#283 – Jenna Rodgers
Jenna is a mixed-race Director and Dramaturg based on Treaty 7 Territory. She is the founding Artistic Director of Chromatic Theatre – a company dedicated to producing and developing work by and for artists of colour. Jenna is also the Dramaturg for the Playwrights Lab at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. A passionate arts equity advocate, she is a graduate of the NTS Artistic Leadership Residency, the Banff Centre’s Cultural Leadership program, and the artEquity National Facilitator Training cohort. She was shortlisted for the 2021 Gina’s Prize and is a recipient of a 2018 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Emerging Artists. She holds an MA in International Performance Research from the universities of Amsterdam and Tampere.
Recent Directing credits include Mary’s Wedding _at the Citadel Theatre, _Actually _at Alberta Theatre Projects, and Sherlock Holmes and the Raven’s Curse at Vertigo Theatre; For Chromatic Theatre (我的名是张欣恩 (Gimme Chance Leh), Winners and Losers, Cowboy Versus Samurai); fu-GEN Theatre (Mixie and the Halfbreeds); Workshop West Theatre (Beyond the Darkness); Pape and Taper Theatre (Timmy, Tommy, and the Haunted Hotel); and Lunchbox Theatre (Let the Light of Day Through). _ She was selected as part of the 2020 Michael Langham Directors Conservatory at the Stratford Festival.
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Phil Rickaby, Jenna Rodgers
Phil Rickaby 00:01
Welcome to Episode 283 of Stageworthy I’m your host Phil Rickaby. Stageworthy is a podcast about people in Canadian theatre featuring conversations with actors, directors, playwrights and more. Thank you for listening. If you’ve enjoyed listening to Stageworthyy and you listen on Apple podcasts, please consider rating the podcast with five stars. And if you’re so inclined, you can also leave a review. your ratings and reviews help new people to find the show. And if you know someone that you think will like Stageworthy, tell them about it. Some of my favourite podcasts became my favourites because someone I knew told me about them. And remember, you can find and subscribe on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, and everywhere you get podcasts. You can find Stageworthy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @stageworthypod and you can find a website with the archive of all 283 episodes at stageworthypodcast.com. And if you want to drop me a line, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @philrickaby. And My website is philrickaby.com. My guest this week is Jenna Rodgers. Jenna is a director and dramaturg and is the founding artistic director of Chromatic Theatre. So I found a bio for you that describes you as a dramaturg and director and artistic director of chromatic theatre now, is that how you generally would like to describe yourself? Or do you have other things? Like when you describe your artistic practice to other people? How do you describe it?
Jenna Rodgers 01:57
Yeah, those are probably among the highlights. I think a lot of the time when I describe my artistic practice, I hone in on the element of it that is relevant to the person I’m talking to. You know, if I’m talking to playwrights, then I will talk a little maybe a little bit more about dramaturgy if I’m talking to actors, maybe a little bit more about directing, but I think that they work well as hybrids and an artistic director is a is a you know, temporary title in this world. I think that that’s sometimes what you are and sometimes what you’re not
Phil Rickaby 02:33
what can you tell me a little bit about chromatic theatre?
Jenna Rodgers 02:37
Yeah, chromatic theatre is a indie Theatre Company in Mohkinstsis. So treaty seven territory dedicated work by and for artists of colour was was like sort of the phrase that it started under. But now we are sort of expanded and we are trying to be really, really conscientious of ibp OC people or indigenous black and people of colour, as well as, as a company, we’re doing a lot of work to learn more about gender variant communities and how to support those folks.
Phil Rickaby 03:11
Now, as a company that was that was originally dedicated to producing and developing work by artists of colour, starting to sort of, like expand out from that and to look at gender divergence, present gender. Now their gender identities is that is this, is this a new new practice? How is this? I mean, there’s a lot of talk about gender in the last year or so. So it’s it’s important that those that’s addressed? Is this a new? Like, is that a new direction for the company? or?
