The past week has hosted some novel conversations on contemporary theatre and how it is developing. Most interesting is how all of these perspectives are contributing to a larger conversation about what form theatre can take to engage, well, anyone under 40 who isn’t already in theatre. Here are some recent highlights:
“The post-1945 consensus understood this completely. The need for municipal theatres, the need to fund the experimenters (who of course become the next establishment), the need for national institutions, the need to represent the rich diversity of our society – allowing a place where we can all become richer by including the excluded – was centrally important to the interventions made. But more than this, there was an implicit understanding that our greatest talent could not be nurtured without support.”
Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, Huffington Post critic Monica Westin has a decidedly more upbeat perspective on Why Hipsters Will Save Theater in her review of David Cromer’s Cherrywood. Her thesis proposes that the ironic disengagement that permeates hipster culture has the potential to create a new kind of theatre, that combines both “alienation effect” and “happening”. They (we), are capable of creating and enjoying this new approach to art as “the first generation of bohemian youth culture that’s not going to look like idiots–like the hippies and the punks–later for pretending to have all the answers, when all we had was a new way of dressing stupid.”
“But it’s the combination of the alienation effect and the happening that makes Cherrywood so important. In 1968 Peter Brook declared in The Empty Space that “The alienation effect and the happening effect are similar and opposite–the happening shock is there to smash through all the barriers set up by reason, alienation is to shock us into bringing the best of our reason into play… leading its audience to a juster understanding of the society in which it lived, and so to learning in what ways that society was capable of change.” How does alienation work? According to Brook is can use any rhetoric: “It aims continually at pricking the balloons of rhetorical playing–Chaplin’s contrasting sentimentality and calamity is alienation.” Brook couldn’t imagine a theater piece in which both could happen at once; life now demands this of theater, and Cherrywood delivers it.”
The TKTS iPhone Ap
Of course you can’t be a theatre-conscious hipster looking for the latest, coolest, cheapest tickets you can find without this new Ap for your iPhone, which lists all the Broadway and Off Broadway shows and discount rates that TKTS has available each day. This sort of technology is probably much better suited to attract the new generation of potential theatregoers that make same-day plans and aren’t looking to fork out an arm and a leg for a night out on the town. Is there the potential for indie companies to collaborate through this same technology? Now that we have thrown out the notion that we have to perform in the same space to have marketing/ticketing alliances shouldn’t we be all over this?
If you used your iPhone to get tickets, maybe you should keep using it once the show starts? Over at 2amtheatre they had a multi-perspective post and conversation about the type of interactive, invite the audience to communicate with their PDA during the performance type of stuff Praxis was experimenting with in March at Harbourfront Centre. The consensus opinion seemed to be that imposing tweets on pre-existing scripts was a recipe for disaster, but that tweeting during shows had the potential to expand the medium if the pieces were built with this level of interactivity in mind. Travis Bedard provided some questions that should be considered while choosing to make work this way:
“But what can this technology enable for a playwright or deviser creating NEW work?
This is another possible tool on the utility belt for writers. It is indeed another entire plane of existence for characters.
Can extra-stage characters exist only in the Twitter-verse? Can the audience team up with one another for or against the stage characters?
What does the interaction between the sequestered, in-space audience and the free range Twitter audience look like?”
How well can the playwright and director control that?”
This last question is probably why there hasn’t been a HUGE amount of experimentation with this sort of thing. It is a process that confers less power to both playwright and director. Unproven methods that reduce the influence of the artistic leaders of a project are tough to get off the ground. I’m also a little confused about why Twitter is the only option being discussed as a technology to do this sort of thing. Facebook statuses, texts, tweets, IM, email, skype – we’re all using interactive digital technologies to improve our capacity to communicate. Why stratify it to a single tool exclusive to, well, hipsters? If we’re going to save theatre, we’re still going to do it with everyone else. It’s also important to remember what can happen when we get obsessed with a particular brand of technology.
Every year IAS destroys the lives of thousands of performers. This short video is proof positive that no case is hopeless and that this syndrome is treatable if spotted early enough. Watch this video for early warning signs – do you know anyone showing signs of IAS? Identification and treatment may be their best chance for recovery.
One of Ellen Bayley’s many jobs as the The Metcalf Foundation Arts Management Intern at Volcano Theatre, is organizing and promoting The 2010 Volcano Conservatory, which offers intensives and master classes taught by industry leaders for actors, dancers and theatre-makers.
