FUTURES/forward Mentorships: Featuring Evan Medd

FUTURES/forward Mentorships: Featuring Evan Medd

FUTURES/forward Mentee, Evan Medd — cohort #3 duo, October 2020 to March 2021 — mentored by David Diamond

Note original post found here: https://icasc.ca/futures-forward-mentorship-evan-medd/

EVAN MEDD is a Canadian theatre artist based in Mohkinstsis (Calgary) and in Vancouver on the unceded ancestral territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. His practice primarily focuses on intensive dramaturgical strategizing of process design, community engaged art that intersects with environmental dialogues through puppetry, and collaborative new play development and production with his Calgary company the Major Matt Mason Collective. A BFA graduate of Simon Fraser University’s Performance Creation program, Evan is passionate about how dramaturgical practice can intersect with community from differing perspectives and how interdisciplinary performance can integrate dialogues from unexpected sources. For the past few summers Evan has been working in Prince Edward Island on a piece called The River Clyde Pageant, an outdoor spectacle that celebrates community while drawing attention to the unfortunate reality of PEI’s fading waterways. RCP commits to community engaged practice that integrates rural communities in the creation of a large performance work that explores different art forms such as theatre, dance, visual art, music and puppetry. Evan has also recently been adapting and performing in an online version of Re:Current Theatre’s New Societies, an interactive game where participants form small communities to rebuild society from scratch in a hypothetical scenario where Earth has been destroyed.


The Community-Engaged Art Project
Dreaming Climate Consciousness (A Sci-Fi Workshop) 
is a facilitated, six-day workshop, held online, where participants work in creative collaboration to make science fiction narratives in dialogue with conversations about the unfolding realities of climate change. The workshop is facilitated by Evan Medd, a practicing dramaturg, theatre producer, and community arts practitioner based in both Calgary and Vancouver.

After a level-setting and group alignment process where participants learn about each other’s varied engagements with climate change, the group works through a series of curated exercises and prompts to establish the properties of a world they want to construct and explore together. This world making is followed by structured character creation, which populates the world, and through an emergent network of connections between these characters, narrative starts to emerge. Depending on the group, these stories have taken shape as either a series of interrelated micro-narratives or as one integrative, overarching narrative. A final assignment is given at the end of the process where participants are encouraged to zero in on an element of the world they’ve built through a creative expression of their choice.

The story
When I was a kid I was always escaping into other worlds, whether it be through the books I was reading, the videogames I was playing, or the make-believe scenarios my friends and I would create and inhabit on the playground. I often felt like my place in the real world was never super clear to me, and this sensation led to me feeling more at home in worlds other than our own, worlds like Middle Earth or Tattooine. These escapist fantasies were such a part of my childhood that they eventually bloomed into a hugely passionate literary dedication to the genres of science fiction and fantasy.

These literary interests expanded hand in hand with the pursuit of a career in the performing arts and so often in that process these two realms of importance in my life didn’t overlap. I found a lot of my artistic collaborators didn’t really care for science fiction, and the work we were making was more attuned to THIS world and our engagement with it in the present; we were digging into a more naturalistic and realistic expression of the world around us, so unlike the imaginative worlds I liked to read about. I also felt hamstrung by the notion that science fiction is typically associated with big budgets and advanced technology, and our scrappy little theatre company didn’t have access to those kinds of resources. I’ve since realized that big budgets aren’t actually necessary to explore science fiction on the stage, but at the time it felt like there was no way to integrate the genre within my artistic practice.

Then along came adrienne maree brown’s non-fiction work, Emergent Strategy. This book was revelatory for me in a number of ways, but one nugget of awakening that it provided me with was the notion that science fiction can be likened to the work of activists. Activism is very much in the business of dreaming of and imagining just, future worlds, and then laying groundwork and taking steps towards actualizing that future. Science fiction does a very similar thing, projecting humanity forwards into new modalities of being, while experimenting with not only how we’d navigate evolved circumstances but also how we would get there in the first place. Making this connection helped me start to see science fiction as a tool to be deployed in the service of imagining our future as a species and how that practice might help us negotiate our current situation here on Earth.

