Devised Theatre and the Investigation of Identity
Stageworks associate artist Cory Haas was appearing in the remarkable Un.Deux. Trois. by Mani Soleymanlou* in Vancouver this week. This is a show that comes from the theatre practice of devised theatre – the definition of which includes using our own personal lived experiences to tell the audience stories that offer a connection to a big picture social issue. In the case of Soleymanlou, it is his search for his own identity – born in Iran, living in Canada and speaking French – that begins a wider investigation into the “who am I?” question that eventually involves some 36 diverse Francophone actors from across Canada all together on stage in a piece of theatre that the Montreal Gazette describes as, “a theatrical symphony of individual and collective anxiety angst”. In Trois, we hear stories of the actors personal experiences of grappling with questions of their French-speaking identity; experiences of racism, loss of their ‘mother-tongue’ culture and language amongst many. Apart from the sheer exhilarating intensity of seeing so many actors on stage at once, what grabs you about this show is its commitment to the act of listening to diverse voices. It asks us as audiences to tacitly acknowledge that this is something theatre as we know it – a theatre where the privilege of white, cis-gendered, male voices/decision-makers has predominated – has not been doing a very good job at.
Cory Haas has facilitated our company’s devised theatre work on two pieces; Then & Now, Pandemic Life Stories – which is currently in an extended phase (with thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts), and our spring 2023 show Heirlooms and Baggage (My Mother’s Story). In the latter show we have being building the show around the exploration of our mother’s identity, investigating the question of “who was she?” (she was not just our ‘Mom’ we’ve discovered!). We have also wanted to give space to diverse stories of lived experiences in this new show and for audiences to hear these. We’re headed into our next phase of theatre-making in early 2023 and it’s going to be fascinating to see what Cory brings to our theatre-making process from his experience of working on Un. Deux. Trois.
*Mani Soleymanlou is the artistic director of Orange Noyée and of the National Arts Centre’s French Theatre. https://nac-cna.ca/en/bio/mani-soleymanlou