A Monologue on the Future of Canadian Theatre

Last week, Martin Julien (at the UofT Centre for Drama) organized a "redux" of the 1973 conversation on the state of Canadian theatre, which followed fairly closely on the "crisis" identified by the Canadian theatres of the late 60s and early 70s, in which it was determined that a major fix was required to create a truly Canadian theatre. These events, of course, are the things we teach in Canadian Drama courses at universities across the country. The Farm Show, Leaving Home, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe; all those great Canadian plays that helped to define us, while companies like the Tarragon, Theatre Passe Muraille, Prairie Theatre Exchange, and more grew from little fringe companies to national creative cultural forces. This period saw the creation of the Arts Council System, providing some serious funding for theatre which previously had been scant. And to some extent, the 1973 conversation, while it identifies continued challenges, has a feeling of "job well done".

(you can view most of that 1973 discussion here: https://vimeo.com/88594280 )

Fast forward to 2015: How much has changed?

Interestingly, a quote from the first conversation strikes me as perfectly descriptive of the current situation; that "there is something wrong with a theatre that has been around for awhile and hasn't grown in any particular direction." Now this sounds horribly reductionist, but in many ways, it is true. Look at what is programmed. Where are the experiments, the gutsy new forms and new theatrical languages that help grow and engage an audience? Where are the directors, playwrights, and to some extent even actors under 35? Does the arts council system still fund in a way that promotes the continued growth of the Canadian theatrical voice, or does it reinforce that which already happens, with the emphasis on "community building." The conversation in 2015, while it raised some valuable points, I felt focused too heavily on how we make money. Yes, we need money to make theatre. But not as much as we might think -- some of the most exciting choices and creative solutions come out of an absence, and this is a challenge we need to take up with vigour, rather than whinge about. There is a certain conflict in the young theatre makers I see today (perhaps myself included). We rail at the system that we work doggedly to break in to, with an odd sense of entitlement to get funding, and yet we shy away from doing the very kind of work that got those now well-established theatre makers noticed in the first place. Paul Thompson, TPM's first AD and artistic leader of The Farm Show creation said it best during the 2015 discussion, and in many ways echoed what he said in 1973; don't worry about the system, make work. Make work with urgency and vividness, and scrape together. Make work outside the rules. Ask for forgiveness rather than permission.

Don't wait for someone else to validate your work. Write it, perform it, create it. If it is well done, someone will notice. If they don't, just get louder.

Now it may sound a little idyllic, but that's the theatre I want for Canada over the next 40 years. Theatre that breaks the rules, makes its own voice, and figures out the details afterward. This is what the theatre makers we study now did. If we want to make a mark, we need to do the same, or else we risk becoming a part of what Jordan Tannahill controversially (but somewhat truthfully) labeled as "boring".

Right Now

We had a class/meeting with Tom on Saturday morning, during which he gave us feedback on how things are going for us from his perspective, and we had a chance to talk a bit about what we want to do after the course, how we feel it is going, etc.

This was a glorious 3 hrs. Everyone in the group is very open and willing to talk about how they are seeing things, which is great. It was interesting to learn how others are perceiving the class, and where areas of frustration have been, and also to see how Tom has perceived our path. What I also found interesting was hearing other students talk about one another's work, what inspires them, what they learn from.

Tom's assessment for me was that I generally am doing good work, and that I just need to trust myself. Wow...me in a nutshell! Notably he commented that I sometimes have an excess of energy that I need to trust myself to use, otherwise it comes out too loud or too quiet. Another assessment was that I need to not be afraid of my opinions and ideas; I had stated that what I want to do is continue devising work, directing, performing if it works in the situation, from which I want to write about the theory of theatre and practice of theatre that is ruminating in my belly, but right now I am not sure of exactly how to articulate it. Tom's encouragement to just trust myself and my ideas/opinions was helpful. I don't know why I have an apprehension, really...I know that I can stand in front of groups and talk about or defend my ideas. I think that somehow committing them to paper (or heaven forbid publishing them!) makes them so much more concrete and intimidating. Need to work at getting over that.

Based on this I have made some minor adjustments to my portfolio approach, and also to my dissertation proposal idea; I am hoping that I can use these tools on the MA course to help crystallize my ideas about theatre and how to approach practice.