Activist Performance in/and Canada

Opening Keynote Address by Catherine Graham

York University’s Department of Theatre & Graduate Program in Theatre Studies First Annual Graduate Symposium

First I would like to thank Brad High and Brittany Ross-Fichtner for all their hard work in bringing us together today around a topic that needs more attention in an age when performance has become a staple of activist organizing. I also want to thank them for the honour of being invited to give the opening address at such an exciting symposium. I am truly honoured to share my current thinking about activism and performance with you and look forward to hearing more about the work all of you are doing. Thinking, I have learned, is never a finished product and is best preserved through conversation.

I would also like to take a moment to thank York University for the support they have given their grad students to organize a symposium like this. Sharing one’s work in conferences is an important part of anyone’s graduate training and allowing graduate students to organize a symposium around a topic they consider important demonstrates the great confidence this department, faculty and university has in the talents and insights of those who study here. That we will get a day to spend together talking about and working through activist performance and building a new generation of activist performance scholars is a genuine instance of inspiration!

How I Came to Activist Performance

My own introduction to activist performance came a long, long time ago. To be truthful I am not really sure where to date it from. Was it my first exposure to Brecht’s Good Woman of Szechuan in high school? I was certainly intrigued with both the form of that play and the

conundrum it posed — and I am thankful to this day that our high school principal was from a math and science background and consequently didn’t know, as Pat Machin, my English and Drama teacher later put it, “that this was a play about a prostitute written by a communist.” As Machin pointed out, my first foray into the kind of theatre that struggled with the dilemmas of trying to be a good person in a bad world would probably have ended abruptly had our principal had any interest at all in contemporary culture!

It was another Brecht play produced at McGill University in the early 70s that gave me my first real taste of academic discussions of activism and performance. I was lucky enough to be part of a learning experiment in which we took one class on political theatre and dramaturgy in conjunction with another that staged Brecht’s St.-Joan of the Stockyards. The play particularly resonated with me because its discussion of the way workers are treated as commodities gave me a way to understand my abiding anger at the way my father had been treated when he developed crippling heart disease after working for the same the manufacturing company for 15 years and had no choice but to leave his job with no more than the $2000 he had accumulated in a pension plan.

The kinds of discussion that arose in working on this production put me in touch with other students on campus who were interested in questions of social justice. It was a heady time to be talking about social justice in Québec, where grand “projets de société” were being developed in every corner of the political spectrum and the performance world was exploding with locally produced shows that put forth visions of what a modern Québec might be. While I studied drama in university, I was increasing fascinated by the many nationalist, ardently post- colonial (though they wouldn’t have called it that), often socialist and sometimes even feminist collective creation projects that were springing up all over French-speaking Montreal — another world for an anglophone like me who had grown up on the West Island and was only starting to venture east of what we still called “St. Lawrence Boulevard.”

All this somehow coloured my early contact with activist theatre, though I would be hard-pressed to tell you exactly how. But as often happens in life, one thing led to another and one day I was actually put in a position to start working on activist performance with one of the collective creation companies whose work I had until then admired from afar. Through contacts made at McGill, I was introduced to the Théâtre 1er Mai, a 25-person collective creation company, all francophone except me. My French was not that good at the time, and the four members of the groups with whom I have remained friends still kid me about one mangled expression I used constantly. It was a literal translation of “it seems to me,” and I said it frequently in an attempt to venture an opinion without ever saying anything that would sound like the English telling the French what to do. That was the kind of world we lived in in Québec at the time.

Vanguard Politics and Political Theatre

By the time I joined the company, the Théâtre Premier Mai had associated themselves with the Workers Communist Party, an act that stemmed from the heated debate going on in Québec at the time about what it meant for artists to be politically committed, rather than self- indulgent purveyors of individualist self-expression (I translate loosely here, but you get the idea). The Théâtre 1er Mai definitely wanted to position itself as being politically committed, which basically meant that we did a lot of plays that ended like this [leans forward with left arm extended and fist in the air.]

