Since 2014, NAC English Theatre has examined the changing shape of Canadian theatre through The Cycle, a trilogy of two-year research initiatives developed in partnership with artists and leaders from across the country. These in-depth investigations led to three areas of focus: Indigenous Performance (2014-2015); Deaf, disability, Mad arts and Inclusion (2016-2017); and Climate Change (2019-2020).
Former NAC English Theatre Associate Artistic Director Sarah Garton Stanley was curious about similar research projects that could be supported through the NAC. With that in mind, she reached out to artist, researcher, and facilitator Nikki Shaffeeullah about a potential new exploration as a way of furthering the analysis of the theatre sector in Canada. Nikki wondered about an undertaking exploring the intersections of theatre and abolition. A year of research, discussion, and consultation with artists and activists in the national theatre sector became the basis for Stages of Transformation.
Co-curated by Nikki Shaffeeullah and arts administrator Mpoe Mogale, Stages of Transformation is a multi-year project of research, rumination, creative exploration, and conversation, bringing together theatre artists, arts workers, and creative communities from across so-called Canada. It takes up the imperatives of abolition movements and transformative justice frameworks, and investigates their application to our work in the theatre sector.
“With more mainstream attention on abolition and transformative justice in recent years, it felt prudent to engage in a focused exploration of what these movements can mean for the theatre sector – in terms of how we create, collaborate, work, interact with the state, and more,” says Nikki. “There are many artists and communities across this land that have been taking up abolition in various ways for a long time, and I see Stages of Transformation as an opportunity to platform this broad spectrum of work. The opportunity to curate an artistic research project with the resources and support of NAC English Theatre was tremendous, and I wanted to focus on what felt urgent. There’s an obvious tension between exploring ‘abolition’ within the context of a national institution, and the work neither begins nor ends with this project, but I do hope that Stages of Transformation has a material impact on how we define change. I hope it helps us all dream bigger.”
“I hope that all who experience these ruminations and creative explorations feel emboldened to dream bigger and deeper for the future of theatre on this land. Creativity is at the heart of abolition, and as artists and arts workers, we are fundamental in this project of transformation and rebuilding just and equitable societies.”
Mpoe Mogale, associate curator
The project has two streams: an anthology of writing, audio, video and visual art that can be viewed, read and listened to online; and the Creative Cohort, which brings together independent theatre companies with a strong practice of community engagement (Chromatic Theatre, Gwaandak Theatre, lemonTree creations, Rumble Theatre and TODOS Productions) and individual theatre-makers from their respective communities (Kris Vanessa Teo, Keira Nolting, Raven John, Ravyn Wngz, and Sobia Shaikh) for theatrical creation activities.
The many artists who have contributed reflections, research and creative work have helped shape Stages of Transformation into a variety of forms. Online audiences will experience panel discussions on justice and theatre, essays and written interviews, video discussions, designer-led visual explorations and a podcast series entitled Transformation Talks. The investigations will continue as the performances developed by the Creative Cohort will be presented in conjunction with Rumble Theatre’s Tremors Festival in May 2023 in Vancouver.
“I hope that all who experience these ruminations and creative explorations feel emboldened to dream bigger and deeper for the future of theatre on this land. Creativity is at the heart of abolition, and as artists and arts workers, we are fundamental in this project of transformation and rebuilding just and equitable societies,” says Mpoe. “I hope that everyone is reassured from these conversations that this is not only a possible and necessary feat, but can also be joyful work. As weavers of stories, creators of worlds, and professional daydreamers, it is time we utilize these gifts towards creating nourishing conditions for this sector.”
Through its critical and creative undertakings, Stages of Transformation spotlights the people, projects and communities who are already engaged in abolitionist ideas and approaches. In weaving this work together, we hope to find new patterns and possibilities for the theatre sector and beyond.