Jenna Rodgers 03:44
Yeah, and so to clarify, I guess, the phrase that I was using at the beginning was like people of colour. And now we’re really aware that like artists of colour are, it’s really important to highlight specifically indigenous communities and black communities. And that’s always been part of our work, though, acknowledging that, like I myself identify as Asian and a lot of the co workers that I have, are from the Asian diaspora, though we’ve engaged lots of indigenous black artists as well. So part of the conscientious shift from language like people of colour towards ipsc is acknowledging that like indigenous and black need to necessarily come first right now. And then the work in the gender variant communities is new work and I wouldn’t say like there are there are companies led by queer folks and gender divergent folks who are doing extraordinary work and we’re not trying to like take up that space. So much is like we now have have been working for the last like nine months with someone who identifies as non binary has been really encouraging us to develop our learning and language around that and since so much of our not so much, but one of our core programmes is around statistics finding eloquent ways to talk about identity. It continues to be a central tenet of our Work and so with all the conversation going on around gender right now and sex, and we have been working as a team to expand our vocabulary in the sprint and to help advocate, you know, for trans community for gender variant community for our community of sex workers, because they’re all relevant in the artistic creation of people who are artistic creators, in most cases.
Phil Rickaby 05:24
It’s interesting, the idea because you mentioned, you know, you don’t want to take away from from companies that are that are that are doing that work, in some ways. There’s an importance of the visibility. And I think, and that, that you There are companies that focus on that, but other companies should also be doing the work and, and amplifying those voices as well. All of the voice all of those voices, the IBM bpsc, the non binary, trans, all of those those communities. Only by by amplifying those voices. Can those communities be more welcome in the theatre, which has in the past been? Even though it doesn’t know it? Does it claims to be open has been quite exclusionary?
Jenna Rodgers 06:19
Yeah, for sure. I mean, we know that queer folks have existed in theatre and performing arts for aeons like, and have been some of our finest leaders, but in the way as have marginalised, folks like racialized folks, rather. But like our work with racialized people, I think it starts to become resonant, where we need to, like make space for a whole multiplicity of voices. And that’s the same like within queerness, we need to make space for whole multiplicity of voices. And part of like, yeah, making space for it is like learning more about those communities and being able to host them. But like, because we are PLC LED, we may always feel like a more comfortable home for PLC artists versus like, gender variant artists, because we have to acknowledge that like, the gender diversity on our team is, like exists, but isn’t sure isn’t hugely, hugely varied. So of course, like some folks might feel more comfortable in, but at other companies, however, we can be part of, as you say, like the work to change what the broader theatre community can look like, and how we can be supportive, engaging and nurturing for a multiplicity of people to be creative successfully.
Phil Rickaby 07:37
Yeah, I like I liked the way that you put, you mentioned the work, because it is there, there is work involved, and we don’t know, our blind spots until we go looking for them. And we accept them, people point out our blind spots and to, you know, to, for a long time, there were a lot of and, and there still are a lot of white LED theatrical organisations that consider that when they have a black person in the cast that they are, now we’re diverse, rather than realising the tokenization that’s happening there. And until they’re willing to listen, which, thankfully, they’re starting to be that blind spot persists until they’re they’re willing to sort of like until they’re made to open their eyes and actually listen and learn and do the work to to improve themselves. And that’s something that a lot of theatre companies have been, have been looking at.
Jenna Rodgers 08:38
Yeah, I think especially during the the sort of pause that COVID has imposed on our industry. I think it’s a good thing that that companies are looking to find ways to expand their work. I also hope that it is not a phase that it’s not because I hear a lot of people being like, I can’t wait till it gets back to normal. Yeah, like that’s normal wasn’t sustainable.
Phil Rickaby 09:04
Yeah. Well, normal was this, like, when we talk about reopening the theatres? Are we talking about, like, just going back to the status quo? Are we talking about like, reopening and, and really, like paying attention to the things that we’ve learned this past year? You know, as much as I, you know, we all want to get back into the theatre. I think that this pause has the potential to be really good for us. And to be really good for the theatre community as a whole as we can really start to look at and address a lot of these these issues that the the treadmill of production has given a lot of companies the excuse not to really dig in and do the work because oh, we’re just too busy right now. That that doesn’t exist as an excuse now.
