Indrit Kasapi and Marjorie Chan
A Canadian Chat
Before this great theatrical pause of 19 months, I had the opportunity to attend some productions at Theatre Passe Muraille which bills itself as one of Canada’s original alternative theatre companies currently developing and producing new Canadian plays. TPM is striving to articulate a distinct Canadian voice that reflects the complexity of our intercultural society. TPM believes there should be a more diverse representation of artists, audience members, and stories in its theatre. I was most appreciative of the time that two of its artists were able to take to speak with me.
Marjorie Chan is the Artistic Director of Theatre Passe Muraille. As an award-winning interdisciplinary artist, she primarily identifies as a writer with specific interest in contemporary opera and collective forms, while also maintaining an active practice as a dramaturge and director.
Indrit Kasapi is the Interim Managing Director of Theatre Passe Muraille. A graduate of Montreal’s National Theatre School of Canada he is well-known to the Theatre Passe Muraille community, having been the Associate Artistic Director under Marjorie Chan for the last two years— collaborating on programming, budgeting, producing as well as coordinating special projects. Prior to beginning in that role, Indrit was also the Accessibility Lab Co-ordinator which explored experimentation in access initiatives which recently culminated in a series of short documentaries.
Five years in the making, his play Toka (A Theatre Passe Muraille and lemonTree creations Digital Co-Production) for which he is the writer and choreographer, will finally be shared with audiences in the upcoming year. Indrit is also the Co-founder (along with Cole Alvis) of the prolific lemonTree creations, which was a TPM Company-in-residence for the past three years.
We conducted our interview via Zoom. Thank you so much, Marjorie and Indrit, for your time:
Could you share the names of one teacher and one mentor for whom you are thankful.
MC: Ohh, that’s always really tricky. One teacher – his name was Mr. Kishibe. I knew his first name but I can’t think of it now. He taught English Literature. I took English 11, 12 and OAC (when the province had it). He was at St. Joseph’s/Morrow Park a Catholic girls’ high school. Mr. Kishibe loved Shakespeare and because it was an all-girls’ school, whenever we read Shakespeare he would read the lead – Hamlet, King Lear, he would read MacBeth. He was extraordinary. We were excited to go to his class because he made the lesson interesting because he would perform.
I did read a few times aloud in his class and enjoyed it. I didn’t know I was going to be an actor or involved in the theatre at that time. He spoke to me one time and asked me if I ever considered going into the theatre since I really appeared to enjoy it. It never occurred to me that could be a career. Mr. Kishibe came to one of the first performances in Shakespeare in the Rough (the older collective, not the collective now) when I graduated theatre school. I really appreciated it that he saw I was performing and came to see it.
I have so many mentors in many forms and roles.
A lot of times when I mentor a young person, I often think the reverse is true as well as they have become my mentor because I’m learning about different approaches and perspectives. If I had to mention a particular mentor at this moment, it would be Michael Wheeler who is now a professor at Queen’s University. He certainly helped me think about digital work in a different way and structural organization at theatre companies in a different way. Julie Phan, a young artist who just graduated from the National Theatre School, is also someone who has influenced me. She’s a playwright. She would be ‘mentor/menteree’.
IK: This is an easy one for me because I had an important Drama teacher in high school and his name is Teodoro Dragonieri. He’s become a friend of mine now as we’ve kept in touch. He has a brilliant mind. He’s a visual artist who learned mask work and fell in love with theatre and had an extensive wealth of knowledge. He was just one of those people who has a creative mind. He was teaching us in Grade 10 how to make masks out of recycled jugs. He was an inspiration and made me realize the potential of what theatre can be and what live performance can be. He embraced my training as a dancer and saw the world in a multidisciplinary way without even using that word.
Now that I think about it, my work strongly centered around that sense of creativity in a multidisciplinary format. There’s an immediacy to the work he was doing in the stories he was telling.
I’ve been very thankful that my mentor is now my colleague – Marjorie Chan. She has been a huge influence on me. It’s been a beautiful journey of learning from an incredible person dating back to Cahoots Theatre from years ago. She has so much to teach all of us even as she learns from us.
I’m trying to think positively that we have, fingers crossed, moved forward in dealing with Covid. How have you been able to move forward from these last 18 -19 months on a personal level? How have you been changed or transformed on a personal level?
MC: It’s a huge question. I’ve been quite public on my social media; as a matter of fact, Joe, in late October of 2020 I had a stroke. I feel great. I’ve had a lot of support through the various programs available, but it’s an ongoing, lifetime journey for me. Doctors will be looking at my brain for the rest of my life.
