Phil Rickaby
Welcome to Episode 223 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. In this episode, I will be talking to Shaista Latif. If you like Stageworthy and you listen on Apple podcasts, I hope that you’ll leave a five star rating or comment or both your ratings and comments help new people find the show or you know what, even better if you know someone that you think will like the show, 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 it subscribe to Stageworthy on Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify and wherever you get your podcasts. So if you tell somebody about Stageworthy, let me know about it, you can find Stageworthy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @stageworthypod and you can find the website 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.

And now to my guest Shaista Latif is a working class, queer Afghan Canadian artist, consultant and facilitator. Shaistais the creator and facilitator of How I Learned to Serve Tea, a participatory workshop on the politics and capacity of resource sharing as part of the progress festival presented by why not Theatre in association with Koffler centre of the arts February 12 and 15th at the theatre Centre in Toronto.

What can you tell me about How I Learned to Serve Tea?

Shaitsa Latif
That’s such a big onerous question though. Like what

Phil Rickaby
Why don’t we start with what is your elevator pitch for How I Learned to Serve Tea

Shaitsa Latif
Oh God, Kill me…

Phil Rickaby
Oh, I’m so sorry!

Shaitsa Latif
I think my work is very much about existing on the margins and really making work out of a lack of resources and having very much like a DIY attitude towards everything. So how we learn to serve tea really comes from navigating a very imbalanced and equitable industry, in which working class and racialized bodies are not accounted for or welcomed into spaces. And if they are, we are called perpetual guests. So we’re there for a limited amount of time and then made to exit. So my work has now become out of that, like come to that out of necessity. So, how we learn to serve tea is like how do we serve one another in our relationship, to power and to each other and I don’t know It’s a it’s part interrogation part workshop where people are participating. And I work a lot with toys and objects, as you can see in my home, like, you know, for me, I think it’s this kind of work is facilitating a conversation with a sense of play and really understanding the power dynamics just by asking questions and allowing people to just, you know, explain their line of thinking and my role is to come in and to reframe them as questions. Okay, so people have some kind of critical distance between themselves, and the work or whatever they’re dealing with.

Phil Rickaby
Critical distance is something that I think is in our supply. These days, we’re not, we’ve become less a society that thinks critically about things in some cases. And so it’s good to have things that force us to examine situations especially if we are in a place of comfort to take us a little bit out of that comfort zone.

Shaitsa Latif
No, for sure. I don’t even I think there’s I think there’s a larger thing at play for me is man it’s like ideologies of neoliberalism and for me what that means is that there’s an there’s an idea that free thinking or radical thought is actually happening in a space but the parameters of how much we can talk about this are limited. So you have this idea so for me like I come in I question like my role institutions. So the time is always limited, both with and without choice. And for me, it’s like, I don’t know there’s palatable Radek qualities that are allowed into spaces and other kinds of practicalities that are not allowed in because they present too much of a challenge. So I’m a challenge to work with. My my works are very challenging, but also means no matter who is supporting me, they can’t really get away from the case that I have either or my analysis. So one of the things that I posted in relation To the show to have, maybe I can show you a video so you can get a better idea of what the show is or what. I hate the word fucking show what the word is. Right, right. Yeah. So it’s basically that. So I guess the thing that I posted was like, just because you pay me doesn’t mean I have to behave. And and that is sort of like the kind of different explorations that I’m having. So if I’m working with an arts organisation, if I’m working with artists, then for me, it’s like, what is what are strategies that you can implement in order to learn the language of your enemies so you can navigate and exist, right, right. So So it’s about resourcefulness on other aspects when I work with settlement agencies, when I work with newcomers, when I work with like, you know, like, let’s say rehab hospital that I had a chance to work with as well. I really look at what they’re in need of. So I’ll have like three to five different consultations with members of a team They’ll come to me and speak to me very candidly about their issues working in their dynamics. And then my job is to go away with that find research and analysis and pose the questions and come into the space as a benevolent interrogator. Hmm. So, and then I exit Yes, yeah.

Phil Rickaby
Now when you’re working with with, say new comers or are you interrogating them? Are you interrogating the institution that they’re working through or you just enter? Is it like, all encompassing for you?

Shaitsa Latif
I think it’s all a company, because everything is relational, right? So for me, it’s not about it’s about preparing them for new realities. It’s really understanding the dynamics that are at play. But also just you have this idea of the immigrant dream of everyone just like, you know, striving so hard to get here. My parents didn’t fucking dream about coming here. I wasn’t part of the plan. So it’s this idea of like, I can a exact and have a feeling of gratitude for what I have and what I’m able to possess and go through life, but at the same time, I work with newcomers is to also really give them the respect and attention that they also understand these power dynamics, right? Yeah. I’m sorry, I put real licorice root in your tea.

Phil Rickaby
you know what? its awsome. No its great.

the power dynamic- you mentioned power dyanmic a couple of times – I want for a second just stay with the idea of talking of deal of working with with newcomers. And

Shaitsa Latif
But why?

Phil Rickaby
Oh, because you brought it up.

Shaitsa Latif
Yeah,

Phil Rickaby
I just gowhere the conversation goes.

Shaitsa Latif
Yeah. Okay.

Phil Rickaby
Um, in terms of when you say the power dynamic, what, what power dynamic are they expecting and what are you helping them to come to terms with or do they are they do you find in general that the people that you work with? know what to expect?

Shaitsa Latif
I don’t think most either I think your relationship to power dynamics change and evolve over time to with different experiences to I think, when I don’t know I feel like that work that you do is really reciprocated, like it’s reciprocal. So I learned as much as I’m going in there with, like research, I’m also taking from it that informs my research. So I get to ask these questions that I always want to ask like, you know, how do you relate to the word oppression? Or what is liberation mean to you? Or what is freedom means to you, and, and then also talking about social location. So for me, it’s really about looking at different class levels like working class, middle class, upper class, but then inside those like, just like all the complexities that lay right, so just to kind of give them an understanding in terms of where they are in a sort of very hierarchical society. Right. And to be honest with them.

