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Caleb Johnston

Nanay: A Testimonial Play

Nanay is a documentary theatre project that engenders public debate about Canada’s Live-In Caregiver Program, a temporary labour migration program that brings (mostly) Filipino women to Canada to care for Canadian children and ageing adults. The project transforms interview transcripts into a site-responsive installation. Created with Geraldine Pratt, our script is based entirely on verbatim monologues taken from interviews conducted over a 15-year period with migrant domestic workers, their children, nanny agents and Canadian employers. We have used testimonial theatre to generate a more intimate and vulnerable transnational debate on the politics of labour migration and the ethics of care.

Every performance has been followed by a facilitated public forum, which have facilitated critical dialogue and the sharing of information and expertise between migrant workers, their families, employers, government officials, NGO representatives, advocacy organisations, members of the Philippine National Congress and Yukon government, representatives from the Canadian and Philippine embassies, prospective migrants and their families, university students, and several hundred people in three continents.

Nanay was performed at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver in February 2009 and at the Hebbel Theatre in Berlin in June 2009. Portions of the script were read at the RGS conference in Edinburgh in July 2012. The play was performed in Manila at PETA theatre in November 2013. We returned to Manila in summer 2014 to revise the script in collaboration with a migrant organisation, Migrante International, and Teatro Ekumenical. Now a site-responsive script we did more research to gather new local stories of Filipino migration. The renewed play was presented in the migrant-sending community of Bagong Barrio in Caloocan City in metro Manila in  2014.

In December and January 2014-15 we collaborated with theatre artists in Whitehorse to adapt the play to circumstances there, adding testimony of Filipinos who have migrated as temporary foreign workers through the Yukon Nominee Program.  We then collaborated with Tlingit and Filipino artists to develop a new performance piece entitled Tlingipino Bingo as a means of generating dialogue between Filipino and Indigenous communities in the Yukon. In spring 2019 we collaborated with Hazel Venzon, Migrante Manitoba and the Migrant Solidarity Network to create three new scenes for Nanay from interviews in Manitoba. A script reading was performed at the Prairie Theatre Exchange Festival of New Works in May 2019.

Ensemble who has worked on the project in its travels:

Directors: Alexander Ferguson, Rommel Linatoc
Text: Caleb Johnston, Geraldine Pratt
Dramaturgy: Martin Kinch
Costume design: Barbara Clayden
Lighting design: John Webber
Sceneographer: Andreas Kahre
Set design: Tamara Unroe, Lex Marcos
Technical direction: David Kerr, Ian Torqueza
Actors: Alisa Anderson, Marichu Belamino, Delia Brett, Fatima Bruckman, Alexa Devine, Grace Estrella, Mellissa Dionisio, Anj Heruela, Patrick Keating, Primrose Magdayag Knazan, Joanna Lerio, George Maratos, Lex Marcos, Kirstin Murray, Lissa Neptuno, Marivic Perlawan, Hera Nalam, Claire Ness, Glen Odero, Karen Rae, Julie Taudevin, Hazel Venzon, Les Sediles, Corey Turner, Suki Wellman, Erin Wells
Community collaborators: Philippine Women Centre of BC, Migrante International, Migrante Manitoba, Migrant Solidarity Network in Winnipeg

Performed at:

PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, Vancouver
Created and performed in collaboration with the Philippine Women Centre of BC
Hebbel am Ufer Theatre, Berlin
Royal Geographical Society, Edinburgh (reading)
Philippine Educational Theatre Association, Manila
Bagong Barrio, Manila
Recreated and performed in collaboration with Migrante International
Pivot Festival, Whitehorse (reading)
Prairie Theatre Exchange Festival of New Work, Winnipeg (reading)
In collaboration with Migrante Manitoba, Migrant Workers Solidarity Network in Winnipeg

Audio and Video:

Stories of Leaving
Stories of Separation
Separation in Manila
Stories of Employment in Manila
The Nanny Agent

Publications relating to project:


Johnston Caleb and Geraldine Pratt (2019) Migration in Performance: Crossing the Colonial Present. London and New York: Routledge.

Journal Articles

Pratt G, Zell S, Johnston C and H Venzon (2020) Performing Nanay in Winnipeg: Filipino labour migration to Canada. Studies in Social Justice 14. Special issue on Migration, Intersectionality and Social Justice.

Pratt G, Johnston C and V Banta (2017) A traveling script: labour migration, precarity and performance. The Drama Review 61(2): 48-70.

Pratt G and C Johnston (2017) Crossing oceans: testimonial theatre, Filipina migrant labour, empathy and engagement. GeoHumanities 3(2): 279-291.

Pratt G, Johnston C and V Banta (2017) Filipina migrant stories and trauma in the transnational field. Emotion, Space and Society 24: 83-92.

Pratt G and C Johnston (2014) Filipina domestic workers, violent insecurity, testimonial theatre and transnational ambivalence. Area 46(4): 15-17.

Pratt G and C Johnston (2013) Staging testimony in Nanay. Geographical Review 103(2): 288-303.

Johnston C and G Pratt (2010) Nanay (Mother): a testimonial play. Cultural Geographies 17: 123-133.

Pratt G and C Johnston (2009) Translating research into theatre: Nanay: a testimonial play. BC Studies 163: 123-132. Reprinted in J Salverson (Ed.) Popular Political Theatre and Performance. Toronto: University of Toronto (2010).

Book Chapters

Johnston C and G Pratt (2014) Taking Nanay to the Philippines: transnational circuits of affect. In E Hurley (Ed.) Theatres of Affect, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 192-212.

Pratt G and C Johnston in collaboration with the Philippine Women Centre of BC (2014) Nanay (Mother): a testimonial play. In E Hurley (Ed.) Once More, With Feeling: Six Affecting Plays, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 49-90.