BELANGER: the Grand Théâtre changes its mission statement to help fight racism

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EB Smith helped set the stage.

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Now is the time for the Grand Théâtre to perform and root out systemic racism within the organization and the theater community in general.

Smith, the actor / director who wowed mainstream audiences with memorable performances in The Mountain Top and Art, has spent the last few months “guiding” theater staff on the path “to disrupting the cycle of oppression, marginalization and exploitation ”and make the theater more equitable.

“I have encouraged the staff and the board to set their intentions both personally and professionally,” said Smith, the son of a Jewish mother and a black father who runs HC Smith Ltd. anti-racist and anti-oppression training.

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In 2016, while rehearsing The Mountain Top in London, Smith was twice assailed with the N word and has experienced several instances of racism, systemic and overt, in the past decade since arriving in Canada to report. producing at the Stratford Festival, where he appeared in approximately 30 productions.

Smith served on the Grand’s board of directors for nearly two years before stepping down to bring his “unique perspective” to the theater’s anti-oppression initiative.

Actor EB Smith (free press kit photo)
Actor EB Smith (free press kit photo)

Smith said the board and staff have been working to change their “personal” and “collective” goals to help tackle systemic racism.

In the midst of the performing arts pandemic blackout, “what we can and will repeat is our administrative practices,” Smith said.

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“Using a metaphor that resonates with our theater community, we read scripts from the past, present and future; we rehearse, take notes, go back to the “rehearsal room” and consider how we should put those notes into practice.

The theater has adopted an anti-oppression mission statement which can be found on its website to guide future work and has already brought in new people to its board of directors who better reflect the city’s cultural and ethnic diversity.

“Our board of directors now more clearly reflects the voices of the greater community, which will allow richer discussions on the future direction of the Great,” said Anita Shah, chair of the board and member of the anti- oppression, in a statement.

The theater hired a London consultant, Rumina Morris, to provide intensive anti-racism training and implement “the measures necessary to establish anti-racist attitudes and practices,” said Deb Harvey, executive director of the theater.

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“From the way we select pieces and contract with artists, to the way we market, hire, fundraise and interact with our patrons and the community at large, we identify and address systemic barriers in all of the work that we do. we do, ”Harvey said.

“There are a lot more hard conversations to have and a lot more work to do. “

The battle against systemic racism was reignited last spring after the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, which sparked protests across the continent, including in Canada and London, calling for change systemic.

Smith explained that he believed white supremacy was ingrained in society, including the theater, because “the other voices” – blacks, people of color, and natives – are being erased from the stories told on stage, which are for the most written through a “white lens”.

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It starts at a young age, like children playing cowboys and Indians without realizing that this is a story about “the eradication of indigenous peoples and the taking of their lands.” . . reinforcing the concept that Indians are a pervasive threat, an obstacle to the progress of whites, ”said Smith, adding that it will take time and effort to raise awareness and take action to address the issues that support racism systemic.

“It’s not about canceling culture,” Smith said. “People tend to assume when we talk about exploitation stories that we are talking about canceling it. It’s not about reversing it, but about telling the story truthfully, about how, why, and what really happened. To put it in context.

He said that systemic racism is “as pervasive as the air we breathe, it’s the cultural soil we grew up in and so we have to work to be aware of and disrupt it.”

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Smith said the Great needs to continue to review all of his practices to make sure he’s welcoming to everyone, from what they see when they walk into the theater, to what they see and hear on stage.

The process is already having an impact on the operations of the Grand. Recently the theater held general auditions which drew 400 applicants and “we saw more diversity in the nominations,” said artistic director Dennis Garnhum.

Another example is Garnhum’s decision to abandon the musical Starlight Tours, which he designed and developed until the sudden death of playwright Cathy Elliott. The show was to tell the story of Saskatoon police officers who picked up First Nations people, drove them to city limits and left them by the side of the road in winter, causing several deaths.

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During the workshop, Garnhum said it became clear that his vision could hurt indigenous peoples.

On a practical level, Garnhum said he welcomes the challenge of change and is “grateful” to have the opportunity to change, for example, by taking the time to explain to the public the importance of scenic works that are not written through the lens of a white person.

“I have to prepare the audience better, so that it’s not something to be afraid of, but something to be curious about,” he said.

Smith said he was “proud” of what the Great is working on. “I am really proud of how far the Great has come and the direction he is taking and I am very confident in his leadership.”

jbelanger@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/JoeBatLFPress

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