Jenna Rodgers 09:55
Huh? Yeah. And I think also the notion that the work is on Going like they think we joke sometimes in our team like we’re like, at our chromatic team, we’re like, what do they want? Do people want a cookie, you don’t get a cookie? No, which is like, it’s, it’s funny, but it’s also our offline way of, of kind of being like, there’s some exceptional stuff that happens. But sometimes, like, there’s a little fear around trying to praise or make an example of someone for positive or negative, because it feels like it sets the standard that the bar is achievable. And the reality is, is that the targets were are always moving, the population is always changing what is new, and what is relevant, is constantly shifting. And so you know, listening and learning as a catchphrase is constant and must be constant. It’s not like one listening and learning right now. And then we’ll do something like, you can’t stop listening earlier. Yeah, you can’t. Yeah,
Phil Rickaby 10:52
I mean, that because you’re right, the population, you know, when I look out my window, and I see, I see the population, I see many colours, I see a lot of, you know, I live in a multicultural city. But when I look at the stages do I see mostly white people? You know, and that’s been a long time issue. And our populations are shifting, changing all the time. And so, like, this stage should always reflect what’s on what’s got what what happens in our cities, the people in our cities, it shouldn’t always be, like, all the white guys with plays and a bunch of other white people in this show, or like the occasional person of colour or black person or, or indigenous person, it needs to be more we need to do we need to do better.
Jenna Rodgers 11:39
Yeah, and I think I think change is slow and difficult in in that a lot of the time people will programme like, I don’t know, an extraordinary play, like the colour purple, with a, you know, all black cast and black lab directing team and a culturally diverse design team. And then they’ll do that, and people will love it. But the theatre will be like, well, black people still don’t really come to the show. You’re like, yeah, maybe black people haven’t felt welcomed at your theatre?
Phil Rickaby 12:18
there’s so much more to it than just like doing a play. Like, did you reach out? Like, did you reach out to those communities? Did you seek them out? Did you? Did you find out why they haven’t been coming? Maybe it’s not just because you haven’t done the colour purple before? Like, there’s so many reasons, and so many barriers that we put in front of people coming to our theatres.
Jenna Rodgers 12:41
Sure. And, and I think, you know, there are barriers that that exists in society, which isn’t just money. Like I think that’s the quick when we go to but I look at like, I don’t know, what province Are you in Phil?
Phil Rickaby 12:54
I’m in Ontario,
Jenna Rodgers 12:55
you’re in Ontario. I don’t totally know the state of all things. Ontario, though, I did live in Toronto for a number of years. But I can’t say like in Alberta, like the the education curriculum hasn’t been revised in such a long time. And every time it’s revised, it’s pretty controversial. And the arts are just not valued. The arts are looked at in school systems as as electives as options fine. And for a lot of a lot of families seen as frivolous. And for a lot of families seen as a marker of privilege. So you know, you can’t take piano lessons unless you’ve got a certain access to money. One, or your parents don’t want you to take art class, because it conflicts with the chemistry, the advanced chemistry, right, class, or whatever. And so you’re also in a state that, like, our society is telling newcomers that art isn’t valuable. And newcomers who are trying desperately to assimilate are telling their children that art isn’t valuable. Yeah. And then we get into the stream where only a certain echelon of people can are interested in the arts as patrons. And then on the flip side of things, but this like narrative, also stress to set up is this notion that like, art is such a specialised skill, you have to be good at it as opposed to something we just do. So people will be like, Oh, I can’t sing. Like I don’t think that sort of thing I do. And I’m like, of course, you can sing everyone can sing. And yes, some people train and are better at it than others, but we can all participate in singing, we can all participate in dancing. But there’s this notion of like, you’re either good or you’re bad at it and like art is only for people who are good at it. Which is like a totally false construct.
Phil Rickaby 14:46
Yeah, absolutely. And I’m you know, thinking about about the school system is very much the same here are we’re always talking about about STEM as as in education, and and it’s like the arts are missing. From that, and that seems to just be every day, there’s more and more well, like we don’t need the arts, we don’t need the arts that started years ago, as far as government was concerned, as far as far as soon as, like, in Ontario, the provincial government took over the education system, music sort of like is discounted the theatre? Is this currency to arts or like all the arts are just basically things that are not important. And that’s, that’s, I think, I think that that’s happening in many different places. But on the other hand, there is that, that it’s not a big movement, unfortunately, that’s that’s talking about how, yes, you can have science, technology and all that stuff. But we also need the arts because without the arts, we’re missing essential pieces from those from from science technology, if you can’t think creatively, you’re not, you’re not able to do these things as well. So it it’s a bigger picture, and we’re sort of like stuck in this hole. How are the arts important? You know, it’s when governments are talking about the elites as far as the arts go, that paints a narrative that sort of this very similar to what you were talking about?
