Archive for the Production updates Category

Queer Playwriting as Mindful Performance

Posted in Production updates on January 6, 2017 by cegatchalian

Below is the transcript of my presentation from the roundtable I participated in at Q2Q: A Symposium on Queer Theatre & Performance in Canada, which took place July 22, 2016, and hosted by the frank theatre company and SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts. The subject of the roundtable was playwriting.

The video of the roundtable can be found here.12342405_1186370434726469_1149545932065161981_n.

First, let’s establish the matrix from which my idea of queer playwriting as mindful performance emerges.

The matrix being:

  1. I’m brown.
  2. I’m queer.

***

  1. I’m brown.

So, I was born here, on Coast Salish Territories, to Filipino settler/immigrant parents.

I was raised with very little connection to my Filipino heritage.

Assimilation was taken for granted as a must and need.

So what I ended up doing was imbibing the culture of the colonizer wholeheartedly and without question.

And I don’t mean just passively taking in British or American or Western popular culture.

In my case it was an active searching for, seeking out and drinking in of what I perceived as the highest forms of the colonizer’s culture.

So for me, my religion was not Roman Catholicism – that most obdurate and colossal remnant of Philippine colonization.

It was art. High art. And I went at it with the ferocity of a newly converted Christian.

I felt immersion in high art was necessary to elevate myself.

It took a while for it to land with me that this high art was borne of a culture that my people had virtually no part in building or creating.

This high art was borne of people who had denigrated, hurt and killed mine.

And yet this high art quite literally saved me.

It has defined me and continues to define me and is the #1 reason I get up in the morning.

It is something I love and honour and am inspired by and yet is the product of undeniable macro-aggression.

(For the longest time I took pride in my relatively secular upbringing, thinking it an act of resistance against European Christianity. In reality, I had simply replaced Catholicism with Western high culture.)

So this is the reality I am constantly negotiating every day as a practitioner.

I am largely Eurocentric and Euro-trained in my methodologies, and I cannot divorce this from the fact that this is the product of a system that is the most oppressive the world has ever seen.

And so I am always in two places at once: in both a place of adoration, and one of justified and righteous anger.

***

  1. I’m queer.

Growing up a queer kid, suffused in heteronormativity, I was never allowed to be made aware of my own body.

My physical urges and impulses were always suppressed, stunted, ignored.

So that forced me to live in the only safe space available to me: my head.

So not being aware of my own body for the longest time has made me hyper-aware of my body now.

And I cannot ignore it when I write.

***

So how does this all tie in with queer playwriting as mindful performance?

It means writing both inside the language – in my case, English, the language of the colonizer – and outside of it. Simultaneously. All of the time.

It means allowing myself to privilege language in my plays while also being mindful that this privileging of language is itself Eurocentric.

It means being both unfailingly rigorous in the craft of writing English and aware of its arbitrariness.

It means being both in love with the language and fiercely critical of it.

It means writing the initial drafts of all my creative work by hand, because only by writing by hand and moving around a lot as I write can I feel truly connected to my body.

So it really is about hyper-awareness. Being as aware as I can possibly be.

Being aware of contradiction & multiplicity & ambivalence & ambiguity.

Quite simply, queerness = hyperawareness.

Queerness is seeing power and deconstructing it.

Queerness is seeing how seemingly unconnected things are connected.

Queerness is seeing how sexuality cannot be divorced from issues of race or gender or economics or privilege. It is all one indissoluble cluster.

Queerness is being both inside something and outside of it. Simultaneously. All the time.

My Indigenous Filipino ancestry is tinged with European ancestry.

I am a settler on unceded Coast Salish Territories. No where else do I feel truly at home, but in no way is this my home.

Professionally, I do a lot of work in the centre, Toronto, but I am based here, in Vancouver, on the margins.

And even if hypothetically I do end up in the centre – Toronto – I am a West Coast artist through and through.

My work will always be informed by the fact that I come from the geographical margins of this country.

And that opens up the question of, do I remain proudly off-centre or do I redefine the centre?

So to sum up – being a queer playwright is a hyper-aware high-wire act that takes nothing for granted – an endless performance that constantly negotiates between conflicting truths, identities, marginalities, loyalties, communities; and it’s about embracing these tensions, even when it’s fucking difficult, because it’s the truth.

