Honouring all voices in theatre during an unprecedented time
By Thrasso Petras, Theatre Instructor
“Nobody understands nothing no more.” said Christina Drayton, Katherine Hepburn’s character in 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, echoing the words of her Black housekeeper of 22 years, Tillie (Isabelle Sanford), as the liberal family grappled with the reality of an interracial marriage.
These words have been haunting me for the better part of a year, and they have become my constant refrain. There are so many things I don’t understand and I don’t know. One of the things I don’t know is if someone will accuse me of being culturally inappropriate for speaking those words, tinted with a Black vernacular.
Never have so many individual versions of our human identity (racial, gender, religious, sexual) surged to the surface with so much determination to be heard and seen. We are caught in the swirls of multiple emotional and intellectual turns, sharpened to a deadly point by a pandemic that forces us to be physically apart, as well.
Artists and educators are struggling to find the centre of the tempest, intimidated by the thought that the wrong word, image, or tone might blow us away, but also called to make vital changes. The task is daunting and potentially paralysing. It leaves me wondering, do I really know what I think I know?
The legitimate anger and frustration of marginalized communities, abandoned and abused, has underscored how much we still don’t understand about one another, and about ourselves. We are exhorted to “listen,” but that’s only a small first step. The hard work begins when we risk doing.
At its best, theatre is an exploration of the unknown. When something doesn’t work, we turn it over and over until we find the thing that does. But nothing gets done until we make a choice to do something, listen for the response to our action, learn something new from it, and then do it again. Do more. Do better. We can’t do it for selfish reasons; selfish never works. We do it because we need one another; a need which may be construed as selfish, but the kind of selfish wherein we “give a little, take a little.”
We have found ways to work, live and play, à la distance, away from one another, feeling the loss of presence and yet, somehow still present. As much as I yearn to be crammed into a lobby shoulder-to-shoulder with my community, to negotiate the narrow row to my seat, past knobby knees and draped coats, to breathe in the hush of 300 souls the moment before curtain (when that moment comes again, I suspect there will be tears), I am grateful for the organization, the optimism, and the determination of colleagues and students as we hold one another, not closely, but up. We continue to find ways to do the thing we love.
Thrasso Petras is an actor, director, teacher and coach of voice, speech, text, and movement. He studied theatre at UBC and holds a degree in Classical Studies from UBC, a diploma in Physical Theatre Arts from the TOOBA Physical Theatre Centre and an MFA in Theatre Voice Pedagogy from UAlberta. Thrasso develops performance training in which the clear, meaningful voice demanded by classical training is simultaneously informed by expressive articulation offered by the body in more avant-garde methodologies.