to living, to being together, I was given a head-start by now knowing what was the real material for life.
I come from a powerful family. Powerful in the sense that the family is charged with love; for good or for bad, we put our hearts out, we choose to stand by one another, and we speak our truth.
Growing up my Mom always said “you can do anything you want in this world” My Dad said, “don’t rush to where you are going in life because once you get there, you are going to be there a while, make sure you enjoy yourself on the way” My first theatre training was at the University of Victoria. I quit before finishing and went to the Yukon to perform vaudeville at the Palace Grand Theatre. My Dad suggested I use some of the money they had saved for university to buy a Volkswagen Van. When I wanted to make it into a camper to live in, he helped me pull out the seats, build a bed and cupboards and drawers. A month or so later I called him from Dawson City saying I really wanted to paint drawings on the outside of the van but I was worried it would lower the resale value. I received a box of paints in the mail general delivery. They made me feel that anything was possible. A permission to recognize that the right choice isn’t always the practical choice. And with this, a gift of freedom.
My family is a beautiful, complicated, political, passionate community and I felt so much a part of something, so clear about who I was as a result of this tribe I belonged to. As a kid, I was aware that this made me different from other kids. I was an outsider in that respect; an outsider because I was an insider. But it was this difference that compelled me to create community.
And I believe that ultimately, at the bottom of it all, beneath the love of artistry, beneath my ambition, beneath the sweat and tears and worry and excitement and pressure and doubt, creating community is what my theatre work has been about. To create moments in time that will be undeniably present and shared. To engage audiences directly. To jump-start their emotional or intellectual connection to the material, to themselves and to each other. To provoke or inspire or even insist on dialogue after the show. To give the audience an incredible opportunity to feel alive. Alive because they just participated in an event they had not experienced before and which they never expected.
I believe all people need to feel this quality of being an insider, being a part of some entity larger than themselves, where there is true physical, emotional and spiritual connection to others.
For me, live performance is a rare place where we share the investigation of who we are, what we believe, and find a collective experience in an increasingly mediated world that pulls us apart and forces us into isolation.
Over the past 15 years I have been part of a remarkable renaissance in creation-based theatre in Vancouver. It is one in which many creation-based companies have made a conscious and public choice not to treat each other as competitors, but instead as collaborators and colleagues, as a shared resource, and, most importantly, as friends. I believe it is this choice more than any other that has allowed our theatre art to grow into such a vibrant scene, create new cultural institutions, and help independent theatre artists in Vancouver develop shows that are traveling across the country and around the world. I accept this award in celebration of all the wonderful theatre artists I have worked with in Vancouver, as we have together pursued a dream: the creation and dissemination of theatre art unique to our city, our country, and our place in time.
It has always seemed natural to me that together we are stronger. This has been a great source of motivation for me. It has been my experience that we can effect profound change within this community simply by having a vision and inviting others to join in the vision and then allowing the vision to belong to everyone.
But in Vancouver we face challenges. It is a young city, and a province in which the essential function of arts and culture is not yet widely enough appreciated or understood. The massive and unapologetic cuts to provincial investment in the culture sector over the past year are clear evidence of this. We need our provincial colleagues in culture, government and business to help decision makers in BC understand what many of our citizens already know: that art isn’t a frill. It is central to the development of a literate, engaged and active citizenry; one which, in the context of a market-defined society, helps us actively define the values of the world we wish to live in.
It is so important that major national awards like the Siminovitch Prize recognize excellent work across this enormous country and help communicate the value of the arts. That this prize draws attention to our community inVancouver this particular year of cuts is really valuable.
I now want to speak about a few of the deepest professional relationships that have played a pivotal role in my career.
ODE to Jan. The poetry and magic of ‘Calling’.
The Stage Manager is the maestro at centre of a piece of live theatre, sitting at the helm of a play conducting the machinations of the stage into living stories, illusions, and dreams. A Stage Manager breathes with the audience, sensing with actors the shape of a show, bringing it to life night after night. I love that in the year 2010 when so much around us has become automated, in the theatre, no matter how high tech, there is always a live person calling the show. That beautifully old-fashioned term “calling”. A simple whispered code of ‘standbys’ and ‘goes’ forming a person to person chain of imperceptible physical actions: heaving on ropes, drawing curtains, changing clothes; objects passed from hand to hand, bodies moving in darkness and silence, and all with the threat of detection, of crashing together and grinding to a halt. And then? The stage manager must step up, think fast, and save the day.
