unsettling DramaturgY

*Please note that the following is a living text that will respond to and transform with the input of collaborators.

Unsettling Dramaturgy: Crip and Indigenous Process Design in the Studio, on the Stage, and in the Street
, is an online research colloquium bringing together Crip and Indigenous dramaturgs and theatre makers from across the Americas, for a year of collaborative programming to explore the unique intersections between our lives and practices.

Unsettling is a response to the new permeability that has emerged within the theatre ecologies of so-called Canada and the United States to Crip and Indigenous ways of making. This colloquium will:

  • Provide a space for us to gather with our peers, across geography;

  • Deepen our practices through cross-pollination;

  • Promote greater leadership from within our communities;

  • Amplify Crip and Indigenous aesthetics, ethics and practices that move the conversation from inclusion to centring, from reconciliation to unsettling and decolonization; and

  • Offer a critical and unique platform for sharing our work.

This project considers the studio, the stage, and the street as porous and interconnected politicized spaces; spaces impacted by and implicated in the current political climate and historical contexts; spaces where urgent critique, and visionary futures can be imagined, practiced, enacted, and then disseminated to/co-created with a wider public. 

Why this colloquium now?

Marginalized communities are the litmus for the conditions shaping a society. As we have seen with the regressive turn in politics both globally and closer to home — with the rise of white supremacy and fascism, with austerity measures that protect corporate interest, with the ongoing theft and exploitation of lands and resources, with the denial of climate change — Indigenous and disabled people and communities are often among the first to bear violent impact. As such it has never been more urgent that we amplify creative work and process design grounded in the narratives, bodies, practices, dreams and dissent of those communities most at risk.

Those of us engaged in theatre making act as political agents who bear responsibility in responding to the conditions of our times, at all levels of our work. The work of making theatre is much like the work of political change: nurturing a seedling vision of something that doesn’t yet exist so that it can take root, and flourish, so that it might reflect us back to ourselves so that we might transform. Both Crip and Indigenous dramaturgical process design offer understandings of and approaches to organizing human relationships, and relationships to place, the body, the economy, and time that undermine the methodologies of exclusion and erasure that define this socio-historic moment; methodologies that are often mirrored within mainstream theatre making. Centring these approaches allows the theatre to become a prefigurative space where we embody and practice cultural, social, and political ways of being that can foment unstoppable change.

The current questions guiding this project include:

  1. What defines Crip and Indigenous dramaturgical practices, and what are their intersections?

  2. How does centring these practices provide critical interventions to the capitalist and colonial methods of theatre making which inform the mainstream North American theatre ecology?

  3. What unique innovations in representation, presentation, aesthetics and content emerge through Crip and Indigenous dramaturgical process design?

  4. How are relationships with audiences altered through these practices?

  5. How can those of us centring Crip and Indigenous dramaturgical process design use digital and web-based media to extend leadership and innovation? How can these media best be used as platforms for exchange of inherently place, land, and body-based practices?

  6. How does centring these approaches reveal new conceptualizations for the funding and institutional infrastructure required to support the creation and presentation of work by Crip and Indigenous artists, as well as opportunities to propel leadership?

  7. How can Crip and Indigenous dramaturgies be supportive to the work of grassroots political and cultural movements?

How this project aims to extend dramaturgical practice…

Dramaturgy, as the practice of supporting the truth of a piece — of theatre, or political action — to emerge in relationship to content, aesthetics, context, and considerations around presentation, is at its heart the work of inquiry. This requires that we listen deeply, beyond the concept, beyond the page, to what lies hidden beneath.

The kind of inquiry we as dramaturgs are able to offer to a work is immediately configured by our positionality (our relationship/s to the structures of power that shape our society). Our positionality shapes our perceptions and assumptions about the:

  • works being developed;

  • creators with whom we are working;

  • spaces and conditions within, and under which, work is being created; and

  • the place and land upon which work is being created and presented.

Our inquiry as dramaturgs is therefore an inherently politicized act, which has real artistic and social impact. It calls us to invest in the work of understanding what shapes our perceptions, and in pushing those limitations out. This colloquium aims to drive theatre forward by generating a critical platform which acknowledges the political nature of this work, by proposing Crip and Indigenous dramaturgical practice as methods through which this can be considered, simultaneously reconfiguring dramaturgy as an embodied, land, and place-based practice. Thereby inviting us to:

  • Centre modalities which view the body, place, and land as sites of narrative production and collaborators in creation;

  • Challenge “empty-vessel” approaches to creation and production which require that we leave our identities, and histories at the door of the studio or the stage, instead centring relationship, self-determination, intervulnerability, responsibility, reciprocity, spiritual and cultural practice as core principles of creative practice;

  • Engage with and transform systemic and interpersonal dynamics of power towards equity as part of the work of creation and production. Trouble the ways in which hierarchical approaches to creation and production reproduce broader systems within our work;

  • Expand our understandings of and relationships to time and space in the context of creation and presentation; shifting from processes that prioritize product above all else to approaches that take their lead from our physical, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and cognitive access needs of;

  • Address that we make work in place, often on land that is undergoing ongoing projects of colonization, with direct violent impact to Indigenous communities and artists; and that we often do so supported by government institutions or foundations engaged in maintaining and benefiting from the colonial project. This introduces critical questions about responsibility in relationship to advocacy, resource distribution, leadership, and representation at all levels of creation and production, and attention to protocols within our work.

Proposed public elements of the colloquium:

  1. Praxis Presentations Performance/lecture series featuring collaborating artists;

  2. Unsettling Discussions Dialogue series through which collaborating artists will engage the most difficult questions sitting at the intersection of Crip, and Indigenous dramaturgical practice;

  3. Practice Space Monthly 1-hour chat-room training group open to the public in approaches to Crip, and Indigenous dramaturgical practice

  4. Movement Partnership with a grassroots organization to explore the application of Crip, and Indigenous dramaturgical practice on the “streets.”

All of this work will be done on our terms with self-determination, consent, joy, celebration, and a commitment to non-extractive practices at the heart of the ways in which we gather, document and share our work.

Partners and Funders:
This project is being developed through an LMDA Bly Creative Fellowship Grant.
HowlRound and SpiderWebShow have been confirmed as partners through which the materials generated through this colloquium will be publicly distributed.

If you resonate with the spirit of this project and identify as a Crip or Indigenous dramaturg/theatre maker, get in touch here to get involved!

The word Crip is being used here to include those who identify as Mad, Sick, and Disabled, as well as those who are deemed disabled by society and/or medical institutions whether or not they themselves accept that term; for example those for whom d/Deafness is a cultural identity not a medical condition.

I want to acknowledge that the words “Crip” and “Indigenous” are used as shorthand in this call, and can be problematic for the ways in which both, from the perspective of mainstream society, generalize and reduce a vast multiplicity of identities, experiences, and affiliations.