 

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A General Election Conspiracy Party – October 19, 2015

Posted in Production updates on July 27, 2016 by cegatchalian

Vancouver’s Theatre Conspiracy was kind enough to invite me to perform a piece as part of their federal election night event last October 19th. Here’s what I performed.

 

***Susan_Sontag_square_in_Sarajevo

Hi everybody.

I’m here tonight as, I suppose, a member of the “cultural intelligentsia” so despised by some people in this country, maybe even some people in this room.

I must say, this had to be the ugliest, most disillusioning, most disappointing election campaign I’ve ever had the misfortune of living through.

Opportunism, negativity, half-truths and outright lies, inept communications and poor strategizing were the modi operandi of the three major parties, sometimes all at once.

Now, all my life I’ve been a close follower of politics. There was actually a time where I knew the name of every single MP in the House of Commons. Since I reached voting age, I have voted in virtually every single election – federal, provincial, municipal.

So, as anti-establishment as I tend to be, I’ve never been so anti-establishment as to not participate in our electoral system, as fucked up as I know that system is.

But I gotta tell ya, this particular election has been so bruising that it’s got me thinking, Is it really worth it?

Maybe the best way to participate is to not participate.

Maybe the best way to engage is to disengage.

Maybe we idealistic members of the cultural intelligentsia should just hide completely behind our work, retreat into the artistic realm, and be content with being “the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” as the poet Shelley called us.

But then I keep going back to the example of Goethe, the great German artist and visionary, who somehow was able to function inside his society’s system and find a way to effect meaningful change as a citizen.

So, right now, internally, I’m caught in this dialectic between these two approaches, between pragmatism and idealism.

Anyways, this morning, when I was sipping espresso romano at Cafe Artigiano, I thought about all the issues that fell by the wayside during this campaign.

Like the $15-per-hour minimum wage.

Raising the minimum wage would certainly be one small but significant step in realizing Marx’s dream of removing the worker’s alienation from the products of their labour.

During the campaign there was a rally here in Vancouver advocating for the $15-per-hour minimum wage, which I definitely would have gone to had I not been in New York that same night, attending a symposium about how contemporary poetry is created on the precipice of silence.

Issues pertinent to Indigenous communities were also largely ignored.

Now in my humble opinion, there is nothing more important for the moral fabric of our nation than reconciliation.

In fact, during this campaign I was asked to be a volunteer facilitator at a bridge-building workshop for Indigenous communities and new immigrants. I would have totally agreed to it … except that I had plans that night to dine at Cafe Carthage with a friend and fellow cineaste. Over Pinot Grigio we meditated on Kurosawa and Antonioni.

The great Frankfurt school philosopher Theodor Adorno talks about how in our society concepts cannot find their referents because capitalism invariably distorts reality.

So case in point – this election. The corporatist media pushed certain narratives and certain poll numbers in order to increase the likelihood of election results that would better serve their interests.

During this campaign I was asked to talk to young and first-time voters about these corporatist manoeuvres. I would have absolutely done so … but the proposed date conflicted with the Vancouver Opera’s production of Rigoletto, for which I had complimentary tickets.

So, it’s agonizing. Do I, as a thoughtful artist, engage or not engage? Is it still worth it?

For me at least, it helps to seek inspiration from one of my idols, the late, great, Susan Sontag.

I assume most of you know who Susan Sontag was?

Now Sontag was this committed aesthete who was also burdened with a raging social conscience.

So much so that in the early 90s, at the height of the Bosnian crisis, she flew to Sarajevo to live and work with the people there.

One of the great things she did in Sarajevo was direct a production with local actors of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

And I gotta tell you – it’s just absolutely harrowing to read about how every evening, when the cameras weren’t following her, while scores of people were being killed outside, Susan Sontag  would actually sit in her Executive Suite at the Sarajevo Holiday Inn, planning for the following day’s rehearsals while steady supplies of cigarettes and chianti were delivered to her room.

So. The artist as citizen.

I still cling to the belief that we, as artists, can play a valuable role within the system.

But why does the system have to make it so hard for us?

 

For Sarah Kane

Posted in Production updates on March 21, 2015 by cegatchalian

On March 4th I had the pleasure of participating in Pi Theatre‘s Sarah Kane Salon, an outreach event held in advance of Pi’s upcoming production of Kane’s seminal play Blasted.