Phil Rickaby
Hmm, that’s important. Yeah. But it’s funny because when you say a hierarchical, hierarchical society, as a as a white person, my responses we don’t have a hierarchy, but I also know Yeah, because My brother is a person of colour that we do. And so I have that dichotomy and I think that in Canada, white people think there’s no hierarchy and people of colour know there is.

Shaitsa Latif
I think most people are aware that there is a hierarchy regardless of colour. I’m not like, here, I’m here, I think here is where I’m still struggling in my practice to kind of understand like, I’m a light skinned person who’s mostly white passing people, when sometimes, even despite my face, if I were to go anywhere else in the world, I travel to South Korea, people were like you’re not white, right? Because my colour of beige is recognised as something else. Outside of the world of the West, right in the West, I could still be considered white. Even if my name and I can speak my language fluently, all those things, right. But I go like there’s I really want to focus on the politics of class and the language of invitation. And what actually are the steps that people are doing within these institutions that really advocate for making space in a meaningful way? Whether it’s with settlement agencies, whether it’s an arts organisation, it doesn’t matter, it literally all is the same thing to me. There’s no difference the language of the developer, the language of a settlement worker, the language of a curator is all the same. Okay? There’s no difference and which is really funny for me because I hear it in different avenues about investments, but reality is about returns about profits, like they all operate under the same models of American capitalism. My thing is that I go, if they’re, with the recognition that more visible people of colour are their bodies are radicalised before they even have the understanding of it. So what they embody is already radicalised and racialized. before they even identify as such, right? And my dad is like a very brown man, right? He doesn’t speak English that well. There’s all these things. He was cabdriver for 30 years. So for me, I noticed you know, watching him translating things for him and watching the dynamics that were at play have been really informative. It’s very complicated because I don’t want to focus so much on colour. But I know that colour including, you know, for an indigenous for a black person for more visibly, noticeable racialized bodies like these are important things to account for. But I think there needs to be a separation between an indigenous person, a black person and other people that identify as people of colour. And then I think what my thing is, is that when we don’t have class analysis, in the ways that we analyse and socially locate ourselves, then it just becomes very performative and neoliberal to me in a multitude of ways, right? Because there are many people of colour who occupy positions of privilege who come from a certain class background and financial security who were able to navigate a somewhat okay peaceful existence, but for myself, like growing up in housing, having a dad as a cab driver, not having any financial security or stability, but just going as I can, and also being a caregiver as well, right. Like it’s a different kind of reality, but so I’m not really sure you know, the question of like, colour, like a frame It’s it’s still looked upon in a very superficial way in the ecology that I participate in, which is the performance in theatre world. I don’t think it has enough. It has not given enough platform for that to be discussed. So I think my attempt of how I learned to serve tea is being like, Can we talk about the thing of class and our relationship to money and how there’s a lack of transparency in the realities of those things? Right. Yeah. I’m not failing, because I’m not good enough. You know what I mean?

Phil Rickaby
No, yeah, I was I saw a tweet just just earlier today about people who are being really successful in the arts are generally doing it because they come from money, or they have that infrastructure. Yeah. They have the ability to pour time and resources into concentrating on the work and they don’t have to work a job or several jobs just to make ends meet. Yeah. And that’s, that is there’s a privilege in that kind of art being an artist, that Then is able to focus like that. And then there’s everybody else who doesn’t, quote unquote, succeed, because they just don’t have the money for it. And then with racialized people, you put the the, the the, you said that the invitation or the language of invitation of invitation on top of that, and being welcome only so long as the institution allows.

Shaitsa Latif
It depends on who you’re working with, right? Like, for example, I’m working with Why Not and Koffler. For me, I made my own job, made my own contract, it took a year and a half to negotiate doing something like this, because I was like, not going to fucking apply for grants. Because I’m tired of doing it for a number of years. It’s not because of a sense of entitlement. It’s a sense of like, I cannot possibly compete with the middle class or in the upper class or who is going up for the grants to, I can’t and outside of calc in the Quebec government. No other Like, you know, granting body actually asked for a little box that says, Are you working class? Right? So they can say a person of colour disability, indigenous, they can have the other kind of checkbox checklist things, right. But they have that missing element. So I don’t really like a systemic change won’t happen until you actually address the real barriers that are at play. And so in navigating and negotiating for this position, and also like asking for a 45 k salary in order to do this work, which I’m working with so many different institutions and organisations, but also analysing the institution and also like confronting and contending what’s happening in relationship to me as I’m doing this work, you know, because it has no return. Yes, it’s an investment with no return. Right? Because I’m not here to make a profit for you. Yeah, because my work is not about making profit. Yeah, my work is about can we make the valuable time to have these conversations and these interventions and an earlier point, so a younger person, or another person like me, doesn’t have to encounter the same barriers, right? Yeah. So I think it’s a shame because sometimes in this sort of context, we kind of think of the challenge as being part of the individual. Right? It’s just the individual, you know, they get, they get labelled as being difficult or whatever it is. Okay. The individual exits the problem still remains. Yes. So, what is your point? So I’m advocating for transparency supportive, like having a three page artist statement, in detail, talking about how I negotiate for this position, my justification for it, my lack of overcompensating my gratitude, but being like it is an artistic responsibility, these institutions to invest in me, so I will thank them. But I will also account for the amount of work that I’ll be doing tenfold what I’m able to be paid for, right, right. But making transparent my salary is also an attempt to make the other people in positions of power to also be transparent about how much their earnings are and what kind of supports that they are getting and their social location, as well so we can be honest right? So once you kind of understand what your differences are, I do solidly believe that there’s a way of navigating like a healthier socio economic collaboration with these institutions. But when you do not address the ideologies at play, and everyone doesn’t address the sort of internalised oppressor that we have inside of us, that wants to go to this kind of elitist world of like recognition and success, then we’re just going to be perpetually trapped in the same cycle. I have lots of young, you know, bipod artists always come up to me and tell me, this is what I’m encountering. What do I do? I’m afraid of talking. I’m afraid of saying something. And it’s true because even to this day, I still get a certain thing of they, people can love the radicality of an artist and the aesthetic of it, but the reality of it they cannot contend with or they don’t have the capacity or the time to continue way. Sure. And that’s the system in which we are in. So I’m like, What do I do? I guess I just want to take the permanent role of perpetual guest. Mm hmm.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I definitely see what you’re saying there because organisations love to talk about disruption. And they love to talk about the rebellious artists, but they don’t want to actually, they would like that artist to come to them, but then not actually listen to somebody who is prepared. They would call it difficult because it’s hard.

