When I interviewed for a job at Neworld in the summer of 2018, Matt and Chelsea and Marcus were all really keen to talk about capacity. It was described as a core value that informed how the work happened. They described the negotiation: do you have the capacity to take this on? If not – does anyone else in the office? If not – let’s reassess. Maybe we’ll do it next year or reimagine what it looks like, or we won’t do it at all. It sounded like a radical approach for a theatre company. I was into it. Let me pause here to acknowledge that Neworld is an established company, relatively well-resourced in finances and in people, and I myself come from economic privilege along with being an able-bodied white settler of British descent. This combination affords me the time, space and the responsibility to ask expansive questions. I got the job, and I got to thinking about capacity with a macro lens.
What can we do beyond honouring the capacity of our collaborators? Can we sustain capacity and avoid burnout? Or even – build capacity? Attending an Artist & Climate Change Incubator in Anchorage, Alaska in May 2019 solidified this way of thinking in my mind. At that gathering, human connection and care emerged as the real foundational work necessary to do anything else.
When we care, we’re far more likely to act. And when we’re cared for, we’re far more likely to have the capacity to act.
The macro lens zoomed back in on micro opportunities to care for the people with whom we work. If that sounds pretty basic – it is.
SUPPORTING ARTIST PARENTS: Chelsea came back from mat leave. She was going on tour; she needed to bring baby Rosie with her, and her husband to care for baby while she was working. So we covered his flight, and found them accommodations that suited a family. Then we made a rehearsal schedule with shorter hours and sufficient breaks that worked for Chelsea and her eight-month old. Surprising no one, it worked for the rest of the team, too.
TALKING LIKE HUMANS: Some contracts are full of really legal, totally opaque clauses. We’re developing contract language that’s values-based and human first, because that’s the kind of agreement we want to be in with collaborators – a transparent one, with clarity and flexibility and accountability baked in. Like how all good relationships, working or otherwise, should be.
FOREGROUNDING THE CLIMATE: There’s a reminder typed at the top of my meeting notes template that says ‘CLIMATE FOR EVERY MEAL’. We’re in a state of emergency, but in order to not get overwhelmed or numbed by this, I need the reminder to take regular action. This includes talking about environmental impact at every production meeting, normalizing the conversation by thinking practically about how we’re using resources. And offsetting our carbon footprint for all of our touring this year.
INTERROGATING ACCESSIBILITY: In March 2019, Marcus and I sat in a small room in Hong Kong, talking with other performance-makers about relaxed performances. We were there with King Arthur’s Night as part of the newly minted, inclusive and disability-focused No Limits program at the Hong Kong Arts Festival. The conversation centred around how new everyone felt at making performances relaxed. It made me think – aren’t we all? In Canada, we’re coming from a long, colonial history of making shows with really specific rules made for really specific audiences: sit here, quietly, in the dark, laugh at the right moment, clap when it’s over. This formula doesn’t account for so many of us.
As we move into this season of work, it’s got me asking: who is this for? How can we use our capacity to expand our care for the artists and the audience? Can that care make space for more folks to engage with the work we’re doing? So here we are, and it’s just the beginning.
photo of Sandra Henderson and the Chugach Mountains.