Classes offered between August 16th – 29th in Mnouchkine Technique, Fearless Dancing, Lecoq Red Nose Clown, Viewpoints, Chekhov Technique and more. Don’t miss out!
1 Open source collaboration with your audience to create art?
The video was released with the following statement by BSS:
“This video was made as a response to the G20 Summit in Toronto June, 2010. The rest speaks for itself. It was sent to us by a lover of our music who wants to remain anonymous. We are very proud to share this mash-up with you.“
In our March 2010, Harbourfront HATCH workshop of Section 98, which also looked at civil rights abuses, Praxis used an open source development process that solicited feedback and material from our audience over the web. Some of this informed our process and discussions, while some feedback ended up making the final text we staged. Looks like in this case the band has received a great video from the internet, and adopted it as part of their artistic process.
What do you think: Is this “open source” method of creating art a passing fad or a new development in how the interweb will be impacting the creation of contemporary art?
2 What is the artistic response to G20 Toronto?
Well here ya go. Here is a world-renowned group of Toronto-based artists making a statement about what happened here during G20. Well actually someone else made the statement, and they agreed with and approved it. It begs the question, “What was the song Meet me in the Basement about to the band BEFORE the video?” Or does it ? Does music even get made that way? I don’t know, I’m in theatre.
What do you think about the combination of this song and this video? Is it effective, accurate, insightful? Any other positive or negative adjectives you would attach to this work?
One weekend I was an upbeat artist interested in how we could consider tough ideas to create an artistic response to difficult questions facing us as global citizens. The next weekend I watched all manner of Torontonians interested in solving these same problems criminalized and incarcerated in hundreds of civil rights violations throughout the city.
So there is a whole different version of this post – half-finished, abandoned in the middle of the Charter-rights meltdown that was G20. It considered each of the works presented, the moral questions they were trying to consider, and my response to them in as a middle-class Canadian. It would probably have been an excellent resource for final reports for grants.
I erased it, because the new me, the one that is horrified at the violent resources my country is willing to invest in stifling peaceful dissent (vandalism and violence are not equal or necessarily related), isn’t really interested in a hollow play-by-play of theoretical issues and responses.
All of the pieces created through the inFORMING CONTENT workshop were an attempt to deal with the imbalances and contradictions in a global economy. Ravi Jain’s T.A.K.E. looked at the role wealth has in a global adoption industry, Michael Rubenfeld’s If You Were Here looked at how distance separates us from achieving common goals, an unnamed project devised by Claire Calnan subjected single participants to a whirlwind tour of causes to support – having to choose to donate to just one. Even the waiting area in the courtyard outside the performance area was permeated by global concerns, with pictures of soon-to-be-extinct animals available to be coloured with crayons.
The weekend after this workshop, leaders representing the vast majority of the world’s economy came to Toronto. In response, citizens that are invested in solving all of these problems exercised their guaranteed rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and free speech to implore this gathering of the Most Powerful People In The World to address some of the most troubling ethical issues of our time: Maternal health, foreign aid commitments, the toll global warming will have on both species and the world’s poor, etc. The exact same issues that participants in the inFORMING CONTENT workshop had been hoping to address the week before.
This image shows police who have removed their identification tags confronting and arresting citizens at the designated protest site at Queen’s Park. This is a conscious tactic, also used by police at the 2005 G20 in London, to avoid accountability for human and civil rights violations.
This reality has completely transformed the way I consider the questions raised by the inFORMING CONTENT workshop. Before I was content to consider the ideas from more of an intellectual standpoint, assuming that if I truly threw my resources into solving one of these problems I could have an impact.
I am much more cynical now – uncertain of how to address these great ethical questions of our age. Clearly our governments don’t want to consider them. Clearly they are willing to throw more money than you can imagine to stifle and silence people who speak out about them. Clearly this is a really big problem for those hoping to affect change.
In Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu’s W.4., a group of eight audience members are taken to a waiting area outside a room full of severely traumatised individuals. Not all the audience is permitted in: some are forced to simply listen to the sound of despair from the outside. Others are invited inside, but end up becoming an inmates in the room themselves. On the other side of G20, this piece speaks best metaphorically about the problems we face as global citizens facing ethical issues. Those of us on the outside are locked out, and those of us that try to get in are locked in cages.