Shaitsa Latif
It’s hard because we, you know, there’s a recognition that this is a tough industry that is really hard at the beginning I used to get this is so tough for everyone. He was just a hard business, you know, and I go cool. I recognise that. However, are there ways that we can compromise where there are more healthier terms, like I think asking for like fair pay, and equity to be considered as radical is fucking bullshit. So I think it’s just that thing of the radicality has a certain limit. Mm hmm. And there’s a certain palatability. And if you go beyond that, then it’s hard because again, people don’t have time or the structures. And then I’m tired of hearing that. Yeah. So I go if I’m in the midst of dealing with different kinds of conditions at play in my life, and have, you know, coming from a poor background, so being working class, doing a multitude of positions, taking care of my family, and my father, you know, at this age, you know, and still providing a roof over my head, then my expectation, I’m making time to be part of the psychology and to contribute. I asked the same of you Yeah, in return, but knowing that I will never match in resources or in power, the weight of the institution, right. But I think there is this trouble of like when you work in institutions, and those and this is doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s it doesn’t matter what kind of institution, sometimes the weight of the institution is placed on the individual. So when we do have people Welcome to this spaces like myself like it’s it’s challenging work to do, because it’s not work that’s just meant to be be on stage. It’s a whole process. And I think it’s really hard to convince people that the process is valuable, because we’re so used to just having a show, having six weeks of rehearsal, having a two, three week run, everyone claps that disappears. Yeah, but I’m interested in what happens Previous to that staging, and in the process of that staging, and also if the artist is being considered and taken care of with the conditions that are at play, as often I think we don’t we don’t do that a lot here.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, no, we don’t. Yeah, um, I will ask, how is that process going right now?

Shaitsa Latif
It’s good. It’s good, but it’s tough. Like I think it’s also asking the question of how much disruption can I create or also So how people perceive disruption is very funny for me to write, like, I’m a very direct person in terms of what I need and what I want. So if I’m unhappy with something, if I feel like there’s an idea that needs to have more of a potential with and I’ll say something, and I think sometimes that’s it’s hard to navigate at times, because you have to understand that everyone’s trying to do their best job. But I also think that I asked the hard questions that are really uncomfortable, like, do you believe in reforming? Or do you believe in abolishing the thing that’s harming us? So I believe in intervention if the ultimate goal is to abolish the harmful thing that is at play, I don’t believe in intervention and a need to reform the thing so we can all be good little workers and put our head down and continue. Right. You’ve I’ve taken the path of abiding by things, you know what they mean and being incredibly diplomatic. Unlike quiet, there’s been lots of things that have happened with me and lots of people that I’ve struggled with in positions of power over the years. And then there’s, it didn’t really do anything for me. What it ended up doing is destroying my practice, you know, until I got, you know, some prize money. And I had gone to Montreal for a couple of years to focus on my practice to kind of get away from all this and come in only when necessary strategically, and then coming back and returning to it. I’m like, it didn’t help me before. Yeah, you know what I mean? Being in the process of subjugation and placation at all times. Yeah. So now I’m like, I don’t give a fuck anymore. So I’m just going to tell you how I feel. I’m going to tell you what the parameters with respect with care. And if you’re not able to have those conversations with me, because you’re not ready or you don’t have the time, then I do not think that you should occupy those positions. I don’t think that you’re the right individual to be able to be in a position of leadership. So this is in relationship to who I’m working with right now. I love both Koffler and why not The experience has been transformative in which it’s been challenging in a multitude of different ways. And I and I never promised it to be easy. So I think the funny thing for me is watching this happen and going, even if there’s resistance, or if there’s like a complete let’s play or if it’s, let’s move forward, because I’m not handling one institution I’m handling two. Right? So and two very different institutions who do work with the public who do really forefront social practice. But what is a gallery? One is a theatre. There’s a two different modes of production, two different systems, but they still operate under some kind of hierarchy, right? Even if they don’t want to say, you know, even if they don’t really feel that the structure still supports that hierarchy, even if personally if I’m, whatever, I may not feel that, you know, but I know at the end of the day, it’s not me who makes decisions, right? Yeah. So I think there’s also a very interesting power play and a very interesting exploration. have like I don’t know what happens when you sit across an artist who’s just in or a person who I love artists, but I don’t trust artists in the same way that I don’t trust politicians. Okay? So for me, they’re one of the same, okay, so you don’t see a difference. So I’m very like, I love being part of this community in this world. But I do feel that this sort of critical distance and the critical thinking is very much lacking and is not as progressive as the visual arts or the performance art world. If you were to ask me about theatre, I think that we’re incredibly behind. Yeah, I just have high school education. I barely pass grade 12 I was self taught artists, you know what I mean? I directly started working, and I, I am more challenged by people and their behaviour, and their lack of time than I am by interesting ideas, concepts and forms, thread.

