PGC Women’s Caucus Statement Regarding The Retirement of the Bra d’Or Award
February 2, 2024
After much consideration, PGC’s Women’s Caucus Committee has decided to retire The Bra d’Or Award (BDA), which has celebrated individuals and groups for their support of women playwrights, and more recently, also trans, two-spirit, and non-binary creators in Canada.
The original intent of the Bra d’Or, a cheeky French misnomer, was to put a positive spin on the writing of women playwrights. At PGC’s 2003 AGM, every agenda item pointed to how dismal it was out there. Women were getting less than 25% of the productions across Canada, and that stung. To help redress the situation in an encouraging manner, Marcia Johnson, an associate member of PGC at the time, suggested we give an award to anyone who produced female-authored plays or encouraged female writers. The idea caught traction, and in 2006, as a full member and Women’s Caucus Chair, Marcia presented the inaugural BDA to Brian Quirt. He had programmed all-female panels at an LMDA mini-conference in Toronto. The women were presented as experts in their field. He had done it mindfully and without fanfare. A true ally.
Since then, the award has gone to many worthy recipients, including Eric Coates for the 2008 season at the Blyth Festival where all the plays were written by women; and most recently, to playwright Catherine Banks for her commitment to mentoring women playwrights in all career stages. A complete list of all the Bra d’Or Award recipients can be found HERE.
In 2019, the Bra d’Or Award was revamped, and its mandate expanded beyond a narrow definition of women to also include trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming playwrights. The BDA was needed because productions authored by women remained stalled for decades, never surpassing the 35% marker, a rate that was much lower for IBPOC creators, while plays by two-spirit, trans, and non-binary (2STNB) artists were extremely rare (only .5% of the nation’s productions). Recently, women finally surpassed the 35% bar, and plays by 2STNB folks account for 5% of the nation’s productions now (a relatively huge increase). Unfortunately, the numbers have dipped again coming out of the pandemic, but hopefully not for long.
So, why is the Bra d’Or Award being suspended? We would love to say it is because we have reached parity in Canadian theatre, but there is still much work to be done. Yet, the award achieved what it set out to do: it started a necessary conversation; it called attention to the need for greater equity, diversity, and inclusion in theatre programming; and it celebrated people doing important work in the field, people who led by example. Over time, artists started vying for the BDA, but there were also individuals who were nominated in many different years, only to be passed over each time, which seems quite unfair. As well, we started to see popularity contests emerge based on region, and concerns were voiced from nominees that women, two-spirit, trans, and non-binary practitioners were being pitted against each other, which is completely out of step with the intent of the award. Furthermore, today’s theatrical landscape is very different than it was when we started the award in 2006; there is a much greater awareness of gender and racialized inequities now, and a stronger push to rectify longstanding systemic discrimination, which has rendered the BDA obsolete.
For these reasons, the Women’s Caucus Committee has decided to retire the Bra d’Or Award, effective immediately.
While the BDA will be not awarded again, for a final hurrah, this year, PGC’s Women’s Caucus will celebrate ALL the past Bra d’Or Award nominees for the fantastic work they have done over the years to help change our industry for the better. Stayed tuned. More details about that to come.
Rest assured that PGC’s Women’s Caucus Committee will continue to be vigilant about representation, and the spirit of the Bra d’Or Award will continue through our other initiatives.
If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact us directly by email, or through PGC staff member Rebecca Burton (firstname.lastname@example.org). We are open to your thoughts, questions, and suggestions. We are here for you.
PGC’s Women’s Caucus Committee (Kelley Jo Burke, Joanna Falk, Marcia Johnson, Rachel Mutombo, and Carolyn Nakagawa)