A Shared Future: A Message from SIR
We at Shakespeare in the Ruins (SIR) have been doing a lot of excavating and listening as the world grapples with the ongoing violence against Indigenous, Black and Peoples of Colour (IBPOC) communities.
As a historically white organization, SIR is not immune to the consequences and injustices of a system that upholds white supremacy and continues to ‘other’ anyone who is not white. Our mandate is, after all, entirely focused on a male, Anglo, white playwright long dead.
On the other hand, I am a firm believer in the works of William Shakespeare as tools for social mobilization, and not alienation. Theatrically, his plays show us that language can expand as much as our imaginations – and we are in the middle of a revolutionary and electric time. A new way of approaching our work must be imagined and implemented. SIR firmly believes in the power of performance and storytelling as means to contribute to, and help heal communities.
The company has been producing theatre for 27 years, but in many ways, we are very young. The organization underwent a staff restructuring between 2016 and 2018, and in 2019 I came aboard. With a permanent office staff of just three people, SIR is one of the smallest of all local companies that are members of PACT (the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres). And even though our resources are limited, we believe a series of initiatives and commitments that aim to build a future of transparency, cultural awareness, and collaboration for SIR is vital.
We have spoken together about this at all levels of our organization – including Board, Staff and Associates – and as the Artistic Director, I have been asked to share these thoughts on behalf of all of us.
Here are our commitments to the community:
- Historically, SIR has had a white-majority Board of Directors. We have begun conversations, and a Search Committee is being assembled, whose goal will be to create a balanced reflection of the diversity of our communities on our Board.
- We will engage in Reconciliation, anti-racist and decolonizing practices through providing training and education to the entire staff and Board; and we will invest in ongoing, regular conversations with IBPOC and consultants from typically excluded communities to ensure access.
- Our current Strategic Plan expired at the end of 2019, and we are about to embark on a new multi-year planning process that will take us until 2023. We are committed to including IBPOC voices as part of this process, and to do a complete reassessment of our practices – both artistically and administratively.
MANDATE & PRODUCTIONS
- Our mandate states that Shakespeare in the Ruins is a theatre company dedicated to:
– The production of plays, particularly the works of Shakespeare
– The creation/development/presentation of Shakespeare-adjacent new work
– The use of non-traditional casting and environmental staging
– Creating opportunities for the development and growth of theatre artists in Manitoba
– Engaging with and enhancing our community
- Going forward, we are committed to investing more resources into the development of new plays that are Shakespeare-inspired and that look through the lens of IBPOC and “othered” artists.
- We will engage in partnerships with local emerging companies that produce culturally-specific work.
- We will continue to commit to non-traditional casting in our productions, and to uphold all facets of equality and equity in doing so.
- We will commit to diverse voices behind the scenes by assembling production teams (technical, design and creative staff) that properly reflect our community.
- We believe mental-health and new ways of approaching our work are key elements in the process of decolonizing our practice. To that end, going forward, we are committed to a five-workday rehearsal week for our Mainstage productions at the Ruins.
OUTREACH & MENTORSHIP
- We will continue our educational work with the inmates at Stony Mountain penitentiary, with plans to expand and invest more resources into this crucial outreach program – repurposing Shakespeare’s text as a tool for social justice and aid in healing.
- We will continue to offer Free ‘Shakespeare Clinic’ coaching sessions, online and in person, to local artists who would like to practice Shakespearean audition pieces – anytime. Furthermore, we are extending this program internationally, in partnership with Cia Shakespeare / Centro de Estudos Shakespeareanos in Brazil, providing emerging Brazilian actors a chance to train in the Classics with us; and to get to know our Manitoban artists. My home-country is currently deep into an unprecedented socio-political crisis, on the verge of military intervention and total economic collapse due to the ongoing pandemic – fostering global allyships and awareness is important in our collective struggle for justice.
- We will forge strong connections with local universities that offer training in theatre, and establish opportunities for partnerships and professional development for IBPOC students.
- We will launch the “Alternative Canon” webinar series, led by Stratford actor Jessica B. Hill. This will be a monthly series of online conversations about plays and playwrights from IBPOC backgrounds. The aim is to expand our understanding of what constitutes “the classical canon”, and to offer opportunities for the local community to connect with artists from across the country.
- Collaboration is key in our profession. Understanding that opportunities for practical mentorship in leadership roles are sadly rare, we are committed to working alongside our sponsors and funders to secure resources for a new position in our offices: Associate Artistic Director. This person will work with me in the execution of our vision for the future of the company, and together we will develop programming ideas, outreach initiatives and succession plans.
We have begun this work, and we understand these are just the initial steps in an ongoing conversation about how we can better dismantle old power structures.
While we have taken strides in diverse representation onstage and engaged in exciting outreach initiatives with many local communities in recent years, we have not collaborated enough with IBPOC creatives in all aspects and areas of our organization. We know we cannot correct that overnight by simply listing or executing some of the actions and ideas I mentioned above.
We are deeply committed to a more inclusive and transparent future for Shakespeare in the Ruins.
My door is always open, and I love great conversations.
With love and humility,
Rodrigo, and all of us at SIR