Jenna Rodgers 16:11
Yeah, it makes me think a little bit too about an eye. This is like a half formed thought, but about the amalgamation politically of arts and culture. And we see like, we see cultural festivals like, I don’t know, carry fast or Africa day, or, you know, Lunar New Year, or I don’t know, a whole bunch of Yeah. And we like those things are taught in school culture is taught in school and like these celebrations of culture. But so much of the culture that we’re trying to consume here is rooted in art. Like I think of the steel drums, I think of the the lion dance, I think of all I’m thinking of is drumming and dancing right now. I’m like, I don’t know the Korean drums or Taiko drumming? But I you know, there are other there are other aspects. I think about like ballroom dance or the the various forms of like salsa, that these are art forms that have come from other places that here we see as culture. Yeah. And so what is our cultural export? And it has to be more than rubber in the pot? And certainly.
Phil Rickaby 17:29
I mean, as far as Canada goes, that’s a that’s, that’s that big question. Right? Like, what is our culture? What is our cultural export? And we haven’t got there. And I think a lot of that comes from the fact that we don’t prioritise it. We don’t do a lot of thinking about it. And because it’s often considered that thing that only rich people do, or only people who have a certain means can do that. Why would people who who, you know who, who work in our grocery stores in our, in our restaurants in our, our, you know, in factories, why would they care about it? So how is that culture? And this is like one of those big questions that that, you know, at the moment, it’s, it is rubber rubber on the page, and it is sort of disarray, but I think it needs to be more.
Jenna Rodgers 18:21
Yeah. And we’ve also put restrictions on various forms of culture, like I think about powwow and Sundance and jingle dance and dance, which were like, just forbidden for 100 years. Um, so yeah, and now, and now they’re like, Oh, we should be proud of these things. And, and, and, and it’s, we’re fractured. We’re, we’re schisms because we spent so much time trying to identify what we’re not, and also, so much time cling to this notion of a cultural mosaic that, that somehow we are superior because we are asking people to retain their own elements of culture. When so many people are also just so desperate to fit in, but we don’t have we don’t we don’t have we don’t have a clear box to fit into or the clear box that we can fit into. I don’t personally like
Phil Rickaby 19:18
you know, it is it is, you know, the the whole idea of the cultural mosaic is sort of like this, this, it’s one of those national stories we tell. Whereas, yes, we’re a cultural Mosaic, but many of our organisations are still predominantly white. And we have all of these institutional, colonial traditions and things that we do that keep people from other cultures really feeling like they they can assimilate here.
Jenna Rodgers 19:51
Yeah in the process of unlearning, like, if I steer the conversation somewhat back to theatre and theatre institutions. I’m like, I’m excited. about the changes in leadership that have slowly and steadily been happening happening across the country. Not everywhere, of course, but but in some places. And just because just because like, I don’t know, personal colour, or black person or indigenous person takes on a leadership role doesn’t mean that it’s going to be perfect. But I also want … how do I say this? We I think, as artists of colour sometimes feel like there’s less room to fail. And the reality is, is that we are unlearning colonial structures were unlearning institutional structures. And were often piloting ideas and piloting change, because we’re invested in them in a different way, because of our lived experience. With the like, added pressure of like, no room to fail, that’s really, I think, really, really a hard thing. And so, so often, what we’re seeing in institutional leadership change is that ibp OC folks are coming in. Like, I don’t, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they’re coming in on the other side of COVID. Partially because there’s the social awareness sweeping the country, partially because people need folks to come in and clean up, and it is not. Yeah. And it is a horrible pattern. A very real pattern that often, you know, racialized folks, or marginalised people are brought in to kind of like, clean up and turn an organisation around only for it to be handed back. to, to a white person, and then for it to thrive. Now, yeah, yeah. Like, I’m like, I can’t, I’m not trying to like, I’m not trying to point any fingers. I’m just trying to think about like it is. I’m so excited about the leadership changes, but I’m also recognising that all the leadership changes that have been announced in the last year are going to be facing one of the most difficult years on the books for theatre historically.