It seems a bit stilted and silly now, but as I asked myself, in preparing for this symposium, how activist performance had started to seem important to me, I remembered especially the work I did with the 1er Mai. I recalled the excitement of playing what now seems to me to be an incredibly crude strike support piece at a rally in the Maurice Richard Arena to an audience of about 3,000. I am no actor, but was drafted for the occasion to play “Judy,” a character whose name was chosen to make absolutely sure that everyone would understand that she was anglophone and represented the anglophone workers at the striking plant who had refused a “special deal” and stayed out in solidarity with their francophone comrades. As I said my key lines: “I don’t want your gifts. I’m not for sale!” it seemed that all 3,000 people rose to their feet yelling and applauding and stamping their feet in support of my character’s stance and, not being a real actor or a real politico, I froze in shock at the intensity of their reaction. Fortunately, I did recover and I especially remember later touring the show to small one-industry towns like Thetford Mines (the home of asbestos), where two audience members came up to me after the performance to ask if I was “une vraie Anglaise” (a real anglophone). Several more came up to my now ex-husband, who had played a cynical union bureaucrat, convinced that he must know their union’s business agent and intent on suggesting where they might have met.

What I remember especially is that these were the first moments of a longing to better understand the almost magical way in which activist performance sometimes seems to affect people, especially people in groups. On some level, I knew the play was not very good, (the structure was clunky, the message blunt) but the effect it had on audiences and the discussions that started as a result were infinitely more powerful than the experiences of drama I had had at high school or university. Strangely, the only thing I could compare them to was a Christmas play I had written for my church some years earlier. The minister had been a little hesitant at first about the script, which featured an irritable lady innkeeper who just wanted to make a buck off the many travellers who were forced to come to Bethlehem by a Roman edict, and so had no problem with offering room in the stable to the pregnant woman and her husband who showed up too late in the evening to get anything better. The minister feared I was taking too many liberties with Christmas story (he apparently did not know the Mystery Cycles of Medieval England), but relented when he realized that one of the older men we had recruited to play a shepherd, a non-actor who “just wanted to help the young people” and was terrified that he would forget his two lines, was actually moved to tears by playing the role. Trying to grapple with these kinds of reactions, my first longings for understanding quickly became a struggle to come to terms with experiences that didn’t seem to fit very well ideologically, but that had had similar, and to me, surprisingly intense effects.

I worked for many years after that in a combination of political organizing, community development and research in support of various left-leaning causes. I moved to Manitoba, where I at first worked for a publication of the Workers Communist Party and ultimately gave up on the kind of vanguard politics that communist parties stood for, as did most other members of that party and others like it in the early 80s. The insistence that first we must make the revolution and afterwards there would be time to deal with women’s issues, differences of cultural perspective and flat-out racism no longer made sense to me, and despite all the subsidized literature from Communist China I had read, I could not make myself believe that my gay and lesbian friends, or my friend who had been a heterosexual sex worker, were indulging in decadent, bourgeois lifestyles. Whatever was said about the “lifestyles,” I had to acknowledge, if only to those close to me, that these were the people who most supported me at a time when I was living far from family support networks and was trying to simultaneously nurture an infant and deal with the trauma of having almost died in childbirth. These struggles were a result of what many contemporary Marxist scholars would call biopolitics, but we just called it trying to stay alive.

Performance and Community Development Work

My communist period behind me, I started to work in the Franco-manitoban community, where I was living at the time. Here I had a very different experience of everyday activist performance. I worked with a Franco-manitoban women’s association, Pluri-elles, to bring French-speaking women together to explore their own needs and desire, rather than just their children and husbands,’ and to put together a plan to build the institutional structures that would be needed to help make their dreams a reality within their own community. Instead of standing at the front of the room and transmitting a message, I found myself sitting quietly in a circle, listening intently and waiting for my turn to speak. With these women, my neighbours and friends, I played and talked and laughed and worked and ate and cried. Together we built an understanding of how much our lives and desires were structured by social patterns we had never tried before to control. We came to understand even why we were not trying. We decided to try, and to try in our own way.