So, do you know what I mean? Like where’s where’s my time being placed? So when I’m outside of different kind of stuff and when I’m inside of outside of the theatre space, when I’m talking to people because my, the people that I have in my world are not theatre artists don’t have friendships with theatre artists or friendships with other working class people and people who work in different mediums. And I and I think it’s because I, I don’t have the sound so awful. I don’t mean to be so I just everyone is very over productive and doing a million different things. They’ll do like a 10 projects in one year. And I’m, I’m so adamantly against that way of working, that I’ve only done two projects. I’ve done collaborations with artists that have visited from the States. Were performance artists, which is a different kind of thing. But I yeah, there’s just only two projects that I’ve really it’s how we learned to serve tea in the archivists that I’ve been been really like working on the last six years. And I want to have more time to deeply engage with my work and the meaning of it. So it could be potent in the long run. But if I participate in ecology and economy where everyone’s doing like 20 million things like, I don’t think it ever gets to that level of depth.

Phil Rickaby
Also, you don’t have time for life. Like all the things that you were talking about, that you have in your life, yeah, those would suffer if you’re trying to fit in 20, even 10, even five projects at one time. So yeah, a lot of the artists that I know who are working on so many things that is their life. Yeah. And that can be exhausting.

Shaitsa Latif
Well, my life is my work too. But there’s but it’s a way of for me, it’s a way of living. Yes. Right. It’s a way of being so the there is this thing of you know, yeah, there’s no divide. Sometimes I need boundaries at times. I’m like a container so we can feel healthy, moving through it. Time like it’s if you can’t say that you’re a radical anti capitalist, anti imperialist artist, if you are living your life, like a capitalist, and you are going and abiding by the same structures of productivity and compensation, so I just feel that there’s not as much of an address to be like, Where are your politics? And do your politics align with your work? And does your work align with a larger mass movement? What is the larger mass movement that you are in alignment with that you are supporting? So I think for me, like sometimes I feel very, I don’t think artists should be in a position of leading Hmm, I think artists should be in a position of supporting and helping with either with policy and with change and with being like catalysts in some kind of way. But I don’t think that we should be in a position of being at the forefront of leading. Yeah, which is hard for some people to hear because they really be no believer. But I, I have not seen it done successfully. So I can’t I haven’t seen it done successfully in a point where that person has not lost a lot of things in their lives like time. She you know what I mean? Like the ability to be present.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah. I mean, you see that it just generally the business world somebody who is a leader has no time to focus on anyone. Yeah. And does and possibly some important things suffer because they are going from from one thing to another, and they could never focus. One thing that you said about about artists being politicians is a fascinating thoughts because I hadn’t thought about that before. But as soon as you said it, I was like, of course, of course. Of course, because everybody just like a politician. And artists is afraid of offending the people who give them work. And so they don’t say things, or they’re always like thinking about what can I do next to get the next whatever, and so they’re seldom completely honest. We are seldom completely

Shaitsa Latif
because there’s a cost though. Look There’s a cost. Like, I think when when artists operate in a certain way, let’s say if you don’t want a position of power, I don’t want a position of power, I don’t fucking care to name you like, I want to be in a position to help a person in a position of power to understand a certain process or to advocate for the processes of other people to be in this space. I don’t want that. Nor do I want to, like lead a company make a company, it seems like the only way that people can listen to you is if you take on the position of leadership, I’m totally uninterested in that. But then there’s always this like, not that people are disingenuous, but there is a cultivation of a certain way of like speaking and doing and carrying yourself and the aesthetics of what you represent as an artist too. Right. So I’m really mindful of those things. And I and I feel like it’s, it’s, too it’s mind boggling to me how many layers of performance are happening? Mm hmm. Right. So there’s so

Phil Rickaby
no, it’s absolutely right.

Shaitsa Latif
It’s it’s there’s so many layers to it. That It’s overwhelming to me. So I, I tend to not have as many artists in my world, although everybody in my life is very artistic, and very resourceful and very resilient and very interested in what they do. They just don’t practice art professionally. Right? They practice art non professional or whatever you want to call it. It’s a way of their living in their being, but it’s not. It’s not they’re not making a career out of it. Right. Yeah. Right. So I think, I don’t know, I’m also being supported by two institutions. You know, everything that I’ve had, it’s been very, like, I’m so grateful for the support, but it’s been very hard one, because it’s not easy to convince people to invest in something that doesn’t have a return. Yes, in which the artist is very much carrying on a different kind of framework because I really, truly believe in decolonizing the ways that we even do marketing and the way that we talk about a show And the way that we have panels on conferences, and the way that we subject artists to behave in these ways, when it’s it’s soul crushing, like on a on another level, like there’s so many people who have a mass exodus, you know, in their 30s, especially if you’re a poor and if you’re like racialized, like I see very few that are able to continue, like in their 40s and 50s. So I think just doing this kind of workshop and doing this work and being transparent and like, honest with everything that I’m contending with, and what it is that’s coming up and posing questions, is a way for me to completely devote myself to the passing down of knowledge, like this work is my work, but it’s also not my work and it’s the work of everyone else’s that I have, like the honour and privilege to be able to take and reframe and like provided to another person so they’re able to use that for themselves. Right like the one thing that prevents us from getting what we want is that sometimes we’re not even to articulate that thing. Yeah. Right. Because language is politics. Yeah. Right. I learned how to speak this way you think this is my natural way of speaking? It’s not I mean, I feel very sore. At the end of the day, my jaw hurts. My mouth hurts. My tongue hurts. This is not natural to me, but it’s become natural out of no choice, right? Like, the way to keep going and progressing is to know how to speak like this and to recognise what’s at play. Otherwise, I would be completely swallowed up alive where I’d have to leave entirely right. Yeah, yeah.

Phil Rickaby
Um, how do you in terms of the work that you do? Do you describe yourself as a theatre artist? Or how do you describe yourself as an artist?