Phil Rickaby 21:59
Yeah. Yeah. And it’s also interesting, because you talk about like, having, like, the freedom to fail. Um, you know, you bring in, you bring in people, you know, indigenous black people of colour into the theatres and leadership roles. You’re right, they have to have the exact same amount of freedom to fail as somebody would give a white artistic director as well. It’s just so like, sometimes I see, in my mind, I see people come in and there’s like, the board has deigned that we will allow a person of colour into this leadership role. But how much control will the board allow them to have? And that’s often like, one of those questions that I have is somebody who sits outside like what’s happening is this person actually being allowed to create the season they want? Or are they do they have training wheels on like what is happening behind the scenes? I want to see all of that I want to know that that our new artistic leaders are being given the exact same leadership and and and control and freedom that was given to the the white artistic director that came before? Absolutely. I’m just to change gears slightly. One of the things that I am always really interested in and one of things I love to talk to people about on on this programme is about what made you want to what led you into theatre? I like to think of it as like your theatre origin story. What was your first experience with theatre? How did you decide that it was going to be your thing?
Jenna Rodgers 23:51
Oh, um, that’s a good question. I don’t know that I have a like, a really lovely, kind of concise story. I can think about a lot of like early theatre experiences that were pretty magical. But maybe the clearest thing I can offer is that my family has always been really encouraging of me, but also like sceptical about the arts as a career. I was a kid who was very good at school who was pretty precocious, and it felt like I could do a lot of things and there was a lot of entering university about whether I was like, wasting my potential by choosing to go into the arts. I think part of my and I resisted I did two years of science. But part of the reason that I ended up in the arts is is because of have early exposure to accessible art. We didn’t have season tickets to anything. We didn’t go to plays I Didn’t know what any of that I grew up in Edmonton, and Miss coochie us geygan and treaty six territory and I didn’t know what any of the theatres looked like, I didn’t know what the insides of any buildings look like, even in university. The reason that I was like entranced by theatre or what got me engaged by performing was a really because of widely accessible public art. And in Edmonton, this took place in two forms. The Fringe Festival, which, yes, there are theatres and buildings engaged in that. But like, there’s kids fringe and there are street performers. And so most of the stuff that I saw was the free programming that you could just see from being on the street and my dad would go get a roll of loonies. And we would go and hang out until we were out of loonies. And the second is the Edmonton international street performance Festival, which is exactly the same thing, we would go as a family with a roll of loonies, and we would spend until we were out of luck. Um, and, and I think of these, you know, I know that people aren’t like, oh, street performers in theatre, that’s like, not necessarily a natural connection. Because a lot of it is about showmanship or magic or fire breathing, or whatever. But I was just as entranced by the people doing puppet shows or, or the the storytelling as the Can I get a volunteer people. And so being able to access that art, as a family that didn’t prioritise spending money on, on, like theatre tickets, especially for children that was so transformative for me, because almost all of my early access to performing arts was at a Fringe Festival or a street performance festival. Yeah, and so I think about that, reflect on that. And I think about how important it is to keep performing Creative Arts accessible to children.
Phil Rickaby 26:57
There’s something beautiful about your first exposure to theatricality being street performers, many of whom are quite flamboyant, and quite innovative in what they’re doing. And it’s not always pure magic, but it’s magical in many ways. And that has an influence on a young young mind, that then goes into theatre. That’s That, to me, that there is something very beautiful about that.
Jenna Rodgers 27:27
Well, thank you. I mean, I always, like I always want that pithy story of like, at the end, I saw Christmas Carol, and I knew from that moment on, I was going to be, you know, it was just so so much theatre was so inaccessible. And I remember, like, I don’t know, being a kid and wanting to, like get involved in improv and other stuff like that, and having an opportunity to go like be in a you have a show, and my parents were like, this is a terrible idea. You’ll have to miss school. Like, you know, you’re gonna, you’re gonna be with a bunch of like, adults, we don’t know, like, no, no way. And I’m like, Yeah, okay, that totally makes sense. Like, that’s, there’s a reason why so many children who get involved with theatre have parents who are involved with theatre, because our industry is weird. And the demands are weird. And the hours are weird.
