QUESTIONS FOR DR. LINDSAY LACHANCE

THIS IS AN ENTRY IN IMAGO THEATRE’S DARING FEMINIST ARTISTIC PRACTICE BLOG SERIES.

E.L: I am fascinated by the practice and process of dramaturgy. It seems there is a patient fluidity and compassion to this art form; a commitment to people, to curiosity, to story, and to context that inspires me. To me, dramaturgy is about shifting the way we think, listen, relate and create. An ongoing practice of purposeful and empathetic rewiring.

For these reasons, I knew I wanted to do this post on the practice of dramaturgy. Within the same breath of that realization, I also knew I wanted to focus on the wonderful work, contributions, and research of dramaturg, Dr. Lindsay Lachance.

Lindsay is a theatre practitioner I admire who is currently the Artistic Associate of Indigenous Theatre at the National Arts Centre. She earned her PhD in Theatre from UBC in 2018 where she successfully defended her dissertation titled “The Embodied Politics of Relational Indigenous Dramaturgies.” Lindsay works as a dramaturg, supporting new play development, through a practice that centers the knowledges, skills and gifts of her collaborators that honours each process. She has published articles, shared her ideas at various conferences and offered responses to performances she has witnessed.  Read more about Lindsay here.

To me, Lindsay Lachance is a daring feminist artist. She is interrogating exclusionary and crystallized modes of creation and cultural production through her work on relational indigenous dramaturgies. Her practice is deeply rooted in community, context, accountability and respect. I read her dissertation (which you can find here) and was floored by her sensitivity, her incisive observations about the intertwined relationship between Canadian theatre and politics, and her commitment to the needs, stories, and unique lived experiences of indigenous theatre creators and storytellers.

Lindsay is a powerhouse creator and a lovely human who I am lucky to call my friend.

Read on!

“I argue that the works created and produced by Indigenous theatre artists with whom I have collaborated are powerful tools in cultural revitalization and decolonization.”  

(Lindsay. Lachance. pg. 5, The embodied politics of relational Indigenous dramaturgies. 2018. University of British Columbia, PhD dissertation. Open Collections, https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/24/items/1.0363947)

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

E.L: You completed your MA in Theatre Theory and Dramaturgy at the University of Ottawa and defended your Doctoral dissertation, “The embodied politics of relational Indigenous dramaturgies” at UBC in Vancouver. How did your experience in these two different provinces influence your studies on dramaturgical process? What shifts occurred for you? What new challenges or developments?

L.L: I’m the first person in my family to go to University. So even starting my undergrad was intimidating and confusing! When finishing my BA, one of the profs I’d had for years, Dr. Yana Meerzon, approached me and said- you should do your Masters here. I looked at her and asked, What is a Masters? So for sure, many things have changed and I have grown so much between starting an MA and completing a PhD. I don’t consider myself an academic really, instead I think I carry with me a big amount of respect and accountability to the theatre artists I’ve witnessed perform and that I’ve met and worked with over the years. I saw, and still see, a lack in resources available to better understand and support Indigenous theatre creation and performance, and I just want to be a part of changing that.

My masters was very theoretical, and I loved learning about the various ways that dramaturgy can exist and be interpreted. It really gave me a deep-rooted understanding of the field, and fueled a fire to claim space for the Indigenous theatre I created, was interested in, and was witnessing. I was really lucky to spend time with Floyd Favel when doing my masters research. We spent a lot of time talking about process and how important it is to base our work in Indigenous- specific structures and ways of working. I was also so inspired by the work of amazing Indigenous women artists. Artists like: Monique Mojica, Jill Carter, Yvette Nolan and Tara Beagan. All of whom continue to be so generous with their time in supporting emerging Indigenous artists and scholars.

Before moving to Vancouver for my PhD, I had already been in contact with Dr Dory Nason, First Nations and Indigenous Studies professor at UBC. She was my first point of contact in the city,and knowing she is a fierce Indigenous feminisms scholar, I was stoked to see how interested in Indigenous theatre she was! So I guess the major differences between the two degrees is that, while my MA was very rooted in theatre training and theory, my PhD emanates from a more Indigenous studies background which I’m really happy about. I went to a lot of events, forums and protests in Vancouver that helped to connect the theory I’d been working on for years into more tangible examples. I was able to connect with other students and academics working with similar theories and frameworks but on totally different topics like urban geographies, treaty relationships, and Indigenous dance. Though our fields where different, our work overlapped in many ways. That’s one of the most exciting things for me, that I was able to find ways to connect Indigenous dramaturgies with Indigenous resurgence theories and offer alternative ways to talk about contemporary Indigenous theatre.

E.L.: Your thesis speaks to a “redefining of dramaturgy to include processes that are more than new play development...or highly intensive research obligations..processes that are to be understood as relational and inclusive of the people, places, ancestors and other beings involved in the work.” (Lachance. 2018. pg.2)

Can you describe a recent exchanges that you were involved in or that you facilitated that managed to redefine dramaturgical practices in ways that were more inclusive and aligned with your research?

L.L: I have been working with Musqueam theatre artist, Quelemia Sparrow, for a couple of years now. 