Shaitsa Latif
Okay. Okay, so describe as a theatre artist. I mean, I do like the tour that I’m doing is the archivists like to show the changes every single year. It’s improvised. It has a structure, but it’s it’s part lecture, I talk about forensic architecture. I talk about Necro politics. Then I also tell you about my life. And it’s like we’ve done with like video art that I’ve made or music and object work. And that also changes every year that I presented. And I’ve been presenting it for five years now, six years now, I started in 2014. And again, what I was told consistently was that this work is too experimental. The same old basic narrative is always here. It’s too experimental. People don’t understand why does it change every single time? You know, like, and I’m like, because I’m evolving as a person. And if I’m going to talk about archiving and archiving, colonisation and archiving our relationships to the west that is going to evolve every single year that I do the show because I’m evolving and I’m learning new stuff too. So I do it in these theatre theatre spaces, like this tour like we’re doing Southern Ontario. So like the oql performance centre, you know what I mean? Like Burlington Arts Centre, like all these places, doing it there but then within that asking like, I always ask for reviewers of colour I’ve been always asking for by POC reviewers to come in to do the work. They don’t have to be from the media. But they could respond with like an image or like a paragraph or word. Just because I want to continue the conversation in a meaningful way. It’s not enough for me that people just come and see the show. And also with why not like we’ve been doing a lot of outreach to all the community groups that are out there offering like, you know, comp tickets as well for people that have financial barriers. So providing promo codes, like these are all things that are part of my value system. So it’s implementing it, but it’s harder in theatre because it’s so rigid. Yeah, it’s incredibly rigid. And I, I’ve been involved in it for several years, and I still don’t feel at ease in this community and in the psychology, I feel so much of an alien, and like, deeply uncomfortable in these spaces, even though I’m part of this world that I’m like, wow, like if I feel this way. I wonder how others feel, you know, because even when I’ve taken my friends, when they come into the lobby, they feel uncomfortable. You know, cuz people know each other. It’s very insular like, so. So it’s just really hard. I’m just in everything that I do, whether it’s in theatre, whatever it is, I just want to connect with people on a non performative level. Well, knowing that everything is a performance and you can’t help it, right, yeah, but just because it’s performance doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Phil Rickaby
I had not before considered that a theatre lobby is a barrier to people, but, but again, when you walk into a lobby, and there are people behaving a certain way, especially in some situations where people are all behaving like they know each other Hmm, that’s a great way to make somebody who doesn’t feel like an outsider.

Shaitsa Latif
Oh, they it’s all the time. I mean, and I know most people you know, luckily, you know, having been here for a few years and but I think it’s also even like a gallery attendant. When people come into like, they’re they’re always usually pose the same kind of questions. Hey, have you seen this art? I’m gonna tell you what the artists that I go. What are other interesting ways that you can engage with a person? Yeah, you know, sort of just delivering the thing. So it’s, you know how I’m serving tea. I’m telling you these conversations, and breaking down some research analysis, I’m asking you some questions. But I’m also modelling a curiosity, right. I’m deeply curious about the world, and I want to be able to utilise my abilities for the function of something good, right? And I think doing this kind of work is a sense of play, you know, like, I don’t want to give away so much, but I kind of think of, you know, there’s rocks and leaves and gems and things that we smell and things that we hold, and you go, instead of thinking these concepts of equity and diversity and inclusion as these like, academic floating things, you know, they mean that don’t have any sort of roots. It’s like you take those concepts and you bring it down to like activities and play and people have a faster way of understanding what those things are when you’re giving them items and objects to play with. Yes, right. So it kind of brings it down to Another kind of level, right? So for example, I have a puzzle that is practically impossible to solve somebody did the other day. She was very, very proud of herself. And she was like it took her two and a half hours the entire time of the workshop. Because I go, who likes puzzles because you don’t know how people work? Yes. So she wanted to participate in a workshop. But she was also very much needing to resolve this puzzle for herself. So she was able to do both, right. And she did it until the very end, like two and a half hours later, she’s like, I did it. When I had all packed up, she was still there. And she was still participating. And I felt so happy. But again, it shows me that sort of deep resilience, and that’s also a different way of working. And then you also it’s to show people that like people can do, it’s learning about how we work together and where we come from. Right. Once you know those things in a more meaningful way than I feel they can resolve some of the issues. This isn’t a band aid again, it’s I’m going to very scary territory. Do you know what I mean? Because I’m still learning and I’m still growing that I want to be mindful that my work is not about placating people into being nice with each other. You know, I do believe in kindness. But I believe in transparency and a value system and your principles and integrity, before any of these niceties come into play. And the other thing is, like, if you’re going to have a radical artist, if you know, quote, unquote, whatever, I don’t really think that I’m not radical. I live in the West with so much privilege. You know what I mean? Like, let’s be real, right? Like, what is actually at cost for me, maybe my living but it’s okay, I’ll go back to like, maybe booking like, at an office again, doing groceries? Again, it doesn’t matter. I’ll figure my way out. But the steak, I question like, what the stakes are for people. Right? Right. If the stakes are not even that high, do you know what I mean, in comparison to other kinds of political artists that are around the world, right? Or even across from us in the States, right, and the activists or other activists, even on this land, indigenous people, when they’re speaking there. truth there, there’s something at stake in that, right? So I go, Why are you so afraid to talk when there’s very little at stake for you? Right? What will happen? And then if you’re gonna do work with an institution, I go if an institution gives you money, right? And you go, Wow, this is great, I get to do my work. But then you are aligning your image, your name your work with that company, right? That company continues to apply for funding and grants forever using your name forever using the project that they did for you in the past whatever it is, right? But then you go if you don’t really believe in the values of that company, or you see that the politics of it isn’t that right? I’m not saying this about why not saying it’s about colour, do you know what I mean? But I’m saying past experiences that I’ve had plenty awful. Oh, like incredibly awful, that you’d almost think that it’s completely made up because it’s so surreal that you’re like this shit does actually happen in real life. You know, we’re in artistic director can yell at you at the top of their lungs and then walk out of the office like out of their own office and just leave you there. You know, so things like that consistently happened. I’m like I say it and it’s like people know that it happens, but the behaviour doesn’t change, the only thing that changes is my exit, right? That’s the only way that I change the situation. So I go when they give you that money, when you have that kind of alignment and you go if they didn’t give you the money, if they didn’t give you the legitimization if you just had to align, what are you aligning with? What is worth saving?

