Amidst the countless things we do for love, a common tale that unfolds in different corners of the world is moving to another country, leaving a home to build another. MT Space founder Majdi Bou-Matar’s story is not very different. A trained Lebanese-Canadian director, actor, and dancer, he relocated to Canada with his wife after she was accepted into a PhD program at UW. Hoping to support both his marriage and love for theatre, he auditioned with various theatre companies in Southern Ontario for a variety of roles but was only met with criticism, primarily related to his ethnicity. Some might have been deterred by this, but Bou-Matar used the criticism to fuel his fire and carved a space of his own. MT Space has since evolved into a thriving platform where marginalized and racialized artists can do what they love and pursue their passions uninhibited.
A homophone for “empty,” and an acronym for “multicultural theatre,” MT Space is a theatre company that challenges the definition of theatre by including a diverse repertoire of dance, music, multimedia, and performing arts. Bou-Matar’s vision progressed further in 2009 with the inauguration of the biennial International Multicultural Platform for Alternative Contemporary Theatre (IMPACT) Festival. This festival, in his own articulation, “is a festival of difference[s]. [Its] vision was built on embracing cultural diversity in its widest sense. It’s about embracing different work cultures, forms of performance, cultural attitudes and behaviours, [and the] diversity of stories and performance traditions.”
IMPACT 23, which runs from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1, features 21 productions from across the globe, including Australia, Chile, Columbia, Tunisia and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Ontario. The festival includes a diverse range of acts that promise something for everyone, including a burlesque act featuring members from Indigenous communities, a ribbon-making scourge to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women by local artist Cara Loft, a writer series, and an immersive installation piece by Tess Martens titled “An Ode to Katherine,” inspired by New York painter Katherine Bradford. Details about specific productions can be found in the festival brochure on the MT Space website.
Over time, IMPACT has grown to represent both international and local artists from the KW region, primarily intending to portray and create stories beyond the expected, test new boundaries, and incorporate undiscovered acts.
Bou-Matar’s sudden passing last year has only reinforced the intention behind the upcoming festival, making it a profound homage to his legacy and unwavering dedication. Talking about the performances at the festival this year, artistic director Pam Patel, who was closely mentored by the man himself, said, “I’m trying to get representation across the country, from different places in the world that are not the countries we’re always seeing in festivals because often we’re only seeing [Western countries], but [not countries] more in the east or more marginalized, [like] the Middle East, or from Asia or South America.”
Beyond the performances itself, at the core of IMPACT is the transformative power of dialogue, presented through a three-day conference from Sept. 28 to 30 that acts as a hub for discussions that reverberate beyond the local theatre scene, resonating on a provincial and national level. This year the floor is open to conversations about succession planning and caregiving in the professional theatre sector, as well as the arts and culture sector as a whole. Patel, who is also meant to join UW’s department of theatre and performance to direct the winter 2024 main stage production, spoke to the reason why the festival is held in Waterloo and of the involvement of both Wilfrid Laurier University and UW in the festival.
“We do the festival here because we’re also trying to forge a connection between international, national, and local artists, [including] the emerging artists, and the theatre professionals here,” Patel said. “By going into classes at the universities, [we are] aiming to shift the definition of Canadian theatre, and make students realize that there are other practices and methodologies that can be applied to the creation of work, the way stories are told and even the way things are done behind the scenes [pertaining to] the administration, or the management or the production elements.”
To further this teaching initiative, MT Space has just launched a fundraising campaign for the Majdi Bou-Matar bursary dedicated to offering financial support worth $5,000 and mentorship from MT Space to a newcomer, immigrant, racialized or emerging artist each year. The inaugural call for applicants has been announced, with the goal of naming the first recipient at the festival.
If you’re looking to get involved in the festival beyond audience participation, IMPACT is also looking for volunteers to help manage the festival. Perks of being a volunteer include complimentary access to the productions.
As the curtains rise on the 2023 IMPACT Festival, it’s evident that Majdi Bou-Matar’s dream has not only endured but flourished into a movement of empowerment and representation. With Patel at the helm, Bou-Matar’s legacy lives on, inviting artists, audiences, and creators to participate in a celebration that transcends boundaries, challenges perceptions, and unites us all through the universal language of art. Festival passes and tickets for the festival can be found on the MT Space website.