inFORMING CONTENT 2019: A Theatrical Response to Bruce Pardy's "We Have Met The Enemy"

I had the privilege to take part in the inForming Content workshop, which took place over Nov 22-24 in Theological Hall. This is the third year of the inForming Content workshop, hosted by Volcano. According to the Volcano website, “inForming content is a free three-day creation lab combining experimental approaches to theatre-making with expert academic presentations on a theme of current global concern”. On Friday, we heard lectures from four Queen’s professors-- Diane Beauchemin; Dept. of Chemistry, Alexander Braun; Dept. of Geological Sciences/ Engineering, Diana Cordoba; Dept. of Global Development Studies, and Bruce Pardy; Professor of Law. We split into four groups, where each Lead Artist-- Majdi Bou-Matar, Kim Collier, Tracey Guptill and Peter Hinton-- guided us in assembling a theatrical performance regarding the lectures we had heard, with specific questions in mind. 

In his lecture, Bruce Pardy talked about how the affliction of self-hate is a greater threat to our modern Western society than climate change, nuclear war, famine or disease. He talked about how nearly everything that we use in our day-to-day life is based on fossil fuels, and that if we were to eliminate fossil fuels, we wouldn’t have civilization anymore. He claimed that “our children are hysterical that they’re going to die from climate change.... Let’s say that the theory is true, that the use of fossil fuels is changing the planet. What should industrialized nations like this one do? My answer is, nothing. Because there’s nothing you can do”. He went on to talk about self-sovereignty, reminding us that we are responsible only for our own actions. This did seem reasonable, until he said “an Aboriginal person said I was responsible... for reconciliation, because of something that might’ve happened 200 years ago. I wasn’t there. I’m not responsible”. One of our lead artists verbally responded to this in front of the whole auditorium, saying “[that is] very bad thinking, very illogical thinking”. His third point was about free speech. He emphasized that if we believe in free speech, but don’t accept speech that might be hurtful, offensive or hostile, then we don’t believe in free speech. He then went on to say “when someone comes to me and says ‘my pronoun is z’, should I be allowed to call that person ‘he’? Of course! The question is not whether or not I should, whether or not it’s polite, whether or not it’s humane.... The question is 'Must i?', because if I must, that means your speech is not free.” He ended his lecture by saying “We should be very careful about what we want, because we might just get it”, to which one of the inForming Content coordinators responded “I would like you to leave the stage now, sir”. At this time, the same Lead Artist who spoke up before began responding back to Pardy, stating “[Those are] very irresponsible ideas, very prejudiced and individualistic, with no regard for community or to collective intelligence”. This was how the night of lectures ended, leaving all of us in the audience feeling a bit tense, confused, and shocked. We weren’t sure if this was a joke, or if this professor really decided to speak to a room full of theatre-makers disregarding the acknowledgment of climate change, and of Indigenous and LGBTQ people. Nonetheless, this is what we went home to think about that night - and a group was going to have to create something responding to this.

The next day, I found out I was going to be part of that group. Led by Kim Collier, we sat down, explored the space where our performance would take place, and talked about the lecture. Our prompt was “What do you want to see in the world?” It was a dense discussion, but we mostly agreed that our performance should respond to the topic of the individual self vs. community. Although long and, at times, stressful, the process was eye-opening. It showed me the importance of being able to work with others in this profession, especially others you may not have worked with before. Being open to the opinions of others, working through those opinions to convey what is important and what works, critiquing our own work and bringing it back to the topic we’re focusing on; I had to learn to do all of these this past weekend. In the end, we created a satirical piece with a constant rearrangement of setting and audience members that acknowledged the land we are working on, the importance of fossil fuels in a civilized society, a funeral for fossil fuels after we have used up all of the resources, and which explored self-sovereignty in relation to what it means to be a nation. We ended the piece with talking about what we wish the world to be-- more collaboration and less selfishness, understanding, that the strength of love would overpower the desire for control, clean and fresh air, a land appreciated and respected by everyone. We had clips of Pardy’s speech throughout our presentation, but as we walked through the front doors of Theological Hall, allowing our audience to see our beautiful natural world, we ended the performance with an audio clip from Pardy’s lecture saying “We should be very careful about what we want, because we might just get it”. I’m really excited and proud about what we did, because I feel this is the whole purpose of theatre. I wanted to make something for others to hear, something I felt important to be heard in today’s current generation.

Theatre is powerful. Theatre is a medium we can use to explore what it means to be human, where we can acknowledge and criticize the multifaceted issues that affect us, and where we can “explore the possibilities and help us dream”, as my professor, Julie Salverson, once told me. On Friday, I was a bit confused as to how Pardy was chosen to be one of our speakers. However, this process has helped me realize why we need speakers like Bruce Pardy. The whole premise of his speech was that we should argue and seek to understand both sides of political discourse and that we should accept free speech whether it’s right-wing or left-wing. As drama students and theatremakers, most of us believe in and advocate for progressive social change, especially regarding the identities and rights of marginalized voices. I’m still personally debating whether his speech was something he genuinely believed, or if he just wanted to go to the extreme to show us that these opinions should be allowed. Either way, it worked. It provoked a group of people into creating a piece of theatre, which criticized and emphasized an issue that we believe affects humanity in a dynamic way. We used theatre to show that we understood his words but didn’t agree with them. I don’t think his point was that we have to agree with opinions that don’t belong to us. We have to listen to them. We have to understand. We have to respond. And we did that.

I also want to say that this workshop helped me to better understand and recognize my value and purpose as a theatre-maker. I was really interested in acting in high school, but since coming to university, I’ve reverted to the production side of theatre, mostly because my confidence in my ability to act plummeted after seeing so many people who were so talented. My lead artist came to me after our performance and asked if I was an actor. When I replied no, she told me she was surprised because of the clarity and articulation I have when I perform, and that I did a great job editing our soundscape cues, had strong conceptual ideas and that I’m going to go really far in the theatre world. It truly almost brought me to tears because I don’t think I’ve ever had that kind of reaffirmation from someone specifically catered toward my performance abilities, especially someone who is renowned for their directing and acting throughout Canada. Before this, I’ve been really lucky to have such an amazing group of people who have helped me learn and grow as a production team member. After this weekend, I’m feeling really warm and grateful to be in the program I am in, surrounded by so many people who care about and love me. Theatre is important and I’m glad I get to do it with people who care about it as much as I do.