The Quebec Artist Series, presented in partnership with Midwestern creatives and organizations, seeks to amplify diverse voices and fresh ideas to help us navigate the pandemic, connect across difference, and reimagine our collective futures. From panel discussions on political polarization and water quality to a virtual performance pairing a Canadian hip-hop artist and a Chicago rapper, we hope you enjoy the creative collaborations!
This series was made possible thanks to funding from Québec Government Office in Chicago.
Explore Upcoming Events
See all upcoming Quebec Artist Series events and webinars here.
Playwright & Theatre Producer
Annabel Soutar is a Montreal-based playwright and theatre producer. In 2000 she co-founded Porte Parole Productions with actor Alex Ivanovici. The Company’s mission is to produce entertaining documentary plays that create a transformational sense of civic engagement in its audiences. Annabel studied Theatre at Princeton University. Since 1998 she has written 8 documentary plays including Seeds, Sexy béton, The Watershed, and Fredy. Since 2016 Soutar has been working with co-authors and actors Alex Ivanovici and Brett Watson on The Assembly – a devised series of documentary plays exploring the phenomenon of political polarization. Episodes have been produced in Montreal, at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, and in Germany at the Munich Kammerspiele. Future episodes are currently being developed in the US, Lithuania, Brazil, and France.
Annabel Soutar was studying history, politics, and journalism at Princeton University in the early 1990s when playwright and actress Anna Deveare Smith came to town to premiere her first documentary plays. After watching “Fires in the Mirror” and “Twilight” at the McCarter Theatre in the town of Princeton, Soutar said her career “took a detour.”
“I was amazed at how [Smith’s] writing and performance allowed me to listen to and empathize with various people who had diametrically opposed opinions about the real conflicts featured in those plays,” Soutar said. “These plays inspired me to imagine theater as a space where real dialogue and impact could be created.”
Soutar said that she was fortunate to have a great teacher her senior year, Emily Mann, who taught a class in documentary playwriting. Similar to documentary film, documentary theatre is fact-based theatre that uses source material such as newspapers, interviews, journals, and reports, often in response to social or political crises.
After graduation, Soutar returned home to Quebec. There, she saw how deeply polarized Quebec was as a Francophone city in an Anglophone country, and she realized that documentary theatre could be an effective tool to address that.
In 2000, Soutar founded her documentary theatre company, Porte Parole, which means spokesperson in French, to use live performance to help people move through polarization by getting them to listen to each other and have difficult conversations. She hopes to ultimately make theatre an innovative space for democratic dialogue that promotes curiosity, creativity, critical thinking and live contact between a wide range of engaged citizens.
“Annabel’s experience as a storyteller and documentary theater artist makes every conversation more thoughtful,” said Michael Johnson, Arts Midwest Community Engagement Manager. “Her passion for using theater that centers first-person narratives to interrogate the most polarizing social issues is commendable, and it demonstrates the power of telling nuanced stories where everyone’s perspective gets to be heard.”
For Soutar, the power of documentary theatre is that it can simultaneously do two seemingly contradictory things — provide enough distance from a charged subject to think clearly about it, and enough intimacy with that same subject to feel deeply about it. “And because it’s live documentary, we can do these two things in a physical space together with our community,” Soutar said. “The experience, when it really connects, sprinkles star dust on democracy.”
Her original plays, “Novembre,” “2000 Questions,” “Santé,” “Import/Export,” “Seeds/Grains,” “Sexy béton,” “The Watershed/Le partage des eaux,” “Fredy,” take on the many issues of the day, including racial profiling, GMOs, high tech, violence against women, treatment of the elderly, the future of hydropower, and autism.
Soutar is currently working with co-writers Alex Ivanovici and Brett Watson on an international series of plays about political polarization and the rise of extremism in political discourse today called “The Assembly.” They create new and specific content for each touring city by bringing together four “regular” people with very different political views to have dinner together. Their conversations are then recorded, transcribed, and edited to create a script.
For example, “The Assembly – Montreal” premiered at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto in October 2018 and is based on a dinner held in December 2017 where four people with different political views debated issues of immigration and free speech. A French iteration,”L’Assemblée – Montréal,” premiered at Théâtre Espace Go in November 2018 with a different cast, characters/participants, and script. This version focused on themes of Quebec national identity, reasonable accommodation, and feminism.
She is also mentoring the development of a play about the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, where a young man broke into the school and killed 14 students, all women. Her next project will be about the influence of China’s rise on western culture.
For anyone interested in documentary theatre or playwriting, Soutar’s advice is, “Just do it. The only way to learn about the practice of documentary theatre is to choose a topic that you can’t stay silent about, and start asking questions about it. The rest will follow.”
Earlier this summer, Annabel Soutar was a panelist for the Arts Midwest Webinar, Art to Bridge Divides, to discuss how the arts can bridge cultural divides. Arts Midwest also hosted a special conversation with artists Annabel Soutar and J.R. Jamison who are both working to create more understanding and empathy through stories and performances that inspire action.