The work of Kane – perhaps the most celebrated exponent of the UK’s In-Yer-Face Theatre movement in the 90s, who took her own life in 1999 at the age of 28 – changed my life, and I continue to uphold it as a reminder to stick to my vision, no matter the commercial or critical fallout.

Below is the poem I wrote – and read – for the March 4th event.

sarah-kane

 

For Sarah Kane

 

milkwarm break of not-quite

morning you, finally, sleep-crust

fringed nonpartisan vision

daylight/excrement/life as is.

 

the pen. the lace.

the line. the love.

your arctic summer.

curtain.

Melancholy and the queer artist

Posted in Production updates on October 12, 2014 by cegatchalian

melancholia by durer

Melancholy. As the French philosopher Didier Eribon posits, this is where it all starts, and, in fact, ends—the lifelong process of mourning that each homosexual goes through, and through which we construct our individual identities. It is mourning for the loss of heterosexual privilege: of easy and automatic familial and social approval; of universally sanctioned unions and family units; of the validation of seeing one’s reflections in the dominant myths of romantic culture. It is to combat this melancholy that we build, sculpt, etch, paint, compose, write—at a level, as I’ve heard even homophobes concede, higher, on average, than our heterosexual fellow-travellers. While straights may indeed face their own romantic and family quandaries, these cannot equate to the systemic barriers homosexuals everywhere face. These are barriers against the expression of our most powerful, intimate feelings, which begets melancholy and has, in turn, begotten some of the world’s greatest art. Every etch, every splash of colour, every appoggiatura, every rigorously wrought iamb, is a stay we erect against the hostile splash of the main current.

For My Fellow Theatre Artists: A Story of Perseverance

Posted in Production updates on November 12, 2011 by cegatchalian

We’re at the end of the run of the world premiere of Falling In Time, and I’m exhausted. The journey from pre-production to rehearsals to production has been a three-months-long process, usually working twelve-hour days, seven days a week.

But in actuality the journey has been much, much longer.

I won’t go into the whys and hows of writing Falling In Time–that’s navel-gazing.

Rather, I want to talk about the long, arduous, sweat- and tear-stained struggle to get this damn play produced. It’s a story of perserverance that I think fellow playwrights and theatre artists can learn something from.

After two years worth of play-development workshops in Toronto and Vancouver, both my agent and I felt it was time to shop the play around. The first company we approached was the one both of us had viewed as the hottest lead. Alas, the Artistic Director said no–well, they never actually said no, but rather that it was something they would be happy “to consider in future seasons,” though not this one. I read between the lines, shed a few tears. Because this Artistic Director was not only a mentor but a friend, the rejection hurt me deeply, and it took me a long while to recover from it.

But my agent forced me back on my feet and gave me a pep talk over the phone: “This play is too good to not find a producer–you just have to be patient.” I’m constitutionally deficient in patience, but meditation and therapy proved helpful–particularly as months went by and producers weren’t biting. “It’s a great play, but too risky for us,” went the bittersweet refrain. So I moved on, put it on the back-burner, started working on other projects.

Then, in the summer of 2008, Sean Cummings, a film and theatre artist who had directed two of my previous plays, took over the helm of Screaming Weenie Productions, Vancouver’s professional Queer theatre company. He had directed a workshop of Falling In Time in 2007 and had voiced interest in directing a full production, were it ever to happen. Now that he’d officially become a gatekeeper, he was in the position to program my play. And, shortly upon assuming the leadership of the company, that’s exactly what he did. And this is the story of how most plays are produced in Canada–through longstanding relationships playwrights have with artistic directors. To put it bluntly, it is, to an extent, who you know.

But the journey to production faced a huge hurdle when the funding cuts came down in 2009. Screaming Weenie, like many similarly sized arts companies, lost all its operating funding. So there would be no guaranteed start-up money for Falling In Time. Nose, meet grindstone. And prayers every night to the granting gods.

Except we knew that prayers alone wouldn’t help us raise the necessary funds; to paraphrase only slightly the maxim most of our mothers fed us, the gods help those who help themselves. So, two years out of the planned production dates, we made a list of all the project grants we were eligible for and began crafting the verbiage for the applications.  We went through about ten drafts of it, re-read it about a hundred times over, and asked colleagues, including ones from Toronto, to read it over and offer ruthless feedback.

