NOTES FROM OUR AD
A NOTE FROM OUR ARTISTIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR JUNE 30, 2020
When I started Bygone Theatre back in 2012 my main goal was to produce engaging, character-driven theatre from the early 20th century - there were stories I wanted to see onstage that were only available at big companies, like Soulpepper, Stratford or Shaw, and I wanted something similar but on a smaller, more accessible scale. I set about making theatre with whomever I could find, and focused more on the work than those involved. Now, as Bygone Theatre enters our 9th season, it is clear we need to expand our focus and work harder to prioritize our commitments to diversity and accessibility; simply saying "all are welcome" and using wheelchair accessible spaces is not enough. We need to make concrete, measurable changes in order to better serve our community and our work.
As a company that produces "vintage theatre", we are in a unique position when it comes to diversity. We have the opportunity to re-examine stories through a more authentic lens, looking at them not from the perspective of turn-of-the-century, primarily white audience members, but through one of historical insight, that acknowledges that the world has always contained diverse communities with fascinating stories, even if they weren't being published or produced.
Plays from the 1920s-60s often feature racist stereotypes, that or they completely white-wash the story and show no diversity at all. When re-staging these stories it can be easy to fall into the trap of eliminating the overt racism while still maintaining the subvert - colourblind casting, 2-dimensional characters, or tokenism. Does that mean these stories are no longer relevant, or not worth retelling? No. But they do need to be redone. And that needs to be done with care.
While diversity and accessibility have always been important to us, we have admittedly existed in a bit of a bubble. Attempts to engage communities outside of my own have rarely been met with much success, and to be honest, the difficulty in doing this lead to me not making it a top priority. I do the majority of the work for Bygone on my own, and I did not know how to engage people past simply putting the message out there, and I never had time to really learn how.
Then COVID-19 happened.
After the initial upset of coming to terms with the uncertain year ahead of us, we at Bygone came to the realization that this "break" in the regular programming is exactly what we need. We are taking this time to learn and improve, not just as artists, but as people, and a part of the Toronto theatre community. We are listening to the voices speaking out against discrimination in the arts (the #InTheDressingRoom thread on Twitter was eye-opening and deeply upsetting). We are listening to the voices telling us how to be better allies. And we are taking time to make important changes and commitments, and to share that with you now as a commitment to change and accountability. This is not a final comment, it is a series of first steps. As we continue to learn and grow we will readdress these commitments, make more, and do more. I will make these a priority, and am working on learning how to do more. The following statements come from myself, and the Bygone Theatre Board of Directors:
Bygone Theatre believes Black Lives Matter. Bygone Theatre sees the racism faced by BIPOC communities, believes their stories and stands with them in solidarity. Bygone Theatre sees the homophobia and prejudice members of the LGBTQ2+ community faces, believes their stories and stands with them in solidarity. Bygone Theatre sees the women who face sexism and discrimination, the members of the #MeToo movement, believes their stories and stands with them in solidarity. Bygone Theatre sees the challenges and discrimination faced by Mad/Disabled communities, believes their stories and stands with them in solidarity.
We are making a commitment to support all these communities, prioritize their members and stories in our work, and to continue to work to become better allies. The following is our Commitment to Diversity and Accessibility, as of June 30, 2020.