On one memorable occasion we made an official presentation to a very official commission, set up by the Société Franco-Manitobaine to get community input about a response to a recent Supreme Court decision. In 1985 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the act outlawing the use of French in the Manitoba legislature, passed in 1890, only 20 years after Manitoba entered confederation as a bilingual province, was illegal and hence none of the laws of Manitoba passed after that date had any legal validity. Since wiping out all Manitoba law overnight was not a viable option and translation would take some time, a solution to the dilemma was ultimately negotiated in which the province was given time to translate key legislation and the federal government agreed to pay reparations that would help rebuild some of the community capacity that had been badly damaged by almost 100 years of linguistic discrimination. The États Généraux Franco-manitobains (a name borrowed from the French revolution) were organized so that representatives of local Franco-manitoban groups could present position papers to a commission comprised of community dignitaries, who were arrayed behind a very formal table at the front of the room. The object of the exercise was to decide how the community wanted to spend the federal funds and what community members thought would help strengthen community institutions. The women of Pluri-elles made several presentations in different contexts. The Stay-At-Home Mom’s groups, for instance, presented their concerns in the form of a telephone conversation frequently interrupted by appeals to unseen children to share the toys they were apparently fighting over, since that was the way they usually communicated. Pluri-elles’ official presentation was in the form of lunch table gossip. We chose this form, rather than the formal reading most other groups did, to demonstrate that community institutions run by men who were recruited to the local Jesuit college at age 9 or 10 to become future leaders of the community were not hearing women because they were not listening in the right places.

Doing things like this, I learned a lot about how participation in fictional activities could inspire the confidence necessary to make public statements and even more about how doing something together can get a group of women to start saying “we.” I also learned a lot from the First Nations women we worked with both inside Pluri-elles and through community coalitions. Mostly I learned about ways of organizing participation that showed everyone that their story would be respected and valued by the group, even if everyone did not agree with the assumptions the speaker was making or the conclusions she drew. Valuing the stories of others taught me to question my own stories, and more importantly, the assumptions buried within them. While I never did agree with the “pro-life” stance of many of the women I worked with, their explanation of their feelings about abortion led me to question the degree to which many of us who took a pro-choice stance were buying into modernist notions of individual autonomy that I have since come to doubt. Even as I defended a woman’s right to control her own body, a principle I still defend, I learned to ask how we got into situations where this argument was necessary. I owe a great debt in particular to Marjorie Beaucage, a Métis facilitator (and now a videographer and bed & breakfast owner near Trois-Rivières, Québec) for the many things she taught me in those years. Among the most important was a worldview embedded in the Cree and Ojibway languages. In these languages, Marjorie suggested, every time you want to say “we” or “us” or “our,” you must decide which form to use: do you mean the opposite of “them” or the plural of “I”? It was among to most important lessons about political struggle I have ever learned.

Experience as the Ground for Theory

So why am I telling you all this? My personal story certainly cannot provide a comprehensive history of activist performance in Canada. There is a lot more to be learned about that by looking at the few works on activist performance history that we have in Canada. I am hoping the people in this room will write many more. For the moment, I would certainly recommend Kym Bird’s work on the mock parliaments of the suffragettes or Alan Filewod’s new book Committing Theatre: Theatre Radicalism and Political Intervention in Canada. Early copies of journals like Canadian Theatre Review, Fuse and Jeu are also revealing of our history in this regard.

But I am not telling you this for historical reasons. I think I am telling you this because of an assumption I am making about what draws many of us to both activism and performance and above all, to activist performance. For me, and I suspect for many of you, whether you have articulated it this way or not, the attraction of activist performance lies largely in its performed distrust of the model of knowledge and of public life that has been the Enlightenment’s legacy to the modern world. In the arena of social organization, this legacy has taken the form of liberal political theory, which insists that questions of justice must be separated from questions about what constitutes a good life, just as public concerns must be separated from private desires and the activities of the mind carried out without reference to the needs or desires of the body. Many of us don’t buy this.

