The Gift of Identity Deserves Care

Hello, I’m Sam MacPhee-Pitcher, the 2022 Playwright-in-Residence for Real Wheels.  I have had the opportunity to develop my play, “Something in the Water” under the tutelage of Dramaturg Natasha Nadir, and the entire experience has been phenomenal in its intellectual and artistic rewards.

My play, “Something in the Water” examines the creation and expression of identity.  We live in an age of expectation for easily digested explanations of ourselves – social media bios that reduce a person to a series of labels: name, gender, pronouns, race, dis/ability, etc.  We take a lifetime’s worth of experiences and attempt to convey ourselves in a manner that others can glance at and devour in seconds.  “Water” challenges the audience to consider the complexities of the individual experience behind labels, and when and why we owe it to others to explain ourselves.

In order to question who and what it is to be Canadian I displaced the conversation onto the question of who is British, how and why.  By doing so, I sidestep the simplicity of saying that either one is Indigenous or a settler, or that to live on the land is to be of the land (that is, to reside in Canada is to be Canadian).  Instead, I ask us to consider the difference of living in a place, having ancestral connection, and/or a cultural connection, while recognizing that these different lived realities all fall under the same national origin labels of being “British” or “Canadian”.  While labelling ethnic and national origin may not initially feel the same as labelling a mental illness, the reality of radically different lived experiences being represented by the same label is at the centre of my play.

“Water” is also concerned with the similar ways in which labels are gifted to us or that we pick up ourselves.  A family member teaches us that we are Canadian in a similar way that a mental health professional may teach us that we are mentally ill.  Sara, one of the three characters, is bulimic.  She is caught in the question of when that label is owed to others and when such experiences should be respected as private, the disclosure at the discretion of the individual.  Mental illness or psychiatric survival may seem more obviously sensitive than ethnic or national origin, but all of these identities are sensitive and may represent something quite private.  National origin may come with the pain of displacement, complicated feelings of belonging, colonialism, war and violence, or personal tragedy.  It can be as sensitive a topic as any identity.  While we may find ourselves demanded of to account for ourselves with labels, the social expectation ignores the individual need for privacy.

The privacy we are owed and the explanations that are owed to others exist on a variety of shifting spectrums that, like all identities and lived experiences, should be negotiated with care for our shared humanity and all of the inherent needs that come with the species.  We are all human with complex lived realities that should not be simply labelled for easy digestion as though we are objects to be devoured by anyone who happens across us.  Labels come with histories and stories as well as internal and collective understandings.  “Water” ultimately argues that all labels, as the frameworks of our beings, should be handled with the relative care.

NOTE: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and do not necessarily represent Realwheels.