Meet the emerging creators from Canada's longest-running festival of new work

Within the Rhubarb Festival's expansive program of dance, music, performance art and theatre, there are four young artists you'll be hearing more about in the future.

This won't be the last time you hear their names

From left: Sofía Rodríguez, François Macdonald, Teiya Kasahara and Bilal Baig are the four young artists showcased in Rhubarb's Emerging Creators Unit. (Greg Wong)

Rhubarb — Canada's longest-running new works festival — kicks off its 38th edition this week at Toronto's Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, and within its expansive program of dance, music, performance art and theatre, there are four young artists you'll surely be hearing a lot about in the future.

Bilal Baig, Teiya Kasahara, François Macdonald and Sofia Rodriguez make up the quartet of this year's Emerging Creators Unit, which showcases original work created and developed through Buddies' Queer Youth Arts Program. CBC Arts spoke with them by email about their work.

So how about we start off by introducing ourselves?

BB: My name is Bilal Baig. My parents are from Pakistan but I was raised in Mississauga and now I'm based in Toronto. I'm a young, queer, genderqueer, Muslim playwright, actor and devised theatre-maker.

SR: I'm Sofia Rodriguez and I was born and raised in the City of Mountains: Monterrey, Mexico. I'm a Mexican-born, Canadian re-born Latina female.

FM: My name is François Macdonald. I am a bilingual actor and writer originally from Montreal and currently residing in Toronto.

TK: Teiya Kasahara. I'm originally from B.C. and have been living in Toronto for almost 10 years.

Bilal Baig. (Greg Wong)

Who or what inspires you as artists?

BB: My work is birthed out of responding to moments and events that happen in the world that devastate, confuse or terrify me.

TK: Honest, raw, provocative, political work and people. People who let themselves be vulnerable even if they are afraid. It inspires me to do the same. My colleagues, my friends, my partner and family, my fellow creators, strangers, kids I meet on a daily basis.

FM: I am inspired by people who experience the world with an open mind, tolerance, empathy and hard work. I am also inspired by people who do not settle for the status quo.

SR: People, bodies, stories, music...Honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, passion and strength. The way people create. 

Sofía Rodríguez. (Greg Wong)

Talk a bit about work you'll be showing at Rhubarb.

TK: It's a one-woman show called The Queen In Me where the Queen of the Night from Mozart's opera The Magic Flute decides to stop the opera and take the audience on her journey of personal discovery and reflection. Having played the Queen so many times over the past decade, it became a way for me to negotiate the typecasting and to deeply think about her story beyond the confines of the original libretto, and to see and create my own way into it through different lenses.

SR: Anato/mía is a ritual of sorts. A remembrance of a moment in history that has fractured someone's consciousness is then expanded, dissected and explored. It was born out of a personal story about the moment when I was interrogated in high school — the moment when my identity became the perpetual otherness I couldn't hide or deny. Anato/mía is a poetic exploration and a collage of images through text and movement about how our bodies and minds might deal with trauma and cope with painful memories that hold us hostage until we can transcend them and heal.

FM: Aquarius is based on the true event of the firebombing of the Aquarius bathhouse in Montreal in April 1975. Three patrons were killed in the blaze, two of whom were never identified or claimed. My piece explores an encounter between two men who met in the bathhouse that night.

BB: My play is called Khwaja Sera. It's about two Muslim siblings in their early twenties who have been separated for fifteen years and live their lives in very different parts of the world. Billo is a sex worker from the third gender community in Heera Mandi, Lahore, Pakistan. Her brother, Arsalan, is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and can't seem to secure a job in Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada. With both these characters, I'm fascinated by how they survive the violence they've endured in their lives.

Teiya Kasahara. (Greg Wong)

What have you learned about yourself or your work through the process of this program?

FM: Since this was my first time writing something for the stage, I learned a lot and am still absorbing lots of it. I've learned (and am continuing to learn) to have patience and to avoid judging myself too harshly. It really is a process, meaning that it's virtually impossible for you to end up with a perfect piece on the first try. Writing is rewriting, and nowhere is that more true that here.

BB: I've learnt that it is much easier creating work in a unit. We had deadlines every week so that meant I was accountable to other people, which meant the work was actually being done. Beyond that, as terrifying as it was to share my work multiple times throughout the process, it also reminded me that the people in the unit can support me by holding up all that I am and all that my work is as that changes from week to week.

SR: Where to begin? I've learned about my work, my style, my voice, my provocations and myself. I've learned about the logistics and building blocks that are required to build a show from scratch and all technical aspects that go into it. It's hard to gauge the magnitude of the impact it has and will continue to have, but I can feel it. I know what writing feels like, for me. I know how it feels like when it works and when it doesn't. I've learned that it requires an immense amount of will and discipline. I learned that having to be accountable to something bigger than yourself with all your fears and defence mechanisms. Coming back every week to the people you work and grow with ultimately became what carried me through and made this happen for me.

TK: Now that I have decided to create, to voice what I've always felt inside, I don't think I'll be able to stop. There's so much to say, and going back would feel like the ultimate cop out. Also writing is very, very difficult. Much respect to those in that profession.

François Macdonald. (Greg Wong)

Any advice for participants in next year's program?

SR: Trust and forgive yourself and the people around you. Stay open and work through resistance. Enjoy it.

TK: Just try it! Just apply! Just go for it! Be open to how the universe presents itself and take advantage of it. Enjoy the rollercoaster ride of creating and writing. You'll think you have a grasp of where your project is going, but don't hold onto anything because it could change in a moment — and for the better. Remember that every step and detour got you to where you are now, so it was a necessary part of the journey.

FM: Always say yes to advice and suggestions before saying no. You can always say no later, but always try something first because you never know what might come out of it. Also, the creative process can be a very challenging, vulnerable and isolating one (especially if you are working with dark or difficult subject matter), so it's important to take breaks and see friends and/or family when you need to. Eating well and regular physical activity will also make a huge difference in how you work. Self-care is crucial.

BB: Risk falling in love with everyone you meet through this program.

Rhubarb Emerging Creators Unit. Created and performed by Bilal Baig, Teiya Kasahara, François Macdonald and Sofia Rodriguez. Feb 17-18, 24-25. Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto.

These interviews have been condensed and edited.

About the Author

Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag and interactive project Superqueeroes, both of which won him 2020 Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.


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