At the end of last month, the Siminovitch Prize in Theatre- one of the most lucrative awards presented to theatre creators in Canada- announced this year’s recipient. The Siminovitch Prize winner for 2019 strays from a major norm of previous recipients, particularly as this year the prize has been granted to a pair of practitioners. On November 21st, Maiko Yamamoto and James Long of Vancouver based company Theatre Replacement became the first recipients to receive the prize collectively. A quarter of their $100,000 prize will also be granted to their chosen protégé Conor Wylie, a fundamental aspect of the Siminovitch Prize in Theatre.
The decision to nominate and award Yamamoto and Long is much more than an exception to the usual form of nominee of the Siminovitch Prize. It is also poignantly indicative of the theatre climate in Canada and the world at large. While it is obvious that any theatre with multiple individuals has always been a collaborative endeavour, now more than ever are the roles and hierarchies of traditional theatre practice blurring. It is not imperative that one individual wears the hat of a director or for only the playwright to create the tale that is to be given life. The norm of theatre creation being fluid and organic increases every year, and while this may not even be inherent in the practice of Yamamoto and Long or the reason for choosing them, it does still acknowledge a change in approach for the theatre world.
Yamamoto and Long have been collaborating for over two decades, with their company Theatre Replacement being established in 2003. Their long-term collaboration has given way to many explorations, having produced shows globally, as well as having solidified their artistic mandate in a manifesto in 2009. The pair’s mandate is “Recognize. Magnify. Reproduce.” Both very modern and clinical in diction, this statement shows the co-artistic director’s drive and desire when it comes to germinating simple ideas into something worth sharing with as much of humanity as possible. Theatre Replacement also is a clear boon to the Vancouver theatre community, hosting such programs as New Aesthetics (“a two-week summer intensive for mid-career artists”) and PushOFF (a short term selection of in development works by artists from Vancouver and abroad).
While the pair’s aims as creators and integral position within Canadian theatre exude a focus and seriousness without room for levity, their creative offerings put that idea to rest. Two of their current ongoing pieces are purely a town crier or a town choir announcing or singing observations directed to them via tablet from writers at a remote location- obviously playing into the climate of instantaneous information and statements through social media like Twitter and Facebook. Another work, Mine, utilizes that sandbox-style video game Minecraft as a platform for a show about mother and song relations, showcasing Yamamoto and Long’s heart, wit, and modernity all in one.
The Siminovitch Prize winner being Maiko Yamamoto and James Long collectively gives honour to a pair who have long been honing their craft together for the betterment of Canada’s (and the world’s) artistic culture. Not only that, it praises the qualities that are so necessary in the context of modern theatre- collaboration, community, and the daring for innovation. Undoubtedly, Theatre Replacement will be upholding these values having secured this well-deserved award, and the world of theatre will be better for it.