In the last 20 years many critics, among them feminist philosopher Seyla Benhabib, have launched a sustained critique of this approach to public life, often evoking the notion of “community” as evidence of a wider dissatisfaction with this way of looking at how our common life is organized. Benhabib argues that renewed interest in the notion of community represents a concern for the lessening participation in public decision-making that follows from the loss of a coherent sense of community in liberal societies (69-70). Benhabib points out that the distinctions on which broad collective structures are based usually result from social and historical struggles, and “contain within them the result of historical power comprises.” In her words: “All struggles against oppression in the modern world begin by redefining what had previously been considered “private,” non-public and non-political issues as matters of public concern, as issues of justice, as sites of power which need discursive legitimation” (100). In Benhabib’s view, the repression of knowledge of the inevitable dependency on others inherent in our existence as bodily selves is an extremely dangerous position because the standpoints through which we think our relationship with the world can only be established in feedback with that world. In her own words: “The web of human affairs in which we are immersed are not simply like clothes which we outgrow or like shoes which we leave behind. They are ties that bind; ties that shape our moral identities, our needs, and our visions of the good life” (189).

So I am not telling you this, not because I want to talk about the particularities of my engagement with activist performance, but because I want to talk to you about theory, and more particularly, about theorizing activist performance. It is important to me to situate that theorizing in my own struggles to understand why activist performance has been so meaningful to me. I suspect that your presence here indicates that many of you are also interested in working to understand experiences of activist performance that have been meaningful to you. Yet I know very well, and the agenda for this symposium will serve as proof, that we have not all had the same experiences of performance. What is more, I suspect that, because we come from different places in the world, because we have different struggles in our own lives, even similar experiences are not meaningful to us in exactly the same ways. This poses a dilemma to which I have responded for over 20 years by attempting to theorize activist performance: how can we talk meaningfully about our different experiences of activism, of performance and of activist performance? How is it possible to learn from one another, or to form alliances, however temporary and contextual, even if we don’t completely agree?

The Trap of Sectarianism

This is important to me because the thing that has troubled me most about discussions of activist performance in this country for many years is the trap we so frequently seem to fall into despite, or perhaps because of, our best intentions: the trap of trying to find the “one best way.” In forums where we share ideas about performance practices, this trap presents itself quite often in the form of arguments about how particular techniques for developing performances, or particular performance forms, are categorically better than all others. When we have fallen into the trap, we start to speak as if the methods of work we use are THE method, not A method. Sometimes we start to quote our mentors as if the mere mention of their name should make disagreement vanish like a rabbit in a hat: “well when Augusto did it….”

In my experience of theoretical forums, the trap most often takes the form of dismissing what you are saying about the “whys” that might be operating in a particular piece of work because you do not address the ideological issue or heuristic model through which I am thinking at the moment. I have heard this most often in a form that goes something like this: “Well, of course there has been a great deal of important theoretical writing about the danger of relying on experience, or ignoring the realities of social class, or etc. etc.” (Note that the argument is never actually articulated, but merely pointed to as a reason that the current argument should disappear. This is the Abracadabra school of rhetoric.)