I felt that climate change in particular was an issue that should be recognized as contextualizing all other issues humanity faces today, and with the advent of Climate Fiction, a sub-genre of science fiction that deals with examining the future in relation to the evolving specifics of the climate crisis, it felt appropriate to explore sci-fi vocabularies through this lens. I wanted to take the salience and excitement that people often associate with imaginary and speculative stories and utilize that creative space as an accessible and fun way to engage artistically with climate dialogues.

My new initiative, Dreaming Climate Consciousness, is a process driven exploration of climate conscious dialogues, a creative collaboration where participants build a world together that coalesces into a web of emergent sci-fi narratives. This creative exploration allows participants to bring forward their personal engagements with climate change in a way that can tangibly take shape in creative practice. At the time I am writing this, I have moved through a six-week process with two different groups, and the level of engagement I witnessed from both has been hugely inspiring and enlightening.

When I talk to friends or colleagues about this project, people always ask me what the final product is going be. Although there are characters, micro-narratives, sometimes a larger overarching narrative, and details about how these worlds are defined, to me the process of engaging with the topic in a collaborative fashion IS the product. Climate change to many feels like an impossible issue to face and unfortunately this feeling of not knowing what to do in the face of such an immense problem often stops people from doing anything at all. Cultivating space to safely discuss climate change is an important step towards taking action in the name of climate justice and I’ve done my best to nurture that kind of space here, with exciting results! I’ve found that the participants I worked with over these past months have been quite the experts when it comes to talking about climate change (without being actual climate “experts”) and how they see it affecting their own lives and the lives of others. I created parameters and containers for collaborative engagement that funneled this expertise into an imaginative space, and it was so thrilling to see how these (mostly) strangers found ways to fill that space with such specific and personal vigor, even when the conversations were difficult. Witnessing this gave me such hope towards a continued effort to hold spaces like this, virtually or in person.

This initial exploration of the project, due to COVID-19, had to unfold virtually and I’m glad it did. Both groups of people were gathered from all across Canada and during each workshop the sense of connection generated was beautiful to see. Each group left the process feeling like they had formed a new community, and there have been efforts to remain in dialogue even beyond the scope of the workshops themselves. This ability to connect from all across the country was also instrumental in folding in perspectives on climate change that come from rural areas that have very different relationships to the unfolding climate crisis. These perspectives held such value as the groups were building sci-fi worlds that incorporated both urbanized living and rural existences that are, seemingly anyway, more directly tethered to the land and natural systems. These differing perspectives created a wonderful diversity of entry points into the work; from spiritual, deep dives into evolving relationships with nature, to practical, and sometimes dystopian, extensions of society’s current systems and structures. There was room to explore both a seemingly unattainable utopian ideal and a more realistic engagement with a not so distant future. One group even broke down conceptions and perceptions of time so their narratives could explore the far-future and the near-future simultaneously.

Another thing that came up a couple different times during these processes was an expression of the therapeutic nature of these workshops. The building of community around an issue-based process that explores the far reaches of our imaginations was something that held a soothing sort of power for people who had been struggling to navigate and express how they have been feeling about these issues. I am by no means a therapist, but I was hoping when putting this project together that by combining critical thinking with experimental story/world making, I could create a space where a tricky topic like climate change could be explored in a way that was fun and exciting, similar to how I felt as a child escaping into stories, but now with a very specific goal attached to it.

Also, regarding art for social change, there were a few practicing artists who went through the process, at different stages in their careers, who felt like Dreaming Climate Consciousness helped them to understand how they could bring climate related thought into their artistic practices. One participant, who is quite young and fresh out of theatre school, expressed how the project’s specific collaborative forms and exercises provided them with tools to utilize in the future when engaging with creative group work, especially work that is focused through an issue-based lens. Another participant, a quite established playwright, expressed an uncertainty about how to fold climate-based explorations into their work, and who, upon wrapping up this process, found a new confidence in what that might look like in their professional practice. There was also one participant whose rural proximity to the physical ravages of climate change made the process an emotionally fraught one, and who by the end had a cathartic release that helped them, with the group’s support, to ground themselves amidst that reality with a reinvigorated commitment to bringing their work into further connectivity with the climate crisis in their area.

