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July 31, 2019

Soulpepper X The 519

Soulpepper is a home for artists on our stages, but also a place of learning and teaching off stage. Through the Ada Slaight YouthLink program Soulpepper has been working with a local community organization, The 519 to host a summer theatre workshop for LGBTQ2S youth, with guidance from Soulpepper’s artist educators.  We asked Makram, the workshop lead, to give us a look into the Queer and Trans Youth Theatre summer program. 

Can you tell us a bit about The 519?

The 519 is a city of Toronto Agency and registered charity that is committed to the health, happiness, and full participation of LGBTQ2S communities in Toronto. As a community centre located at Church & Wellesley, we  focus on responding to  the needs of our local community and of broader LGBTQ2S communities.  For over 40 years, The 519 has been providing and creating resources, services, programs, and offering space. We are one of Canada’s largest LGBTQ2S organizations, with over 500 thousand annual visits.

What is the group you are leading through this workshop?

I am leading an eight week Queer and Trans Youth Theatre summer project.  The initiative works with queer and trans identified artists who are between 16-29 years old that are interested in expanding their practice as theatre artists through explorations of performance and theatre writing.  The group welcomes varying levels of experience in the pursuit of bridging queer and trans theatre artists together in a space that allows them to explore themselves, their theatre creation, and the history of queer theatre.  We went through a series of performance, monologue writing, and scene writing workshops which will culminate in  a “Personal Mythology” showcase.  Alongside this, we’ve learned and discussed the works of several queer and trans theatre artists working in Canada today.  This year, the group decided to name their ensemble, QT Collective.

How long have you been at Soulpepper and what have you been working on in that time?

The program has been in collaboration with Soulpepper and I have been working with the theatre company since May. Soulpepper was able to support the 519 with incredible artist-educators that helped with the facilitation of the program.  It was a vital part of the program’s success that the youth were in a real theatre space such as Soulpepper.

Why do you think theatre education important?

I think theatre education is learning how to be human.  Theatre offers us the necessity of rehearsals, where we can trial our voices, strengthen our arguments, and refine our own understanding of ourselves and the world we move through.  For queer and trans communities, as with any other marginalized communities, this is all the more vital.  Theatre education, and especially the process of playwriting and monologue writing from a personal position, allows participants to manifest, in 3D space, their fears, hopes, desires, and dreams.  Theatre teaches meaningful collaboration; it might ask us to sit with our contradictions and our tensions and then faithfully go on in the pursuit of the collective creation.  This seems essential in an increasingly divided cultural climate.  But for me, the thing theatre education does best is the invitation of vulnerability.  This is what makes theatre distinct as an art form.  We must sit in our theatre art, we must be with it as it happens, and it is only ever honest when it is vulnerable.   Whether it lands with an audience or not, the process of practicing this kind of vulnerability strengthens the participants – it has the potential to enrich our lives and make us celebrate the subjective experience of being a complex and dynamic human being.

What do you find most valuable about leading these workshops?

The ensemble’s willingness and bravery throughout the workshops was the most valuable and rewarding part of the experience.  As an educator, I can imagine and plan and prepare in so many ways, but it is truly in the hands of the ensemble and each individual that the experience of the workshop is so rewarding.  Their commitment to the craft, their honesty and vulnerability in their sharing, and their commitment to one another as an ensemble was heartening.  My experience with queer and trans communities has taught me that resilience and an intelligent hopefulness is an integral part of our story.  I don’t mean to ever minimize the difficulty many of us face, but the magic which happens when queer and trans people come together is galvanizing – and it’s especially inspiring to work with an ensemble of young artists and to know that these are the ones who will be cultivating and contributing to the conversations of queer and trans theatre creation in the future.