Phil Rickaby 28:15
Yeah. So so it’s not like, it’s a hard thing to get involved in. Yeah. And it is, I mean, because it’s weird. And if you don’t have a have, have a family that that has been involved, whether through amateur theatre or whatever, the weirdness is certainly a barrier. What are those people doing? And I think why, at night? Yeah. Well, yeah. I mean, they want you to be at the theatre for 12 hours. Yeah. Yeah, that doesn’t make any sense to parents. No, there’s also I mean, the fact that our audiences and people who see theatre even don’t really know what happens in the rehearsal room. Whatever happens there, that’s, like, a magic trick to them. And if that’s a magic trick to people who are familiar with theatre, what is it to people who don’t know theatre at all, so it’s completely understandable that they would be resistant? Mm hmm. So how did you find your way? Like, you know, when we go into theatre, a lot of people they have their gateway into theatre is acting. How did you find your way to directing and dramaturgy?
Jenna Rodgers 29:33
Luck and fear or something like that? I yeah, I mean, I think Yeah, the gateway drug was certainly acting I wanted to act. I don’t know that I’m a very good actor. I think I’m a very good reader. And I think I went to do undergrad and oh, I went to I even went to like a kind of art school that offered like high A school that had acting classes, whatever. But that the I always felt like I was getting a message that they didn’t know where to put me. They didn’t know what to do with me and I, whether this was true or not, I always walked away feeling it was because of how I looked that I couldn’t be a part of any family story that because I wasn’t a singer, I couldn’t be in the musicals, that the best they could do is like, make me a shopkeeper or a sex worker or put me in the background. And so that persisted like, yeah, through university. And I just, I felt like, frustrated that I could get like, good grades in acting classes, but like, not get cast in anything. Yeah. And so I had a lot of, I think fear that made me not want to go out into the real world and try auditioning. And so I went to graduate school. And I, I started to connect a little bit more with my identity and trying to figure out what other Asian artists were doing in Canada in the United States, which led to me finishing my master’s degree and then getting an internship which was like, super weird. I did a master’s degree in Europe, but then got an internship in Toronto. And so I came to Toronto and started working with Fu Gen theatre and Fu Gen was like a place where they were like, you don’t have to be doing Asian art to be an Asian artists, you just are an Asian artists, so go do art. Which sounds obvious, but it was a transformative bit of thinking for me that I could just be an artist. And because of the the, oh, gosh, I don’t know what it’s called in Ontario now, but like the old TCR programme, the theatre creators reserve, yes, yes. It’s like now called a recommenders programme or something like that. That was like my kind of first taste of of dramaturgy, sort of reading through those applications for Fujian. And then Fujian had a writer’s kitchen, and I got to participate in that. And so I started learning about dramaturgy that way, while also asserting that I wanted to be a director. And so I was fortunate enough that, you know, Fujian had me assist Nina Lee Aquino on a production and then she had me continue on to assist her at the Tarragon and another production. And I kind of took those experiences. And my partner and I moved to Calgary because our families are both in Alberta. And I just showed up in Calgary was like, you know, I’m just gonna tell people I’m a director and a dramaturg. And, and, and so I kind of tried to carve out a space for myself mostly as a director here at and at the same time, I got asked by Brian court to join us the assistant dramaturg at the playwrights lab at the Banff Centre. And so I’ve been working with that programme for eight years now and through close mentorship with Brian, and ongoing work in new play development across Canada in the United States, that all started from the connections I originally made it Fujin and that have rapidly expanded through organisations like lm da and through the people I meet at the Banff Centre, have really like built my career as a dramaturg in that way. So luck. Started with fear ended with a lot of luck.
Phil Rickaby 33:23
Now, near the beginning, but I think before we started recording we were talking about a lot of a lot of things that point at this point in the conversation, I probably asked about how your pandemic is going. But your pandemic- part of your pandemic would have been spent preparing to have a child were you working on something at the start of the pandemic? Or like what was happening for you at the beginning? Like about a year ago when when all of this started?
