FUTURES/forward Mentorships: Featuring Kris Alvarez
FUTURES/forward Mentee, Kris Alvarez — cohort #3 duo, October 2020 to March 2021 — mentored by Dale Hamilton
KRIS ALVAREZ is a theatre artist, a Regina monologue, a race card. Kris has the privilege of bridging diverse communities through creation & performance with like-spirited communities at Curtain Razors, Fadadance, Artesian Performing Arts, Heritage Community Association and Common Weal Community Arts where Kris’ 2019 Respond to Racism residency humbly challenged her theatre-making and inspired Golden Potluck – her project centered on giving space to diverse older women’s voices. Kris continues to nurture her practice with Curtain Razors as a performer (Bad Blood, Carmen Angel), and as an Associate Artist with her own work, What Kind of Brown Are You? Inspired by ‘growing up brown’ in 1980s Regina, its recent instalment, Burnt Sienna with Kris Alvarez, a talk show/variety show “with a little more colour” continues for a second series 2019-20. Most recently, Kris travelled to a far away place called Saskatoon to be part of Persephone Theatre’s production, Reasonable Doubt.
Stepping into this six-month mentorship, I was fortunate to already have two projects on my “stovetop,” Burnt Sienna and Acknowledgement:
- The first, an ongoing relational theatre project, uses a variety show structure to house deep conversations with non-performers/non-professional artist participants. Participants are invited to discuss concepts of race, race relations, and identity, to share their experiences being IBPOC on Treaty 4.
- In its creation phase, my second project poses questions about land, entitlement, and home – with the concepts from Burnt Sienna integrated as well. In this project, I’m publicly asking “What can we acknowledge about the land we live on and the people who live here with us? How do we relate to both?” After gathering many responses and reflections from communities, 4 local Saskatchewan artists & I are finding ways to express these through music, dance, and theatre.
During a wonderful first conversation with my mentor Dale Hamilton, I shared this information about my projects. Dale humbly shared a bit about her work, her practice. We agreed to focus on these two existing projects during the mentorship. Yes, partly due to practicality and time management but mainly because of our shared interests: theatre as a tool for making space for less heard voices.
It’s funny… even though I had “read up” on Dale’s art practice, an expansive body of work, I was truly unaware of how very well the FUTURES/forward team had matched us… then we met and began conversations about “where we come from” and it was clear that we were perfectly matched! Not only are we similar in our “many pots on the stove” ways of being, our shared love of theatre as a tool for change, but also in our nurtured connections to Indigenous communities AND its deep lifelong impact on us and our art making.
During our first discussions about the mentorship, Dale expressed this intention: “Seeking open dialogue, flexibility, meaningful reflection and two-way learning.” This resonated strongly with me.
Dale was absolutely generous with sharing her experiences in community-engaged arts for social change. “It offers the opportunity for me to reflect on my experiences and draw out useful elements,” she noted. For her own professional development, Dale stated she was interested “to learn (from my mentee) about the digitization of the arts, specifically techniques for pivoting the performing arts to creative online COVID-safe formats, while at the same time retaining community engagement as much as possible.”
I was happy to share my attempts at pivoting during the pandemic. Due to certain global moments (the tragic death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter momentum) and local moments (Tristen Durocher’s ceremonial 44 days in a tipi in Regina to bring awareness to the northern SK suicide crisis), I felt compelled to continue making art with impact. I moved my live theatre project Burnt Sienna to online offerings so that I could help bring difficult conversations to communities. At the same time, I was beginning plans for future touring of Burnt Sienna to northern Saskatchewan where I could offer workshops about the project’s template & opportunities to create their versions of relational theatre to strengthen their communities through art. I definitely wanted to learn from Dale’s experiences with community theatre especially with Indigenous communities.
Also, with my other project still in its creation phase, I was eager to have Dale’s guidance and perspective on land-based art, on art focusing on land & environmental issues. And I knew from her vast experience, she would have a well of resources to share.
As you can see, we were on the same page! Feeling the urgency of social issues magnified by the pandemic, we were actively pursuing new ways of reaching communities and humbly reminded that art for social change continued to be vital and relevant.
