DiverCity Weekend – part of Second City’s Diversity & Outreach program – aims to open doors and cultivate local talent who may not otherwise get the chance to experience improv. Over 3 days in Toronto, various events and workshops will take place, culminating with the NBC scholarship auditions .
I had a chance to ask Dionna Griffin-Irons, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, and Klaus Schuller, Producer and Executive Director of Second City Canada a few questions about this event, and diversity in Toronto generally.
Tell me about DiverCity Weekend: How did it start and why? What is it all about?
Dionna Griffin-Irons: DiverCity Weekend originated as part of our ongoing Second City diversity initiative to identify, recruit and mentor new diverse and emerging voices in comedy and improv. We have a rich 25+ year history of engaging the community to make this improv art form and our stages inclusive and representative of the multicultural world we live in.
Can you speak specifically to — and break down — the different events happening over the weekend in Toronto?
Dionna: Saturday, April 30 – Meet and Greet with Dionna Griffin-Irons, Director of Diversity and Inclusion of Second City. The event starts at 5:30pm with a fun and inspirational getting to know you hour.
It’s followed by our 7:30pm monthly Diversity Open Mic Jam with invited Bob Curry Fellows (actors who were awarded a comedy fellowship), an open mic performance featuring stand-up, sketch comedy acts and an opportunity for the audience to share and listen to new voices in comedy is our kick off annual event!
Diversity in Toronto theatre — especially the more mainstream productions — is still sorely lacking in many folks’ minds. Other than initiatives like this one, what are some other things you’d like to see happen in the Toronto theatre/entertainment/comedy scene to make it more inclusive and diverse?
Dionna: More festival programming and cross-pollination of events that embrace women, gender, sexual orientation, race, socio-economonics, and religion across more theatres. More in-school programming to increase exposure to younger students and talent.
Klaus: While diversity in casting is vital, real progress will come from working with playwrights who represent Canada’s diverse voices. And a big part of the Prime Minister’s commitment to the arts should be making sure that these voices have the resources to learn, workshop and grow as artists.
Can you talk about outreach and how you attract talent for this event? What does this event offer to participants?
Dionna: We have marketing support that sends our messaging into the actor community and theatre alliances for cross promotion. We also use social media and our diversity open mic to attract talent. Word of mouth is a big promotion for us, along with our interns tirelessly working to get our messaging directly to the community.
Klaus: A big part of it is also dispelling the some of the myths or anachronisms that surround Toronto’s performing companies, specifically that somehow diverse voices aren’t welcome or that there is a quota system or tokenism in play. Things really are changing. Of course the best way to prove that is for people to see diversity in our performers, teachers and administration.
I am curious about whether the performances mentioned are open to the general public – i.e. can white-identified folks go/participate?
Dionna: All events are open to everyone. Absolutely.
If folks want to support DiverCity Weekend, how can they do that?
I always love to ask where you see this going in the future? Any grand plans or wild dreams?
Dionna: We launched our Toronto Bob Curry Fellowship in 2015 awarding 14 comedy fellowships to a wealth of talent that have currently formed groups, curated diverse events/conversations and started the ball rolling on our ongoing efforts. This supports new work and narratives that can reflect diverse points of view and storytelling – which is critical in improvisation and comedy.
We’d also like to see more yearly fellowships and a boon for more education and scholarship programming for interested students and actors. Money shouldn’t be a deterrent. A wild dream – or better yet, a long term goal – would be to offer financial support and opportunity to anyone who wants to take a class and learn about this work. Eliminate the obstacle and make this work entirely accessible to anyone who has the desire to pursue comedy. And a few celebrities to endorse our efforts would be fantastic!
Klaus: While progress can seem frustratingly slow, we’re already seeing the fruits of these programs. We’ve made multiple professional hires from our diversity programming and the Bob Curry Fellowship, and there are many more to come. We’re committed to building a community of artists that truly reflects the city in which we live.
- DiverCity Weekend runs from Saturday, April 30 to May 2, 2016
- Please see the website for the full schedule
- Events are free. You can RSVP through the website
Photo of DiverCity weekend 2015 Bob Curry fellows provided by the company