Article Category Archives: Editorial

Editor’s Note

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To look up from my own work as a playwright and professor and edit this issue of Understory Magazine, with its focus on diverse stories of womxn on stage, was in some ways the pause that refreshes. It is inspiring to have this opportunity to engage with the unique and rich work being done by artists across the country. How invigorating to edit this issue at a time when equity, diversity, and inclusion are finally coming to the forefront of theatre and the performing arts! Pow.

Many thanks to Katherine Barrett for helping to shape and refine the idea for this issue. There were many ideas in the air when she asked me to edit an issue. Some might have easier but this, we felt, was the most needful and challenging. To have a glimpses into the lives, work, and artistic practices of the writers you see featured here, and to deliver their work to you, is a distinct honour. You will find excerpts from plays or performance texts, creative nonfiction about the inner lives of performers, and poems that capture the particular frisson of “liveness” and what it means to be on stage.

At the same time, editing this issue was also heartbreaking in some ways. As The Status of Women in Canadian Theatre, Equity in Theatre, and other similar initiatives reveal, there is a still a huge disparity between the challenging and rich work being done by womxn and what actually makes it onto Canadian stages. There are so many calls for “opportunities” for playwrights … that don’t offer much opportunity at all. There are so few opportunities for real play development and production. So much more work to be done.

It was a key and joyful part of this process to co-edit with writer and Mount Royal University student Audrey Jamieson. A colleague and I were recently discussing the fact that if you don’t have a mentee under thirty years old, you’re kinda doing it wrong. This is as true of editing a magazine as it is in the classroom or in the rehearsal hall. As I enter the middle (ahem, prime) of life as an artist, it is just as important to be a mentee as it is to be mentor. We must all strive to attune our ears to fellow artists in all stages of their lives.

We are really proud to offer you this issue, Diverse Stories of Women on Stage. It is in no way exhaustive, but it is certainly rich and diverse.

Assistant Editor’s Note

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It was such an honour to work on this issue of Understorey Magazine with Natalie Meisner and Katherine Barrett. The amount of wisdom and experience—of both the stage and the life surrounding it—from the womyn who shared their stories was astounding. Natalie has been an amazing mentor through this process, but so have the amazing voices that I had the honour of reading.

This issue of Understorey is a platform for womyn across the country to share in our common struggles around equity, diversity, and inclusion, but also rise to the challenge of creating a world where we don’t need to struggle any longer. I wholeheartedly believe that art and literature are the keys to crafting this new world. 

(Se) détordre la langue

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À quoi serviraient les expériences sans la perspective de les répéter ?
La vie, au fond, est un nombre infini de variations sur un même thème. 
—-Antonine MAILLET, Romancière et dramaturge acadienne

Ce numéro 15 d’Understorey Magazine se concentre sur les histoires des vies des femmes qui vivent une certaine francophonie au Canada atlantique, c’est-à-dire, leur propre francophonie, à elles. Nos auteures répètent, partagent, soulignent, à travers des plumes lucides, provocantes, luxueuses, traditionnelles, de formation et autre, leurs expériences; celles qui font partie de la mosaïque sociolinguistique de la région distincte du Canada atlantique.

En tant que locutrice francophone de formation moi-même, quelqu’un qui est née dans une famille immigrante punjabi-hindi-urduphone, un foyer enfoncé dans l’anglais du quotidien nouvelle-écossais, le français appartenait à une certaine population et par la suite, non pas à moi. Grâce à une formation solide à l’école et à une certaine affinité pour l’interculturalité, j’ai appris la langue française en Nouvelle-Ecosse avec enthousiasme. J’ai pris la décision d’outrepasser les barrières imposées sur et par moi-même pour poursuivre des études graduées en français.

To see someone that looks like you speaking French is really impressive.
Why?
Well, it is not what you expect.