We moved full steam ahead!
We met weekly online, sometimes changing it up with an “old school” phone call. Dale sent numerous links to valuable resources. And, once in a while, we’d share poems, video clips and images, to keep us connected and offer levity during a difficult time like this: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/14eUc34VDTt5mNo3sGbrQHQvLihfd9SCa?usp=sharing
In late fall, I was invited to be “The Ranter” at “The Last Sunday” a free public event hosted by Saskatoon’s Sum Theatre. My role was to provide a brief rant about a current issue(s). Aware of my privilege to publicly share often, I decided to invite a few voices often unheard: a Métis visual artist, a non-binary musician, an inner-city community cultural worker and I invited Dale to share the rant. Here’s what she gave… in all caps, HA!
TIME’S UP YOU, FOSSIL-FUEL-GUZZLING, ENERGY-SUCKING, CARBON-SPEWING, COWBOY-CAPITALIST, JUNK-FOOD EATING, LAND-GRABBING, POWER-HUNGRY, NATURE-DESTROYING, CLOSE-MINDED, PANDEMIC-DENYING, ANTI-MASK, MISOGYNISTIC, HOMOPHOBIC, RACIST, PRIVILEGED WHITE PATRIARCHS!!
YA, YOU HEARD ME, TIME’S UP!! WE PROCLAIM THAT OUR TIME HAS COME!! WHO ARE WE? WE ARE ELECTRIC-MOBILIZED, ENERGY-SAVING, CARBON- NEUTRALIZING, NEW-ECONOMY, CLEAN EATING, LAND-STEWARDING, CONSENSUS-BUILDING, NATURE-LOVING, OPEN-MINDED, PANDEMIC-AWARE, RESPECTIVELY-MASKING, WOMEN-LOVING, GENDER-BENDING, ANTI-RACIST, RACIALIZED, INDIGENIZED MATRIARCHS!! YA, YOU BETTER QUAKE IN YOUR BOOTS, CUZ OUR TIME HAS COME!
At the beginning of the mentorship, I was planning to release two online versions of Burnt Sienna before the end of the year: one filmed and one livestream. Dale was a steadfast guide for me, offering good points of entry for difficult topics I would be facilitating with participants (suicide crisis, mental health, queer identity, Indigenous healing/male role models), ways to connect participants’ experiences through art and reflections after viewing the Burnt Sienna events.
In December, I was fortunate to learn more about Dale’s work through her online presentation of her Reconcili-action series. Here’s what I wrote after attending her workshop:
Good day, Dale ~~ thank you again for such an engaging offering last night.
the ‘sum of all things’ for me, at this point in time, meant your workshop resonated deeply.
To become better acquainted with your passionate rooted work & artful life, was inspiring. To hear your experiences finding / balancing your way of existing in your worlds humbly reminded me that I’m not alone in that kind of navigating.
I feel that much more grateful to be able to ask questions to + receive feedback from you. It’s also very cool how this world gets smaller & smaller. Love that Yvette Nolan is part of your experiences – she is a big part of mine.
I wanted to share more during the discussion but feared I might tear up more; simply, I was moved & felt more connected to you.
I’m glad we have these months (and Saturdays) together! Respectfully, warmly, Kris
Then all of a sudden it was 2021!
In the new year, our continued exploration of my baby project Acknowledgement and how to manifest our questioning of land, identity and relationships filled many online visits and shared resources.
We began planning a podcast I could host to further this conversation with Dale, a colleague of hers, and, possibly, one artist joining the project. We would offer this online for accessibility and a wider reach out to communities. At the same time, I began offering some Zoom workshops with participants looking to learn more about art for social change and willing to share a bit of their reflections on these wide concepts I was tackling in Acknowledgement. The experience of being part of Dale’s Reconcili-action series inspired new approaches for me in an online setting.
I collaborated with a local community-based organization, Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation (SCIC) during the previous summer. I was a lead artist in their annual conference, Generating Momentum, for young adult activists. Creating a 3-part series of workshops, Generating Momentum Tune Up, was a natural progression… especially during this mentorship where I was trying out new ways of connecting art & social issues, especially during a pandemic when change-makers needed spaces to connect and be reminded that they are not alone.
