Going Meta. Going forward.

I (like most of us) have no inside information on the reasons behind the cancellation of Helen Lawrence at the FTA beyond what is in the Globe article and the statements Arden Ryshpan and the Canadian Actors Equity Association (CAEA) have posted and comments on Facebook.

But (like most of us) the headline alone was a trigger and I have some thoughts. Not so much about the case itself (because we don’t know anything), but about how it was handled and what the response tells us about the state of things.

Where I come from:

  1. Born, raised pro-Union radical left.
  2. The legacy organizations and metaphors – labour and producers etc… – in theatre and performance are not helping right now. Change is needed in how we organize and who gets to big salaries and Bay St. offices
  3. I want a 21st Century Labour Movement. We need it. The increased disparity between the rich and the rest is very bad news and only action in solidarity can change it.

So, in this case – in terms of public or community perception:

CAEA blew it because

  1. Near-total lack of faith in the CAEA in the indie community (members and non – the poorest of the field) or amongst people trying to figure out how to make and show theatre in the 21st Century. There is little belief that CAEA is protecting anyone other than themselves and their richest members (those working regularly in A house and above) or are in touch with the realities of making and showing work outside of the legacy PACT models. This lack of faith is based on decades of policy, behaviour and broken relationships.
  2. CAEA release citing timing of the request as cause for the concession. This reeks of the worst nightmare images that artist-producers have of dealing with the CAEA. It seems this is less the reason, but this initial release was perhaps the worst thing they could have said.
  3. People in community want these big co-production shows to work and know that there is such scarcity and rapidity of change that even the big A houses like Canadian Stage et al. need to find new and different ways and timings of getting things done.

Some good reasons that could have changed the story:

  1. A struggle against Precarity. That the CAEA is fighting the fight for artists not bearing the brunt of increased precarity in our economic system while executive, administrative, marketing and development staff have relative stability and high wages (cf #2.)
  2. Income disparity. That the CAEA is fighting for appropriate ratios of expenses between what artists receive and what executive, administrative, marketing and development staff receive (not to mention airline and logistic companies.) Negotiating for reasonable proximity in the ratio between the highest and lowest paid at the producer and presenters organization and where the performers fit in that is something I think people think CAEA could do.
  3. Unacceptable conditions That the CAEA was protecting members from a room, process, work or tour that had – for whatever reasons – gone deeply south and no longer constituted “safe working conditions.” It happens. It’s shitty when it does but it’s what solidarity is there to help with. Articulating this should include the continued anonymity of details and people involved, but is very different from saying “they didn’t file paperwork on time.”

Some big picture values that might help going forward

  1. Trust
    1. CAEA acting and altering policy in ways to build trust in membership and sector (especially younger and indie) that they are acting in good faith with a dynamic and up-to-date understanding the world. This will take a while and a lot of work.
    2. Transparent wages in the arts and adoption of Wagemark for all non-profit arts organization.
    3. Transparent relationships between all involved. See the Brooklyn Commune for some ideas. (but in basketball – down with Brooklyn, up with the North.)
  2. Responsive
    1. There is a need to shift to scale and types of work and have all parties able to do that. The world is always changing and we have to get with that.
    2. Different from compliant or complicit. Responsive doesn’t mean giving in to everything, but it does mean being able to change and contain difference.
  3. Justice
    1. Recognition that cultural workers are vasty underpaid relatively to the wealth of our country and that the long term goal is the raising of quality of life for the most people possible.
    2. Recognition that cultural workers have privilege and power that can be used to raise the quality of life for the most people possible or to participate in continued systemic failures.
    3. For all these solutions CAEA and producers would have to be an equal participants – i.e. sharing data on expenses and income disparity between executive staff and lowest paid member.
    4. Transparency is an often used weapon of the witch hunt, the bully and the oppressor – this is not my goal.

My regrets that this particular case didn’t go down in a way we all would like and that people lost the chance to see the show and the work that was possible. Let’s make it better going forward.

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Good things #2

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It’s been a crazy couple weeks of going out and seeing things: Conte D’Amour (and internet brouhaha); the very good Sufferettes (rumours of a June show for those that missed it or just want to go back because funny); Dancemakers; Trampoline Hall; Minotaur at YPT, and 2 book launches (get to a local bookseller before they are all gone.)

I might slow down for a bit and enjoy sunshine – but here are somethings on my radar:

I do a fair amount of legacy theatre company bashing – even if just by calling them legacy companies. So to praise when there’s a chance to praise:

Tarragon Theatre continues to do their mandate very well and with rigour.

  • Erin Shields’ new play Soliciting Temptation opens tonight. Adhering to the Three Unities, it’s a two-hander about sex tourism that does a good job of the difficult task of staging the ambiguities and complexities of a specific encounter. If you’re not into watching people act like they’re other people, maybe it’s not for you – but you’re missing one of my favourite that-kind-of-play playwrights.
  • In other good Tarragon news – Sean Dixon’s A God in Need of Help starts previews on my birthday (April 16) and opens April 23. I’m pretty excited to see it.
  • Erin and Sean had a conversation about Gods HERE

VideoCabaret continues to be one of the best things about Toronto ever. Their journey through the Village of the Small Huts is a remarkable work.
The newest edition – TRUDEAU and the FLQ is apparently selling out quickly down at Soulpepper. So get on that.