This particular full calendar year since 2020 has been a huge re-examination of everything for me and that includes in my personal life as I’m dealing with my health. All the conversations that are happening around the culture of work in the theatre industry, in terms of our scheduling, and in the way we do things, these are things that I really take to heart in terms of these conversations.
IK: These last 18-19 months have made me appreciate my alone time a lot more than I used to. Before I was always needing to be in community and with people, but the pandemic has made me think more about my alone time.
How have these last eighteen months of the pandemic changed or transformed you as an artist professionally?
MC: It’s been interesting to think about if you’re a practicing artist and you also have a full-time job running a theatre company, I’m already very specific about the other projects in which I involve myself. Definitely that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic – to be mindful to what I put my energy towards. For me, that’s about a selection of projects of what I do outside TPM (Theatre Passe Muraille).
As an artist, I’ve limited energy so I have to be quite specific, careful and intentional whether to take a project or not.
IK: Professionally, it has made me think a lot about the technology and technology within the context of the theatre medium, and how these two intertwine in various different ways, how they help and sometimes how they challenge each other. My perspective has been opened as I thought live performance was a different experience than something that’s digital. The digital world has a harder time creating community.
But I think I was proven wrong in many ways because we found community in different forms, and technology was a huge support in that. I’m thinking a lot more about how technology and digital methods continue to do what live performance does in terms of bringing people together.
In your professional opinion, how do you see the global landscape of Theatre Passe Muraille changing, adapting, and morphing as a result of these last 18 months?
MC: When we were streaming work and doing OUTREACH where we were meeting new artists, that opportunity to connect with individuals not necessarily in Canada, even in North America, opened itself up. The artists were interested in it as well. It just shows what is possible.
Certainly, on one end it was exciting to have equal access to work all across the country even if it meant that I had to wake up at 7 am in the morning to watch a show that was coming out of Hong Kong. I don’t usually watch a live theatre show at 7 am, but an exception will be made when you want to connect with live work across the globe.
At the same time it’s made us all understand the need and the change in conversation that can happen when a global conversation happens. I think that’s very exciting and it’s something we’ve been pursuing in our upcoming year. We do have an international artist coming and who might bring a different perspective and enlighten our community here in Toronto. We’re also aware and want to learn more about our local neighbourhood here in the area of Queen and Bathurst and the area.
IK: To add to what Marjorie is saying, I think we’ve also taken some big steps towards what is being updated through TPM. We are renovating our Back Space and we’re also launching a Digital Creators as well at the DC Lab. We are looking at how technology comes in theatre and also who from the community of artists gets access to those kinds of training, those kinds of tools.
We want to make sure that our priorities in terms of the kinds of artists that we want on our stages and the stories to be represented on our stages that those artists are the first ones to have access to these trainings, the tools. The learnings from the other companies with whom we partnered, we will bring some of their expertise as part of that journey.
What intrigues you post Covid?
MC: Of course, I want our audiences to have positive experiences. That seems very general, but I think very deeply about this from what it means in trying to invite audiences back on their own terms (ie. a gentle entry to being back in the building and sharing the space with others). I’m intrigued by the art to come.
I don’t think anyone can be unchanged by these 20 months from a social-political perspective, from a personal perspective, from not experiencing in person theatre. A lot of our work that is to come on our stages is work that was postponed from the pandemic. I’m definitely intrigued to see what’s to come.
IK: For me, I’m intrigued by immersive experiences and the immediacy of us being together. How does technology and augmented reality all become a part of this. I’m curious to see how virtual reality will make its way into theatre, how audio dramas will fit into this equation.
It feels to me we are in an exciting place of rejuvenation of sort as live performance art makers, and what does that mean, where is it going to go? The possibilities are endless and I’m intrigued.
What unnerves/disappoints you post Covid?
MC: What’s unnerving and disappointing is if the lessons of the pandemic are lost; if the lessons of the pandemic have been dismissed and there’s a return to “normal”. We can’t have the murder of George Floyd and then things return to the status quo. What is the conversation and how do we dig in? What is an organization’s responsibility? To me, that would be disappointing if the theatre industry did not take away lessons from the pandemic and things returned to the way they were.
IK: I’d say the same thing. If we pretended the pandemic didn’t happen that would be unnerving and disappointing. So much has changed and how are we taking in what happened and moving forward rather than retreating and going back to what once was. I want for all of us to learn and not forget and to grow and to move forward.