Fittingly, just a few weeks before Christmas 2010, came our first notifications. Yes from Canada Council. Yes from the City of Vancouver. A small company–Meta.for Theatre–and a big one–the Vancouver Playhouse–both agreed to be associate producers. In the new year, more yeses: from the BC Arts Council, the City of Vancouver (again), the Hamber Foundation, the Granville Island Cultural Society, the Arch and Bruce Foundation (a foundation in the States that funds gay-themed theatre and film projects) and finally, another yes from the BC Arts Council.

In short, we did our homework. We hung in there. We persevered.

Vindication? Feelings of “so there!” to those who rejected this play? Surprisingly little. The only thing I’m really feeling right now is gratitude. Just gratitude.

Producing theatre is not for the weak-stomached or faint-hearted. To borrow a phrase from Tennessee Williams, it calls for Spartan endurance. Theatre is of the moment, and as theatre artists and producers we need to live and operate in the moment. And that means knowing that whether something is going horribly or going well, it is indeed only of the moment and that the next moment can go in a totally different direction, and that every moment is an opportunity to improvise, test your character, and learn.

What I’ve Learned From Falling In Time’s Rehearsal Process

Posted in Production updates on October 30, 2011 by cegatchalian

We are just six days away from opening night of Falling In Time, and during the last two and a half weeks of rehearsal I feel as though I’ve acquired a lifetime’s worth of playwriting wisdom. I’ve been a professional dramatist for the better part of fifteen years, so I thought I knew a lot; as it turns out, I knew very little. More accurately: truths have hit home for me more deeply while rehearsing this play than while rehearsing previous plays.

The biggest of these truths: that what may work on paper as literature doesn’t necessarily work on stage as theatre. For example, there was a sequence in the play where one of the actors, in previous drafts of the script, was required to morph from her primary character into several other characters within a space of two minutes. While it seemed joyously theatrical on the page, when we put it on its feet in rehearsal, it revealed itself as merely theatrical; that is, it resulted only in creating logistical confusion and interfering with the integrity of the primary character’s story. So we’ve ditched it, and the play is (I think) stronger as a result.

Because I come to playwriting from a literary background as opposed to a theatrical one, thinking about stage logistics doesn’t come naturally to me, so I always welcome the necessary tug-of-war that happens during rehearsal between what is called for in the script and what makes sense theatrically. That said, there’s value in not restricting oneself to write only what is in conventional terms “theatrically possible.” As an admirer of the late British playwright Sarah Kane, I’ve always held fast to her credo that if it is possible to imagine something, it is possible to represent it. This can often result in theatre that is innovative, startling and sensual–all good things, in my opinion.

Speaking of tugs-of war, there have been several in the last two and a half weeks. But they have all been for the sake of advancing the show rather than advancing egos, and always with the knowledge that with thesis and antithesis come synthesis.

Building Community: All the World’s A Stage

Posted in Production updates on October 13, 2011 by cegatchalian

The idea for All the World’s A Stage, Screaming Weenie’s newest community-building initiative, stemmed from my desire to truly engage the community in our production of Falling In Time. I wanted the production to have a real impact on people, not simply with regards to it being a good play that people liked, but also with regards to making it a springboard from which community members could, first, wrestle with and talk about the issues the play explores, and, second, fulfill their own artistic and expressive aspirations.

All the World’s A Stage is a program that selects seven individuals from diverse cultural, ethnic and sexual backgrounds and gets them to create theatre. The program occurs in two phases. Phase One has them engaged as production mentees on Falling In Time; in Phase Two they will use what they learn from their experience in Phase One to collectively create a new play that they will present at the Vancouver Playhouse Recital Hall in March 2012. The overarching purpose of the program is twofold: first, to give individuals theatre-making skills that will enhance their personal development and/or open doors for them to pursue further professional work in this field; and second, to build bridges across differences in culture, ethnicity, gender and sexuality.

The All the World’s A Stage group had their first meeting last week at the Leaky Heaven studio, and it was inspiring to see the chemistry and instant rapport the participants had with each other. This was no doubt helped by the presence of David Beare, our brilliant and passionate program facilitator who has years of experience in theatre education and drama therapy.  It’s an eclectic group–four men and three women; four queer and three non-queer; one a native of Canada, two longtime immigrants, one recent immigrant, two refugees and one currently applying for refugee status.

This was Week One of what will be a twenty-four week journey. Stay tuned for more updates.