I no longer have the energy for this kind of sectarian quarrel, though I had plenty of experience engaging in it in my vanguard communist past. Now I find myself wondering, when this kind of argument starts, what would happen if we applied a basic improv rule to our discussions? What would happen if we tried to say “yes”? It is in that spirit that I have been trying to theorize my way out of sectarian quarrels for 20 plus years. I have been trying to find ways to say “yes” without precluding the possibility that sometimes I will need to say “no.” My way of going about this is undoubtedly structured by one core element of my experience of discussing activist performance and working with it: through no fault of my own, my participation in these discussions has almost always taken place across cultures. At first these discussion mostly took place within Canada (if you believe Québec and First Nations territories are part of this thing we call Canada, which not all my interlocutors do). More recently I have discussed ways of making moving activist work in collaboration with colleagues in Belgium, England and, to a more limited extent, France, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and India. I also talk frequently with colleagues in the United States. As importantly, I spend a lot of time talking about this with community-centered artists and with university-based scholars and this too often strikes me as cross-cultural work. Within the University, and in some of my capacity- building work, I engage with cultural theorists, feminist researchers, ethicists, sociologists, nursing professors, political philosophers, specialists in the management of international development projects, and even a few cognitive psychologists. They do not all understand or appreciate each other. I do not always appreciate all they have to say. But whatever understanding I am able to come to is inevitably shaped by the fact of having emerged from such disparate conversations.

Creating Landmarks as Gathering Places

So here is where my thinking about this is today: I am no longer looking for a grand unifying theory of activist performance. When asked to anticipate the likely social outcome of any particular performance, I no longer try to predict the future, as I did when I participated in predicting the victory of “the glorious revolution.” Instead, I find myself trying to develop a few theoretical landmarks around which people I work with can gather to discuss, reflect and evaluate how well particular projects are working for them. I would like to finish by giving you a few examples of what these landmarks are for me.

First Landmark: Activist Theatre Increases Participation in Public Life

The first landmark I find myself working with is the proposition that activist performance must be understood as an intervention in public life that demonstrates that the issues it raises are worthy of public concern. This is important to me as a way of setting the horizon against which activist performance should be judged. I want to know, not if the activist artist is the “latest hot thing” or if the workshop increased the vocal or physical skill or even the self-confidence of participants, but whether the project increased the level of participation in public life. I am not interested in the practices known in Europe under the rubric of “democratization of culture,” that measure success by integration into the institutions of the dominant culture, but rather in a radical questioning of the raison d’être of these institution. Theoretically, I am helped in thinking about this by Jürgen Habermas’ discussions of the role of the public sphere in modern societies, and more particularly by various feminist critiques of it, especially the well-known critique proposed by Nancy Fraser in Justice Interruptus.

Fraser summarizes Habermas’ notion of the public sphere as an arena distinct from state institutions and economic markets in which public opinion is formed through the medium of talk. Quoting Habermas, Fraser describes a public sphere as “a body of ‘private persons’’ assembled to discuss matters of ‘public concern’ or ‘common interest’” and in a way that would “mediate between ‘society’ and the state by holding the state accountable to ‘society’ via ‘publicity’.”(Fraser 4).

Fraser, however, contests the view that there ever was a unitary form of this public sphere and Fraser’s critiques of two of the assumptions on which Habermas’ argument depends have been particularly fruitful for me in thinking through the ways in which activist performance can actually contribute to social change. Fraser first notes that Habermas’ version of the liberal public sphere presumes that it is not only possible but desirable to bracket differences of social status and “to deliberate ‘as if’ they [we] are social equals” (9). Second, she draws attention to the implicit assumption in Habermas’ work that the proliferation of a multiplicity of competing publics is necessarily a step away from, rather than toward, greater democracy. Fraser contests these assumptions, arguing that:

“In stratified societies, unequally empowered social groups tend to develop unequally valued cultural styles. The result is the development of powerful informal pressures that marginalize the contributions of members of subordinated groups both in everyday life contexts and in official public spheres” (11).

Fraser suggests that the solution to this problem is not, as Habermas suggests, that we agree to pretend that differences of status and cultural style don’t exist, but that we overtly thematize cultural differences and thus encourage the development of “alternative publics,” since in her view, the “proliferation of subaltern counterpublics means a widening of discursive contestation, a good thing in stratified societies” (15). If we take the next step in Fraser’s argument seriously, and accept that what we need to do to correct the exclusion of these groups from public discourse is to make visible the cultural styles that are generally excluded from public debate, we can start to explain why people respond so strongly to some forms of activist performance. Because it is an art form that works with both bodies and minds, activist performance can not only propose ideas, but can value particular physical ways of speaking and moving that are generally treated as markers of positions that are below the threshold of interest for public attention and public debate.

