A true artistic jack-of-all-trades, Amanda Parris, host of CBC’s Exhibitionists and columnist for CBC Arts, took some time out with us to talk about her experience as a former-theatrical-educator-turned-TV host. Sound like a mouthful? That’s because Amanda Parris has done it all, from youth facilitating with organizations like The Remix Project, to having her plays staged at various festivals. Today, she talks to us about her experience on one of CBC’s most diverse TV shows:
L.A : With Exhibitionists, you’re taking us on a journey through passionate artists getting their work out there – what made you want to get involved with something like that in the first place?
A.P: When I was asked if I wanted to audition for Exhibitionists, I was super excited because a lot of the roles that I’ve played prior to this have been about helping to curate and create platforms for artists to have their worked shared, acknowledged and recognized from communities beyond my immediate circle. I [did] that through education, community work, some of my own artistic work and curating installations.
I’m really passionate about creating spaces for artists to share what it is they do and why they do it. So it was incredibly exciting to know that 1) the show was going to exist and 2) I was able to be a part of it in some way, shape or form.
L.A: What do you like most about hosting for Exhibitionists?
A.P: I love being challenged to learn more. This is my first time doing anything on camera as a “personality”. There have been a lot of learning curves. It’s a lot different from the work that I did before. There are a lot of things that I didn’t know, [like] how my voice would sound on television.
I feel really privileged to be in this space as a part of a team that is so generous, patient and constantly creating opportunities. It’s not just Exhibitionists – it’s also the growth of the CBC Arts platform. As somebody who loves education, it’s such a blessing to be in a place where I constantly get to grow.
L.A: What has the response from the Black-Canadian community in the GTA been like for you?
A.P: Honestly, it’s been phenomenal. When I made the first social media announcement, I was so overwhelmed with positive responses. I was so humbled by it.
The most poignant messages have been from parents who talk about how significant it is for their children – especially their daughters – to see me looking the way that I do, rocking the kind of hair that I rock. I’ve been brought to tears by some of the messages that I’ve received from parents specifically about what it’s meant to see me.
L.A: What would you say is the state of the arts and culture scene in Canada?
A.P: There are so many scenes within that large umbrella. Prior to this show, my perspective was limited to Toronto. Exhibitionists has really exposed me to what’s happening outside of the city.
There is so much I know about happening in music, theatre and film. Outside of Toronto, I’m seeing an incredible movement with digital arts and sculpture. There’s so much going on that it almost makes me a little bit scared of what we’ve missed during the time when nobody was covering [or supporting] artists.
Although the Internet has really been filling in gaps, [art] has not been serviced by television specifically. It’s such a massive task that it really comes down to the public broadcaster to fulfill that role.
We have artists featured on the show that you would never see anywhere else. Their work is so niche that it probably wouldn’t be found anywhere else, but it deserves to be here.
L.A: As a creative and woman of colour, what do you think are some of the challenges are when it comes to representation in the mainstream art scene?
A.P: I think that’s the main challenge – we don’t get to see ourselves often. I never knew how important it was to see yourself in order to imagine yourself.
I never considered being a television writer (even though I watch way too much television) until this woman named Shonda Rhimes came and dominated everything. And then I saw Issa Rae and her webseries, Awkward Black Girl.
I think that it’s hugely important to have representation. The lack of it has stopped so many potential creators from exploring avenues they possibly could have been brilliant in.
It’s a conversation that is sometimes uncomfortable for folks to have: creating space and being aware of unequal opportunities.
Within the short time we’ve been around, [Exhibitionists] has been able to exemplify some of the incredible diversity that exists in Canada. There are so many artists that we feature across the board coming from the Philippines, China, First Nations communities, Black artists, South Asian artists etc.
L.A: How supportive have the powers-that-be at CBC been of your interests and involvement within these communities?
A.P: Doing a television show is a very collaborative medium. There are so many producers and executives involved who make decisions.
The CBC Arts column is a little less collaborative – my ideas and edits go through my very amazing editor. Since it is a column written with a POV, it’s a space where my specific interests and authentic voice can emerge directly. I get to make a lot more decisions and be specific and focused on topics or perspectives that might not get picked up on show through the column. There are also certain things that I recognize will have more of a breathing space in the digital world.
L.A: What kinds of art speak to you most?
A.P: I love film. I hope one day to write and maybe act in films and TV, too. Television right now is really great. If I see a film that really moves me, I will research that film for the next week, talk about it and probably write something about it.
I also love literature.
And of course, I do love theatre – I think it’s a magical medium because you never experience the same thing twice.
L.A: What message would you like to send for any up and coming artists in Toronto looking to get themselves out there?
A.P: Be passionate and strategic. Use social media as a tool. It’s really mind-blowing to see what some artists are able to do using social media. Be strategic about what, how and when you post. Cultivate your own following.
If you’re a visual artist, use Instagram as your gallery. If you’re a writer, use blogs.
Knowing how to market yourself is as important as the creation itself, but I think that there can also be a lot of creativity in that marketing as well. So use social media wisely and connect – talk to people and network.
You can catch Amanda Parris on CBC’s Exhibitionists Sundays at 4:30pm EST and read her column on cbc.ca/arts. Also be sure to follow her on twitter: @amanda_parris.