Phil Rickaby
That’s a good point.

Shaitsa Latif
what is worth saving? So I think of these larger institutions like Stratford, like Shaw, like these institutions that have very much, you know, looked at it as through a sort of white lens of production, the people that come and visit it, and I’m like, I if if, if my goal is to get there to be part of the canon, I don’t have a judgement of people who have that going. I just personally don’t think that it’s it’s beneficial to the politics that I have and the values that I have. But I also think that please don’t compromise my principles and my values because you don’t understand where yours is that yet. You know, that’s the thing where that’s what makes me exit is I’m like when I noticed that things are not in alignment with my principles, if I see exploitation, if I see being paid, but people being paid far less for their time and labour, but then the institution takes on the image of being so generous and so supportive, right? You know, I don’t ever want to attach my name to that, because what it does, it gives the green light for other bipap people to enter the space to only encounter the same kind of violence. Mm hmm. You know, and I want to be really mindful of that, you know, can’t just go in and be like, Oh, this is great. This is wonderful. I’m getting all the support is great. If it doesn’t happen to me because I’m fine,

Phil Rickaby
right? Yeah,

Shaitsa Latif
this this stuff is so much like I understand. It’s also very overwhelming and very intense. I get very, like, hyper activated these things too.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I like it. It’s a good conversation. Um, it’s, it’s and it’s challenging. And I think that there are things that need to be challenged.

Shaitsa Latif
Yeah. But it’s but it’s tough though because like, let’s see if you’ve worked many years to get to a point of success to have a position of power, right. But then I’m very confronted by the statistics and the statistics have not changed. The mandates have gotten grander with what they’re promising in terms of inclusion and diversity, but when you look at the statistics over and over again, they remain the same, like three or 4% you know, representation for like people of colour. And that’s not even again taking account to the nuance of like indigenous and black peoples which should have a different kind of understanding and space, right. So, as much as I say, by people, people of colour, like again, like there are differences that we need to acknowledge Knowledge and be super mindful of right? Because my presence means the act of dispossession of another other, every single time I’ve given an opportunity, I consider how many other people have not been given that opportunity,

Phil Rickaby
right?

Shaitsa Latif
And when I take that it’s, it’s not like yeah, it’s like, fuck how many other people were left behind, you know, and had an equal amount of right to be here to be granted this space and support. Right? So then I go, what is my responsibility? Is it to sit there and continue with it? Or while I’m in there just to ask as many questions as possible until you’re labelled a difficult purchase. And then you know, you’re gonna exit anyways, because I can’t stomach not aligning myself with that every single time. It’s really hard because every single opportunity that I’ve gotten like this idea of like, must be so great for you. thing it’s like really difficult because it’s it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of like, interrogating yourself. Because you’re doing it, but then also, we don’t, you know, expose a lot of things that happen behind the scenes in terms of how I even advocate for myself every single time. You know, like that stuff is not ever brought to the surface, you know, it is done in panels on conferences, but we speak about it in very, like disguised ways and not naming the specifics. So we’ll be sitting with the people in the room who have caused those different levels of like armour and equity. You know, and we’ll all be going yeah, this is really bad. It just stop.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah. Is is do you find the the that work exhausting? Or do you do do well, how exhausting is it output and that question there? Or is it something that just keeps you that that keeps you moving?

Shaitsa Latif
Of course, I’m tired of looking tired yourself always tired.

There’s a really great quote by Fred Morton. He I don’t need your help. I just need you to know that this shit is killing you to however much more softly You stupid motherfucker, you know? Yeah, you know. So it’s a thing of like it impacts all of us yeah, to different degrees and at different levels and at different speeds, but it does impact all of us, right? So may not hate you now. It’ll hit you later. Right? So when you’re contending with this kind of knowledge at all times where there’s too much of a sense of individualism, at times when I feel less exhausted when I’m in community, with my other people in my world who understand what I’m talking about, and also like, you know, make things talk through things like it’s not about a lot of people just want to check out. But I think there’s a value in talking about it and dissecting it that kind of makes you feel that that could be replenishing. You know what I mean? It’s, it’s about so figuring out how to teach people to actually work through that difficulty, in order for it to be transformative or transformed to something that can be useful. So despite as I was saying the resistance or the difficulty doesn’t matter, whatever opportunity always come with it, because if you’re a poor working class person, like racialized body doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how wonderful the people are, there still going to be things that are in there that are going to be confronting. But if you

I don’t know what to say, I guess it’s just it’s so hard to say these things like it’s a devotional practice, it literally is a devotional practice. It’s a way of being it’s like every single day of my life is in question of that and I’m very happy with that. And I could say that if I die the next day to to be yet I really lived a life that was really in alignment with what I believed in every single day of my life, right? And that thing can’t be taken away. So whether or not I’m successful as an artist or not, I don’t give a fuck. You know, I’m like, Did I do the thing that I I was like wanting to do and was helpful with my friendships but also there needs to be recognition when you support certain artists that have a community and have a sense of care with other people. Like that progression of that person affects the rest of their communities. Right? Like, for example, like having this roof over my head is really hard to find a house in Toronto took me eight months, you know, to find a place like its basement, you know, I’m constantly like, I feel like I want to rip my skin off, you know, because there’s not enough light. You know, like I said in the first two hours of my day, that kitchen, answering emails just trying to get that light in there

Phil Rickaby
Do you get – because I’ve my basement doesn’t get any light.

Shaitsa Latif
Oh, my goodness.

Phil Rickaby
Do you get something?