How do we impact the great ethical issues of our time in this era? Certainly identifying, discussing and analyzing them is part of a response, but that can’t be it. What else should we be doing now in these given circumstances? I have no answers to these questions, but it’s what I’m left thinking about after experiencing two very different weekends trying to address the difficult ethical questions facing the planet.
We need to educate our boys to know real beauty, to go beneath the paint and powder and look at features, the shape of the face, the poise of the head. We ought to teach them to know real beauty like a horse man knows a thoroughbred.
When a woman has a beautiful face and figure, she is sure to be healthy and intelligent. Beautiful figures are becoming obsolete to-day and a real beauty is as rare as genius. There is only one beautiful woman in every four thousand.
The very slim, boyish figure, so much desired by the girls of to-day who are willing to suffer endless dieting, is not beautiful. The trouble is that fathers and mothers have tried to make their offspring look for other qualities first and to leave beauty alone, till, simply from ignorance, the saying ‘Beautiful but Dumb’ has sprung up and persisted.”
Another failing is that the beautiful young women of this generation do not desire to become mothers and it is largely the biologically unfit who are having children.”
Previous Praxis parties have been full of interesting people and occasionally Artistic Directors impersonating each other with unconvincing disguises. Doors at 6:30, first set by the band around 8, we’re there till midnight.
Beatriz Pizano is feeling good about the status of women in Canadian theatre. “It’s very exciting for me. I see a lot of women emerging as writers and directors. When there are obstacles there is a greater opportunity for another kind of art to emerge. You either forget about doing anything or you do something about it.”
For Pizano, though, being a woman wasn’t the issue – being a culturally diverse artist was. When she came to Toronto in 1991-92 it was really hard for her to find work and make it as an actor. The desire to create her own work came from the lack of opportunities for her to tell the stories she wanted in the ways she wanted. “I think it’s very important to support women doing their own work. If you wait for someone to offer you a job – I’m not interested in that.”
Pizano is a playwright, a director, an actor, and the Artistic Director of Aluna Theatre, a Colombian-Canadian Toronto-based theatre company. She travels regularly to international theatre festivals and is heading to Bogota, Colombia in November to attend a women’s festival. “I’m very happy with what I’m doing. I collaborate with some amazing women, specifically in Colombia, who have taught me a lot about women who fight for other women – women who have death threats because a certain group considers it feminist. They continue to do theatre because they believe in what they’re doing.”
However, it is not about politics for Pizano, or trying to push a political view, it is about telling the story and giving a voice to those who can’t be heard. “When I write I don’t think I’m writing for women. That gives me a lot of freedom. I’m looking for an individual and a story… they are women’s voices because I am a woman. But they are voices regardless. I want this story to be heard. Maybe one person who sees that has the power to do something. Or we become more aware of what is happening in the world.”
The most important thing for Pizano is to have conviction in what you say you believe in and respect the art and theatre. “I’m in a place in my life where I know I’m changing things with what I’m doing. If I can change one thing then I’ve done a good job,” she says. As one of two recipients of the 2010 John Hirsch Prizes, from the Canada Council – a prize awarded every second year to emerging professional theatre directors – Pizano is being recognized for the changes she is speaking about. The jury spoke of Pizano as “one of the most important directorial innovators in a landscape of new developing artists in Canada. We recognize her ability to galvanize her community with a proactive commitment to process and production.”
This proactive commitment also includes working with younger women. “I love mentoring young women because I learn a lot from them. They experience a world that I no longer experience. I learn a lot from them about how they see the world nowadays. I find young women now are at a much better place than I was at that age. It took me a whole lifetime to figure out what I wanted and women in their twenties are running programs and coming up with so many ideas.”
For Kelly Straughan, it always starts from the art. “Loving the way women write, women’s stories, working with women. If it doesn’t start from the art then I think it’s really hard to keep it going,” she says. “It’s too difficult to do what we do and not really feel moved by the content.”
Straughan is a director, former Assistant Artistic Director at Tarragon, and current Artistic Director of Seventh Stage Productions, a Toronto theatre company that focuses on telling stories about women, by women, and for everyone. Their most recent production, 9 Parts of Desire, showcased the lives of a cross-section of Iraqi women. Seventh Stage Productions started as a collaboration between Melissa-Jane Shaw and Rosa Laborde, bringing Straughan on board after she completed her Masters in Vancouver. “It came out of discussions [Shaw and Laborde] were having and things they were noticing in theatre. They were seeing so many talented women not working enough and finding it difficult to find female leaders.”