Try to answer these in a single sentence. If you need more than one sentence, that’s not a problem. I credit the late James Lipton and “Inside the Actors’ Studio’ for this idea:
If you could say one thing to one of your mentors and teachers who encouraged you to get to this point as an artist, what would it be?
MC: Thank you for seeing more of me than I could see of myself.
IK: Thank you for your passion and creativity because it’s inspirational.
If you could say something to any of the naysayers in your career who didn’t think you would make it as an artist, what would that be?
MC: In a short way, I would say “Welcome”. Some of these naysayers have not come around.
IK: I would say “Thank You because it was you not believing in me that drove me to work even harder.”
What’s your favourite swear word?
MC: I swear a lot actually depending on the company I’m with. I use the “F bomb’. I don’t use the word ‘Shit’ very much, I don’t. I’ve said, “Damn”. Sometimes if I have nothing to say or I’m stuck in a situation where I don’t know how to proceed, my staff will tell you that sometimes I might meow when I don’t know what to do (And Indrit pipes in and agrees that is Marjorie’s favourite thing).
IK: For sure, 100%, it’s the “F bomb” because it’s not as heavy for me. English is my third language actually. I don’t swear in Albanian as it feels very wrong for me to do. When I use the “F bomb’ in English, I get what I need to get out of it.
What is a word you love to hear yourself say?
MC: What I like to hear myself probably say is “Welcome”.
IK: ‘Hence’. I don’t mind hearing myself say it.
What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say?
MC: Frankly, I don’t like to say “No”.
IK: Wow!!!! I don’t know. I don’t enjoy hearing myself say “No”. I don’t say No often.
With whom would you like to have dinner and discuss the current state of the live Canadian performing arts scene?
MC: I would like to have dinner with a person who hates theatre and hates what it represents and has articulated they will never return to the theatre.
IK: This has been on my mind lately. This is a person whom I didn’t have a chance to get to know and have been reading a lot of their tributes. I think I would have loved to have dinner with David Fox. It seems as if he has affected so much of Canadian theatre and the lives of artists in this country, and I would have loved to have heard from him what he thought about the Canadian theatre and the scene.
What would you tell your younger personal self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has now given you?
MC; To my 3-year-old self: “Hang on to your sense of playing because it will help you as you continue.” To my 10-year-old self: “Hang on there because art will reveal itself soon and you will love it.” To my teenage self that did acting randomly: “Pay attention as this might be your career, and not in Museum Studies or Teaching as you thought.” To my theatre school self: “This is all great knowledge. Hang on to it but you may not end up as an actor as you think.” To the person that got an internship to become an artistic administrator: “Becoming a cultural leader is going to change your life.”
IK: “Don’t be afraid to be all the things you want to be rather than just trying to be one thing. As long as it’s clear for you, be all the things you can be.”
With the professional life experience you’ve gained, what would you now tell your upcoming artist careers from years ago who was just in the throes of beginning a career?
MC: “Continue to be brave.”
IK: Wow!!!!!! This is good. “You are a director. Period. Get over it.”
What is one thing you still wish to accomplish both personally and professionally?
MC: Personally, I would like to run a 5K race. I’d like to be in a place where I can do that. Professionally, I’m so open to whatever comes. I’d like to write a play that is popular (and both she and Indrit start to laugh) and just has a broader reach even in a story in some way.
IK: Personally, I would love to live in different places in the world and learn a fourth language. Professionally, it has nothing to do with theatre, but I would love to publish a book of poetry.
Name one moment in your professional artistic careers that you wish you could re-visit again for a short while.
MC: As not quite 18 years of age, I was a production assistant at Mirvish Productions for the opening of the Princess of Wales from years ago and the Canadian premiere of ‘Miss Saigon’. I was learning so much; I was doing sponsorships, opening nights and all this producing work and not understanding that I was gaining such invaluable experience from that. This time was also a lot of fun and to be involved in such a large production with ‘Miss Saigon’ for a teenager was quite magical as an assistant to the Assistant Producer.
IK: Performing at The Tokyo Metropolitan Arts Centre on a piece by Corpus Dance Projects. It was a good time.
What is one thing you will never take for granted again post Covid?
MC: For sure, my health. 100% IK: Proximity to my friends and family and the side conversations at the office.
Would you do it all again if given the same professional opportunities?
MC: I would do it exactly the same. IK: That’s exactly my answer too. I have zero regrets. I’d be happy to come back again and do it all the same.
To learn more about Theatre Passe Muraille and its upcoming season, visit www.passemuraille.ca. You can also visit the Facebook page: @TheatrePasseMuraille and Twitter: @beyondwallsTPM.