This time of year is traditionally filled with reflections on the year that was: lists of achievements, lessons, and “best-of lists”... For me, 2020 is different. I don’t have the hindsight to even begin to speculate on what the past twelve months have meant in any substantive way. However, what I do have is a bunch of pictures on my iPhone. I also have some words that they evoke within me. And so, with these photos and these words, I offer you an end-of-year review.
Or, at least, this was 2020 according to my phone.
I’m not entirely sure why this photo is on my phone - I suspect I took it because I liked the guy’s t-shirt. I took this photo on March 11th in São Paulo, Brazil. It was my first day in Brazil for MITsp – São Paulo International Theatre Festival. That evening, Trump announced he was closing the border to all non-essential travel between Europe and the US and, suddenly, the whole world was different. It became clear that we were all heading towards a shut down. The next day, I was on a plane back to Toronto on a surreal journey via Atlanta and Newark, replete with hazmat suits, deserted airports, and anxious faces. My arrival home saw me begin a 14-day quarantine during which we shut down our offices at the Berkeley, set up systems for working remotely, cancelled the remainder of the season and tried to wrap our brains around what was next. How quickly we fell into the after. As I look towards 2021, I wonder: am I the same person who took this photo?
This is the set design maquette for Susanna Fournier’s Always Still The Dawn, designed by Shawn Kerwin. We were halfway through rehearsals for this show when the lockdown happened back in March - one of countless shows that did not get to see the stage this year.
Sarah Dodd is the actor in the photo.
This quote, from Ursula K. Le Guin’s fantastic novel The Farthest Shore, helped me manage the experience of the first lockdown. The quote reads: “Try to choose carefully, Arren, when the great choices must be made. When I was young, I had to choose between the life of being and the life of doing. And I leapt at the latter like a trout to a fly. But each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and its consequences and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be. Or wonder who, after all, you are.”
This is a picture of Esie Mensah (right) and an audience member dancing together in Mensah’s Can You Trust Me? that was a part of We Were, We Are, We Will Be, co-produced by Canadian Stage and the SummerWorks Festival.
I remember Allen MacInnis, the Artistic Director of Young People’s Theatre, this past spring declaring in the middle of a meeting: “Social distancing must not be normalized!” I could not have agreed more. Necessary, yes. Normal, no. If 2020 was the year that we had to encourage social distancing for our health and safety, let’s make sure that our post-COVID year will be about finding our way back to each other - but with greater respect, compassion, and love for one another.
Jamii (Swahili for “community”) is an arts organization with the intent of building community in the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood. This is a photo of Malavika Santosh (centre) and Ekaterina (right) performing as part of Kisanii Hub, Jamii’s mobile theatre, presented in partnership with Canadian Stage. In the early evenings of the summer, the Kisanii Hub traveled the residential streets of our neighbourhood in the early evening, bringing art and joy to the people of our local neighbourhood. Jamii is on a mission to bring the people of the neighbourhood closer together. These evening performances were some of my most meaningful experiences of live performance in recent memory.
This song is amongst my most played in 2020. I love it so much. The combination of the funky bassline, the effortless rhythm, the stripped back production, the fragile melody, and Cleo Sol’s vulnerable and clear delivery is absolutely captivating. And then, the lyrics: a powerful statement of grief and resolution with a finger unequivocally pointed at the culprit.
Thief in the night
Tell the truth
You should be ashamed
The bloodshed on your hands
Take off your badge
We all know it was murder
We are dying, it's the reason we are crying
We are crying
But we will never show fear
Even in my eyes
I will always rise
I ain't never been scared
Even through my tears
I will always care
It is an absolutely stunning song – reminiscent of some of Marvin Gaye’s finest work or even Gnarls Barkley. It served as the soundtrack to a year in which I reckoned with my complicity in the perpetuation of long-standing racial injustice and violence that have plagued this country for centuries.
This is a stunning photo of Jennifer Alicia in Cyclic Dystopia in the High Park Amphitheatre. This performance was a part of We Were, We Are, We Will Be, co-produced by Canadian Stage and the SummerWorks Festival. I invite you to read about the Jingle Dress Dance here if you are unfamiliar with it, as I was. It is yet another example of fundamental knowledge about this land and its people that I was never taught but that is out there for me to learn.
Photo by Andrew Williamson
Walls, by Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933).
Usually, I devour novels. This year, I have found it difficult to concentrate on any long-form work. Even movies have been a challenge. Poetry has stepped in to fill the void. And what 2020 has shown me is that the more absurd reality can seem, the more apt poetry seems to be at describing it.
This is a screencap of Sandra Laronde and Robin Wall Kimmerer in conversation, as part of Red Sky Performance’s Wisdom Keepers Series, in collaboration with Canadian Stage’s Festival of Ideas and Creation. As Robin describes so beautifully in her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, the indigenous concept of reciprocity is key to the future. As she writes: “Give thanks for what you have been given. Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken. Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.”
I love this photo of Vivek Shraya on set for the Canadian Stage produced short film Showing Up, based on her one-person show How to Fail as a Popstar. The film was commissioned as part of Evergreen's 2020 Cultural Performing Arts Series.
2020 saw us all having to try new things: some pleasant, some not so pleasant. 2020 will be the year that I took up paddle boarding, bought some house plants, began a degree in holistic health, and co-directed my first short film – all of which brought me so much joy.
The photo was taken by my husband, Alejandro Santiago.
This is an Oculus Quest on my living room couch after I experienced the performance of Finding Pandora X, my first-ever live performance in virtual reality.
2020 has forever altered my relationship with technology. It is like we went from casually dating to moving in together in the space of a couple of weeks. And to be honest, I do not know yet how I feel about this relationship going to the next level. I miss having my own space. But we are learning what it is for us to live together.
This is a still from Dancing at Dusk — A moment with Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring, a film produced by Sadler’s Wells, Pina Bausch Foundation and École des Sables, presented by Canadian Stage and Harbourfront Centre. This year, Mother Earth has never seemed so present, so astonishing, so stunningly beautiful, and so powerful to me. And this dance which examines acts of ritual and sacrifice to mark the changing seasons, filmed on a remote beach near Toubab Dialaw, Senegal, captured an aspect of this awakened sense of awe that I have carried with me all year.
This is a picture of the Berkeley Street Theatre taken on September 22nd. Our beloved home was one of over 650 buildings across Canada that were lit up in red that evening to bring attention to all the empty theatres across the land and around the world.
As I step out of 2020 and into the unknown of 2021, I remain confident that Canadian Stage will get through this. The generosity of our audiences and supporters has often left me teary-eyed and even breathless. The dedication of our staff and board has astonished me. The enduring creativity of our artists has nourished me. The strength and courage of my BIPOC colleagues have inspired and pushed me.
And, for all that, I say thank you to 2020.
Happy holidays. Wishing you all peace, joy, and good health.
Brendan Healy is Artistic Director at Canadian Stage