I have no doubt there are few that would describe Vancouver’s theatre scene as diverse.
In an open letter to the Jessie Richardson Theatre Society, the volunteer group that runs the annual professional theatre awards in Vancouver, 170+ theatre professionals have penned their name in a call for better representation of visible minorities and aboriginal people in both the nominations and awards. Asserting that the Society is sending an unconscious but implicit message that it is “primarily white theatre artists and white theatre productions which are excellent”, the group has charged the Society with excluding works by “artists of colour”.With nearly half of our current population in the Metro Vancouver area a visible minority, that number is only predicted to get larger as Citizenship and Immigration Canada estimates that by 2031, Caucasians will make up only two out of five residents. As someone who attends nearly 100 shows a year, those numbers don’t come anywhere close to being represented on Vancouver stages, either in content or in casting.
In its letter, the signatories point to the 2014/2015 Jessie Award juries that lacked diversity. Of the 22 jury members in the small and large theatre categories alone, the group identified only three artists of colour in the large category and zero in the small category. On its surface, it is tough to argue that something is not wrong.
In its response to the letter, the board of the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards Society says it has already begun making changes to help ensure a diverse representation on its juries and its board. The ball is in the court of those behind the letter – it’s time to now step up. It’s easy to write a letter and complain, quite another to actually do something about it.
But let’s be honest, the real problem isn’t with the Jessie Awards. This is a systemic problem that starts and ends with those that have the power to both undertake colour-blind casting and produce shows that are more representative of the multicultural nature of our city. Recognition is one thing, but unless there is someone to actually recognize it all becomes a rather useless exercise.
I can’t help but wonder if the 170+ signatories would be willing to send similar letters to Bill Millerd and Christopher Gaze? Or to the countless other directors and producers that make up our lively independent and small theatre communities? They are the ones that have the real ability to make change.
It’s easy to pick on a group of volunteers, but it takes real guts to stand-up and demand accountability from those that cut the pay cheques.
Sure you need to start somewhere, but I don’t see anyone scrambling to write a Dear Bill letter. Until they do, nothing will change and we never will see the #REALCanadianTheatre,