Les mémoires des moments au foyer acadien continuent à travers la plume vivante de Paulette LARADE qui, par le biais de quatre strophes, raconte, de manière éloquente, toute une histoire familiale. La famille, vue parfois comme la vis quotidienne d’une langue, reste à la pointe de la plume poétique de Morgan MACKAY où l’espace, l’esprit et le pouvoir du message s’entrelacent pour offrir une image forte des liens familiaux. Notre dernière contribution poétique vient de Martine JACQUOT qui nous emmène sur un voyage chronologique de sons et de silences, de larmes et de rires ; les lecteurs (sur) vivent « un grand fracas, » comme elle nous démontre.

Les quatre contributions de non-fiction qui honorent ce numéro évoquent l’expérience de vivre la langue française aux multiples facettes. Sophie BEAULÉ donne vie à la notion de l’ailleurs, celui qui est subjectif, impulsif, constructif et tout simplement beau. Grâce à France SAVOIE-FRISON, l’acte d’écrire la langue française devient un moment poussé-tiré, perçant non seulement l’encre de la plume mais l’esprit de l’âme à la francophone.

Je suis tellement fière d’inclure deux contributions de non-fiction de deux de mes anciennes étudiant.e.s ; deux femmes pour qui le contact avec le français rend des émotions différentes. Pour Sonja WILLIAMS, la fierté d’être acadienne ne serait jamais en question, malgré le fait qu’elle a pris le nom anglais de son mari après le mariage. En ce qui concerne Ève POWELL, en portant déjà un nom anglophone, le français est devenu un certain kismet, un destin, car le français n’était pas présent au niveau d’héritage, mais par une introduction à l’immersion en école. Vive la Francophonie!

Carpe Diem

Au café, je prends une chaise
café crème qui fulmine mes lèvres pulpeuses
et
je m’assois.
Il n’est pas loin, aux cheveux roux
ses tatouages qui me rendent du confort, du désir
sont visibles
palpables.

Et je parle français, via Skype or whatever…
Doigts croisés qu’il puisse entendre
les sons
les syllabes
les siffles

Je ne chuchote pas.

En périphérique, je vois qu’il m’écoute.
La vapeur de son thé
tournoie
comme ma langue sur mes lèvres.

And maybe, just maybe…

Five Years Old

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Understorey Magazine Issue 15 cover, with Age by Ildiko Nova

 

Age

Welcome to Understorey Magazine Issue 14, an exploration of women, age and ageing.

The idea for this issue grew from many roots. There were discussions among our illustrious editorial board, of course, reflections on our own experiences of ageing: Reconciling that new face in the mirror or that oh-so-familiar but now elusive word. Contemplating how to act your age and then contemplating why the hell you care. Learning, all over again, how to ask for help—and how to give help in whole new ways. Many of these themes unfold in the eloquent, candid work by the writers and artists of various ages published here.

Our Age issue marks a milestone for the magazine, too. This autumn, Understorey turns five. As editor-in-chief for those five years, I have learned a thing or two about the creative process, about art and time. These ideas also inspired this issue.

I have seen, for example, far too many lists, prizes and accolades for “new” and “emerging” writers that in fact mean new and young writers. As if you might only emerge as a creative talent while young—and then either fizzle out or mature into an old, established voice. For some extraordinary young people, this is in fact their literary path. But they are exceptions, I think: art derives from experience, and experience comes with age.

Creators of the website Bloom recognise this. The site is dedicated to authors who have published their first book after age forty. Many other websites list authors who “got a late start,” first publishing after thirty or forty or even—gasp!—fifty. This is progress but, honestly, who has the means to write a novel in their forties? Why not a prize for “new” writers over seventy? An award for “emerging” artists over eighty?

Art takes experience but it also takes mental space, pauses in the day, the wherewithal to stop earning or caregiving—or both—long enough to gather snippets of images, cultivate a thought, nurture an idea into a finished work. Midlife, those moments are rare. As author, teacher and contributor Tanis MacDonald says in her book Out of Line, “I don’t have a life where it is possible to write every day, and I’ll bet you don’t either.”

