The biggest theatre prize in the country has again gone to Vancouver talent.
Maiko Yamamoto and James Long, artistic directors of the city's Theatre Replacement, have been named the 2019 laureates of the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize.
"We are two artists who stand here together today, because over 20 years ago we committed ourselves to the challenge of making performances that replaced the theatre that we were largely seeing around us at the time," the pairs said in their acceptance speech, held at a ceremony on November 21 at the National Arts Centre. "Theatre that we couldn’t recognize ourselves inside of. We met this challenge through allowing our individual experiences, perspectives, interests, histories and beliefs to come together and collide inside of our processes.
"The collision was exciting — and we quickly discovered it made the work better," they added. "It was also a key way in which we could really support each other and our growing practices as two very different artists: one female identifying, one male identifying. One Japanese Canadian, one Waspy-Hybrid Canadian."
The team has made a name for its innovative interdisciplinary projects, built through extended processes. It's best-known accomplishment is the East Van Panto, a now-beloved local tradition at the York Theatre that's built from scratch each year. It also created the boundary-pushing Theatre Replacement, known for its performance works that include the one-on-one plays Bioboxes and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival hit That Night Follows Day, and as winner of the Rio Tinto Alcan Performing Arts Award in 2010 it created the epic multimedia project The Greatest Cities in the World, based on Long's interviews with citizens of the small Tennessee towns of London, Paris, Rome, Athens, Bogota, and Moscow.
In a statement, jury chair Vanessa Porteous praised Yamamoto and Long as trailblazers challenging theatrical conventions, and shaping the next generation of artists.
"There is just nobody quite like them in the country," Porteous said.
Both are graduates of SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts theatre program. Yamamoto also has a Masters of Applied Arts in Visual Art from Emily Carr University of Art & Design, and Long holds a Master’s Degree in Urban Studies, also from SFU. Together, they founded Theatre Replacement in 2003, and as freelance artists have directed, written, taught, and created performance at a range of companies and institutions.
Over a three-year cycle, the prize celebrates a professional director, playwright, or designer--with this year's prize focused on the first of those. Two years ago, Vancouver's Marcus Youssef won the award.
The award marked the first-ever conomination for the award. As part of the Siminovitch, the winner chooses a protégé who wins $25,000 out of the total amount. For that honour, Yamamoto and Long selected Vancouver director, performer, writer, creator, and A Wake of Vultures member Conor Wylie. They said his work "looks to create completely new territories for Canadian theatre".
"For me, James and Maiko sit at the centre of one utopia, one that includes our shared office at the Greenhouse in East Van," Wylie said in his acceptance speech. "It includes the Vancouver, Canadian, and international performance communities; it includes the East Van Panto and its pop songs and silly wigs and card-carrying socialist politics and the thousands of East Vancouverites it brings together each year. That’s like a mid-sized utopia!"
Amid his local stage work, Wylie received high praise for his performance in Dave Deveau's My Funny Valentine last year, in a Zee Zee Theatre piece that explored the shooting of teen Larry King.
Wylie is artist-in-residence at Theatre Replacement, where he cocreated MINE, inspired by the real-life relationship between Yamamoto and an 11-year-old son fixated on the computer game Minecraft; the show travelled to the U.K. and Kingston, Ontario this year and hits the Cultch from March 18 to 22 next year.
Wylie's past works include a multimedia space opera called Visitors from Far Away to the State Machine and a satirical motivational keynote speech called eatingthegame (both with Hong Kong Exile). Like Yamamoto and Long, he's a grad of SFU's School for the Contemporary Arts.
In another connection, when Marcus Youssef won honours at the Mayor's Arts Awards in 2017, he named Wylie as his designated emerging artist.
The jury had selected the Theatre Replacement duo on a shortlist with Christian Barry, cofounder of 2b theatre company; Ravi Jain, founding artistic director of Why Not Theatre; and Christian Lapointe, artistic director of Théâtre Carte Blanche.
In their speech, Yamamoto and Long commented on the position of Vancouver in the national theatre scene.
"It is a curious thing to stand here and receive a prize in ‘theatre’. The Canadian prize in theatre. And one that originates in central Canada, which as a place and an idea, remains a distant reality for us in Vancouver," they said. "We have always situated ourselves as outsiders and ‘theatre’ as a word and form has felt like something separate, removed or sequestered on a stage. Something that asks for a suspension of disbelief rather than an interrogation of it. Something that in its content and construction privileged certain voices and methods — methods that, once again, feel far away from the place we work.
They also gave a huge shout-out of support to PuSh International Performing Arts Festival cofounder Norman Armour, the Cultch's Heather Redfern, and writer, performer, director and producer Cory Philley: "there is absolutely no way we would be here today if it were not for your constant support and faith in our experiments," they said.