Is a Residency Program a Colonial Structure? by Jiv Parasram
We asked WrightSpace 2018 Guest Dramaturg Jiv Parasram to write a piece about his experience in the program. This is Jiv’s thought experiment. Good to know: Two years ago PTC changed the name of our 10-day residency program from The Colony to WrightSpace.
This past winter I had the privilege to share space with the team of PTC’s WrightSpace as a guest dramaturg. WrightSpace, an intensive dramaturgical development period that took place at SFU, like a number of such intensives, is a new incarnation of a “playwright’s colony.” I think it’s self-evident why organizations are choosing to avoid terming such programs as “colonies” given the intrinsic, well, “colonial” overtones of that now… let’s call it “sticky”… title. But the legacy of a “playwright’s colony” does have me thinking about just how much colonial frameworks are still present – be they internal or external.
To be clear, I’m in no way asserting that the work that PTC is doing is colonial, nor am I trying to imply that similar programs are colonial themselves. For what it’s worth, I would say that PTC is actively working through a process of deep investigation in the de-colonial arena of the discipline they so strongly represent in the city of Vancouver. For my purposes I just want to take the opportunity of this blog platform to throw some thoughts around. And since this is a theatre and performance conversation – let’s try it as a dialectic:
Wait – one thing before I get into this. I’m talking a lot about colonization in here. Without going too far into the colonial history of Western Canada, I should note that much of the ways I’m coming at things is based in my heritage in the Caribbean largely through plantation-based systems of colonization.
Is an intensive working period intrinsically colonial because it assumes catalyzing process to work towards the completion of a project with more efficiency?
Not necessarily. I’m assuming that you’re combining the idea of efficiency with colonial aims?
I am. One might even say “conflating” for the purposes of discussion. Good catch.
Thanks, it’s like we share one mind or something.
Nice. Very Meta.
So Meta. But can you explain why those are conflated?
Well, I think one aspect of colonial thinking is a drive to productivity and efficiency through dominion or rule of both a heartland and hinterland. That a dedicated space, or time, is allocated to achieve a greater yield to be distributed amongst subjects.
Can you be less erudite?
Maybe! So, in a Canadian context, this land was colonized to extract resources to fuel a Global Empire. It was more efficient to have say, extract resources here, i.e. furs, and softwood lumber, so that other parts of that Empire could focus on manufacturing.
Are you consciously ignoring the cultural erasure and violence against the traditional co-existence of the land?
For the purposes of this part of the discussion, yes.
Does that make you a bad person?
Well at least you’re owning it…
Yup. Passive Aggression noted.
I guess what I mean is that the idea of a colony is that you bring people together (or force them) to produce something to serve the centralized colonial base.
So what’s that in a playwright’s colony?
The playwrights are the resource.
Are they the resource or the labourers working on resource extraction?
If the resource is creativity, then I suppose they could be the labourers. Like cane cutters, or loggers.
Ok, so we’ve got playwrights harvesting creativity – what is the centralized colonial base?
Part of me wants to say it’s the organization who’s founded the colony, but I think that’s a bit too limited. Most organizations in Canada who are actually dedicated to developing work are publicly funded. They receive funding from the state, who in turn receive funding from the taxpayers. So I suppose the centralized colonial base would be the citizens.
That assumes that the citizens have agency to distribute the goods, right?
Right. Which isn’t really the case. So I guess it’s the state.
If said state is the colonial base, isn’t that closer to being a republic, or an otherwise autonomous body?
I don’t think so. Because the intensive working period is the colony. It’s temporary. Like most colonies are theoretically temporary.
I hope so.
But we still live in a colonial society.
I like your optimism.
I prefer to think of it as realism.
Must be nice to be so sure of yourself.
It’ll do. So the state is the colonial power in this specific case-study of a framework.
Not sure that I fully follow – but let’s see how it plays out.
Cool. So the playwrights are harvesting creativity for a dedicated working period. Which means that the dramaturgs are…facilitating that process?
Like an Overseer?
I mean… I guess. Not sure I like the sounds of that.
Officer Officer – Overseer! Whoop Whoop!
How does it feel to be the beast?
Conflicted. I guess this is where I’m interested in if the structure is necessarily colonial.
Well, let me reflect back what I’m hearing-
Are you dramaturging me?
I think you mean overseeing.
Ya, I’m super cool and fly and shit.
So what I’m hearing is –
The Resource is creativity.
The workers are playwrights or creators.
The dramaturgs are there as overseers to increase the productivity of the playwrights in their extraction of creativity.
