Statement from the Artistic Director: Art is our Weapon

Posted 01.05.18 | By Kelly Thornton | Comments

In the wake of the sexual harassment allegations made against Albert Schultz and Soulpepper Theatre, our entire industry is grappling with the horror these young actors went through to simply do their job, and to do it with the passion and commitment that brought them to their profession in the first place. The toxic cloud that has descended over the theatre, this life-affirming art form, has shattered our innocence (or perhaps our ignorance), but also, and more importantly, fueled our resistance and resilience. While this tragedy sinks in, one in a long line of recent stories on the abuse of power, we can also celebrate the massive sea change our world is experiencing. Women have been silenced by power for far too long and this systemic imbalance has enabled this abuse to go on unchecked.

In 2015, Nightwood staged Nirbhaya, an arresting piece of theatre that sounded the alarm like no other, confronting the issue of sexual violence and its impact on the victim. The play’s core was built on the testimonies of a group of creator-performers who actively wanted to break their silence on their experiences of sexual violence. Helmed by director Yaël Farber, it was created in response to, and in the wake of, the brutal rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey on a Delhi bus in 2012. Poorna Jagannathan, one of the show’s creators, a survivor of rape and abuse in her childhood, said she felt her own silence had perpetrated what happened on that fateful night in Delhi. She believed the breaking of this silence was her only option to begin reversing this cycle.

Silence is the victim’s prison. And the bars are made of shame. The tremendous will and fortitude that has been summoned by the silence breakers can never be underestimated. #MeToo has unleashed a forceful movement, and this time there is no backroom slap on the wrist, no smug excuse of locker room talk, no “all in jest” justification for the demoralization and violence of another human being. The precedent-setting termination of Harvey Weinstein from his own company has set the bar, and as we witness the fall of so many “giants” we are left to process the shock that this behaviour has been enabled for so long.

One of the accusers in the Schultz scandal, Kristin Booth, said she does not feel brave, she feels terrified. But courage is not the absence of fear; it is the will to face it. In this David and Goliath match, women are realizing that their voices are more prevailing than the systemic powers that have controlled them. This expulsion is not a tragedy, it is a victory for many.  And let us be clear this is not a diatribe on the gender divide. This is about power imbalance, be it gender, race, class or sexuality. Our responsibility to humanity is to redress these structures, through our voices, through allyship, through love and through art. The world of theatre feels somewhat tainted this week, and all of us must look into the safety that we overlooked for our artists. But as these women reclaim their space by speaking out, we can celebrate our collective voice as theatre makers. Art is our weapon. Keep fighting.

Kelly Thornton
Artistic Director
Nightwood Theatre

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