December 18, 2018

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'Theatre nerd' brings new perspective to PTE

Winnipeg artist plans outreach programs to city's Filipino community and beyond

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Hazel Venzon has a diverse resumé, with years of experience creating art, directing and acting with independent theatre companies across Canada.</p></p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Hazel Venzon has a diverse resumé, with years of experience creating art, directing and acting with independent theatre companies across Canada.

Hazel Venzon is a Winnipeg-born artist intent on making a mark on the Prairie Theatre Exchange in the seasonal position of artistic associate.

She follows in the footsteps of past associates such as Sharon Bajer, Ann Hodges, Debbie Patterson and most recently, Alissa Watson.

The job came courtesy of funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, after the installation of the company’s new artistic director Thomas Morgan Jones, who took over after the retirement of Robert Metcalfe.

Venzon, 37, began the job Wednesday morning. Call it the latest item in a diverse resumé which began when, following graduation from Shaftesbury High School, she attended the University of Manitoba to study sculpture.

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Hazel Venzon is a Winnipeg-born artist intent on making a mark on the Prairie Theatre Exchange in the seasonal position of artistic associate.

She follows in the footsteps of past associates such as Sharon Bajer, Ann Hodges, Debbie Patterson and most recently, Alissa Watson.

The job came courtesy of funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, after the installation of the company’s new artistic director Thomas Morgan Jones, who took over after the retirement of Robert Metcalfe.

Venzon, 37, began the job Wednesday morning. Call it the latest item in a diverse resumé which began when, following graduation from Shaftesbury High School, she attended the University of Manitoba to study sculpture.

"I was part of the Black Hole Theatre Company, so I did a double minor in theatre and film studies while I did a major in sculpture," she says.

"When I was 18, I also started to explore sculpture as performance, and that theatre part of me started to come out," she says. She soon shifted her studies to Vancouver, where she studied theatre full time at Metcalfe’s alma mater, Studio 58.

As a Filipino-Canadian, she says, she had to hide her passion from her hard-working parents, who emigrated to Canada in the 1970s.

"I was a theatre nerd growing up, but closeted because of my immigrant parents," she says. "They didn’t understand theatre and didn’t know what leisure was, really.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Hazel Venzon, the Prairie Theatre Exchange’s new artistic associate</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Hazel Venzon, the Prairie Theatre Exchange’s new artistic associate

"They were here to provide and grow their family, and so growing up with these parents who had these expectations of you, I had to hide the fact that I loved being onstage and that I loved studying plays, and that plays helped me understand literature. I needed that three-dimensional aspect to be literate, I think.

"So, me going into theatre school, that was very new and I basically proposed it like it was a business plan and no one expected me to leave and I ended up leaving for 15 years."

Before returning to Winnipeg in 2016 after the death of her father, she had worked in Vancouver, Toronto and Whitehorse, where she accumulated years of experience creating art, directing and acting at independent theatre companies.

The position of artistic associate entails creating and developing outreach programs in the community.

"I came to the table saying I have a lived experience of being a woman of colour and I know what it feels like to perhaps not know how to come out and say, ‘I’d love to join the game,’" she says.

"Visibly, I think I could be a support person and a liaison in that forum, to be recognized as someone who could be a point of contact," she says. "And also someone who comes with a lot of knowledge and experiences to perhaps hold bigger conversations about it and maybe reach out to communities that might be quite shy."

Venzon says Winnipeg’s Filipino community can be reticent about embracing local theatre despite success stories within the community such as musical theatre star Ma-Anne Dionisio and playwright Joseph Aragon.

"There’s a very strong divide between what the Filipino community takes in as entertainment and (the local) theatre scene, not recognizing that what people are making here is very, very similar," she says. "They just haven’t made the connection."

In the meantime, Venzon is herself rediscovering what it means to be a Winnipegger in the job.

"I really lost a sense of where Winnipeg is in the national scope of theatre and I recognize that," she says. "I would like to offer ways to bring Winnipeg to the forefront as far as the country goes, to help shed some light on what’s going on in the city."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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