Rachael Van Fossen, MFA

Affiliated Faculty

Rachael Van Fossen is a theatre and interdisciplinary artist and teacher with a focus on collaborative practices in socially-engaged performance. Her current research focuses on a theatre of encounter, and its potential to build relationship across different life experiences and values. She is Co-investigator with Art for Social Change: A research partnership in Teaching and Learning, Evaluation and Capacity-Building. She has worked as Founding Artistic Director of Common Weal Community Arts, and as Artistic Director of Black Theatre Workshop. She freelances as an arts consultant and researcher, most recently for Jumblies Theatre and the Canada Council for the Arts. She is an Affiliate Associate Professor with the Theatre and Development program at Concordia University in Montreal.


MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts, Goddard College
BA in Drama with honors, McGill University

Areas of Expertise

  • Community-Engaged Theatre
  • Socially Engaged Performance

Personal Statement

I am a polite Canadian and an unruly American–or is it the other way around? I live in Quebec and I am sometimes clumsy.

I am interested in bringing together diverse ‘truths.’ I am drawn to investigating tensions that arise from contradiction, conflict and multiple possible meanings in myself and in the collaborative worlds I inhabit. I am a ‘context-specific’ artist; I adapt forms and processes to immediate human circumstances.

I am an interdisciplinary thinker, with a disciplinary background and an established practice as an artistic director, writer, and director of theatre performance. I frequently collaborate with artists of diverse backgrounds on projects in various mediums and settings. I am drawn to work with people on photography and video projects, contemporary dance, writers’ groups, sound installation, music composition, and commissioning visual artists to create for thematically conceived performance events.

In the 1990’s, my practice shifted to participatory, collaborative, community-based performance forms. I am passionate about engaged art practices, especially those that welcome a diversity of perspectives and dare to hope they will contribute to social, personal, and political change.

I like to listen to other people.

I have learned much from working with farmers, sex trade workers, youth, seniors, politicians, lawyers, and others.

Sometimes, I talk about myself to other people. Like now. In 1993 a group of us formed Saskatchewan’s Common Weal Community Arts. I was the artistic director. I guided Common Weal’s transition from primarily theatre performance to its current multi- and interdisciplinary mandate. I relocated to Montreal in 1999 to assist with curriculum design for the then-new specialization in Theatre and Development at Concordia University. I have served as the artistic director of Black Theatre Workshop (2001-2005); I am a founding member and artistic associate of the Collectif MOYO–an artist collective with a mandate to assert cultural and intercultural diversity in Montreal’s arts ecology; and I continue to teach part-time at Concordia.

Often, I talk to myself about myself. Sometimes, I listen to what I am saying to myself.

I am interested in creating various kinds of work based in oral histories, and in public, site- and context- specific performance. In my writing I seek to blur distinctions between academic and/or performative writing, and writing for performance. My work has been published in anthologies of plays, in academic journals, and in collections of essays.

My recent projects include the Rights Here! International Exchange Project in Theatre and Law for Human Rights (2007.) Currently I’m working on a more intimate piece-in-progress which involves a collaborator in performances of our own and each others’ multiple and often contradictory identities. Now and then I perform as an arts consultant and researcher, including work for the Inter-Arts and Equity Offices at the Canada Council for the Arts, and for the MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels.)

When I am not reading trashy murder mysteries, I like to read critical theory.

Integration of theory and practice is important to me. Reading about relational and dialogical aesthetics, feminist, gender, and post-colonial theory, performance studies, and books by anthropologists and neurologists, provides inspiration for creative work.

I live in Montreal. I am downwardly mobile: I inhabit the upper half of a duplex. My parents live in the lower half, because they have a harder time with stairs. I live with my partner of twenty years, and with our teenaged son, who has fairly large feet. My daughter comes to visit when she needs to do laundry, and dirty laundry often coincides with times she wants to talk to me. All of us like to harvest strawberries, basil and tomatoes from the garden.


Affiliation MFA Interdisciplinary Arts