Straughan’s training and education were in a very male environment. She had some wonderful mentors, but they were always men and the content that they gave her to work with was very male in its influence and dynamic. Although she learned a lot, she says it was really Shaw and Laborde that made her start to realize that things could be different. “It took me a while to ask – is there a different way? How are women writing? Is there a difference here?”
Her experiences with Seventh Stage Productions have made her look at how content can be influenced by gender.
“It’s not an overt problem anymore. For many years it was an overt problem. Women were actively on the sidelines. Now it’s beneath the surface. We have to look at the fabric of how plays are chosen. What is the nature of art? How do theatres program a season? What are audiences used to seeing? That’s the hardest to actively combat against,” Straughan says. “I don’t ever feel oppressed by men… but the problem is you pick art based on what speaks to you. You can’t help be moved by something that’s in your life experience… as a director you have to be able to get to the heart of the material. So if it truly does not speak to you then it’s really hard to direct it. I do not blame male artistic directors for picking material that speaks to them or excites them.”
This is where women can help each other out. Straughan suggests that being strong together and supportive for other women is really important in order to produce work in Toronto. “I really feel that in my age range, we are really trying to help each other succeed in whatever way we can.” Seventh Stage Productions is in connection with other feminist theatres in places like New York, and Nightwood Theatre in Toronto. “We’re only stronger together,” Straughan says. “We’re always actively trying to take the pool of women who are concerned about this and make sure that we are unified, so we’re never acting against them.”
Looking at the personal stories and opinions of women working in theatre provides important context when studying the PACT statistics on the lack of women in artistic leadership positions. Although these statistics are at first shocking, there is a thriving independent theatre community with women creating their own work. Women working as directors, artistic directors and playwrights in the larger PACT theatres going forward will be vital in ensuring women’s voices are heard by a wide range of theatre-goers. However, the definition of success or failure is no longer dependent on these theatres alone.
Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, Erin Shields, Beatriz Pizano and Kelly Straughan, are all examples of women who have created careers in theatre by creating opportunities for themselves. Whatever the motivation – be it giving voice to those who don’t have a voice, story-telling, making art, or writing plays to create more opportunities for women – these four artists are among many women who create theatre in this country so they can delve into the issues that are important to them.
When interviewed, Donna-Michelle St. Bernard said “it’s the responsibility not only for the theatre community to value women in the arts, but for the arts to value women in the community.” This is why giving greater voice and creative control to female artists can make theatre better. It’s a way to tell stories and represent women from a female perspective, leading to a greater diversity of authentic voices on our stages, and this diversity can only help us build better plays, and stronger audiences.
Lindsay Schwietz is a freelance writer in Toronto and a semi-regular contributor to praxistheatre.com.
Over the past four years, The Best of Fringe has provided extended runs to some of the biggest hits from the Toronto Fringe Festival and returned nearly $50,000 in box office revenue to Fringe Festival Artists. All shows are at Canadian Stage’s Berkeley Street Theatre.
A Freudian Slip of the Jung
By Sean Fisher
Wednesday, July 14th at 9pm and Thursday, July 15th at 7pm
Fairy Tale Ending
Music and Lyrics by Kieren MacMillan & Jeremy Hutton, Book by Jeremy Hutton
Saturday, July 17th at 5pm and Saturday July 24th at 5pm
Oy! Just Beat It!
by Anita Majumdar
Wednesday, July 21th at 9pm and Thursday, July 22th at 7pm and Friday, July 23rd at 7pm
Short Story Long
By Joel Fishbane
Wednesday, July 14th at 7pm, Friday July 16th at 9pm and Saturday July 17th at 7pm
By Matthew MacKenzie
Wednesday, July 21st at 7pm, Thursday July 22nd at 9pm and Saturday July 24th at 7pm
By Melissa James Gibson
Thursday, July 15th at 9pm, Friday July 16th at 7pm and Saturday July 17th at 9pm
Friday, July 23rd at 9pm and Saturday July 24th at 9pm
“After the years and years of weaker and waterier imitations, we now find ourselves rejecting the very notion of a holy stage. It is not the fault of the holy that it has become a middle-class weapon to keep the children good.”