Three Things I Learned at PTC by Kathleen Flaherty
Eight years ago PTC welcomed me into the Vancouver theatre scene from what had begun as a “diversion” into radio drama and had morphed into twenty fervent and fertile years as a producer at CBC. I had always considered myself a theatre maker, even when I was making audio programs, but let’s face it, even though my philosophies were still current and my skills and experience valuable, my theatre chops were stale-dated. PTC took a chance that there was a 2.0 (okay, it was 2012) version of my theatrical imagination. I can produce endless rambling philosophical musings and many entertaining (non confidential) stories about what I am carrying forward into my post PTC adventure, but three themes stick out:
Theatre is Alive. Like everything else in life, everything in theatre changes and everything stays the same. Theatre magic still happens in the space between performer and audience with the same emotional and physical mechanics as it always has. Yet language and theories evolve. When I was studying theatre in Calgary in the 70s, we were excited by Happenings and collective creations while producing the classics. When I left the theatre scene in Toronto, we were talking about the postmodern. By the time I came to PTC, we were discussing the postdramatic. Technologies constantly create challenges and solutions, most of which require wrapping my tongue around new vocabularies. The hub of creativity that PTC is provided me near-daily access to the heady and sometimes frustrating conversations with artists of all persuasions that I need to keep my mind alive. Imagine being able to talk about a book you are reading about emergent narrative with someone who stopped by to pick up a key, and you can imagine the rich tapestry of daily life I have experienced in my time at PTC. I believe that every one of those conversations contributes to every other and that they all manifest on stage somewhere sometime. And I am delighted that the new generation of theatre makers has as much passion, imagination, artistic courage and know-how as any of the generations before – plus they are awake to the climate emergency and social injustice.
Theatre can reflect our Best Selves, our Highest Aspirations. It is clear to me that Heidi Taylor has created an organization that always strives to make every process, every interaction, ethical and just. And all of us – me, Belinda, Melanie, Davey, Joanna, those who come and keep on giving who are too many to name – are eager to model the behaviour until we make it true. Whenever I have been tempted to make a convenient decision or settle for “good enough”, I can look across the room (or the Zoom) and ask myself what extra step Heidi would make, how she might turn a situation on its ear, find another angle of view, go back to the beginning and step-by-step alter the approach. It is also clear to me that this has become a collaborative process – we all have license to say what we think, to make mistakes and seek counsel on how to mitigate them, to stop the merry-go-round and go back to first principles. We recognize that the structure of an interaction influences the outcome in a profound way – the way to make justice possible in all spaces is to start at the beginning in every collaboration with a clear contract created by everyone involved based on assumptions of good faith and guided by principles of interaction agreed to by all. Every interaction is unique and “nothing about us without us” (thanks JD). The fact that we have to remind ourselves to take care of the fundamentals every time we start something is a testimony to how long most of us have been living and working without transparent inclusive design of our lives and work and how we forget to honour our relationships. How we make these beginning steps shows up in small and large ways in the theatre we make. I am grateful every day that I have been able to work with someone like Heidi, who has the courage to insist that we make these efforts every time we start something.
We have an obligation to Joy. Okay, so I can’t remember the exact words, even though I’ve heard them dozens of times. Some dramaturg. I know the word “obligation” feels wrong, but it appeals to my earnest nature, so I’m gonna go with it. I am the eternal student. I love ideas and I love to learn new things, even uncomfortable things. I know the justice and ethics work is possible to model and, with effort, I can continue the structures that assist those efforts wherever I go. The joy thing, that’s a revelation. It’s also more difficult, especially when you are second-guessing yourself every day of your creative life. But, of course joy. Of course spirit. Why bother otherwise? Thanks, Heidi. Thanks, PTC.