December 11, 2009, by
7 comments

Is the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company going into artistic seclusion?

yichud_big

As first reported in The Toronto Star, The Harold Green Theatre Company has pulled $50,000 in funding seven weeks befrore the curtain of the Convergance Theatre production of Yichud/Seclusion at Theatre Passe Muraille, after a major funder got a hold of the script and decided “the material might be misconstrued”.

In a scathing article on NOW Daily yesterday, Susan G.Cole called into question the ability of the company to remain artistically relevant in the wake of that decision:

I want to be clear. A Jewish theatre has the right to program material that it believes meets its mandate. Similarly, a gallery has the right to curate what it believes is consistent with its values – and I’ve said as much with relation to the Koffler’s decision to abandon Katz

But if Jewish artistic institutions narrow their vision in such a way that Jewish artists cannot produce thoughtful work probing the situation in Israel or in Orthodox Jewish homes or anywhere inside the Jewish community, exactly what kind of art do they think is going to get produced. And do the folks at Harold Green really think that, after this debacle, Jewish playwrights who matter will even consider affiliating with the theatre?

Maybe it’s time for Jewish theatre artists to establish the company we deserve – the Harold Green Jewish Theatre isn’t cutting it.

Next up for the Harold Green: a December 15th deadline for playwrights to submit to “In The Beginning: A Jewish Playwright Festival” which “aims to open the door for groundbreaking Jewish voices that challenge the Jewish perspective.” Note to playwrights – groundbreaking and challenge may not have the meaning you are used to in this context.

Meanwhile, Passe Muraille and Convergence have managed to salvage their co-production with some amazing fundraising, but they had to cut a full week of rehearsals to make the new smaller budget fly. They’re still fundraising in an effort to get back that key week you need to make good art great.

You can make a donation though Canada Helps here.

(Under Fund/Designation select: Help Convergence Theatre)

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7 comments:

  1. Megan Mooney says:

    I’m so glad they’re able to go ahead, I’m really excited about the production.

    I can’t just stop shaking my head at the seemingly terrible decision by HGJTC to pull the funding. God forbid anyone question anything, ever. sigh.

  2. Michael Wheeler says:

    I heard rumours about this before it came out in the media, and frankly, I didn’t believe them because the idea that anyone would find the material in this play offensive was laughable to me. We are not talking about My Name is Rachel Corrie here. I’m still just a little bit aghast that this has happened for this reason. People are going to see this play and be like, “How on earth is this controversial?”

    But okay fine, I’m not an Orthodox Jew, so maybe I have a different perspective on these matters. The point is – the real damage here is about WHEN the funds got pulled. If you don’t want to support this work, don’t – go do other incredibly boring things work that ask no questions – but don’t psyche artists out by saying yes and then back out when they don’t have time to raise the resources they need to succeed. That is mean and frankly sabotaging someone else’s work.

  3. Shira says:

    The decision that the HGJTC made about Yichud was terrible terrible terrible, and is the kind of thing I’ve come across quite often when I’ve worked for the Jewish community in Toronto.

    I just wanted to clarify that the Jewish Playwrights Festival is an initiative that began outside of the HGJTC by a fantastic local Jewish actor. She brought it to the theatre company in hopes of helping them find a way to be relevant to Jewish artists in Toronto. She is looking for new and innovative work, and has been trying to fill a void that the company was not filling on their own.

  4. Michael Wheeler says:

    Thanks for the clarification Shira.

    Certainly that isn’t clear from the page about the festival on the HGJTC website which states, “Our primary goal is to further the development of pieces from In the Beginning and potentially move them forward to a full Mainstage production at the Harold Green Jewish Theater Company.”

    Also good to note on a separate unrelated topic that again it is indie unaffiliated artists that are the energy and motivation behind creating new work.

  5. Laurence says:

    In light of the Harold Green Jewish Theatre’s recent flight from and abandonment of Yichud, for fear that “the material might be miscontrued” their statement of goals (listed below from their web site) seems rather hollow and ironic if not shameful.

    From the Website of Harold Green Jewish Theatre

    Some of our mid-range goals…

    * To deepen students understanding of themselves and the world through the medium of Jewish theatre. * To help develop a knowledgeable, perceptive new audience for Jewish theatre and for the arts in general. * To stimulate participants’ imagination, creativity, and critical thinking skills through active engagement with challenging new Jewish theatre works. * To improve the ability of classroom teachers to teach the arts and to incorporate Jewish arts education into the curriculum.

    Supporting New Jewish Plays The untold story is the one that needs to be heard. Through readings, workshops and commissions it is our goal to foster the writers of the Jewish community. Our goal is to one day have a vibrant playwright in our residency program and to contribute regularly to the Toronto Jewish canon of plays.

    Indeed!

    Laurence

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  6. Aaron says:

    I’ve read many articles regarding this situation and I have one question: Why is it that in every other area of human endeavor money talks, yet in the theatre world, people are expected to fork over cash and sit back? If this type of thing happened in the business world, the response would be “Well sometimes deals go south.” If Harold Green Jewish Theatre decides that the material can be misconstrued then there probably IS some material that can be misconstrued. Unless they signed contacts, and since there has been no mention of legal issues they probably didn’t, they should be allowed to pull out whenever they want.

    By the way, the play they replaced it with is about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and was nominated for the Governor General’s award. I think I would consider that to be “Groundbreaking and Challenging.”

  7. Michael Wheeler says:

    Aaron,

    Im glad you made this comment, because it gives me the opportunity to make this point:

    Unlike the purpose of a corporation, whose purpose is to create a profit, the purpose of a theatre company is to create great art. In the corporate world, you are right, “deals go south”. No hard feelings, lets move on. In the art making world, when a production falls apart because a BOARD MEMBER (not the Artistic Director) decides to cancel a show weeks from opening for IDEOLOGICAL reasons, that’s called abandoning your community, your mandate, and the artists whose stories you are meant to serve.

    This is a very good example of what happens when business people have inappropriate power and control of an artistic organization. A board is there to raise money and ensure financial stability of the organization. Curating the season is NOWHERE on their list of responsibilities. If they want to do that they should start their own theatre company. Period. End of story.

    I love my board, but if they told me what to program, there would be an immediate conversation about which of us is resigning, because you cannot function as an artistic director with integrity or vision with that kind of oversight.

    To speak to your other point, come on dude, putting on a play that has already been nominated for a GG and has already played Winnipeg is neither “Groundbreaking or Challenging”. (Other than that putting on any theatre is quite challenging)