A writer all her life, Terri Aihoshi never imagined she would one day become a playwright. “When I was younger – much younger, I’m a senior now,” she laughs, “I loved to write. But then life intervened, and I got away from writing.”
As the inaugural recipient of Fringe Theatre’s Mowat Diversity Award, Terri is thrilled to be provided the opportunity to use the power of theatre to share her personal journey as someone living with disability.
“I’ve never really written a play before,” she says. “But, Fringe was meant for me to reveal this about myself.”
Designed to re-imagine the landscape of theatre by creating opportunity to enrich the diversity of artists and their stories on stage, the Mowat Diversity Award provides an equity-seeking artist with all the necessary ingredients for producing a Fringe show: a venue spot, technicians, lighting, sound equipment, box office support, marketing, public relations and advertising in support of their show, plus a $500 cash prize, mentorship facilitated by Fringe Theatre Artistic Director Murray Utas, and even reimbursement of their Festival application fee in full. Named in honour of ATB Financial’s recently-retired CEO Dave Mowat, this award celebrates his spirit of ingenuity and passion for diversity by helping Edmonton Fringe put the spotlight on oft underrepresented voices.
“I’ve kept my disability hidden for almost my whole life,” she explains. “I’m neurodivergent. I have a suite of psychiatric psychological issues. Some manifest themselves visibly. Others don’t. One of the things I’m hoping to accomplish with this show is to help people understand the reality of living with disability, while providing a voice for others who share this reality.”
Though her disability separated her from the world in ways that made it difficult for her to connect with people, it also brought Terri closer to her writing.
“I had a box I called a Little Box of Bits. I would write thoughts on these scraps of paper and throw them in the box. I didn’t know what I was going to do with them,” she recalls. “And then, one day when I was feeling better, I went through the box, and I pulled out one of the pieces and I thought: oh! I want to write about that. I decided right then I wanted to go out into the world again. I had a wonderful set of healthcare professionals who helped me, along with my wonderful partner David. I started taking classes, and writing more and more, and I remembered I really loved writing!”
With her passion for writing reignited, Terri decided to attend a Writer in Residence event at the Edmonton Public Library.
“Darrin Hagen was the Writer in Residence, and he was leading a workshop on writing for the Fringe,” she remembers. “I loved listening to him! I thought the workshop would be a great opportunity to meet people and motivate my writing. I didn’t think I was going to do anything with it,” she laughs. “But then, Darrin said to the class: ‘There’s no reason anyone in this room can’t write a Fringe play.’ And I thought to myself: he must mean me, too! So, I decided right then and there I would write this play and see what came of it.”
From there, Terri quickly became connected to the local theatre community, and before long had a team of experienced and talented artists supporting her vision.
“I wasn’t in that community, I wasn’t in any community before now,” she says. “And now here I am, surrounded by people willing to help me make this a reality! Our team all have special connections to people with disabilities and the seniors’ community. They know how to make me feel comfortable, welcome, and engaged. I’m so grateful for that,” she says. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity Fringe Theatre and the Mowat Diversity Award are providing me. I will use these resources wisely, and I will show my gratitude and appreciate the only way I know how: by making this the best show possible.”
This year may mark Terri’s first foray in the world of theatre producing, but she’s also a long-time fringer.
“I’ve been fringing since 2000. I love discovering unusual things, and seeing something you might not normally see at any other time during the year,” she says. “It was hard for me for a long time to go somewhere and be ‘normal’ enough to be in a crowd of people, but guess what? At Fringe, your normal is welcome. Everyone is welcome here. And I love it!”
As a long-time fringer, Terri offers up advice to those who might be fringing for the first time.
“Go, look at the posters, maybe even close your eyes and just pick one. Take a chance! You don’t know what you’re going to see, but it will be worth it. Let the artists convince you. Pay attention to the handbills they give. Support the artists!” she laughs.