Why Angel's Bone?
To transform the arc of the future for marginalized children and youth who are at risk of exploitation and trafficking.
We knew Angel's Bone would require an approach very different from the traditional way of producing opera. This is a powerful, heartfelt, and difficult work of art. It addresses a deeply complex social issue that’s the product of many interconnected systems, hierarchies, values, and behaviours.
This new approach means making room for conscious collaboration and input from diverse peoples. Meaningful and consistent engagement with our community. Centering the lived experience of people who — more often than not — aren’t granted a voice.
And we acknowledge that the real story doesn’t end on the stage, if at all, for survivors. We see Angel’s Bone as a collaborative tool that can help create public conversations and continuing awareness of the issue. Here are some of our tools and takeaways.
HOW WE BEHAVE
Here are the foundational values that we used to set up our collaborative spaces.
We are collaborative
This project addresses a complex social issue that is the result of many interconnected behaviours, systems, hierarchies, processes, and values. This project recognizes that it will take collaboration across many sectors and input from many diverse peoples to meaningfully engage our communities in unlearning and disrupting inherited legacies of white supremacy and the patriarchy.
We are accountable
This project depicts, discusses, and centers the lived experiences of people who have experienced and are at risk of human trafficking and exploitation. We recognize that there is a risk of being well-intentioned but creating harm in our actions. We are accountable to our team members, to the communities of people that we are connected to and to the communities we represent. When we make a mistake, we stop, we actively listen, we reflect, we acknowledge and apologize our mistakes, we seek solutions, we engage in reparations, and we continue with deeper understanding.
We creatively disrupt the status quo
Complex problems require creative thinking and innovation. Every aspect of this project leverages the creativity of all people involved and actively disrupts and innovates the processes, behaviours and structures that have become status quo and that we are conditioned to engage with.
We foster brave spaces
The empowered contributions of diverse peoples and communities are crucial to this project and to the social transformations we seek. We acknowledge and understand that every person has a unique body of lived experiences that is shaped by their intersecting identities. We understand that we live in a society rooted in white supremacy and the patriarchy and therefore there are many people, because of their intersecting identities, that have never been granted basic human rights, such as physical, psychological, and cultural safety. In setting up spaces, from rehearsal rooms, to performance venues to zoom meetings, we recognize that it is our responsibility to take trauma-informed approaches to all our practices and to address conflict and concerns when they arise.
This project and its mission requires the collaborative input from many different perspectives.
To address this, we tried out a new process we call lateral leadership.
What is Lateral Leadership?
Lateral leadership is a reframing of what leadership means. The typical meaning is more hierarchical, with responsibility aimed towards profit, product, or both.
Lateral leadership, however, is formed out of responsibility to the community. It makes space for intersectional identities, circularizes power structure, and ensures all contributors are empowered in their respective identities and faculties.
Practically, this means…
Decentralizing power instead of consolidating it.
Taking extra time to listen and understand where each participant is coming from.
Consciously choosing a slower, process-based approach to productions.
Incorporating the perspectives of everyone who is part of the project into our efforts.
It does not mean individual positions and responsibilities are eliminated. We still have directors, administrators, et cetera. But the underlying emphasis is on stewardship of creative process, not “command”.
It also means having some difficult conversations! But far from being a negative, difficult moments become learning opportunities for making the creation process more inclusive, more generous, and more understanding.
When it comes to making decisions, we begin with the understanding that a slower, more collaborative approach is necessary, with open and clear communication every step of the way. Consensus is the ultimate goal.
Thus, decision-making has a certain intuitive and fluid feel that responds well not just to the needs of the moment, but the needs of those involved in that moment. This enriches the experience of collaboration, and gives the space necessary for deeper creative input, and a personal sense of empowerment and safety.
Why Lateral Leadership?
Historically, Western performing arts have held to a power structure something like a monarchy. In other words, something very much not like a democracy.
For productions with difficult subject matter and complex technical demands, this often means marginalized people, their needs, and their personal safeties fall through the cracks. Voices and concerns are left unheard in favour of the “product”: the show.
