The State of Theatre: Catherine Hernandez

Catherine Hernandez is a Toronto-based writer and theatre practitioner. Her play Singkil was first featured at the 2005 CrossCurrents Festival and is part of Hernandez's Scarborough Stories anthology. Its second installment, Saint Candice, is a short story that will be featured in this year's Diaspora Dialogues Festival. Hernandez also heads Factory Theatre's education/outreach program.

What is your opinion on the current state of theatre in Toronto?

"As a theatre artist of colour, I think there's a lot to be excited about and
yet we have a long way to go. I remember interviewing filmmaker Midi Onadera
when I was starting out as a journalist and I asked her what her thoughts
were on the Reel Asian Film Festival. She told me she was thrilled it
existed and yet sad it existed. Thrilled because it meant that Asians have a
voice and yet sad that the festival had to exist in order for them to have a
voice. It's the same way I feel about the blossoming of fu-GEN Asian
Canadian Theatre Company. I look forward to the day that we needn't be
ghettoized in order for our stories to be told. At this point, I feel like
we are on the verge of something exciting - much like the final scene of The
Scent of Green Papaya
. Throughout the film we watch as this virtually silent
Vietnamese girl matures and falls in love. It's not until the final scene
that she speaks. Her voice is strong, confident. And all we want her to do
is speak more."

What needs to be improved upon?

"As the head of outreach and education at Factory Theatre, I believe that all
companies have to invest in fostering a love in the arts from a young age.
That means not giving up inner city schools that have rowdy students. That
means opening your doors to young eyes as much as possible. That means
creating a solid education program with free opportunities. That also means
educators keeping their ear to the ground to find those opportunities and
relaying it to their students."

Theatres also have to be open to the work of emerging playwrights -
especially those of colour. This isn't about just giving a coloured person a
chance. It's about reading more than the classics and seeing what great work
is out there. I feel like most of the companies in Toronto are tuned into
their local radio, hearing the same top ten hits. They need to open their
ears to new frequencies of storytelling and putting those storytellers at
the forefront.

Another point is that companies in the city have to start experimenting with
ways to bring in diverse communities as audience members. We can't just sit
around wondering why our houses are dwindling. We have to invest in events
and experiences that make Torontonians of various backgrounds interested in
theatre again. This can include multimedia and multi-sensory experiences
with performances that lure new audiences in. I experiment with this every
day in my work at Factory. We don't always win, but it's in the trying that
I find my success."

Where do you see yourself in all this?

"Right now, the Asian-Canadian theatre community is experiencing an
interesting shift in storytelling, and I would like to be part of that wave.
Basically, we are moving on from the usual immigrant identity story and
trying to move to more universal themes that happen to be framed by a
specific cultural lattice. This is particularly important to me since it
gives me the freedom to make my work less autobiographical, then I have more
flexibility with my storylines and how they develop."

Is your current show representative of that?How?

Yes. Singkil deals with overall themes of mourning, forgiveness. But it does
so within the framework of a Filipino family mourning the death of its
matriarch. Its messages will be heard by any audience member regardless of
their background, but the cultural references (i.e. how the family mourns,
cultural beliefs, characters etc.) will be specific to the Filipino
community.

Singkil, by Catherine Hernandez, opens tonight at the Factory Theatre . Presented by fu-Gen Asain Canadian Theatre co. and in association with the Factory Theatre. Running until Jan 28th.

The State of Theatre in Toronto is a weekly series where theatre artists and affiliates, professional and emerging, will be interviewed on their thoughts on the subject.


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