January also brought me an invitation to join an artist residency with our regional theatre, Globe Theatre. Along with a group of 11 other local artists, we began planning a community event, Through the Looking Glass, for the end of March. This free one-day event would invite the public to do a walking tour of over a dozen durational installations, both live and recorded.
This event clearly felt like a wonderful way to close my mentorship! It would be an opportunity to meet with many kinds of people in a safe way to offer a moment of thoughtful art making (me behind a storefront window while they participate from outside with their household bubble) I could facilitate an artful way to engage participants in these questions I had about the concepts of land, entitlement, relationships, home. Their participation would nurture my ongoing process with Acknowledgement.
After several conversations and some helpful reading material from Dale, I shared with her an idea — an image actually — that had popped into my creative daydreaming. It was an image from the Charlie Brown comic strip Peanuts: the character Lucy sitting at her booth with the signage “Psychiatric Help 5 cents. The Doctor is In”: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/14eUc34VDTt5mNo3sGbrQHQvLihfd9SCa?usp=sharing. I posed the idea to Dale: What if I set up my own “Lucy booth” but not for me to help the public, but for the public to help me? She was as excited as I was about the creative provocation. And with Dale’s valuable feedback, I was able to hone an accessible, engaging artful offer. I would create a cardboard lemonade stand flat to attach to the storefront window with the signage “Your Help. Your 2 cents. The Artist is in”. Communicating through an intercom system, I would share these concepts and ask for their help. “At this time, what do you want to acknowledge about this land you live on and the people you do, or do not, relate to here?” I would offer a few different ways to express this: drawing, images, writing. I would ask them if they’d like me to share it publicly by posting it on the booth and/or, after they leave, proclaiming it loudly over the speaker system.
A week before the event, the COVID situation on Treaty 4, especially in Regina, took a turn for the worst. Cases were increasing rapidly with variants and the provincial government was announcing a lockdown similar to the one we experienced exactly one year ago, March 2020. Of course, our public event was postponed to mid-June. Disappointed and worried, the artists and technical crew involved met over Zoom on the day we were to set up and load in for the event. We decided it would be important to at least share conversations about the work we planned to do, toast the process, and stay connected.
February and March were difficult during the pandemic. I was so grateful for the ongoing mentorship meetings when I could hear about other artist-mentees’ projects, struggles, questions. I learned so much simply by listening to thoughtful respectful conversations between the other mentors, mentees, Judith, and Kim.
In March, Dale hosted a “Virtual Theatrical Hike” called “Walk This Way” to nurture her ongoing learning. It was a splendid, truly creative way of reaching us online with important information about land, stewardship, and home. It inspired me to continue looking for the other ways of community engagement, art, and creativity. I received a beautiful sensory packet which made the hike that much tangible and better. Dale’s use of a new online platform, Spatial Chat, was an exciting introduction. I am looking forward to trying it out for future events.
During the closing of the mentorship program, I definitely struggled with the fatigue of the pandemic. I realized I was not taking much rest time, trying to continue with projects, feeling the urgency to stay connected with and to serve communities suffering more during these times.
Then, I witnessed COVID affect some close friends and family. I couldn’t have imagined the impact it had on me.
At that same time, the FUTURES/forward team, Kim and Judith, made me feel completely supported and trusted. The last online visits with Dale kept me grounded. Her experiences of finding innovative ways to connect with communities, with all the obstacles that come with it, kept me on track… reminding me to keep my eyes on the work… reminding me that our earth, our communities need art to create change. Art is essential.
And as I stepped out of the mentorship, I immediately stepped into a short residency at an artist run centre and continued with Globe Theatre too. Our windows project, my Lucy booth would have a second chance! More importantly, I was able to take my experiential learning from the past six months (mentorship, pandemic, all of it!) and use it wisely, share it kindly, and continue to make change artfully.
FUTURES/forward gratefully acknowledges that Kris’s mentorship thrived due in part to the generous support of Judith Marcuse Projects, the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund and Community Foundations of Canada.