Jenna Rodgers 33:53
Yeah. I was working on a chromatic show called World dimension junk thing and give me a chance play by Chris Vanessa to it was it a one woman show written by a local calgarian who’s grown up in between Singapore and Calgary? Kind of about her experiences? Yeah, about her experiences, and, and that got cancelled. That was a chromatic show. Um, and then I was supposed to be out at Stratford doing the Michael Langham programme Last summer I that also got cancelled. So those were sort of the two big things and then I guess it like had it. Yeah, it had also been announced that I was like directing a show at vertigo and and directing a show at ATP. Which one was cancelled and one was postponed. So like, I had a bunch of work, kind of like a bunch of career momentum and work that kind of like stopped which was very, very scary.
Phil Rickaby 34:54
Jenna Rodgers 34:56
But I also think that as things picked up, by And the way that they sort of picked up. And as theatres become became more aware of their responsibility to racialized artists, I was one of many, or a few depends who you ask fortunate. We were offered new gigs, or who were asked to come in and do consultations, or who I also have, like a side hustle, facilitating, and teaching. You know, some like, things in and around, like, anti racism or bystander intervention, and yeah, so so my pandemic ended up being okay, but instead of like three or four big gigs, that ended up being like, 100, side hustles, and like two big gigs, or medium cakes, and so, you know, I, it was a wild year to also experience while pregnant. Oh, yeah. There’s a lot of hustlin. Yeah,
Phil Rickaby 36:02
yeah. I mean, I mean, a lot of times, the theatre world can be a lot of hustling. But to end up with, like, as you say, 100 little jobs, and hustling for all of that. That’s got to be kind of exhausting.
Jenna Rodgers 36:17
Yeah, for sure. For sure. I’m like, I don’t know if I’d have the energy to do it right now. But, yeah, at the time, it was just sort of like, it was sort of like panic, and then trying to find your way back on your feet. And then you’d said yes to so many things. And then you were just trying to, like, keep your head above water. And I feel like the rhythm of things has maybe chilled out a little bit. But you know, Alberta, Ontario, BC are all sort of like, you know, two steps forward, one step back. And so we’re moving back into lockdown, just as chromadek was trying to remount, the show that we had to cancel. And so literally, as of yesterday, we’re back as a production team being like, okay, pals, what do what are we going to do? And there’s no, no clear answer. But COVID has also taught us I think, that you can spend all your energy making Plan A, B, C, D, E, F, G, or you can wait a week, because things might change.
Phil Rickaby 37:20
Yeah, there’s certainly certainly a lesson about just letting things go. Like accepting what you can’t control, which, for a lot of theatre artists, I mean, there’s a lot of things we can’t control. But there’s also a lot of things that we really try hard to control. And at this point, there’s so much out of our hands,
Jenna Rodgers 37:45
I think there’s also like a real psychological toll to being deemed non essential. You know, I think for so many of us, we feel like art is essential to who we are. And so again, this is kind of tied back to a values piece, but when the core of, of who you are how you make your identity is like being told by society, that it’s not valuable, it’s a really tricky thing to reconcile. And I totally understand being non essential is different from being non valuable. But but they get conflated in your brain.
Phil Rickaby 38:15
Sure. There’s also this this weird thing that, you know, everybody that I know, in the theatre world and outside of the theatre world has consumed more streaming media in the last year than ever before. And what is that, if not, art? So if we in these times, turn to streaming platforms to to online productions, whatever it is, more than we ever have before? How in? How is it not in some way? essential?
Jenna Rodgers 38:52
Absolutely. feel like there’s so many of us whether we’ve pivoted and made our companies do online things or not, that the streaming art is new to us. And so, frankly, a lot of like, the theatre art that I’ve seen, that has made the pivot is okay, at best. Yeah, um, you know, people who are at the top of their game and live performance are doing okay, with not live performance or with streamed performance. And so, yeah, I think it’s, it’s also tricky, because we have to know somewhere in there that we’re a little out of our depth.
