Diversity, inclusion and accessibility are an incredibly important part of the conversation these days as we strive for a more equitable world for all. And for local writer, performer and director Santiago Guzmán of TODOS Productions, his latest project is an important way to help further that conversation while sharing the stories of those from other parts of the world who have chosen to make Newfoundland and Labrador home.
After moving from Mexico to Newfoundland in 2015 to attend school at Memorial Univesity’s Grenfell campus, where he earned a bachelor of fine arts in theatre, Guzmán noticed a lack of diversity, especially within the performing arts sector. So he decided to do something about it. In 2019, he formed his own company, “TODOS Productions: Theatre and Film for All,” which seeks to promote, produce and support the work of underrepresented artists in the province.
“I couldn’t see myself represented on stage. I couldn’t see other people’s stories represented on stage. So that’s how I became a playwright,” Guzmán says.
He hit the ground running, producing his one-man show “Altar” about a young man dealing with a breakup after moving from Mexico to St. John’s. The work premiered at the fourth annual St. John’s Short Play Festival and was so well received that it’s been included as part of RCA Theatre Company’s 2020/2021 season.
“That just made me think of how important showcasing other people’s experiences on stage was for my community and for my sector,” Guzmán adds. To help with that end, soon after TODOS, in partnership with renowned playwright Robert Chafe of Artistic Fraud, launched a playwriting unit to give diverse, emerging writers based in Newfoundland and Labrador the opportunity to hone their craft. This month, TODOS launched their 2021 playwriting unit – an opportunity which Guzmán plans to offer annually. (This year’s participants are Sobia Shaheen Shaikh, Mark Harnett and Ana Maria Alcantara.)
Now, TODOS is embarking on perhaps its most ambitious project yet. Throughout February and March, Guzmán, along with Vanessa Cardoso, a Newfoundland-based multidisciplinary artist from Brazil, will be conducting online interviews with immigrants and refugees across the province, which will then be collected and worked into a play, tentatively titled NewfoundLanded. TODOS Productions’ Nora Barker and Robyn Huxter will transcribe the interviews, while a group of local immigrant writers, led by Guzmán, will craft the script.
“I think that this project is actually long overdue. Like it’s not something that is important today – I think this project would have been important 20 years ago,” Guzmán says.
“Obviously, I’m very, very close to the subject of immigration…but that is just my experience. So what I’m interested (in) with this project is reaching out to other folks in the province that have decided to make this place their permanent or temporary home and talk about it. Because to me, theatre helps us reflect society.”
Through this project, Guzmán hopes to explore universal themes such as home and belonging, isolation, love, family, friendship and faith, among others, while helping highlight and celebrate a vibrant and diverse Newfoundland and Labrador. Canada Council for the Arts is providing funding for the project, while other support has come from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Culture Centre’s Arts Connector Program, the Playwrights Atlantic Resource Centre, and White Rooster Theatre (a local theatre company that Guzmán has worked with previously and who’s been pushing the diversity conversation even before he started TODOS, Guzmán says).
TODOS is currently looking for immigrants and refugees to interview for NewfoundLanded and ultimately, 40 individuals will be selected (apply here). For those who would like to participate, but for whom Internet access is a challenge, Guzmán says TODOS is happy to conduct the interviews by other means, such as a phone call or by arranging written responses.
“I’m trying to make the participants feel comfortable to express themselves in their own languages. I think that one of the exciting things is that both Vanessa Cardoso…and I will be interviewing the participants and for both of us, English is our second language. So we’re pretty much playing on the same field with other participants that might speak English as their second language…and then if I need to find a way to translate that conversation, I’ll be happy to do so,” Guzmán says.
While he says he’s mindful that 40 interviews will not capture every single experience, “we will look at the applications, at the requests for these interviews, and we will try to paint a picture as clear as we can with different voices and different representation,” Guzmán says.
“Immigration plays out in every single sector – we see that in the business sector, in the arts sector, in tourism for sure…and I think that to me, what this project is is a small celebration and it’s just a glimpse of how diverse our province actually is.”
To learn more about TODOS Productions, and to learn about NewfoundLanded or sign up for an interview, click here.