So this is one of the landmarks around which I want to discuss activist performance: does it help expose the reasons why particular points of view are being excluded from public debate? Does it ask us to question the way we are valuing different kinds of interventions? Does it propose, for instance, that what is coming out of lunch table chat is as important to listen to as the policy statements of the leaders of the day?

Second Landmark: Artistic Skill Is Important for the Success of Activist Performance

This first landmark in my thinking quickly created the need for another: the respect for the artistic skill that is crucial to making these projects of exposing exclusion work. This has not always been a popular point of view, as many activists who want to use art to increase participation fear that putting an emphasis on artistic skill will create another set of exclusions. Augusto Boal, for instance, is notorious for having started many a workshop by declaring: “Anyone can act. Even actors.”

I want to be clear on what I am saying here. I do not believe that specialized artistic training is a requirement for participating in public life. What I do believe is that, to increase participation in public life, we often need to be able to refocus attention and that this is what art and artists ultimately specialize in: focusing attention on the things we are socially conditioned not to see. I came to think about this by two routes. One was by noticing how often in this new century activist artists whose main work was with marginalized groups were reclaiming the title of artist and the function of art. David Diamond, for instance, who is best known for his work in bringing marginalized voices into public discussion through Headlines Theatre’s use of Forum theatre, has argued strongly against the idea that his role should be to act as a transparent filter for the ideas community participants bring to his workshops. Diamond argues against the idea that “the group’s plays should go to performance exactly as they manifested from the group process — as a true, unfiltered voice,” instead proposing that the Joker’s, and presumably the theatre company’s, responsibility is first and foremost to make the best theatre s/he can under the circumstances (123).

Social movement theory is helpful in thinking about this against a broader horizon. Steven M. Buechler, for instance, tells us that a renewed interest in social movements was spurred in sociology by the new forms of collective action organized by a wide range of social groups based on ethnic, generational, and gender differences in what he calls the ” ‘long decade’ of the 1960s” (32), the same period in which community-based activist theatre as we now know it arose. According to Buechler, “much of the power of this wave of collective action derived from its multi-front character. It was a fundamental political challenge to the legitimacy of the central institutions of society that dovetailed with a cultural challenge to the hegemony of the core values of society” (33). Following Buechler, it is worth considering that the power of activist theatre stems not so much from the ability of the theatre artist to melt into the community the workshop brings together, but from the ability to bring elements of different struggles into a conversation about the legitimacy of different forms of social power and cultural values.

Buechler’s discussion of the role of social movements in demanding accountability, however, also gives us a clue as to why community activists might resist the role of professional artistic expertise. Buechler uses the example of the economic crises of late capitalism to discuss how such legitimation crises come into being and how the state attempts to defuse them. “With state intervention into the market,” he says, “the latter no longer appears as a quasi-natural phenomenon beyond human control”(81). As a result, a need for political legitimation has increased at the same time that state actions have undermined many older forms of legitimation. To counter questions about the legitimacy of state actions, Buechler argues, many Western states resort to a number of strategies of depoliticization in public decision making. Among the most important of these is the separation of “administration from legitimation by appealing to expertise rather than popular decision-making” (81). It is undoubtedly in reaction to this trend that theatre facilitators have worked hard not to put themselves in the position of outside experts who will tell community groups what stories they should tell and how they should tell them.

Following Buechler’s analysis, it would seem that for theatre artists to work effectively as partners in social movements, it is not enough to lay claim to equality through simple physical participation in workshop activities with community participants. In this context, it is worth nothing that, like the social movements Buechler describes, the multi-front nature of the work of activist theatre artists may be what creates the power of theatre workshops in questioning the legitimacy of social authority structures. Social movement theory helps us think about this by introducing the idea of “framing” as a way of looking at how social solidarities develop across different communities. Buechler explains framing as focusing attention on something by “imparting meaning and significance to elements within the frame and setting them apart from what lies outside the frame” (41). He goes on to assert that “successful framing translates vaguely felt dissatisfactions into well-defined grievances and compels people to join the movement to do something about those grievances” (41).

