When white men are in positions of power, is equality and diversity truly possible?
When Prairie Theatre Exchange (PTE) announced the departure of its artistic director, there was a palpable energy and excitement in the air, like electricity after a storm, a vibration of potential change. Absolutely, the city was ready for a woman or non-binary person, maybe even a Person of Colour leading one of the city’s most prominent theatre companies, right?
Naw. Nope. Better luck next time. The appointment of this position went to yet another white dude.
While Winnipeg theatre’s artistic leadership hasn’t been completely devoid of diversity of race and gender, it currently features a clean sweep of male leadership at the highest level within its most prominent theatres: the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (Steven Schipper), Winnipeg Jewish Theatre (Ari Weinberg), Rainbow Stage (Carson Nattrass) and Prairie Theatre Exchange (Thomas Morgan Jones).
Out of all these companies, Prairie Theatre Exchange occupies a specific position in Manitoba’s theatrical landscape. With a smaller house, and a focus on local, homegrown work, the expectation is that they would have a mandate for local, homegrown artistic leadership.
For a theatre company which occupies Treaty 1 lands and builds its business upon the homelands of the Cree, the Anishinaabe, the Oji-Cree, the Dakota, the Dene peoples and the Métis Nation, there is also an enormous lack of representation at decision-making levels within this (and most other) theatre organizations.
Given the homelands that these companies operate on, it is an essential step forward to ensure the keepers of these lands are represented at the highest level.
Meanwhile, at the independent theatre level, a quick check of social media illustrates that a majority of Winnipeg’s independent arts groups, non-profits or collectives are run by women, including Theatre Projects Manitoba, Sarasvati, and Happy/Accidents – as well as Vault Projects and Urban Indigenous Theatre Company, both of which have Indigenous artistic directors. This would seem to indicate a plethora of awesome local candidates to choose from.
Now, I don’t know Thomas Morgan Jones, PTE’s incoming artistic director. He’s from New Brunswick. He follows me on Twitter. He seems pretty chill. But he’s also exactly what PTE has always had at the reins of its artistic leadership.
Maybe he was the most qualified candidate. Maybe his gender and his race don’t matter, and that privilege plays no part in this decision. But it’s important to identify our artistic leaders by race and gender in order to remind ourselves and each other that the White Male Narrative is not the Universal Narrative. As long as it is upheld as such, women, non-binary folks and People of Colour will never be qualified or valued in these positions. As long as the standards created by colonialism and patriarchy continue to be upheld by men who were raised to fulfill the values of the gender binary, nobody else will ever be as qualified to occupy these leadership roles.
Qualified candidates who are women, non-binary folks and People of Colour exist in this city and continue to be overlooked. PTE’s choice of leadership is reflective of their values.
Frances Koncan is an interdisciplinary Anishinaabe artist from Treaty 3 territory, currently practicing as a writer, director and producer of theatre and television as a guest on Treaty 1 territory in Winnipeg, Man.. She writes this article with love for her community and the land upon which it sits and a respect for its artistic leaders, whom she considers friends and mentors and who have always treated her with respect and good memes.
Published in Volume 72, Number 19 of The Uniter (March 1, 2018)