My name is Gina Puntil and I am a proud Filipino-Canadian theatre artist based in Edmonton, Alberta (AB). I use the pronouns she/her. Currently, I am the Artistic Director of the Alberta Workers' Health Centre's (AWHC) Work Plays Schools Program (WPSP). The AWHC is a non-government organization that does some programming about health and safety in the workplace and workers' rights. The WPSP is their flagship initiative. It is touring theatre company that goes into middle and senior high schools with professionally sculpted productions with that very specific focus. My journey started with the AWHC 12 years ago. That is the same time when I made the decision to start to shift the focus of my career towards social justice theatre. And I found the most proactive, challenging, and forward thinking theatre in Alberta was through the work that TYA companies were putting out there. It was the only theatre that was being done where I could see people who look like me in a creative decision making position. At that time I had to get on a plane or drive for 14 hrs to experience that. Today those trips need to happen less often and those drives are for shorter, but the experience is still pretty lonely as I sit in an audience where I am one of the few persons of colour, and sometime the only person of colour, in the room.
For the past 8 years I have been luck y to work along side people who's history and experience shapes the foundation of who they are and how they negotiate through this world. People who do not consider themselves "professional" artists but the practice of art is a part of who they are, what they do when their family and friends gather, and how they tell their history; their stories. These people are primarily new to Canada or who are the first generation born in Canada and are the "spokesperson" for their family and we are brought together usually through the "workers' health" side of my job. Those experiencing legitimate feeling of under-representation,cultural displacement, struggles of assimilation, shamed because of the learning curve of workplace / societal "soft skills," and straight up discrimination. Through theatre not only are they able to articulate these feelings as a community, but it's also a vehicle where their experiences and desires for a more just workplace can be heard and seen. They become harder to ignore.
Through the Alberta Workers' Health Centre, I have been fortunate enough to have opportunities to focus on improving my skills needed to better serve this work. As a labour movement activist and taking classes on Occupational Health and Safety, Workers' Compensation, Employment Standards, AB labour history, AB labour law, and several focused classes on human rights. The AWHC recognizes the importance and effectiveness of theatre as a method of creating a common language in the room. The AWHC has and continues to support me as an artist that needs to develop, share and practice skills.
One experience that has satisfied both of these sides happened in the fall of 2016: artEquity. This was a game changer. Not only did it provide tools, resources and training to support the intersection of art and activism, it also provided a community of people who share the passion for equity, diversity, and inclusion work in theatre, why it is important and relevant now (always has been), and why we are called to learn more, take in-depth facilitator training, and share that work with our colleagues.
CAATA was brought ot my attention by one of artEquity's facilitators; Leslie Iishi. Perhaps you have heard of her? (I'm trying to remain professional and not insert a winky-face here.)
This August 2018 will be my first time at ConFest in Chicago.
This Filipino-Canadian is also proud of her spelling of "theatre," "centre," "labour," and "colour" and will not change it despite the itch that is developing from all the red marks in this document. ...I've gone on for a long time. I'm stopping now.