A lack of diversity on our stages, you say?

Aisha 'n Ben - opening March 19

There’s been a lot of fantastic conversation here on the internets of late concerning the visible lack of cultural diversity in the theatre of our fair city. Basically the question was raised of why the traffic of our stages doesn’t mirror the traffic in an average Skytrain car, and the back-and-forth on it has been the kind of dialogue that we theatre bloggers crave: here on The Next Stage, over at Jerry’s site (where the debate began), and in Plank Magazine, too.

But let’s take a a minute and have a closer look at our entrenched independent theatre scene. We’ve long had sub-cultural theatre companies here comprising a huge part of our available cultural diet. The Vancouver Asian-Canadian Theatre consistently puts on new plays that challenge stereotypes and discuss their community’s place in Vancouver. The Leaping Thespians have been bringing stories of Lesbian Vancouver to audiences since the early ’90s, and Screaming Weenie has been doing the same thing for gay men for years. Full Circle has been doing nothing but First-Nations theatre since 1992, ditto for Urban Ink since 2001. Theatre Terrific has been the voice of disabled artists for ages. Pacific Theatre has been a very successful Christian faith-based professional company since 1984. Théâtre la Seizième, our resident French language company, was founded in 1974. Hell, we’ve even got a company that produces solely for Sci-Fi and Horror geeks enthusiasts. (What’s up, Spectral Theatre!) Women’s theatre, more women’s theatre, youth theatre, kid’s theatre, we’ve got theatre for almost every imaginable segment of our population. One of our foremost theatre companies that’s been doing an amazing amount of work to draw international attention to our art here is the incomparable Neworld Theatre, whose mandate actually reads “[Neworld] creates, develops, produces and tours new plays that reflect multiple facets of Canada’s diverse populations”. You know? How many other cities have a list like this?

And then we’ve got South Asian Arts, whose Managing Director Gurpreet Sian contacted me today to ask for some help promoting their upcoming show, Aisha ‘n Ben, which opens this week at the Chan (ahem) Centre for Performing Arts out at UBC. While perhaps not the only South-Asian Theatre company in Vancouver, Sian says, they are the only ones trying to break into the mainstream market.

We discussed what The Next Stage could do to help the show out and agreed it was probably too late to shoot and post a video listing (the play runs from March 19 – 21) I said I’d be happy to post the video promo that they had already done. And so…

For full details on this production, click here

Whatever your opinion of our current theatrical state of affairs may be, here are a couple of self-evident facts: yes, the majority of Vancouver theatre was sprung from an academic, European model. But as we become more and more multicultural that multiculturalism is becoming increasingly – albeit slowly – mirrored on most all of the stages here. When we talk about the diversity of the stages of our city, we need to consider all of our stages, and all the companies facing the same challenges we all do to put a season of work up that they are passionate about sharing with us.

So don’t worry, we’ll have a Skytrain theatre scene here before you know it, and a truly reflective art scene all around. We’re diverse all right, and driven and growing, year after year. What I love about the companies that I mention here (and many, many more, to be sure) is that they represent their particular community within the larger community of the city, and the country, and the rest of the world.

Hmm…sounds like something worth celebrating…


  1. though all for multiculturalism in mainstream theatre…this promotional video is lame! being a minority myself im a little embarrassed by it…

  2. Here’s the bald faced truth about why you don’t see coloured actors on stage: White people don’t care. Seriously. Why would they? In the cut throat world of showbiz, people are broke, nervous, and one mistake away from waiting tables. Casting a brown guy’s the least of anyone’s worries, so forget multiculturalism and live in the real world.

    I was recently surprised to hear Bill Maher say he’s against all government funding for the arts. He’s never been given a hand out, and never wanted one. He brings value to the market place and is thus rewarded ten times over for it. Think about it. Everyone, black, white and brown, pays their taxes. But when the government dishes it back out, most of it will fill the pockets of white actors.

    A great lesson can be learned from black people in America. And it is this. They don’t care about white people. They’ve always done their own thing and created their own art for their own selves. From Rock n’ Roll to Soul to Hip Hop, they’re mimicked all over the world, with heads of state using urban slang and 80-year old white men dancing to Snoop at weddings. The pen is mightier than the sword, and it can make you rich too.

    Now from Obsidian Theatre to Fu-gen to Anita Majumdar, there are actors of colour who do get regular work. Because instead of sitting around moping about injustice, they take the reigns and make their own stuff. More importantly, they don’t shy away from their ethnicity, they embrace it and exploit it.

    So why SHOULD a brown man get cast in Salt Water Moon? What the hell’s he doing there in the first place? He has his own rich tradition to draw from, so let him tell his own stories. Insist on it. Force him. He’ll probably find himself in a better play.

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