Over the past five years, some of the most intriguing work has come to Understorey partly formed. These pieces were truly borne of lived experience but perhaps not into circumstances that allowed extended and studious polishing. This work is—like so much art, like most of us—both young and old. It offers wisdom but might still benefit from the guidance and wisdom of others. It is beautiful right now but will only grow more so with time and care, that is, with age.

Thank you for reading Understorey Magazine‘s fifth anniversary issue on Age. Please share with others and, if you are so inclined, leave a comment for our contributors.

Blood

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Many moons ago, when I first started reading books about feminist theory, I ran across a chapter on menstruation and oppression. Like all young women I knew at the time, I’d hidden pads and tampons to make furtive trips to the washroom. I’d smiled and carried on through period pain. I’d spent far too much of my student budget in the “feminine hygiene” aisle. So the words menstruation and oppression seemed a logical fit. I kept reading.

The chapter suggested ways to free ourselves from the stigma and confines of the period. Quashing stereotypes and jokes about PMS was a good start. Advocating for reasonable prices and tax-exemption on menstrual products—I’d buy that. Giving up wasteful industrial products completely and sewing our own. I wasn’t much of a sewer, but sure.

The arguments made a lot of sense—right up to the final suggestion, a recommendation sufficiently ludicrous and thought-provoking that I’ve remembered it for decades. Forget “managing” your period, the author said. Just bleed freely.

The idea that women should not try to stem blood flow was new to me and I failed to see how it could possibly be liberating. Who would haul all that extra washing to the laundromat? Who would hire a free-bleeding chef or housekeeper or surgeon? Who wouldn’t stare at a free-bleeding shopper in the check-out line?

And yet free-bleeding isn’t new—or old. Or even that ludicrous.

Blood Red by Michelle de Villiers

The historical record on menstruation is, shall we say, spotty (most history is recorded by men), but it’s believed that women have bled into layers of clothing for centuries, simply because they lacked the time, resources or pressure to do anything else. Pads and tampons were developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but a short and more overt free-bleeding movement arose in the 1970s, partly in response to toxic shock syndrome. The more recent revival of free-bleeding is sometimes attributed to an infantile, anti-feminist hoax but is more accurately a serious and conscious decision by some women to compete, practice and create art while bleeding.

So, yes, voluntary free-bleeding was—and is—a thing. These days, it’s not the norm but the women who practice it, whether for personal, environmental or political reasons, have helped to start a discussion, made a point. And for the rest of us, that discussion is the point. I may never be ready for free-bleeding but I’m most certainly ready for free-speaking.

There are over 3.5 billion women in the world and most menstruate throughout their adult lives. That’s a significant part of human history, society and culture currently confined to the bathroom stall. So can we talk about the cashier who is given a four-hour shift without a break? About the student who can’t leave the room during a three-hour exam? Can we talk about how displaced or homeless women can maintain dignity when society pretends periods just don’t happen? Can we recognise conditions such as endometriosis (my spell-checker doesn’t even know this word) as nothing less than a chronic disability? Can we stop disguising pads and tampons like some sort of contraband and aim for open-carry?

This issue of Understorey Magazine is all about blood—free-speaking about its many forms and the many ways it affects women’s lives. Through literary writing and powerful visual art, we share stories about the blood of the uterus and the blood shed, both literally and figuratively, during conception, miscarriage and childbirth. We hear of the blood that flows throughout our bodies and how that flow may be interrupted by something as tiny as a “delinquent” valve or as looming and eternal as illness and death. Several authors write of blood unleashed by intolerance and hatred but also through love and friendship. And we look beyond individual bodies to explore blood shared across generations, how bloodlines carry secrets, and how secrets revealed—secrets spoken—can empower.

Please enjoy, reflect and share.