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Ideas & Abilities: The Archivist

Ideas & Abilities: The Archivist

Neat and tidy bows aren’t Shaista Latif’s forte when it comes to storytelling. She’s the kind of person who prefers effective engagement over happy endings and a nicely packaged presentation.

At the bare bones of her one-woman show, The Archivist, is a narrative of “endurance and of resilience”, a narrative that has been transforming over the past three years, continually changing as Latif changes as a person and as an artist herself.

The plot reads: “To mark her position and her eventual disappearance, Shaista creates a live archive of found objects, music, photos and film to boldly question who has the right to document a history of war.” but Latif asserted that the show can’t be so easily described.

“When people think of solo shows, they think of one person on stage, telling you the story of their life,” Latif said. “But the whole point of this show is to illustrate that it’s impossible for one kind of representation to be shown, one kind of way of telling a story. That’s the difficulty in it all. In the end of it all, I think part of the resistance shown in the show is that I refuse to describe who I am as a person.”

The exploration of the different facets of self, herself and everyone else are core to the experience of The Archivist, produced in association with Why Not Theatre. Through both dramatic and humourous storytelling, Latif examines her own relationship to her identity, to our own identities, while discussing the way we understand stories with a sense of play, humility and curiosity.

Latif, a queer woman of colour living in Toronto, who is more akin to a performance artist than a traditional theatre playwright, began her artistic career when she graduated from stand up comedy classes in 2007 when she was 19. After performing in comedy productions for several years, she decided she wanted to move into theatre and in 2016 performed her first solo show, Graceful Rebellions, which told the story of three Afghan women. It was around this time that she began workshopping The Archivist. In order to garner a different variety of responses to the production, Latif encouraged people of colour to come and write reviews of the show in exchange for complementary tickets, something she still does to this date.

“It’s all about critical engagement. Usually people are so wanting to be able to share their stories, so there’s a value in doing this. I think people also see themselves in this story because its becoming more and more of a common story. It’s a story of displacement. It’s a story of migrants, refugees and immigrants coming to this country while having to contend with new realities of having to choose what they take with them. Our new identities are all hybrid ones.”

“So the show just really questions what our relationship is to power, to culture, and to our identity. But don’t worry. It’s so funny, trust me. There’s no way you can be as depressed as I am without having a great sense of humour,” she laughed. For me, it’s not about giving a show, it’s a way of engaging. I wanted to experience how many ways I can tell a story, and how many times in telling that story, do I become it?”

Performances of The Archivist take place at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre from Feb. 27-29. Ticket information can be found at Shaista Latif would like to continue the conversation, by inviting responses and reviews from audience members of colour. Complimentary tickets are available, if you are interested in participating in this initiative please email

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