I’ve had the immense good fortune to work most of my career with one remarkable Stage Manager who I’d like to celebrate tonight for her phenomenal and superhuman ability to ‘call’ a show and manage a creative process. The beautiful and talented Jan Hodgson. I have so often fallen to my knees in appreciation of her wizardry. She has an artist’s intuition and without it the projects we have created together would be bereft of her grace and timing and style. Love you Jan – see you tomorrow back in tech.
For more then 15 years I have been creating shows with my long time collaborators Kevin Kerr and Jonathon Young. We founded a theatre company back in 1996 with David Hudgins called Electric Company. And for years and years and years we have been creating theatre together. How can I begin to express what we have meant to each other and what we have done together. But this prize of course is shared with Kevin and Jonathon, for their ideas, creatively and smarts that penetrate my work. We have been truly brave with one another and dedicated to making the best work possible. We have pushed our own boundaries and at times the boundaries of our art form. I wonder if there will ever be a time we won’t work together because we share an artistic synergy that is rare and … I just want to say how much I have been inspired and challenged by you both, you have both been my greatest theatre allies and my greatest theatre education and my greatest friends. Thank you Kevin and Jonathon for your integrity and your humanity and your relentless complexity. It is truly remarkable that we have withstood the intensity of the creative process across time and call ourselves the greatest of friends.
Today my daughter Azra North Young would have been so proud of her mom. She so beautifully supported me in my work and spent huge chapters of her life beside me in the rehearsal hall, in theatre seats, in script meetings, board meetings, on tour, and she loved all our shows. We always said she was the fifth member of the Electric Company. She was a baby when we started, and I became a director as I became a Mother. And truly that push and pull emotionally for me, between my passion for the work and my desire to be a very good mother, was never resolved. In a lot of ways I felt like a pioneer–creating ways for these two huge commitments to live together. And I believe one of the great gifts Jon and I gave to our theatre community was an example that it was possible, that family can be the centre of your life while your theatre work is too. To all women director / creators with children: bravo, be brave and break the mold–carry them in the hall, breast feed between the seats, go on tour together, whisper about process and actors and what worked and what didn’t. Include your kids in your life, let them learn from your passion.
We lost Azra and her cousins in a tragedy just over a year ago. And this is not the time to speak of these things…but it is…because as one moves through the most painful and impossible loss I rediscovered how vitally resonate art is at these times. Only words arranged in poetry can recognize and give voice to your sorrow. Only music can communicate the spirit of the divine. Only dance can express the essence of my daughter in spirit. Only the community building a Mandela together in an act of ritual could bind me to any kind of hope and faith. Theatre is ritual, theatre is poetry, theatre is communal. Theatre has been my reason to go on in some small hope I can be part of a making life worth living for others–to create a sense of meaning, or hope, or catharsis.
Theatre is that bottomless place of discovery where we can always find the new, the curious, the remarkable, the insight, the wisdom. It is the muse of my questing life.
There is something divine about receiving this prize at this time in my life. I don’t think there could be a better year, month or day. And I pledge to honour this prize, to not forget this gift and how, through this opportunity, I can strengthen my heart, my vision, my knowledge, and my understanding. I vow to bring this inspiration into the work, and may that work ultimately reach and inspire the larger community.
A beautiful part of this Prize is the chance to choose a theatre artist to award twenty five thousand dollars. Wow, what a fantastic opportunity to celebrate a woman who I greatly respect as a director and who is pioneering her own work in the theatre. Some years ago she assisted me on two projects and I knew right away she was a true director; her insights were smart, her intuition keen, her creativity bursting. Last year I attended her latest collaborative creation Kismit and loved its humanity and innovative staging. She is a recent graduate of the National Theatre School in directing. It gives me enormous pleasure to support another creation-based director who is bringing her own vision to the stage. Please allow me to introduce Anita Rochon.
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