She is working on a solo show, that is rooted entirely in Musqueam philosophy, geographies and her personal ancestral lineage. With this in mind, I wanted to offer a dramaturgical framework that was particular to Quelemia’s story and culturally-specific ways of working. For example, last summer, as a part of our dramaturgy workshop, we went on a canoe journey. Because Quelemia’s story takes us through specific places within her traditional territory, we thought it would be necessary for us to journey to those places as well. Quelemia carries Musqueam canoe protocol with her and so, in order for the artistic team to better understand the world of the play she is trying to build, we wanted to experience it and then re-envision it together. Although Quelemia and I are both Indigenous, we are from different Nations and have different knowledges, experiences and cultural practices. This is the case for many artistic collaborations.There might be an all-Indigenous team, but likely folks will gather from different geographies, experiences and practices.

Doing the canoe journey also allowed us to talk over what the canoe protocols are. What the values and teachings of the canoe journey are for us to build the dramaturgy of the piece. This really means that the knowledge that Quelemia carries into her canoe journeys will be the same values that guide the dramaturgical process of her play-development. This is a way to include her family and Nation-specific teachings, to presence her ancestors throughout the work, and to feel grounded and comfortable throughout the process.

For me, the ways in which we expand “dramaturgy” will always depend on the process and who is involved. Sometimes we cannot go out on the land and sometimes we cannot work with Elders or knowledge holders. In these times, we look within ourselves to find the values, teachings or gifts that we carry with us and we decide how to create a framework that will best support the artists involved.

 “ Anishinaabe actor Samantha Brown, who has  participated at Weesageechak Begins to Dance for several years, shared with me some of her thoughts on the significance of new work development festivals. New play development is key to the evolution of theatre to maintain its existence.

New play development is key to the evolution of theatre to maintain its existence.
Evolution in art is inevitable and to give a platform to that development only enhances
new ideas and gives life to more artists…
Speaking to hurt, chaos, challenges, joys, and triumphs within our communities
keeps the culture alive. Telling stories and revealing our truths is what prompts change, it
ignites us and inspires us to move forward in our communities.” (Lachance. 2018. pg.140)

E.L: In your thesis, you spoke about feminist indigenous theatre practitioners. Can you share about some indigenous women whose work seek to “decolonize space through performance?”

“Chocolate Woman Collective works to ‘dislodge colonialism from the body’. This part of their
mandate makes clear that Indigenous sovereignty is included in all aspects of their work.
According to Mojica, the land becomes their archive and they work to develop embodied
relationships with the land that “help to re-define Indigenous identities, history, science,
cosmology, literature — and their performance” (“SSF&CI Synopsis”)” (Lachance. 2018. pg.112)

L.L:

Monique Mojica is someone who continues to inspire me! She is a leader in Indigenous theatre methodology and performance creation. She looks to her Kuna and Rappahannock cultural practices to create dramaturgies and stories that connect her to her blood memories as well as her past and future ancestors. She has been working for decades on creating land-based dramaturgies, wherein she connects with earth mounds, waterways and other spiritual places, to catch songs or to find stories. She “decolonizes” theatre because she considers these non-human interactions as collaborators and engages with them in respectful and reciprocal ways. That is only one little example of how awesome she is!

I also recently worked as a dramaturg on Kim Senklip Harvey’s play Kamloopa. Kim worked really hard to create a Matriarchal Theatre process that centered on the well-being and gifts of the Indigenous women involved in the process. She was the director, but also ended up taking on various producer roles to ensure that the women were taken care of. She hired an all women design and production team, refused public reviews of the show, and held various talking circles in each city in which the show toured. She has a blog! So give that a read here to hear more about her powerful self.

So give that a read here to hear more about her powerful self.

E.L: What is your vision for the evolution of Canadian theatre in the coming 10 years?
(Big question, I realize!)

L.L: For values like truth, respect and accountability to guide the choices artistic leaders make.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“dramaturgical process as an end in itself—the process is the work.” (Lachance. 2018. Pg.2)

E.L: Speaking of work, I will leave readers with these questions from Lindsay’s thesis. Reflective/reflexive homework-an internal dramaturgical process to keep engagement with theatre critical and active.

“dramaturgical process as an end in itself—the process is the work.” (Lachance. 2018. Pg.2)

Speaking of work, I will leave readers with these questions from Lindsay’s thesis. I consider them reflective homework-an internal dramaturgical process to keep engagement with theatre critical and active.

“Today, with major buzz words like “Reconciliation” circulating, it is necessary for all
Canadians to “own a little piece” of Canada’s colonial histories in order for us all to move
forward in a positive way. Indigenous peoples are still living traumas initiated by Canadian
settler colonialism and it is up to everyone to hold themselves accountable to these realities. I suggest that we consider the phenomenological experience of attending theatre as a call and response: I see what's happening onstage and I think about how to give back to what I have experienced. And I consider what calls to action I can take to include this new knowledge in my day-to-day life. While attending Indigenous theatre, I might ask:

  1. What biases or assumptions do I repeat without realizing?

  2. What are the worldviews and tools that I carry with me and how can I utilize them in this situation?

  3. How can I recognize and shift the gaze and the ears that I am using when attending theatre?

  4. How can I develop the opportunity to listen, learn, and act in relationship to potential cultural differences?

  5. How do I deal with refusals or cultural difference when I don't recognize or understand what I see onstage?

  6. How can I be accountable to what I am experiencing and do the labour of self-educating when I don’t fully understand the references being made?

  7. For whose sake is the work being understood or categorized?”