by Lauren Brotman
For Lynda Hill, the question at the heart of the entire week, of the entire WeeFestival was always “what doe the next ten years look like, what does the Canadian theatre movement for early years look like?” And this is why she’s brought together this gathering of people; to ignite conversations that will continue as a result of the instigation of her European guests.
For her the answer is very simple and very straightforward:
“It looks Canadian. And what does a Canadian look like? A Canadian looks like South Asian people, like African people, like Aboriginal people, and truly reflects all of the many cultures and languages that make up Canada…especially Toronto”.
Hill believes that if we’re a responsive and responsible artist then “we need to be starting with the seeds of stories told by artists of diverse cultures,” For her, the next step for us is to begin to engage our Canadian artists in a passionate commitment to working in this form.
Theatre Direct has a long history of reflecting the cultural diversity of their audiences in all of their work but the Theatre for Early Years movement, while rich in performance styles and content, is predominantly white. Hill sees an opportunity for Canadian artists to contribute inspiration and leadership. We’re students of the TEY form but our European colleagues, who have witnessed incredible change in the cultural makeup of their audiences as a result of waves of immigration, have lots to learn from Canada and especially, Toronto’s cultural diverse performing arts.
Theatre for young people is the place where children of all cultures can feel welcome. In this edition of the festival, the company partnered with the cultural language programs of the Italian and Portuguese cultural language institutes to engage young families in these communities and the response was overwhelming.
“That kind of outreach and impact is more than just about colour. It’s about language… multiple languages and cultures and inclusion”, something that is very important to Hill.
“To me the Canadian movement for theatre for the early years looks rich in culture, it’s inclusive. It’s responsive to children and their various needs, capacities and abilities and it’s drawing from the roots of our collective cultural experience,”
Next year Theatre Direct is presenting a piece engaging children with Autism, and a dance theatre work set to recordings of stories told by kindergartners.
What a week it’s been. For me, WeeFestival was as much about the art I experienced, the conversations I shared in and the coming together of communities from all over, as it was about whales and water and trees and pebbles, but most importantly where we were given a space to share all of these experiences and happenings with our babies, where everything was tailor made for them.
Congratulations and thank you to Lynda Hill, Theatre Direct and their entire army of staff, volunteers, institutions, supporters, artists and educators for making this such a rich experience for babies, their families and for everyone who was able to share in the very first WeeFestival, a space where our children were able to discover the world through their own eyes, to experience it from their own perspectives, as their absolute right as young children to play, engage and imagine.
It’s been an honour,