A note from Meg Shannon, PACT’s Membership and Communications Coordinator: We are so happy to welcome Deidre to the PACT staff! She is extremely capable and had jumped right in on ALL IN, guiding our Toronto cohort through their workshop and organizing upcoming workshops in Alberta and Vancouver. Read on to meet and learn more about her!
Why did you come to work at PACT?
When I saw the job posting I was really excited. A chance to do anti-oppression work in the theatre sector? Amazing! I figured there couldn’t be that many people in Toronto who had the precise combination of skill sets that the position required, and so i felt like this job was created just for me. I took the chance to apply and here I am. I guess the rest, as they say, is herstory.
What do you like about the work as EDI coordinator?
I have been fortunate to get by doing work that I love all throughout my working career, and so far, PACT is no exception (I love working with my people – that is, theatre people!). it’s amazing to be able to bring so much of my knowledge and skills to work with me. I feel as if the ancestors are really listening after all.
Working at PACT brings together my two loves – performance/theatre and anti-oppression/social justice. It feels really good to do work on the anti-oppression front that will also mean enlivened arts engagement for artists like myself, who may have a harder time breaking into the sector.
The team here are really great – they’ve been very patient with my questions and interruptions as I get a handle on this massive cross-country portfolio.
What was your background that prepared you for the role of EDI coordinator? What background do you bring to the work?
For many years, my paid employment was in crisis intervention, in women’s shelters, group homes and supportive housing, mainly with folks facing violence, homelessness, mental health and addictions issues. It wasn’t long before that translated itself into doing advocacy for marginalized, vulnerable victims in the judicial system. The work wasn’t easy; vicarious trauma is real, but the work was meaningful and rewarding and I learned a lot about myself and the kind of person I want to be in the world.
In my spare time, I am an avid volunteer and organizer. I owe a lot of what I know to second and third wave feminists in tkaronto. I learned facilitation and training in the violence against women movement, then lent my efforts to organizing for queer women and trans people around sexual rights. Some of my most memorable work was in creating safe spaces where racialized queer folks could feel represented, valued and centred. In all cases, anti-oppression values and praxis formed a core tenet of my work.
When I was looking for a change from the constant vicarious traumas of criminal justice and crisis intervention, I easily landed a position as Human Rights Educator at a post-secondary institution. And then I promptly left it to become a professional artist. My mother scratched her head. Echoes of “you throwing away a good job and those benefits!” followed me to every performance.
As a professional poet and playwright, my experience in the non-profit sector came in handy, and was expanded by learning the ins and outs of running an arts-based organization. I enjoyed moderate success as an emerging artist (that is to say, I continue to emerge), and continue to do anti-oppression work here and there to facilitate cordial introductions between the various ends. Well, as much as possible.
Tell us a little about your professional arts career
I came to the arts after about a decade of activism. I had always been a writer, and I was the quintessential theatre kid in highschool, but had never considered it for a career. Once I discovered how powerfully the arts could move people, and how performance can create openness and dialogue between people with different backgrounds, I was hooked.
Most importantly, being an artist gave me inroads to myself, allowed me to voice vulnerabilities in a way that no other vocation could provide.
Originally I was a dubpoet, and then I applied to bcurrent’s developmental training program because I had a yearning to engage more deeply with performance. While I do make an adequate actor, creation was more my speed. Playwriting spoke to my poet’s heart, and still satisfied my penchant for performance, even at a remove.
How does being a professional artist contribute to your work at PACT?
I sat on a lot of juries, I wrote a lot of grants. I applied for everything! It didn’t take long to realize that there were some places I just wasn’t going to get access to, no matter if my work was of good calibre. When, at Magnetic North, a senior artist told me that no one would ever produce my script, I understood that it was as much a function of it’s size (a 7 hander!) as its content – a fully black cast with a script written in Jamaican patois by a complete unknown playwright was maybe not the thing that most Canadian theatres were ready to birth.
I also had the chance to run a small non-profit arts organization, which wouldn’t have been possible if not for my previous career in the human services sector. I understand the frustrations and joys of being a small company and having to perform HR or admin tasks to support the arts practice. I understand the tension and precarity of relying on grants and figuring out how to fund the work if the grant didn’t come through.
Simply put, I get it. I get what a lot of our member organizations are going through, both on a day-to-day basis and with attempts to work more equitably and inclusively. I understand, too, the frustrations of being a marginalized person trying to get ahead, and finding that my chosen field may not have room to hold me and/or my ambitions.
So this work is especially poignant for me, because it means I have the opportunity to shift those disappointing dynamics for the next person coming through. It is a rare chance to create meaningful change in a sector that has my heart.
What makes you excited about EDI work (or, what gets your spidey senses tingling)?
I love that moment when you’re doing a training, and the light goes on behind people’s eyes. You can literally notice the moment when they ‘get it’ by the energy behind their eyes. I love being a part of bringing a fresh perspective to folks, and witnessing how they find possibility and empowerment in it. It’s neat.
What do you find challenging about of the work?
Because PACT’s membership is nationwide, I sometimes struggle with putting names to companies. It doesn’t help that I might never or rarely get a chance to meet folks face to face, because that would sure help me with the learning.
And anti-oppression work always brings to it some real challenges, regardless of the sector. Dealing with resistance to those changes that would create lasting impact is one the more common ones. But so far, most everyone seems really enthused about the idea of bringing the theatre sector up to speed on equity issues, and so that is really gratifying.
What are your aspirations for All In?
That we change the world! That we bust open that other invisible fourth wall and glass ceiling of inequity that can create barriers for artists from different backgrounds, and create a sector that is truly on the vanguard of social justice.
What is your super power (besides scaling tall buildings in a single bound)?
I am perseverant and innovative. Taken together, that means that I am committed to getting the project done, and that I know how to switch gears to best support that goal. I don’t stick to what isn’t working; I find a new way. It’s served me well in the past.
What do you do when you’re not championing arts equity?
I love growing things, usually edible things. I love canning and preserving – I offer my friends fresh home-made jam and pickles at least three or four times per year, often made with herbs, fruit and veg that I grew or harvested myself. I love the outdoors. And flowers and trees and water and sky. I can get equally lost in the woods or in a book – the perfect adventure!