Shaitsa Latif
Yeah, I do. I do. I do. I do. I’m very grateful for it. But I go and I look at that and go okay, because I had a salary this year, I was able to provide better care for my father. My father just had an aneurysm a month ago, brain aneurysm just been transferred to Toronto from Hamilton and enters in Niagara. It’s a lot. It’s a lot to deal with. Again, navigating And being, you know, understanding patient advocacy understanding him as a racialized body is treated differently, like, how do we get the best care, it’s not accessible. I’m also learning from that. But I go the salary allowed me to provide more care for my father and provide more time with my dad. But I’m also equally robbed of my time with my family and my loved ones because of the work that I do. Right? Because it is hard to have these conversations. And then the other aspect of it is I’m like, Oh my god, there are a few friends who were in between housing, you know, who didn’t have you know, financial security, they were able to stay with me, you know what I mean? Like, sleep on my couch, have an air mattress be able to have space they I could do that because I was able to provide that I could provide a friend the loans, you know what I mean? I could do like all these things is like when you when you don’t pay an artist fairly when you don’t think about the equity. It impacts their their family, their friendships, their community in such a fundamentally deep level, you know, I can’t seem to express that enough. Like if you’re listening Someone you’re not just lifting one person, you’re lifting other people in the process of when they think that needs to be understood on a more fundamental level. So when you do invite artists, ask yourself, why are inviting? Yeah. Is it because they’re popular? Is it because the thing is topical at the moment? You know? And I’m not trying to, you know, shit on other people. It’s not that but I think you need to ask more deeper questions as to who are the people that you’re inviting into your spaces and why? And if they’re aspiring and ascribing to the same level of philosophy, then then you are, there’s no room for like, growth. Yeah. There’s a lack of humility in that kind of process. You need people that offer different ways of thinking, not only for the organisational health, we can hire fundraisers, right? Mm hmm. My friend Alexa did something really amazing. Paraphrasing her words, but she brought up a really brilliant point. She came in and saw my workshop launched a couple months ago. Call Fleur. And she’s like, you know, we hire fundraisers full time, right to these organisations because their job is to bring in more capital to continue the investment in the building going. But then we have like equity workshops for like a day, or two or an afternoon. But we don’t actually have people in those positions working inside the institution to understand equity and to help equity be understood in all aspects of the organisation. And then it’s for the betterment of the health of the organisation. But we can justify fundraiser in two seconds, yeah, we can justify someone who’s like Well first, whereas interested in providing better care for the people that are welcomed into the spaces right. So if the ad if the general manager of the other than the curator doesn’t have the time, you have a person in that space to be able to talk through those things, and also shift things as they’re happening because their job is to reframe that and present that as a you know, like as Something to be worked through together. Yeah, right. Why don’t we have that?

Phil Rickaby
Have no idea. Why don’t? I think because? Because we haven’t, like you’re saying about the structures. It’s work this far. Why do we need to add something to it?

Shaitsa Latif
But it’s not working? It has been it’s working for some people,

Phil Rickaby
for the people who were in those positions where they could create those positions, right, I think,

Shaitsa Latif
I think it’s just like, I think there’s just a there’s a hypocrisy that I also can recognise in myself, you know, because I am palatable, do you know what I mean? To a certain extent, because, look at me, do you know what I mean? You know, I don’t seem that threatening, you know, and all these other things, the way that I speak to all this shit that comes with it. So I go, that is my tool. It’s also my weapon. Right? So where’s my responsibility? But I think there’s a certain kind of hypocrisy where it’s like, How could you say that you’re anti imperialist, and then Get a Canada Council grants for Canada 150.

Phil Rickaby
Right.

Shaitsa Latif
Like there’s nothing for me that says that that is in alignment with what your politics are claiming to be. Or it’s like saying that your work is anti capitalist, and then like doing ticket sales in a certain way that like profits in a certain way to like, so I’m like, we don’t look at these things. And then we say it. And then it’s like, it makes the public less trusting of artists in the same way that politicians like, not trusted as much. And that’s where I land. You know what I mean? I’ve seen it in so many different levels where somebody would be like, you run the youth programme. It’s the heart and the vessel of this organisation, right? We cannot do this kind of work without the heart of the youth. And then you pay the facilitators $6 and 30 cents an hour’s Yeah. You cut back on the amount of money that you get to the participants, or you withhold that money until the participants finish right? Knowing that some of them may not have access to like transportation or tokens, the onus falls on the racialized facilitator who has to, like, buy money, I mean, get money for for dinner for them, while they barely have enough themselves because they can see the marginalisation that is occurring and at the end of the day, you know, when you ask for more equitable pay and you know, contracts to be double, there’s all that tension of like, we don’t have the money. We don’t have the time, but then you hold certain programmes as a pillar of the institution. So that’s where I’m like, there’s so much hypocrisy in that that I’ve experienced and lived through and I’ve worked through that. I’m, I have a very hard time imagining myself like being in a position of leadership ever because I don’t know how to not say what I need to say. At all times. I don’t know how to not do that. I can be diplomatic and respectful of it, but I don’t know how to not say We’re not saying hey, that’s wrong. Why do you do that? What’s the reason?

