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Diversity Through Visibility

This is a call to all producers and performers alike; we need diversity on our stages. Performers of colour, LGBTQ+, Trans/non-binary/2-spirit, disabilibabes, different bodies, classes, ages, experience levels... we need to see it. We need to be able to see ourselves within the performers on each stage, people in the media, on director boards, and in life. This is a call to producers, but it is an even bigger call to all performers and people of our world who may not see themselves where they need it; we need to create our own visibility by making ourselves visible. We need diversity through visibility.

Visibility creates visibility. We need performers who are open and proud of who they are, even if there are times when they are unsure of their identity and place in the world. Even if you are learning and reclaiming your space, your journey is a reflection of belonging in a community that doesn’t always show it. Take up space, be loud, be proud, or be quietly in the corner sharing your stories when people will listen: it’s all relevant, and it’s all essential for our growth as a community. Too often, I hear performers feel like they don’t belong because they don’t see themselves being represented on stage. BE the performer who creates that space and visibility for those in the audience who may be questioning their place in the world or on the stage. It is our responsibility to be the visibility that we needed when we were just starting out.

There are so many more of us than people – ourselves included – can see. All of our white passing people of colour, our queer, LGBTQ+, and trans/non-binary/2-spirit, our disabilibabes, our performers with low income... so many of these may invisible traits to everyone but ourselves. We exist, we represent, and we are here to stay. When people open up about who they are and how they navigate their art as such, it gives permission for others to do the same. The more of us who are open, the more space we create for all of us, including those who may not feel safe, comfortable, or even want to take up space.

To performers who may feel like their style does not fit into the community, make the community fit your style. Do you want to see more grungy burlesque? Do it. Want to see more political routines? Create it. Tired of seeing routines that sparkle and put on the persona so many of us are known for? Be real and authentic, put your soul on the stage. Don’t add rhinestones if they don’t resonate with you. Reclamation pieces? Yes. All of it. Do it all. Art and burlesque belong to everyone, whether or not you can see it at first. If you don’t see it, be it.

It should be easy to do your research and find performers who very clearly live outside of the cis, white, heterosexual, able bodied, privileged norm that we tend to see onstage. But it’s not always. There are a lot of us who appear to be like everyone else and may only open up after we have “made a name for ourselves” over fear of our identities holding us back in a world that may not be ready for us yet. I am a queer, Indigenous, Chinese, cis-woman. It is because of other performers sharing their stories and fears, that I’ve been able to find my own voice. And in my limited time sharing my experiences and doing my own research, I have had a surprising number of people reach out to me to say how seeing me be open and honest has helped them. My story is not unique, there are so many performers, troupes, and people who have opened doors for so many of us by carving space into the community.

Yes, there is a lot of responsibility as a producer to make our casts intersectional and diverse, but there is also responsibility for those of us who may not be so visible. If we want to see ourselves being represented onstage, then we need to make ourselves visible. It’s ok to have concerns or not be ready to stand up, we all have our own timelines and paths that we walk. But for those of us who are ready... it’s time to create diversity through visibility.

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