Meditations on Identity

Last night's scene study class was a further extension of our discussion of tragedy as an identity-creation machine, this time focused on the creation of a National identity. Using Yeats' work at the turn of the 20th century as a starting point, we looked at the ways in which theatre and theatrical events (national ceremony, ritual, sport) can help to shape the identity of a nation and provide the values on which that nation define itself. This reciprocal, circular relationship is a confusing one, for arguably if done well, the image in the art reflects the image of the nation while simultaneiously propagating it.

I often find these discussions particularly engaging in their focus on post-colonial nations and their struggle to create an identity after the absence of the oppressor. This is fascinating to me, coming from Canada, as a result of our unique situation. Canada has only been a nation since 1867, and has primarily been a nation of immigrants. The very fact that our first peoples were shipped off, forced into assimilation, is only in recent years with the residential schools inquiries and commissions beginning to come into light as an issue for artistic contention. But for the rest of us, for the immigrant Canadians, the sense of identity has always had a necessary duality. We are at once Canadian, and our family's country of origin - Irish, Ukrainian, Polish, German, what have you. Even myself, a third and fourth generation Canadian, identify as a Ukrainian-Canadian. We identify strongly with the histories of our families, while also engaging with the future of our nation; that nation which was shaped by luminaries such as Pearson and Trudeau. My generation, the young thinkers and artists of today, are the first to have grown up in a Canada which had this view of our nation for the entirety of our lives, and this bodes well for the creation of an increasing amount of theatre that truly has a Canadian voice.

I found it interesting that in a brief discussion of the "global" citizen, versus the Nationalist citizen, our tutor raised Robert Lepage's theatre as an example of Global theatrical values - of duality. In fact, this is a distinctly Canadian identity, in the case of Lepage a French-Canadian identity, but one that echoes for all Canadians' sense of duality. Fascinating that the identity of a nation formed by thinkers like Pearson et al would be picked up as a global identity; I suspect he would be proud. I know I am. I just hope we can live up to it.