Poor Behaviour

I've never been much of one for following rules. That comes out in the theatre I make, the way I test audience limits and re-think time-honoured classics. So when I read about the "infamous iPhone incident" in New York this week, I laughed. Yep. I wasn't shocked, or annoyed, or disappointed. I didn't call for "education" or making sure the "right kind" of people go to the theatre. I found it a little silly that the dude believed sufficiently in the reality of the set to think there would be power running to the plug, but that's about it.

The right kind of people attending theatre are breathing people. That's really the only requirement. Breathing people feel things. They experience things. In life, and in these weird black boxes of rooms where they sit in semi-darkness beside strangers. Whether someone knows the traditions and codified behaviours, the expectations, is completely irrelevant. In fact, I would argue that those very expectations are the reason young friends feel the theatre is "not for them". Theatre is for everyone. It is. I'm not saying that in some sort of populist theatre for the people way. Theatre tells stories. People like stories. Bingo! A match made in heaven. It is that simple. 

As soon as there is any sense of an "us" and a "them", a desired audience, a set of behaviours, theatre dies a little. And it keeps dying slowly. Until we get out from behind the curtain and share stories and experiences truthfully, and with everyone, theatre will continue to die.

Lets shake things up a bit, shall we?


I have been horribly delinquent recently in my personal mantra to write about everything I see. I don't really have an explanation for it, to be honest. I am seeing work. I don't hate what I'm seeing. But I also have not been particularly taken by it. It all feels frustratingly SAFE, which for me, is the death of true creativity. Granted, I get that not all audiences are willing to watch Lars Eidinger roll around in wet mud and spew Goethe translated Shakespeare at them. I totally get that. But at the same time, I think we sometimes sell our audiences short in our expectations of what will sell, which then perpetuates their own feeling of safety in their choice. It is a huge self-perpetuating problem. 

Obviously, I'm one person, and one with limited time. And who maybe sometimes likes to get paid, which I recognize means might mean some accommodations. But that said, I also sometimes want to say "screw it" and just make all the work I want to make, as self indulgent as that may be, and if we have an audience of 10 people, so be it. 

I am generally against resolutions, but I'm going to state one now: I resolve to see the work that might be challenging. It is far too easy in our busy schedules to not make it, but tired or not, busy or not, I'm going to make it. 

ATTEND theatre. And I'm going to get re-motivated to write about it. 

All Over The Place

Today began with Scene Study; presented our work on Act 3 of Duchess. This went well; we found some nice moments and shifts in the text that I think showed a clear understanding of what Webster is getting at. I am still finding that we weave in and out of understanding in our presentations...likely because we move directors each week, so everyone gets a go. Next week we are off, the following week we have been assigned act 4. This time Tom took the two key scenes, and asked two groups to prepare each. We'll then discuss and compare the two interpretations for what did and did not work. This is rather exciting. My group have been given the madman scene, and all of us want to try for a non-naturalistic representation. We meet Thursday to sort this out. Our only limit is that we must stay true to the text.

Theorizing tonight was both good and bad for me. Good in our initial conversations about the ephemerality of theatre, and what remains afterward; reviews, photos, notes, criticism and essays....This sparked an interesting conversation about criticism, which led well into the latter half of our class, where we had two visitors - Dr Karen Fricker, and Andrew Dickson. Dr Fricker is a theatre critic, and lecturer at Royal Holloway. Andrew Dickson is the Theatre Editor for the Guardian (curator of what I think to be the most important source of information on theatre today, the Guardian Theatre Blog). The two talked about their path to their current positions, and then about the role of the critic, good critical writing, and the changing face of criticism with social media and blogs. Then they opened the floor to questions.

Here is my gripe: I have been observing the British tradition from the inside for two months now, including the opportunity to see the plays that are then reviewed by esteemed critics such as Michael Billington and Lyn Gardner. What I am finding is that the review is in many ways a review of the history of the play more than it is a review of the production itself. Similarly, the two revival productions I have seen (unfortunately couldn't make it to Marat/Sade) were entirely reverent to the original production in as many ways as possible. We talked a bit about the symbiotic relationship between reviewers and performers, about the need to get reviewed to be "legitimized" and Dr Fricker suggested that smaller fringe companies should make use of social media in this way. What I think she fails to understand is that to an arts council, blogged reviews don't count as legitimacy when you are writing a grant application.

I'm meandering a bit here...but another point of contention for me is the idea of authority in the critic's perspective; with blogs and comment trails, twitter reviews and facebook...where is the authority of the "published" professional critic? As Dr Fricker suggested, the value is found in the analysis of the production, not the mere reporting of person x playing part y, and a value judgement...but an actual critical analysis of what was shown and what it means. The response to my query on this was simply to read Lyn Gardner. Now I have the utmost respect for her...but heaven knows she isn't the only reviewer! What about the hundreds of thousands of non-theatre "people" who stumble into work as a critic? How are they performing a valuable function that serves the dialogue for furtherance of this thing we call theatre?

Anway, a bit of a rant, and some inconclusive ideas right now....but food for thought.

image: Jackson Pollock - Summertime

On Funding, Cuts, and making a living....

OK. This is coming a bit belatedly, however I really wanted to clarify my thoughts before jumping into the debate about the arts funding decision made related to the SummerWorks Festival in Toronto.

Initially, I am outraged; the idea that Heritage Canada would coincidentally stop funding the festival, one it has generously supported for five years running, the year following a production which reportedly outraged Prime Minister Harper as a play "glorifying" terrorism is a bit of a pill to swallow. Given the need for control that Mr Harper has demonstrated in so many other areas of his leadership, I find it impossible to believe that he played no role in the decision not to fund the festival.

Secondly, I am fuming at the suggestion from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that artists should not "rely on" funding from government. Sure! At the very core I agree; I wish nothing more than the ability for artists to create new and challenging works, and pay for them with ticket prices. To avoid reliance on donation, sponsorship, and grants would be a whole new realm of artistic freedom. The reality of the matter is that this is next to impossible. Even with funding, it is tough for theatre companies to make ends meet when you add up the costs of space (if you are lucky enough to own your own...or goodness knows, renting!), paying the performers for rehearsal and show times, designers, directors, set and costume construction, stagehands...the list goes on. If a company were to try to actually turn a profit solely from ticket sales, prices would skyrocket! And this is just considering non-equity performers and non-union houses. Once you factor in using an IATSE house or a cast of CAEA performers the cost of production further increases.

But this isn't anything new, nothing we didn't know before. . .

Alas, here is the challenge I pose to the government; pay fair price to the performers who you trot out on display as soon as there are foreign dignitaries, a party of some kind (Canada Day anyone?) or a reason to celebrate. Think of the extravaganza recently put together in Ottawa for Wills & Kate's visit to Canada; normally Canada Day on the Hill is quite a Fete, but this year really outshone previous efforts. Ask yourself....did the Government of Canada really pay a fair contracted price to each and every performer who stepped on that stage? I mean sure, each had an honourarium, and the "priviledge" of performing for Royalty. Great! But what was their contract? Did they get a fair, equity approved wage for the rehearsal time and performance call time? I am making an educated assumption that they did not; my sister travelled as a teen to perform in Ottawa for Canada Day. My parents paid for her travel and accomodations, and the choir she was with got an honourarium that worked out to mere dollars per performer. I doubt much has changed.

So Dear Mr Flaherty and Mr Harper; if you want to start telling artists that they shouldn't depend on grants, put your money where your mouth is and pay them fair wage for the work they do for you.