Putting Our Meat Where Our Mouths Are: Diversity and Inclusivity at Fresh Meat 6

If - a year ago - you asked someone to describe Fresh Meat, they’d probably say something along the lines of “local festival of new experimental theatre creations in Ottawa.” And, if we’re being honest, like most things in theatre, they’d probably also describe it as white AF.

One year ago, we announced our lineup for Fresh Meat 5 and were so proud, amazed, and excited about the local artists we would be able to showcase in that year’s festival. We also realized something else. We were part of the problem.

Fresh Meat started six years ago with six artists trying out some new plays in the back of a coffee shop. We made about a hundred bucks. Now, we’re a nationally-recognized theatre festival, featuring 10 local companies every year. We’ve housed over 50 world premieres, our shows have gone on to play across the country, and we’ve put $20,000 directly into the hands of artists.

We got bigger, we got better, and the same sh*t isn’t good enough anymore.

So this spring we made a big stink about diversity and inclusivity in the Ottawa Theatre Community (and our part in it) and held a Digital Town Hall to try and figure out how to do something about it. Because, well… We were part of what stunk to begin with.

You talked, we listened, and we’ve made some big changes. We’ve changed our application and selection processes, and are committed to our new ethno-cultural mandate:

“Fresh Meat is committed to inclusive programming that reflects the breadth, depth, and intricacies of Ottawa’s unique cultural makeup. We encourage submissions from artists who identify as members of underrepresented communities, a concept we leave open for those artists to self-define, as we strive to create a truly inclusive environment.”

We’ve got a responsibility as the only curated local theatre festival programming entirely new works to make sure that our lineup makes space for creators and creations that don’t always get space.

Let’s be honest. We’re still not perfect, we’re not solving all the world’s problems with one Digital Town Hall. But let’s just say, looking at last year’s lineup and festival to this year’s… We’re really f*cking stoked.

THE PEOPLE

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This year, as part of our application process (which was blind-juried), folks were able to self-identify (or not) as members of underrepresented communities in their application. Approx 60% of applicants did.

And of our lineup, 9 of our 10 mainstage productions are created by members of underrepresented communities. 90%. That’s pretty darn good.

If you’re thinking that that’s not fair either, that there’s a 30% discrepancy the other way now, well… umm… Yeah, here’s the thing:

We literally don’t care. 100% of opportunities are available 100% of the time to people who don’t self-identify as members of underrepresented communities. That’s what it means to be not underrepresented: it means to be represented.

We’re making space for people where there isn’t, usually. We’re cool with that. Actually, we think it’s pretty dope.

THE PRACTICES

You know how some people say that you learned everything you need to know in Kindergarten? Well, in Kindergarten we learned that if not everyone is having fun, then it’s not fun for anyone.

If Fresh Meat isn’t a safe and accessible place everyone, then it’s not a safe and accessible space for everyone.

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We chatted with some folks at SummerWorks and the National Arts centre about how to make that happen. We’re making changes this year, and we’re hoping to get better every since year.

We’ve got a page up on our website all about Accessibility at Fresh Meat, with info about ticketing, accessible seating, companion seating, access to the building, parking, and transit, gender neutral bathrooms, access to water, a sober space and rest area.

We are, of course, always still learning, so if we’ve missed anything, you can always shoot us an email at info@freshmeatfest.com.

THE PERFORMANCES

After the Town Hall, we found that a lot of the stories we heard – both in this year’s festival applications, and in our own lives – have to do with who we are and where we come from.

At Fresh Meat 6, each and every show tackles that question. There’s question of identity, yes – but we’ve all got a story. We all come from somewhere, and we’re all going somewhere. And we’re all asking ourselves those same questions.

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Guess you’ll just have to come see some shows to find out the answers, huh?

With Love,

Fresh Meat

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Fresh Meat 6 runs for two weekends from October 12–21 at Arts Court Studio (2 Daly Avenue). Tickets cost $10–20 online. Visit freshmeatfest.com for the 2017 lineup and schedule.