A New Power for Good
Students were invited to speak to Board members and Governors at the School's Annual General Meeting.They have allowed us to reproduce their speeches on this blog. Here, Todd Houseman (Acting 3, Edmonton, AB) shares with us the challenges faced by Indigenous people in theatre and his hopes for Canadian theatre to become more inclusive in the future.
Todd Houseman (Acting 3) delivering his speech at the 2019 Annual General Meeting
I think it would take time, maybe years, to digest how my experience at NTS has affected me and any reflection I had now would perhaps be too near to the still-hot, radioactive waves produced by attending a 3-year conservatory program with no Saturdays off; one that I feel I have tackled, with equal parts deep and freezing introspection, and vapid staring at cold concrete ceilings.
I can say that right now, in this exact moment, that my time at NTS has been a strong and reflective learning experience where I have been able to challenge myself artistically, emotionally and physically; learn more about who I am and understand better my relationship with the space I occupy with my ever-refining voice, all the while laughing, crying, lifting and leaning on 13 of the strangest and most beautiful friends I’ll ever have.
Looking back on my experience at NTS I will ultimately be connected to my reason for choosing to apply to a classical training institution, and that was to take action against the embarrassing sense of feeling like a token young, indigenous, Cree Mixed Blood actor. This is something I have personally felt while working as a professional in the chaos years of my early 20s, and based on secret conversations with many other indigenous people, I know I’m not alone in feeling tokenized. I figured that if I applied and was accepted to the National Theatre School that I would be able to contribute to the visibility of indigenous professionals working in theatre, and lead to a dismantling of tokenism through increasing indigenous leadership roles. This goal of mine is achievable using the skills I’ve gained, skills I’ve sharpened, and newly forged pathways created here at this school, between students and teachers alike. Though the work I do to achieve this goal often puts me in the very specific position of taking on a lot of emotional work. This school offers wonderful resources to ensure the health of its students, which I have benefitted from, but no amount of support can erase the intense and crushing feeling of being a colonized people.
"I look forward to seeing indigenous leaders rise in this school and the new indigenous programming employee to fill the space that would make this program better for indigenous students"
Throughout my schooling I have always been the only Indigenous person in my classroom save for a few times of being one of 2 or 3. This creates a strong narrative in a young mind that one does not belong to this non-Indigenous majority. This thought is a product of colonization in that we indigenous people subconsciously feel like we are meant to fail by the narrative of Canada and the actions this country has taken to destroy our people. This lives inside of me and is very difficult to treat. I know the school is aware of this feeling I have, and I see its sensitivities to how we indigenous people feel, but there are a great many steps that need to happen before I and assumedly most Indigenous people feel safe in Canadian schools.
My experience at NTS was made easier by having other indigenous students around me, ones who understand the colonial impact on our experiences in schools. We are able to lift each other in ways others may not know how. The student body at this school is amazing, with a diversity of perspectives and politics, most of whom strive to contribute to the conversations around diversity in theatre and what that means. It would have been easier throughout my schooling in general to have more indigenous teachers and staff to help support from a leadership perspective and the same can be said about NTS. I look forward to seeing indigenous leaders rise in this school and the new indigenous programming employee to fill the space that would make this program better for indigenous students.
Wahsonti:io Kirby (Acting 3) and Todd Houseman (Acting 3) in Burning Vision by Marie Clements,
performed at the Monument-National in December 2019
As I mentioned earlier, it would take a long time to truly process my years at NTS. Some of the greatest connections in our movement studies have dawned on me months after class while walking through the forest, voice lessons can be learned by whispering lyrics on long walks home, text becomes clearer when finding you might be living in a Chekhovian play, and observing the world through a complicated and beautiful new lens is always a delight. I look forward to these enriching new lessons continually dawning on me after my time at this school has come to a close, and hope to channel this new power for good, by creating work that acts to dismantle that crushing feeling we Indigenous students can’t help but feel and by telling stories far greater than I ever thought I could.
Todd Houseman (Acting 3, Edmonton, AB) is a fourth-year student at the National Theatre School of Canada in the Acting program.
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