Framing activities take many forms. The most minimal form is frame bridging, which works by simply letting people know that there are organizations out there that share their individual views on a given issue (41). Activist theatre workshops engage in this kind of activity when they help create public events that bring the concerns of organization participants to the attention of a broader group of people. But the real contribution of activist theatre artists more often comes in the pursuit of three other forms of what Buechler calls “frame alignment” across multiple different groups of social movement actors: frame amplification, frame extension and frame transformation. Taken together, Buechler’s suggestions about the importance of frame alignment strike me as offering a new sense of how trained theatre artists might best share their skills as members of social movements. Our role would not be to avoid taking a position in order to facilitate the voices of others, but to use our skill in recognizing and performing cultural frames in a way that allows participants in local groups to enter a broader discussion about the legitimacy of the overarching social standards of our shared contemporary world.

Third Landmark: The Importance of Pleasure

Lastly, I want to point to a landmark that is for me at the moment more instinctively felt that thoroughly theorized, though I certainly see the potential of a new found interest in affect theory to help explain it. This is the importance of pleasure in activist work.

Certainly pleasure is one of the things people who participate in and witness activist performance most often talk about, just as I have talked about it today in telling you about my own involvement. Pleasure is an illusive quality for theorizing, but there are some things I think we can say about it. First, pleasure offers much more than mere entertainment. Entertainment, as we generally talk about it today, is an idea that is completely tied up with the separation of work and leisure that arose as a result of the industrial revolution. To “be the entertainment,” as activist performers are all too often asked to do by some leaders of traditional social movements, generally means to distract people for a moment from the difficulties of their everyday lives. Pleasure promises much more than this. Pleasure allows us to build emotional ties to others, ties that often last long past the moment in which the pleasure arose. There was a reason we played so much and took to the time to share food and stories at Pluri-elles. To be interested in creating pleasure in another person is to affirm their social value. This does not mean, of course, that pleasure will always take the form of being joyful. Pleasure comes to us in many guises in activist performance: the discovery that others feel the same way we do, the ability to master something in our environment or to use our bodies in ways we did not know we could, the moment of insight in which we see the world in a whole new way, the timid dawning of a hope we did not know was possible. All these kinds of pleasure can come out of activist performance and I am more and more interested in paying attention to them, to the nature of the pleasure that different kinds of activist performance provide and the social bonds they give rise to.


And so I would like to conclude this talk by offering you my hope that together today we will have a lot of pleasure and that we will pay attention to its nature and form. I hope we will learn new ways of respecting the artistic skills we bring to the work we do, and that we will start to see new pathways on which others can join us in building the kind of public life for this country and this world where no voice is excluded because its way of speaking seems too unfamiliar to be worth our while.

Most of all, I hope that we will find landmarks of theory and practice that help us orient ourselves in a new and better world that only our actions can build.

Thank you.

Works Cited.

Benhabib, Seyla. Situating the Self: Gender, Community, and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Bird, Kym. Redressing the Past: the Politics of Early Canadian Women`s Drama 1800-1920. Montreal: McGill-Queens UP, 2004.

Buechler, Steven M. Social Movements In Advanced Capitalism : The Political Economy And Cultural Construction Of Social Activism. New York, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.

Diamond, David. Theatre for Living. The Art and Science of Community-Based Dialogue. Victoria, BC: Trafford, 2007.

Filewod, Alan. Committing Theatre: Theatre Radicalism and Political Intervention in Canada. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2011.

Fraser, Nancy. Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the “Postsocialist Condition”. New York and London: Routledge, 1997.

Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Trans. with the assistance of Frederick Lawrence. Thomas Berger. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998.