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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Diana Tso at Stratford

A scene from Diana Tso

Diana Tso is a performer, playwright, poet, storyteller and an artist in education. As the artistic director of the Red Snow Collective (www.redsnowcollective.ca) Diana’s vision of theatre merges the east and the west storytelling art forms through music, movement, and text.

I spoke to her in June to find out about her work at the Stratford Festival, where she has roles in two important plays – the Euripides tragedy The Bacchae, reinterpreted as Bakkhai, by director Jillian Keiley and based on poet Anne Carson’s 2015 version of the Greek classic, and The Komagata Maru Incident based on Sharon Pollock’s play and directed by Keira Loughran, which re-examines the historical event that defined racial relations and tensions in Canada in the early 20th century.  

In Bakkhai, Diana is enacting the role of one of the seven women in the chorus, and in The Komagata Maru Incident, she is Evy, a sex worker, and lover of William Hopkinson, the immigration officer.

Excerpts from the interview:

What is it to be performing at Stratford?

A scene from Bakkhai
I'm living the dream. I've met so many artists and actors. The unique part of performing at Stratford is to have coaches that enrich one’s journey and build stamina to work as an actor. There were coaches to help us vocally, with our text, with our movement. The sessions help actors perform in two or three plays in one season.

How did Stratford happen?

I auditioned for the character of Evy in Komagata Maru, and simultaneously I was also offered the role of one of the seven women in the chorus in Bakkhai. Rehearsals began for Bakkhai in March and the final preview was in June. For Komagata Maru, the rehearsals began in June and the play opened in August and will run through until September.

What is Komagata Maru all about?

This is Canadian history. It’s an exciting role because it explores the situation of a person of colour in the Canadian society in the early 20th century and how she is able to stand up for herself against the stereotypical characterization of both a sex worker and a person of colour.

The character is able to seize her independence and be brave enough to make a positive change in her life; to do something better for herself and for others. Evy’s character has to be seen from the perspective of the early 20th century when women were scarce in Vancouver and almost seen as prized possessions.

The original play was written in the 1970s but this version has been re-contextualised to reflect the South Asian element which the director felt was missing from the original version.

It is particularly poignant at this juncture in Canadian history when we are rediscovering our native heritage and putting it back up on a pedestal where it belongs; when we are acknowledging the native roots of our nation and recognizing its value both in terms of what was snatched from them as well as what we need to do to give it adequate representation in our cultural mainstream. 

It is this process that also finds a reflection in Komagata Maru.

The play is especially relevant in the present context when we are seeing a rise in white supremacist ideology in the United States and also in Canada.

To buy tickets to The Komagata Maru incident, click here: Komagata Maru at Stratford

To buy tickets to Bakkhai, click here: Bakkhai at Stratford
Images take from Stratford Festival website

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