Introducing Jenn Boulay

Jenn Boulay is an emerging interdisciplinary performance artist/creator, playwright, performer, singer-songwriter, musician, theatre reviewer, sound artist, and scholar. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto in Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, and Critical Studies in Equity and Solidarity. Jenn is completing her graduate diploma in Communication Studies at Concordia University and, in September, she will be beginning her MA in September at Concordia in media studies. Her current research project examines the gaps/absence of disability theatre (practice and scholarship) in Eastern Canada, focusing on Québec and Atlantic Canada, compared to Western Canada. Jenn’s current research interests include intersectional identity politics (visibility, and non-visibility), disability studies/theatre, theatre, theatrical clown, and finding ways to make contemporary theatre more accessible to performers and audiences. You can find her creative and academic work published in Feminist Space Camp Magazine, Knots: An Undergraduate Journal of Disability Studies (Knots), Theatre Research in Canada (TRiC), Canadian Theatre Review (CTR), and UC Magazine. She is an editor of the forthcoming issue of Knots.

Please tell us a bit about yourself (personal, academic background, and current profession)

I am an interdisciplinary artist, playwright musician, songwriter, visual artist, multimedia artist, filmmaker, sound artist, and scholar. I identify as a disabled person of colour and a lot of my artistic practice is done in the disability arts community. I completed my undergraduate degree in Drama, Theatre, and Performing Studies as well as Critical Studies in Equity and Solidarity. Throughout my studies, my work often intersected with disability studies and performance studies in various ways.

During my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant with Dr. Anne McGuire for Knots: An Undergraduate Journal of Disability Studies. Initially joining as a peer reviewer and contributor, I am currently serving as a co-editor responsible for editing the last two issues of Knots. I have also been publishing my work in theatre research in Canada including the Canadian Theatre Review, and Feminist Space Magazine.

At the moment I am a student at Concordia in Montreal, in the process of applying for my MA in Media Studies. My research focuses on Canadian disability theatre in Montreal, aiming to understand the reasons behind the large disparity between Quebec and Western Canada, with the latter having a stronger presence in this field.

What drew you to CSES?

It was purely accidental that I ended up in CSES.  I had switched from the UTSC campus, it was a former professor of mine who introduced me to Disability Studies. They mentioned that I may be interested in enrolling in CSE241: Introduction to Disability Studies. The course played a crucial role in my decision to pursue the program further. For the first time, I felt a sense of representation in my academic work, and it became a very important part of my identity. Reading the works of scholars who shared experiences with me was a lightbulb moment that allowed me to fully embrace who I am. It served as a reminder that there was no need to hide. The sense of community fostered within the CSES program captivated me, and I craved more, leading me to continue my studies in this field.

Tell us about the work that you do. How has CSES/ES influenced your academic, professional, and/or personal journey? What are some accomplishments or achievements that you are most proud of?

As I’ve mentioned, my decision to pursue law school was rather last-minute. I was initially reluctant to go to law school because I was afraid of being complicit in the colonial structures that have inflicted so much violence on Indigenous communities and other marginalized communities in Canada and abroad. However, during my time as a CSES student, I took a fantastic course taught by George Dei at OISE who told us that, as we work to tear down these big systems of oppression, we can also make change from the inside out. This became the guiding intention behind my decision to attend law school.

When I got to law school I loved my courses, I ended up doing an 8-month stint working at Parkdale Community Legal Services and working in their social assistance and violence division. Currently, I work at Stockwoods LLP which is both a civil and criminal litigation boutique. I often grapple with the positionality I occupy on Bay Street and the privileged position I have. However, I recognize the significance of the litigation work I engage in, particularly with respect to criminal defense. Given the state of our prison system and whether the legal system can indeed provide justice, this work holds tremendous importance. My background in CSES constantly provides me with a framework with which to view the law, apply the law, and understand the law.

In terms of my proudest accomplishments, one that stands out is my contribution to establishing the Osgood Survivor peer support network during my time in law school. This organization provides survivors of violence with a peer support group to navigate the triggering experience of studying criminal law. On a more personal note, I am proud of the Twitter presence I’ve established for myself. I use my Twitter to be unapologetically who I am and frequently talk about issues of mental health, sexism, and racism which have been well-received by fellow professionals in the field. I continue to utilize Twitter as an accessible medium to engage in conversations that I believe are crucial to the legal profession. Finally, I am also very proud of my experience working at the Court of Appeal where I had the privilege of clerking for the former Chief Justice of Ontario, an advocate for equity, diversity, and mental health in the profession and amongst young lawyers.