Staging Testimony in Nanay

Article excerpt

We created Nanay: A Testimonial Play' to generate public debate about the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP), a program that enables mostly women from the Philippines to migrate to Canada as domestic workers. The LCP is one of the largest and longest-running temporary-worker programs in Canada and is an important example of an increasing worldwide trend toward temporary labor migration. An unusual characteristic of the LCP is that registrants can apply for permanent resident status in Canada and sponsor their dependents if they complete twenty-four months of live-in care work within thirty-eight months (recently extended to forty-eight months). Despite the significance of the trend toward increased temporary or "circular" migration, decades of critical research on the LCP by scholars across a disciplinary spectrum and activists' perceptions that conditions within the LCP are deteriorating (Macklin 1992; Bakan and Stasiulis 1997; Pratt 1999, 2004, 2012; Stasiulis and Bakan 2003; Pratt in collaboration with the Philippine Women Centre 2005), remarkably little public debate has taken place in Canada about this temporary migration program in particular or the striking expansion of temporary labor migration more generally.

We created Na nay, in collaboration with theater director Alex Ferguson and the Philippine Women Centre of British Columbia (PWC of BC), to bring the issue of temporary labor migration into visibility and to generate public debate. There is, we believe, no easy or simple relationship to this issue. We have been drawn to theater to explore the ways that it might enable audience members to think and feel about their world differently, to temporarily suspend judgment, and extend the terms of political discussion in productive ways (Kondo 1996, 1997, 2000; Houston and Pulido 2002; Nagar 2002; Pratt and Kirby 2003; Dolan 2005; Pratt and Johnston 2007; Burvill 2008). We are interested, in short, in the potential of theater to "redistribute the sensible": that is, what we see, hear and think, and to function as a site where we can model (and not just profess) more vulnerable and egalitarian political debate (Ranciere 2004). We committed ourselves to presenting with equal subtlety the experiences of middle-class Canadians in need of care and those of domestic workers and their children. We did so to encourage audience identification across all of these experiences and to push audience members toward nuanced, complicated, sometimes complicit relationships to the issues.

We developed the play and first performed it at the Chapel Arts center in Vancouver, British Columbia, in February 2009. Nanay was designed as a site-specific performance, during which audience members were guided in small groups of twelve through often-cramped and intimate spaces to witness testimony performed by professional actors. Spectators were led through different rooms that staged three scenes in which Canadian families narrated their struggles to secure affordable care in Canada, and five scenes of domestic workers and their children giving testimony to their experiences in the LCP. We chose to develop the play at Chapel Arts in part because of the disparity in comfort on different levels of the building. It is a renovated funeral home, and many of the downstairs rooms--where the business of preparing the dead formerly took place--are unheated and dank; the scenes involving domestic workers and their children were staged there. More comfortable and formally decorated rooms are located upstairs, and this was where employers told of their experiences. Most of the scenes are monologues created verbatim from research transcripts developed from interviews with nanny agents, domestic workers, Filipino youths, and Canadian employers. We asked audience members to listen closely to all that these different people had to say, in order to come to an informed opinion of their own. An extended talk-back at the conclusion of every performance offered an opportunity for audience members to formulate their thoughts through a public conversation about the ethics and politics of the LCP. …