In terms of my own growth throughout this process, I was able to enhance my creative capacities in a number of ways. Working primarily as a theatre artist in varied collaborative roles, I have often felt that I don’t have the skills to put together projects on my own. Setting up and executing this project has helped me to recognize my own potential in cultivating collaborative spaces for meaningful connection to transpire, spaces where conflict can be navigated constructively and not destructively. Also, as a practicing dramaturg, I’ve never felt overly compelled to write my own stories, but find much pleasure in bringing my artistry into dialogue with other peoples’ visions and voices, and this project has provided me with another way to do just that. I still have lots to learn about facilitative practice, but thanks to this initiative, I feel I have many more tools at my disposal to nurture creative explorations of environmentally charged issues.

One challenge I did face, and learned from, was a difficulty in managing how much time certain participants were taking up with their perspectives and opinions. There was one participant in particular, of marginalized identity, who found their voice within the process in a profound way, leading to that voice taking up a lot of space within the collaboration. This caused a few issues with other participants who felt this perspective was vitally valuable but dominating the work. I was very aware as a facilitator that I wanted to nurture the space this individual was accessing their voice from while also acknowledging the needs of the group as a whole, and I managed to accomplish this through a reframing of the process where different entry points into the work could exist simultaneously. This was a great learning moment for me towards honing my skills at effectively navigating collaboration with groups that are working from a variety of lived experiences and cultural perspectives.

My mentor, David Diamond, and I set up a system where he provided support from outside the workshop sessions themselves, which contributed to my developing a true sense of ownership over the process I had been creating and facilitating within. That sense of ownership isn’t something I have often felt as an artist and it’s great to feel it now looking back on this particular experience. David and I found an efficient groove with our mentor/mentee relationship that served my growth as a community arts practitioner without suffocating my autonomy within the work.

We also talked at length throughout this process about how creative projects are actually contributing to climate change efforts. How do we know that our work is making a difference and isn’t just fiddling about in imaginative space while the world burns? Why make stories about clean rivers instead of taking action and cleaning the rivers now? I think these are important questions, and I believe that the answers lay in recognizing that our imaginations are immensely powerful and in some ways the act of imagining something brings those ideas into being. Sure, these fictive future worlds feel like they’re separate from our current realities in certain ways, but the collaborative spirit that binds people together in imaginative, creative space is an evolving sensibility we need to bring into our engagement with our personal communities, envisioning what we want to see in our world and then working together to make that happen, both in the macro and micro senses. Stimulating collaboration through a structure like these workshops, generates community while encouraging participants to go the distance with their ideas. What emerges then becomes useful as we reflect back on our own positionalities and capacities in relation to our changing environment.

A guided mediation that seeks to establish a somatic connection between humans and plants; a series of diary entries from the perspective of a forest; a series of poems written by a time-travelling grocery store clerk; a pilot episode for a TV series based on the group’s overarching narrative set 200 years in the future; these are just a few examples of creative explorations that emerged through this process and the level of rigour the participants brought to these offerings was truly magical, indeed. A queer cyborg eco-translator who bridges a communication gap between humans and the natural world; a wandering nomad who perceives the changing climate as a malignant force; a priest high up in a church of the future who is dedicated to achieving immortality through the uploading of consciousness; these are a few examples of the plethora of characters that inhabited the worlds that were created. These ideas were born out of a confluence of environmental engagement, artistic practice, and community collaboration, which has created an energy that is palpable and necessary when thinking about how we must work together to face the ongoing crisis we are all a part of. I’m very excited to see what the next steps are for Dreaming Climate Consciousness and for those who bring themselves to this kind of work; working together to speculate and dream of what the future could hold!

I’d also like to take a moment here to thank the International Centre of Art for Social Change and the FUTURES/forward Mentorship Program for providing me with the necessary resources and support to get this project off the ground in a sustainable way. I feel blessed to have been connected with David Diamond as well, whose mentorship was invaluable in helping me to refine my goals and ideas within the context of this particular process. Thank you so much for your support!

FUTURES/forward gratefully acknowledges that Evan’s mentorship thrived due in part to the generous support of the BC Arts Council, Judith Marcuse Projects, the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund and Community Foundations of Canada.