ISSUE 1.2

Editorial 1.2

Culture, Change, and the Community

written by Rahul Varma

The nationwide response to the first issue of alt.theatre was overwhelming. Artists, artistic directors, scholars of cultural studies and other interested readers responded enthusiastically to the publication. Many, particularly those from the artistic community, subscribed to the magazine and have recommended it to their friends. And, most heartening. many of you took time to call, e-mail, or write letters with your feedback. On behalf of all of us involved in alt.theatre, our sincere thanks; we promise to take your suggestions very seriously.

The enthusiastic response from our readers confirmed that such a publication was long overdue. But more importantly, it affirmed that as a country we are willing to engage in a debate that attempts to renew and revise our understanding of a changing Canada. Over the last two decades, we’ve begun to see the changing composition of our communities on our stages. Thanks mainly to the untiring efforts of minority and ethnic artists, Canadian theatre has placed issues of representation, authenticity, art-form, and cultural politics at centre stage.

The very real challenge ahead is in not merely observing, but in understanding and respecting the reasons behind change. This does not mean accepting change for its own sake. To the contrary, it means to objectively analyse, criticize, and restructure our institutions to advance these changes for the collective good of our constituent communities – and their artists. Such a program is the next logical step for a country like Canada, which already acknowledges itself as a pluralistic, heterogeneous and, of late, a multicultural society. But it also challenges us to analyze and criticize our theatre scene in the face of this changing reality, in that it permits us a constructive opportunity to question as well as applaud the status quo.

Now, the major task before art funding bodies is in devising a system that is equitable racially, culturally and artistically; one that prevents tokenism while responding to change. Such concerns have highlighted questions of authenticity and representation to which there are no easy answers. But undeniably the starting point is in dialogue. We must discuss, as a community, from a standpoint where we neither distance ourselves from the dominant cultures nor insulate ourselves within our own cultural heritages.

A debate from such a standpoint is not only imporĀ­tant but inevitable if Canada is to survive undivided. The never-ending constitutional crisis has revealed internal dissension within the dominant cultures. It has made us question the traditional notion of a bi-cultural, English/French division of Canada. But most importantly, it has reenforced the need to redefine our cultural fabric. By actively redefining Canadian culture through our art, we make it harder for funding institutions to accede to bi-culturalism, and make it easier to anticipate a multicultural, multiracial, and multilingual vision of Canada.

Our desire, through the voices represented in the pages of alt.theatre, is to promote that vision. A vision that acknowledges the primacy of the First Nations peoples, their culture and their art, while embracing the diversity centuries of immigration has ensured.

Rahul Varma is a director and playwright, born in India and based in Montreal, Quebec. He is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Teesri Duniya Theatre, a multicultural company dedicated to artistic diversity.