Nanay will make you think. Hard.
Last night I watched Nanay, a testimonial play. Staged at Chapel Arts, it is an archival look at Canada's Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP) and its impact on Filipino families. When you arrive, you will be given a clipboard, a pen and a piece of paper which allows you to write down your questions during the performance. It also contains a short survey to complete which is intended to as an information-gathering tool for those who put together this play - namely researchers Geraldine Pratt and Caleb Johnston who are working in collaboration with the Philippine Women Centre of BC.
The evening is certainly engaging. You are taken on a journey through various rooms in the Chapel Arts and introduced to various Canadian employer families, Filipino domestic workers and children of the Filipino domestic workers. Depending on which group of the audience you are part of, you will start at a different point in the story. My group started with the Canadian employer families, then moved on to the experiences of the Filipino domestic workers and their children left behind in the Philippines. The play text consists of selected text of real-life interviews which is performed for you by five local actors (Hazel Venzon, Karen Rae, Alexa Divine, Melissa Dionoso and Patrick Keating). I want to share with you some of the questions I wrote down during the play: 1) Are all the Canadian employer families (aka "the white folks") really so rude and condescending? 2) There is a huge power imbalance when you set up a situation of having a foreign temporary worker coming into a private Canadian home - is it impossible to create "fairness"? 3) How do the Canadian children feel about their Filipino nannies? About their own mothers? 4) Why does the Canadian government not monitor this program better if there is such ongoing abuse of these Filipino women? Why are so many working "under the table" and then failing to meet the requirement of 24 months of Live-In Caregiver work within 36 months? Why does it take 6 - 8 years for the families to complete immigration to Canada? Some of my questions were answered by the end of the evening through the talk-back session which followed the performance. Some weren't. The fact is, a play like this can only bring up issues and stimulate interest in a complex subject that is not part of ongoing public discussions.
There is a great deal of merit in bringing this subject to theatrical life as it can shine a light on a government program with significant impacts on many Canadian families, on predominantly female temporary foreign workers and on their families who may eventually become Canadian citizens. But Nanay, a testimonial play is more than meritorious - thanks to direction by Alex Ferguson and his clever creative team, the audience is consistently intrigued by stories which may or may not reflect their own personal experiences.