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Universal Child Care at Canadian Stage

Thursday 22nd February 2024 / 8pm / Canadian Stage

Universal Child Care created by Quote Unquote Collective

Photo by Lorne Bridgman.

“We’re expected to get on with it in a completely invisible way”

That’s from Universal Child Care at Canadian Stage which I caught this week.

The show starts with the cast peeling onto the stage a soundscape of guttural and visceral noises washes over the stage. Germaine Konji takes the centre mic and leads the cacophony of childbirth. As she delivers her final push we then see a projection of hospital bills (designed by potatoCakes_digital) on the tall set of 4 stark white stacked units that the cast can climb on and explore. 

This was a stunning and pointed show critiquing the systems of childcare in Canada, the US, the UK, and Japan and demolishes any impression of medical parity. The system is no longer fit for purpose. The show dives into the no job, no daycare, shit pay, no spot, can’t afford cycle, and how this failing system has been able to continue due to the exploitation of immigrant childminders because clearly, it’s not working for anyone. The show produced a gorgeous collection of songs; genuine audience affinity built through stand-up; smooth choreography and physical theatre executed with synchronicity and animation. 

The sound design, musical direction, and sound engineering from Matt Smith, Alex Samaras, and Jess Forrest beautifully amplified the voices of oral testimonies of mothers and nannies across the globe and masterfully married the vocals of the company to deliver a wide range of melodies from operatic wails to 90s choreographed band numbers. The use of mics supported spotlighting the various stories and empowering the MC (played by Mónica Garrido Huerta) in holding the space and directing the audience most powerfully with the ten-second group scream.

The sleek white set designed by Lorenzo Savoini and Michelle Tracey in contrast to the deep maroon hues from the costumes of the collective demonstrates the forced invisibility of bearing the weight of having children and childcare. It’s a bloody mess and it suits the order if it’s not shown. This idea is furthered by Andre du Toit’s recurring pinky-red wash.

As the MC navigates the labyrinth of their frustrations whilst having to perform as the weaver of the four narratives, by the end the audience is confronted with the age-old tale of immigrant women being exploited and undervalued, a poignant reminder of the injustices ingrained into the system of maintaining a failing childcare system..

A question from the post-show talk-back was “What is the next political move for the production and the company?” and jest that they know it’s not their job. Well someone has to do it. 

 Did you know that in Canada there is a Black Maternal Health Crisis that can’t be verified because most of Canada (bar Nova Scotia) doesn’t track race-based health data? I only know this from attending a Talkback with Amanda Parris who has brought visibility to this neglect with her newest series For The Culture With Amanda Parris. The medical data, research, and consideration for women are so subpar demonstrating a system not built for women that hasn’t even adapted for us. When I dream of equal citizenship, I do not dream of this. 

I do not dream of policed bodies. I do not dream of unpaid maternity and hardly any paternity leave. I do not dream of a fat hospital bill. I do not dream of not being able to afford living in the city I am from. I do not dream of spending more time trying to palm my child off to daycare and having to work numerous jobs than spending time loving them. I do not dream of perpetuating an exploitative childcare cycle. The system is no longer fit for purpose and numbers don’t lie.  

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