(Un)earthed Takes a New Approach to Misogyny

Rebecca John in (un)earthed - Photo by Tariq Jamal

Rebecca John in (un)earthed – Photo by Tariq Jamal

The University of Alberta’s Arts-Based Research Studio will once again be filled with the sounds of women exploring themselves, decolonization, and our society, in (un)earthed, April 25 – 27. Director Nikki Shaffeeullah and I sat down during a lunch break to talk about the collaborative process and message behind (un)earthed.

(Un)earthed is rooted in Nikki’s MFA in Theatre Practice where she is focusing on community-based theatre. In developing the play, Nikki used two different methodologies. “One is from this thing called the Arrivals Project ,which is a theatre-based methodology which was developed by Diane Roberts who is the Artistic Director of Urbanink Productions in Vancouver. So, it’s a methodology where you create a character based on a personal ancestor – the original work is meant to be a personal exploration, but I used it to create a character for a performance. So, the five people who are participating in the project each created a character based on a great grandmother or another ancestor, and so that formed a big foundation for the project – finding connections between our lives and some of the themes and narratives. The other aspect has been analyzing myths, stories, plays and fairy tales and movies, particularly with a feminist and anti-racist lens. So, looking at how colonialism manifests in the stories – the way they’re told, who has power in the stories, who doesn’t, who’s profiting from the stories, and then taking some of these stories and adapting them to suit the play as it evolves. So, (un)earthed has evolved to be a mix of these five protagonists weaving in and out of their worlds and into myths and stories… It’s about these five characters who have collapsed time and space and they meet in this sort of magical place and it uses a diverse array of storytelling to explore the questions of what it means to have choice in your own life.”

More on developing (un)earthed

Through a combination of improvisation, writing, discussion… we’ve slowly molded into a play.

Part of Nikki’s goal for the production was to use the theatrical form to explore the perception of misogyny in different cultures, through both lived experiences and using popular stories from cultures all across the world. Nikki says, “We are trying to fight against stereotypes of how certain cultures, like Muslim, South Asian, or Latin American cultures, subordinated their women. You know what, they do, but that’s because all cultures subordinated their women. Mainstream Western culture does as well, so part of [the performance] is to subtly show how misogyny exists in more cultures than not. It’s been really fun to do that through storytelling.”

The five co-creators of (un)earthed have spent the last eight months in discussion, forum theatre, and sharing stories, myths and experiences in order to create the performance. When I remark on what an incredible learning experience that would have been for all the participants, Nikki agrees, saying, “Even if no one comes to see the play, a lot that has happened in the rehearsal room has been an outcome itself – it’s been a lot of capacity-building, sharing – it’s been very exciting. It’s not every day you have the kind of opportunity to get together with other people who have similar identities and discuss issues that are relevant to you through art.”

Decolonization and theatre

It’s more about the unlearning and undoing of internalized colonization – the social systems of hierarchy – racism and patriarchy – unlearning those things. It’s about finding your own history, finding what you want to take from it and bring it to your identity and synthesizing that with the world today and the world you want to see in the future.

(Un)earthed runs April 25 – 27 at 7:30 pm at the Arts-Based Research Studio (Education North, room 4-104, University of Alberta). Every performance will have a talk-back (and snacks!) following the one hour performance. Admission to the performance is free, but donations will be accepted.

– Jenna Marynowski

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