And this is funded by the state to……do what?
To increase the amount of new Canadian work. Or just new work, I guess it doesn’t have to be Canadian per se in this more abstracted way of looking at it.
So you’re separating the land, territory, and history now.
For now, yes.
Ok. So that, to you, is a colony.
What makes that different from just getting together and working?
I’m not sure. I think part of what might make it less colonial is that the playwright/labourers are offering additional feedback to each other. So in that way there’s a lot of collegial relations at play.
But that would be the same in a colony, yes? Workers are neighbours. They coexist?
They do. But I think in a colony… or at least in a plantation model – which I acknowledge is less Canadian, but easier for me as an Indo-Caribbean person, so if we can work that model for now – the workers aren’t meant to necessarily work together. Not with real agency, they’re more cogs.
Right. So, because they have basic human rights it’s therefore non-colonial?
Well… no. Not necessarily. Maybe it is colonial.
What makes it colonial though, I don’t think you’ve answered that question.
Why are you like this?
Don’t be fragile now. This was your idea.
Fine. I think it’s time. Or space. But probably because it’s working to extract creativity in a more efficient way it’s less tangible than space, so it’s the dedicated time.
So you’re saying –
Well I’m not saying – I’m positing –
Fine. You’re positing –
Really more Speculating.
You’re “putting forth” – that an intensive work period on a specific thing is colonial.
As opposed to…?
Well it’s not black and white, there’s not really-
Yeah, I know – it’s not gonna be perfect, but what’s your alternative?
I feel attacked!
Then defend your point!
I think a less colonial model would be that we holistically create art without specific time parameters. It’s part of the fabric of everyday life.
Great. So that’s still time though. Right?
Yes. But more spread out. Time is spent doing all the things in daily life with time to create too.
And what’s preventing that from happening now?
Resources? The ability to actually be resourced to dedicate time to creativity?
Partly. Maybe mainly. At least in the way it seems this is going.
Bring it back to your farming plantation thing. That might help.
Ok. Well, I think what I’m saying is the Playwrights colony is kind of like a plantation or farm. It’s productive. But also runs the risk of being exhaustive. You know, like you put too much strain on a patch of land, eventually it can’t be farmed.
Is that how land works?
I don’t know. To be honest I’ve never worked on a farm. But like…. say, water.
What about water?
Running the well dry?
Ok. I’ll go with you on that. So your model isn’t a well.
No, my model would be closer to foraging.
Foraging for creativity?
Ok. So why not just do that?
I think we do. But the Playwright’s colony makes it more efficient. Like I could spend the day looking for mushrooms, but it’d be more efficient to have a mushroom farm.
So farming is colonial?
It can be. It’s definitely got an approach where I’m intervening in the natural growth of an ecosystem.
Ok. Fair enough. So why don’t we just forage? Why have a playwrights colony?
I think because artists don’t often have the freedom to spend their day foraging. Don’t have the resources to dedicate that time.
Cause they’re farming all day.
Yeah, but not necessarily farming creativity.
So they’re doing another colonial farming thing –
Like – really?
Right… so they’re “farming dentistry” ….and that means that in order to get creative they need to have time to change the focus of their farming to creativity. But because they’re farming creativity they’re still working in a colonial model.
Unless they’re independently wealthy I suppose.
Sure. Independently wealthy people are emancipated from colonial ways life.
Sounds like colonial systems beget colonial systems.
So – the playwright’s colony thing is colonial. Kind of unsurprising given the name. What makes a program like Wrightspace different?
I don’t know that it is different structurally. But maybe in intent. It’s not necessarily looking at a piece and trying to make it adhere to a three-act structure or “well-made-play” model. There’s freedom for artists to make the work they want to make. The dramaturges-
…the dramaturges are there to meet the artist where they’re at and then work towards designing a process to help them do their thing.
So they’re like… nice overseers.
Intention is a part of it. I think intention can defy the colonial structure.
Maybe. I certainly think that power is much more lateral than a plantation.
But that’s because you’re not growing cane.
It’s also because we’re taking a person first approach.
And colonialism doesn’t.
No I don’t think it does. I think colonialism treats people as a resource as much as it treats land as a resource.
But the resource is creativity.
Drawn from the artist.
But by relegating the artist to a specific intensive period you’re turning them into a farm.
But they are people.
Maybe your frame is the problem.
Maybe your face is the problem!
Hey Hey now.
Anyway we’re out of space…
And we didn’t solve colonization?
It’s okay. It’ll take time.