In the big and splashy – Luminato released the full line up. Excited to see Mammalian Diving Reflex, The Roots, Buffy St. Marie and the return of Jason Collett’s Basement Revue.

Further off the mainstream path – something for this Thursday. Amelia Ehrhardt has been running a series called Flowchart about which I’m curious – even if I’ve been unable to attend. Be better than me and check out the last edition (and see the Shaw Street school Artscape reno if you, also like me, haven’t.)

Also – the only thing harder than being an out of town company visiting a city for the first time or being an indie producer is being an indie producer visiting a city of the first time. I know nothing about Shadows – in town from Ottawa -except that it’s playing at Videofag, which shows some good taste. Maybe it’s the thing you’ve been waiting for.

In Small Wooden Shoe news:

  • I just recorded an episode of the SWS Podcast with Adrienne Wong and guest Rupal Shah talking Diversity in various forms. Catch up on old episode while spring cleaning and that episode will be up in a few days.
  • We’re in exciting prep for The Summer Spectacular at the Toronto Fringe Festival in July.
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Conte D’Amour and self-aware problems

Conte D'Amour

Conte D’Amour – which ends it’s run tonight at Harbourfront Centre has been the cause of much chatter on the internet. From a zero-star review in the Globe to reviews not worth linking to, with lots of Facebook stuff thrown into the mix.

If you like this discussion, you might like the CopyCat Academy that’s happening at Luminato this year. A pretty great opportunity. Applications are due Monday.

Personally, first I spent an afternoon writing 2,200 rambling words about why I didn’t want to see it (excerpted below) and then I went to see it and then I made a mind map in Scapple. (updated for this post)

I still have artistic and social differences with the ensembles approach which I will try to clarify at some point, and bunches of Cultural Industry issues with everything about the current creation and presentation modes of large scale ambitious work in Toronto and Canada that I also hope to continue to work out (some of which is happening with Adrienne Wong at the SWS Podcast.)

But Conte D’Amour is a serious and rigorous work that is well aware of it’s own horror and boringness and problematics – and is more aware than anything I’ve ever seen in Toronto about the problematics of northern white male liberalism and the construction of privilege and the projection of fantasies on the Other (whether people or continents.)

Conte D'Amour

download PDF

Written Wednesday pre-show:

so I wasn’t going to see Conte D’Amor and I was going to write about why.

I’m still going to do that – even though I now know I’m going to see it tonight.

I’m going to see it because a) Lilya from the Theatre Centre posted on Facebook about an extra ticket and I thought “She will make the experience better.” B) It was a comp. I’m broke and impacts the amount of shows I see. And is breaking the way I see shows, especially shows like Conte D’Amor. But more on that latter.
And C) because I thought I might write about and so should see it or risk being told I wasn’t qualified to comment.

Why I wasn’t going to see it:

It’s been a hard winter contributing to pretty intense case of “the blues.”1

And so, I just don’t want to have my “heart ripped out” or my “guts wrenched” because life is doing that just fine thanks.

I am very well aware of the horror of living in this world and I don’t need to pay $50 to watch a bunch of well funded white artists from Europe being paid a substantial amount of money to “make” me feel.

There’s a lot to unpack in that paragraph. Some about Art – it’s purpose and aesthetics; some about the Cultural Industry in this context; some about Society; and tons of just personal shit that I carry. And all that overlaps and blends together.

  1. Or depression, if we scrape away the euphemism. ↩
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Good things from other folks

Recently someone asked if there was a place to go to find out about interesting work going on in Toronto – the internet and weeklies are just too unspecific. There’s not really. But it reminded me of the importance of spreading the good word:

  • Dancemakers Around opens TONIGHT and the runs this week and next Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm with Sunday matinees. Get tickets here. I’m involved with this one as a dramaturge, so there’s that – but Dancemakers continues to make worlds unlike any others in the city.
  • Especially for the 3penny and Kurt Weil inclined, there’s a perfect chance to go to the new Theatre Centre that just opened and runs this weekend: L’Orchestre d’hommes-orchestres | Cabaret brise-jour March 25–29. I’m going Friday.
  • A bunch of great artists from all around are leading a workshop in June. Luminato is hosting a crazy interesting Copy Cat Academy – and the deadline has been extended.
  • Two of the funniest folk ever, Kayla Lorette and Becky Johnson, are available on Thursday April 3rd. The Sufferettes are doing a solo show at the Comedy Bar. Buy your tickets HERE
  • Tuesday, April 8 at 7:30pm (FB event) at the Monarch Tavern, Carl Wilson is relaunching his amazing book Let’s Talk About Love – now made even more amazing by amazing contributors. Amazing.
  • Misha Glouberman is leading one of his great Negotiation Courses starting May 7th. Very helpful for life. More info HERE
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