“Arts Midwest is grateful to host Annabel on several panel discussions this year, including the upcoming Oct. 20th webinar: Water United Us which will bring Annabel together with Midwestern arts and environmental leaders for an exploration of the innovative ways that art and creative programming can raise awareness about water quality issues in Canada and the Midwest,” Johnson said.
Aly Ndiaye (Webster)
Hip-Hop Artist, Writer, & Speaker
Aly Ndiaye, aka Webster, is a veteran of the Quebec hip-hop scene. Active since 1995, he now travels the world through his concerts, creative writing workshops and lectures. Passionate about history, the rapper from Limoilou is particularly interested in slavery and the presence of people of African descent in Quebec and Canada since the time of New France. Webster is the author of a hip-hop writing manual, À l’Ombre des Feuilles (Québec Amérique, 2019), and a children’s book about Olivier Le Jeune, the first African slave in Canada, Le Grain de Sable (Septentrion, 2019). In 2019, he was the curator of the Fugitives! exhibition at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec about resistance to slavery through flight. He also has put together Qc History X tours, guided tours of the Old Quebec about slavery and the presence of people of African descent.
In 2014, after 19 years on the hip-hop scene, French Canadian hip hop artist Aly Ndiaye, better known as Webster, decided to stop rapping.
After seven albums, he was feeling “at the bottom of the wave,” and he felt that it was time to take a step back. This was a surprising move for an artist considered to be one of the pioneers of the Quebec hip hop movement and a founding member of the Limoilou Starz collective.
“Unexpectedly, it gave me a larger vision, because my horizon wasn’t blocked anymore by my sole hip-hop aspirations,” Webster told Arts Midwest about how he began trying different artforms. “This is how I started to envision different projects and avenues to express myself creatively, but also to be able to teach a part of history that is still largely unknown in Quebec, namely, the history of slavery and the presence of people of African descent.”
Many people do not know that there were enslaved Africans in Quebec as early as the time of New France, in the 17th century, before the area became a British colony and before Canada became a country.
These days, one can find Webster leading historical QC History X walking tours around Quebec City to various sites important in Black Canadian history. He also curates museum exhibitions about Black Canadian history such as Fugitives! at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (2019). He also wrote an award-winning illustrated book, Le Grain de Sable (Septentrion, 2019), about Olivier Le Jeune who was the first enslaved African to be forcibly taken to Canada in 1629; he was ten years old. One can also find Webster at various universities, juvenile detention centers, cultural centers, and schools around the world speaking, teaching creative writing, and performing hip hop in order to teach others this forgotten history of Quebec.
His current project is translating late philosopher Charles W. Mills’s The Racial Contract into French because he feels that it is an important book for the French speaking world, but it has never before been translated into French. The book uses social contract theory to argue that racism and white supremacy undergird and shape western cultures.
Webster also wrote a hip hop writing manual, À l’Ombre des Feuilles (Québec Amérique, 2019). His next project will be writing an Encyclopedia of Quebec’s Hip-Hop.
“Arts Midwest is fortunate to have the opportunity to showcase an international artist as versatile and formidable as Webster,” said Michael Johnson, Arts Midwest Community Engagement Manager. “Webster’s work offers inspiration to anyone striving to use the power of creative expression, in all its forms, to challenge common narratives and create space for themselves and their bold ideas.”
And he is still rapping, Webster adds.
Webster did not set out to become a multidisciplinary artist. He always saw rap as his primary vehicle, and he recognizes that rap allows him to reach different kinds of people than that he might reach with a history lecture or a guided tour.
“[Hip-Hop] serves as a ‘pocket lecture,’” Webster said. “When I do a 3 minute song on stage or it is played on the radio, it becomes a miniature crash course about a topic I want people to connect with. I feel that rap is the element that ties all my art forms together. It gave me a way to think and be creative. It taught me how to twist concepts and ideas.”
For young people interested in history or music, he tells them to work hard. “If you are interested in history, you have to read a lot, there is no going around it,” Webster said. “Music? Read a lot. It’ll help you to develop a larger vocabulary. Most importantly, write a lot. You have to do it over and over and over again, this is how you become good at doing something.”
“Webster’s command of history and hip-hop will be on full display in our event series,” Johnson said. In addition to a musical performance, we’re thrilled to host a writers roundtable featuring Webster and two midwestern voices, Roy Kinsey and Terrion Williamson, who together will explore each other’s recent work, ranging from rap albums and children’s books to an anthology of the Black Midwest.”
Annabel Soutar and Webster features are written by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, an award-winning journalist, essayist, activist, scholar, and poet focused on issues of Asian America, race, justice, and the arts. Her writing has appeared at PBS NewsHour, NBCAsianAmerica, PRIGlobalNation, Center for Asian American Media, AngryAsianMan, Detroit Journalism Cooperative, Cha Asian Literary Journal, and more. She co-created a multimedia artwork for Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, she is a Knight Arts Challenge Detroit artist writing a book on the Vincent Chin case, and her book of poetry, You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids, Wayne State Univ. Press, is coming in 2022. franceskaihwawang.com @fkwang