The ‘we’ reflected in the pages of this workbook is a many layered thing. The writers of this guide are the McMaster University arts and social science scholars, educators, and theatre practitioners who are part of TSDC’s community-based performance research project. But the collective of people who have made TSDC possible is far more extensive. TSDC’s four plays came into being through the collaboration of teams of “uncommon partners” (socially-engaged artists and theatre practitioners, community and self-advocates, and social service providers and social planners). Throughout the workbook we’ll talk a lot more about the many contributions of TSDC collaborators. For now, we want to say a few words about why we consider collaboration essential for a project like TSDC.
Collaborators are often drawn (or drawn in) to working on a particular TSDC project because of their relationships to the community members who create and perform the play. Sometimes these connections are pre-existing. Other times, collaborators are invited to join a play’s creative or project team because of their knowledge of the social context of community participants’ lived experience and their shared interest in the issues these want the play to address. Individually and collectively, TSDC’s project collaborators — the community and self-advocates who are the play’s creators and performer-advocates, the theatre workshop facilitators, the community partners, and the research team — reflect a complex range of social positions.
TSDC’s collaborative approach is intrinsic to the project’s overarching social goal — to interrupt patterns of exclusion by offering performer-advocates a creative method and a platform through which to address a broader public. In keeping with this goal, as theatre makers we strive to ensure that each play’s story arc and dialogue reflect what participants do and say in the workshops, and what they want to communicate. But we recognize that there’s no such thing as a neutral or all-seeing vantage point. Who we are, the lived experiences we come with (and the lived experiences we don’t come with) affect what we’re able to see and what we’re not able to see. For example, a white queer woman in her fifties is prepared by her history and socialization to know the world in particular ways, and quite differently than a Black straight woman of 18.
It has also been important that we structure the workshops and the larger collaborative process in ways that support open communication and collectivity. For example, unlike many conventional theatre workshops, TSDC workshops always begin with a gathering where everyone — workshop participants (and soon to be performer-advocates!), workshop facilitators, community worker, research assistants — sit together, share food, and talk. Other workshop activities like story circles, check-ins, and group reflections are similarly structured to foster a relaxed, open, and hospitable collective atmosphere.
TSDC’s team approach to making plays is reflective of the project’s social aspiration of cultivating more inclusive public dialogue. By calling in a diverse range of collaborators and creating structures that support communication among collaborators, we strive to expand the scope of things that get noticed, named, and taken up in workshops, in ways that are meaningful for how the plays turn out.
- We came across the term “uncommon partners’ in Jan Cohen-Cruz’s book Remapping Performance: Common Ground, Uncommon Partners. See Chapter II for a discussion of TSDC’s uncommon partnerships. ↵
Throughout the workbook we use a number of terms when referring to the community members who have lived experience of social marginalization who take part in TSDC workshops and create and perform TSDC plays for public audiences. These terms include community and self-advocates, workshop-participants, performer-advocates, performer-creators. Our intention isn’t to confuse you! It’s to capture some of the many roles and capacities of TSDC’s community performer-advocates.