Phil Rickaby
And that gets you into trouble with with trouble, but it gets it causes friction with the people who are –

Shaitsa Latif
it causes friction because they are truly, they are trying to do the best that they can. I think it’s also that. I think again, there’s a lot of language politics, right. I think there’s also like, there needs to be a little bit more careful consideration of where people are coming from. Right. And what is their relationship to access, right. Very simple thing, a very, excuse me, a quick thing to say. is little coffee shop by studio that I rehearsed in. Not really other coffee shops around here. Okay. Go there. There’s always this washroom sign that says, No, you know, washrooms for customers. Yeah, it’s everywhere. I think it’s fucking garbage everywhere that I see it. Because it’s like, you know, costs are so high. There’s Like sometimes there’s not a lot of things. There’s like food deserts. There’s like deserts just like in, in downtown, where things are not accessible. So the other day I, you know, during rehearsal, I went for a break, and I went there and I was like, why do you have that sign? They’re like, do you know how expensive it is, you know what I mean for people to have a cup of coffee or whatever it is? And like, why is that there? And she, you know, the person who was working there, she was, like, I try to enforce it, you know, but like, there’s been people who have come downstairs and like smoke crack, and like taking things from the kitchen. And I was like, why don’t you just put a lock on your kitchen? And you know what I mean? Like, yeah, we don’t have access to that. And I really doubt you know, where this is located, that people are just coming in and smoking crack all the time. And, you know, and then she was, but but my boss is here, like, you know, I, I try and enforce it because, you know, my boss is a nice person, you know, but like, she has a business to run, you know, and she goes, I don’t think it’s really that hard to like, you know, pay $2 for a cup of coffee and I was laughing as I was looking at Many years like their coffee is not even two oh no see, no. No cup of coffee is $2 you know, unless they get this small I don’t even know if McDonald’s says like a small cup I think they do for like,

Phil Rickaby
it’s like $2 it’s like $2 and you add the tax and its not $2 anymore.

Shaitsa Latif
whether whatever it is, is usually close to three, whatever it is, but I in that moment, like I was like, this person, like, again, the subservient ness of me having the relationship to the boss not doing this upholding this like, idea of like, all these people are coming to like, take things you know what I mean? When people are just walking and then saying I was $2 is nothing but like literally a year ago, like, you know, there’s times there’s been times in my life, you know, where I’ve just counted change, to get on the bus and I’ve only had enough to get to my place of work, and then reuse the transfer and hide it to jump back on my way back. You know what I mean? Like I’ve lived this reality, I know how painful it is like what that actually means. So I’m like On a very basic level is like, not even letting people use the washroom or that even has to be at a profit out of a normal human function is like, disgusting. So I am exhausted. I am exhausted because I question right and now I’m like, do I do a petition? Do I publicly ask people to stop posting these fucking garbage signs that prevent people from just like doing a very normal function like this is so uncomfortable. But then one more thing is like forward. Now that I know for it opens a real thing, but even the student, you know, the optional fees. Yeah. You know, it saves students 300 to $800 to opt out of it, right? Where he presented that option A lot of students took that option and a lot of like fundamental programming for the students. were cut you know, like the radio programme like CIA at like loss home a tremendous funding like caregiving,

Phil Rickaby
Newspapers, papers, services that people were relying on.

Shaitsa Latif
Yeah, all of that. So you start these students in debt, you start these young people in debt at the very Beginning of their lives, and on top of that, you’re training them to think in a very individual levels. They’re like, I don’t care, I don’t need caregiving. I don’t need to listen to the radio, I listen to Spotify, I don’t care I don’t so that three, four or five bucks nominally that you add up, maybe you save 300 to $800. But you fucked over a million different types of people, right? Because you don’t like benefit from that service at that time, doesn’t mean that you won’t one day be there. And you will need that and doesn’t mean your friend doesn’t need that. Or the other person behind you. So there’s a responsibility. So I think there’s, like, you know, 10 years ago, when you would say fascism, everyone start laughing at you, right? And they’d be like, whatever is so ridiculous, you know, and now it’s commonplace. Yes. You know, yeah, you know, fascism. Just the word just falls out of your mouth. Where before you were such a joke for even saying that.

Phil Rickaby
No, that’s very true. I’ve said it more in the last three years, then four years then than I ever had before. Yeah.

Shaitsa Latif
So you know these things. So now it’s like, please, but this is like, extreme fascism, where it’s like, look at what’s happening. Yeah. It’s teaching people in a The individual level just because it doesn’t serve me, I don’t fucking care. Yeah, I don’t need to contribute to that. So I’m looking at that in every so when I talk about these things with you, I’m also talking about these things on the workshop. Yeah. Because my responsibility is to educate and also to be informed. Right. So I think there’s so much more at stake. So do I care about if a show is successful? If it sells tickets? I don’t give a fuck, you know? Yeah. But if it’s contributing towards someone’s curiosity, and their autonomy and their agency, hundred percent I’m in for that, but because of the ecology that I existed, I have to abide by the structures. Yeah. Like, I enjoy this interview. Right? Yeah. But it’s also a very strange, general way of like doing things, you know, they mean, like, here’s an interview, here’s your image there. Here’s the marketing there, whatever it is, and it’s like, even the way that I market is also like, I’m very controlling in the way how I’m spoken about in representation because people take my words use their own words, sometimes, whatever there is, or they try to make my work fit into an overall larger image, which I feel like or they want to put world premiere on my work, which is very colonialist. Do you know what I mean? So even companies that are like we’re decolonizing but then they put world premiere of a show, I’m like, Hey, can you not make that relationship like your exertion of like dominating and being the first and like doing this as an extension of colonised ways of thinking? So stop doing that. So it’s anyways Oh yeah, too much it’s too much The thing is what I’m saying is that you need thinkers in these spaces. You need thinkers in these spaces you need those kinds of positions to be they’re not just specifically attached to one project but a body in which not that there should be one because you know, classic is there only let one of us said you know, yes, at a time, right because too many of us My goodness, what what happened, but I don’t but I do believe in collective forms. Power, I think Long gone are the days of like, one ad, one GM, one kind of curator, one kind of executive director, I feel like those things start needs to be dismantled. And in order for programming to be fair and equitable, and payments, to be fair, you need to have a collection of people operating the programming and questioning the programming, and the way those funds are allocated and what those funds are used for, and what is the image and the politics of that space. Once you start to do that, then I’ll start believing that there is actually space for people like me Until then, I don’t think there people don’t make space for me, because the space is there. I push myself. Yeah. And I asked these questions to make space. So for me of asking questions is also a way of existing and also coming into existence as well. Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby
Thank you so much.

Shaitsa Latif
Thank you so much.

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