It is our belief this is no longer a sustainable practice, never mind the human cost.
We actively acknowledge that the spaces and societal structures we participate in have inherent hierarchies long defined by white supremacy, patriarchal norms, sexism, trans and homophobia, ableism, and classism.
In producing Angel’s Bone, we felt that the specific issues being tackled required consciously undertaking and embodying a shift in the above, all too normalized aspects of our culture.
Lateral Leadership In Action
Like so many conversations in the arts, this can seem pretty conceptual! We get it. So here’s an example of lateral leadership in action.
During rehearsal, an artist is asked to move or behave in a way that leaves them feeling not just uncomfortable, but overwhelmed. In a more typical hierarchical structure, an artist in this position can feel at odds with the “powers that be”. From their perspective, their options for protest, change, or dialogue can be severely limited.
In the same way, a director may feel constrained by perceived limitations in the music, the set design, time constraints, or other forces. From their perspective, they’re “the boss”, and can feel pressure to solve problems on their own or make unilateral decisions that favour just getting things done.
In lateral leadership, this artist has the capacity and they’re encouraged to raise the issue in a respectful way, since the circular power dynamic ensures that responsibilities for an issue are shared.
A director, too, is encouraged to collaborate because there is an awareness that shared problems means shared solutions. That means less pressure overall.
Lastly, we want to emphasize one final important aspect of lateral leadership for us: it’s something new. This is a prototype approach to arts production, borne out of a genuine love and appreciation for the diverse peoples within our community. We envision a tomorrow where all voices are invited to the table, heard, and listened to.
We’re all excited to see what manifests, and will continue to prototype this method in our other work spaces.
More coming soon.
SOCIAL CONTEXT COMMITTEE
To create this story in a respectful, authentic way — and to give the story the impact we were seeking — we needed to be in community and in communication with community.
We engaged with our local community, and realized through dialogue the need for more than one-off stories and works that were mere "presentation". We needed to bring together many different people and organizations working in many different areas, all of whom are advocating for survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
What is the social context committee?
This committee is a team of educators, social workers, lawyers, activists, survivors, and more with decades of collective experience on this complex subject.
Through dramaturgical process, consultation, and collaborative interaction during the rehearsal process, the social context committee helps to ensure we are bringing important social issues to the forefront without perpetuating misconceptions, stereotypes, and stigmas.
How did they collaborate on the storytelling?
We reviewed all creative materials with the social context committee first, and then translated the feedback into the work itself. In the first phase of collaboration, they illuminated key challenges both in the work itself and in the world Angel's Bone represents.
During the rehearsal period, members of the committee remained in the room throughout the rehearsal process to address in-the-moment questions and concerns.
CAST AND AUDIENCE CARE
This project, because of its subject matter, demands a lot from people. Thus, we wanted to give them tools to support their storytelling.
Support throughout the rehearsal process
We had at least one of three support workers from the social context committee in the room at all times during our rehearsal process.
They were there to discuss the subject matter and help navigate emotional triggers that might arise. They also worked collaboratively with the directorial team to more authentically present situations in real time.
Our first rehearsal began with grounding and breathwork led by Turiya Wild Rose, statement gatherer for the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry, and a survivor herself. Every rehearsal thereafter was led by one of our three support workers to open and close each session.
This process helped to centre the higher intentions of the project, connect the team to the Land, and remind us that we're representing the dignity of the stories of the people on stage.
An intimacy director is a specialised movement choreographer, acting coach, and resource for intimacy related work on stage. They also function as a liaison between the production and the artists involved.
In the modern theatrical landscape, we believe an intimacy director is a vital part of the process, helping to create effective presentation while advocating for the mental and physical health and safety of performers.
Alaina Viau, co-director and co-producer, led intimacy direction, collaborating with the social context committee and directorial team.
So that our audience receives similar support and tools, we will be leading audiences through breathwork and grounding practices. The social context committee will be present as well to help any audience member navigate any triggers that arise.
After each show, the committee will host a question and answer period for the audience to respond to any questions about human trafficking and sexual exploitation of youth, our creation process, and to share knowledge derived throughout.