On Tuesday afternoon, the Dan School of Drama and Music hosted just fewer than 200 students and faculty members in an open forum in Convocation Hall regarding Queen’s Vagabond’s cancellation of their Othello production.
Originally set to open this month, Queen’s Vagabond’s production of Othello was cancelled after backlash from the Queen’s community over the theatre group’s decision to cast a white, female student in the role of Othello.
Chris Walker, director of the Dan School, and Quincy Armorer, a representative from the Human Rights and Equity Office and the artistic director of Black Theatre Workshop, facilitated discussion on issues the production raised.
Walker opened the forum by addressing Vagabond’s controversial artistic choices and clarifying the department’s separate identity from Vagabond.
Walker’s opening statement elicited a reaction from students in the audience who pointed out the School’s close ties with extra curricula groups, such as the theatre companies, and their responsibility to help educate and inform their artistic choices.
Throughout the forum, the onus for the issues raised by the production was shifted onto many people, from the department, to student leaders in drama, and Vagabond’s production team.
One drama student, Mack James, ArtSci ’17, expressed during the forum that while it’s easy to shift the onus on institutions, a large part of the responsibility lies on students as well.
“We want problems like this to be solved by the drama department, and the AMS, and other institutions we’re told we can turn to as students when we have a problem, but the onus is on us, as people, to reflect acknowledge and challenge our prejudices that we would rather just ignore, and pretend not to exist.”
While Walker planned on taking the forum into smaller group work, the agenda was quickly overthrown, as students and faculty members pushed for an open discussion where everyone’s voice could be heard.
Another drama student in attendance, Wallis Caldoza, ArtSci ’17, described the forum as a unique learning opportunity.
“What the forum on Monday presents us with is an offer: an offer to relearn the very basic skill of listening and hearing,” she said. “Regardless of the stance any person took on the issue of Othello — we were able to carve out space for one another and ourselves in that room; it means we have the wherewithal to work forwards.”
While Vagabond’s initial production of Othello sparked the forum, issues such as systemic racism within the department surfaced and were directly addressed to Walker and the Dan School of Drama and Music to put right.
“If anything, we have managed to ask people to reassess how they create space, how they communicate, how they self-reflect, what it means to make art (whether that be theatre, music, math, science, etc.), and what it means to allow yourself to remain accountable at all times,” Caldoza said.
With some things left unresolved, Armorer concluded the forum by noting recommendations for the department, such as making equity services in the department accessible; to inform, educate and ensure equitable practices in department and student-run theatre; and to foster a safe space for diversity.
“Although many questions did not get answered, the forum has ensured — I hope, I hope, I hope — that there will be future forums and discussions,” Caldoza said.
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