Phil Rickaby 39:36
Absolutely. And it’s not, I think, I don’t think that anybody thinks that this their streaming play is as is the quality that would be if you were in a theatre, you miss so much. I think it’s like, this is what we got right now. And this is what we’re doing. And we’re learning. But like you say, like, a lot of people were really good. On the stage, and speaking into a webcam, it’s just never going to be the same. And it’s never going to be as satisfying. It’s never going to be as good as show
Jenna Rodgers 40:10
Well, it’s also tied to the way that we consume digital media like, like, I am trained to watch television or Netflix or whatever I’m watching with, while I like with my phone in my hands, be texting where I might check Facebook, or whatever. I am trained in the theatre to like turn my phone off and put it away and engaged with this, like energy exchange that’s happening. And so when I have the option to stream theatre, onto my computer, I have a really, really hard time turning my phone off and tucking it away and sitting in a dark room and just watching it like goes the energy exchange isn’t there. And so then I maybe am texting while I’m trying to watch a show. And then I realised I’ve missed it. Right, I realised I didn’t care as much as I wanted to, and, and then I’m frustrated because I missed the theatre. Yeah. And it’s just doesn’t, it’s from for me, it’s not quite the same.
Phil Rickaby 41:09
No, and it’s also, we have to combat the fact that a lot of people are spending a lot big portions of their day in online meetings. And a lot of theatre productions look a lot like online meetings. And it’s so difficult for the brain to separate those two things. We don’t have that moment where we walk into the theatre lobby, and then we go into the theatre, and we’re surrounded by the chairs and all of this, and there’s no moving into the space that makes it feel like it’s different from the work meeting that we had about 30 minutes before we went to see this show. And that’s that’s a hard thing as well.
Jenna Rodgers 41:53
Absolutely. There’s the transitional space is so limited, and were screened out. And and yeah, like, Yeah, I don’t know, I like you you’re hitting the nail on the head, like, I don’t want to hang out with my laptop at eight o’clock at night.
Phil Rickaby 42:09
no, no, I’m often just quite happy to close my laptop and walk away from it. That’s the problem.
Jenna Rodgers 42:18
Yeah, yeah, it’s all been strange. But like, again, I have to be grateful for like the variety of opportunities that have come out of COVID. And for the learning that I’ve had about how to make work for digital mediums and the relationships I’ve been able to forge, not everything is perfect. Like there are certainly things that I’m quite critical of is I feel like being critical as part of a creative practice. But yeah, things are things are imperfect. And I’m, I’m excited to share space with humans in a theatre again, huh? Yeah. Yeah. I’m just sort of as we sort of like head towards a finish here. One of the questions that I’ve been asking everyone, since basically, since the the pandemic started is a question about joy. And we all have had moments where we’ve really felt that we could use a little bit of an infusion of joy. So So if you could tell me a couple of things that have been giving you joy through the pandemic? Well, I mean, the biggest and most obvious one for me is that I have a new baby. And that is pretty joyful. It’s hard. But it’s extraordinary, and really, really beautiful. So I feel I feel really fortunate about that. Yeah, and that’s sort of taking up a lot of my time and energy right now.
Phil Rickaby 43:52
I’m sure it is. But that’s a that’s a big thing to and that’s a lot of joy right there. So yeah,
Jenna Rodgers 43:58
yeah, that’s pretty special, and like being able to bring him, you know, for an appearance on a zoom call and all that that’s been really special. Well, maybe the other thing that comes to mind, really, as I think about that has been community, my notion of community has really shifted and then solidified over the course of the pandemic. Because of all of the violence that so many racialized communities have faced over the past year. I think the ways in which we’ve shown up to each other have shown up for one another have crystallised in a really special way. And so the network of folks who are checking in with me and with each other and the way that people have learned to and practice self advocating, like they need to drop off for a little while and coming back in the volunteer initiatives that have arisen that are Theatre Arts based, but sometimes are about just getting out to a protest or figuring out where to source masks safely or whatever. I think that’s bringing me a lot of joy to sort of see this kind of coalesced sense of of artists that I admire and respect, really taking care of each other when the world has not been entirely kind.
Phil Rickaby 45:12
Yeah. Well, Jenna, thank you so much for this conversation. It’s been wonderful. Thanks. Thanks for talking with me this evening.
Jenna Rodgers 45:19
Oh yeah. My pleasure.