National Queer and Trans Playwriting Unit aims to broaden perspectives on Canadian stages

Five playwrights will be paid $2,000 a month for 10 months to write and develop a stage production with the help of an advisor and other theatre professionals.

Montreal's Imago Theatre teaming up with 9 other companies for 10-month program

Other People's Children by Hanna Moscovitch is staged by Montreal company Imago Theatre. The company, which focuses on stories about women and marginalized people, is part of a new 10-month program that supports queer and transgender writers. (Andrée Lanthier)

A new playwriting unit is aiming to give mid-career queer, transgender and gender non-conforming artists the time and resources to create works that reflect their reality.

Montreal's Imago Theatre is one of 10 theatre companies across Canada that are part of the first-ever National Queer and Trans Playwriting Unit launching this fall.

"Every time we put together a season and we're looking for plays, I'm frustrated by what I'm not finding," said Micheline Chevrier, artistic director at Imago Theatre, whose mission is to present plays that are about women and marginalized voices.

"So, I think that this unit is necessary and it's also a signal I think to many companies to start encouraging those kinds of works."

Vancouver's Zee Zee Theatre, a company that is devoted to telling the stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit and intersex people on stage, noticed the lack of work written by Canadians from those communities. It took action to fill that void.

"The playwright is the thing. They're why we hire actors and the crew," said Zee Zee's artistic and executive director, Cameron Mackenzie. "If you have more diverse stories, you'll have more diverse actors."

After consulting with other Canadian theatre companies, Mackenzie found a lack of well-made plays written from queer, trans and gender non-conforming perspectives that meet the many requirements of putting on a production.

Micheline Chevrier, artistic director of Imago Theatre. (David Cooper)

The Queer and Trans Playwriting Unit is a new model for creating and commissioning plays. Five playwrights will be paid $2,000 a month for 10 months to write and develop a stage production with the help of a dramaturge (advisor) and other theatre professionals.

Chevrier says they're seeking applications from creators that have a body of work that the unit can evaluate, adding much of the work can be done remotely.

The goal is to have five pieces of theatre that are ready for any of the 10 companies that are helping with the unit. For those in the theatre industry, it may sound like a lofty goal. But the advantage of paying a playwright for a long period of time is that they have the time to create.

"It's a real game-changer because it means that artists can focus on their craft," said Bronwyn Carradine, an award-winning writer and theatre creator based in Vancouver who is applying for the program.

Since these plays will go into production, she says there's an opportunity to open minds in the industry to stories that she feels are currently overlooked.

"That adds so much confidence and respect for your work," Bronwyn said.

Gabe Maharjan, a non-binary writer and performer in Montreal who is considering applying to the unit, sees it as one positive step in reaching out to diverse writers.

Montreal writer and actor Gabe Maharjan. (Submitted by Gabe Maharjan)

"We're at a juncture where the theatre industry is realizing they would benefit from including these performance creators," says Maharjan. As an actor, they see this as an opportunity to play roles that present perspectives often unseen or unheard.

Maharjan is cautiously optimistic, stressing the importance that these stories are told authentically at the end of the process — even if they might be confusing to some.

"Sometimes the most exciting theatre comes with that," they said.

Ensuring these works make it to the stage is something Chevrier believes will benefit both the artist and the larger theatre community.

The deadline to apply for the Queer and Trans Playwriting Unit is July 5. Applications are open to queer and trans playwrights as well as performance artists. Chevrier says actors who want to focus on playwriting are also welcome.

A Montreal theatre company is part of a national initiative to develop Queer and Trans playwrights. Micheline Chevrier, Artistic Director at Imago Theatre, tells us why their new mentorship program is needed and how it works.


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