July 18, 2012, by
48 comments

An open letter to the newer generations of Toronto theatre artists from one of the old farts

I have been following with interest the events and actions surrounding the recent firing of Ken Gass at Factory Theatre.

I have seen several letters from some extraordinary artists that offer actions or pathways forward in response to the Board of Factory actions, and have contributed my own modest thoughts to the debate.

One of the things that alarms me is the relative absence of voices from the younger generation of theatre artists…ADs of project centric companies, authors, actors, dramaturgs, designers,producers.

Not to generalize too much, but I have seen very few signatures on the various letters seeking either extreme, moderate or conciliatory activity…in fact very little commentary at all from the majority of Toronto theatre artists under the age of, say, 35. Perhaps many signed the initial petition that garnered 3000+ signatures, but where are the voices NOW?

I am not suggesting that the younger voices need to agree with Mr. Healey, Mr Walker, Mr. Moodie, Ms Stolk or Ms Gibson MacDonald and their various suggestions for action..but I am suggesting that perhaps more than any other group, you have a vital stake in what is happening and you need to express your opinions.

I ask myself a few questions here:

Why is there such relative silence from your generations of theatre artists?

How have I and my contemporaries failed in setting an example for you, so that you do not feel compelled to speak up in such a time?

Why do we as a community of artists have so little to say politically about our own institutions in comparison to similar communities from other cultures..USA, Britain, France, Germany as well as the non-Eurocentric communities of theatre artists in the world?

Others of my generation of Canadian theatre artists have suggested that you are simply waiting, like Prince Charles for the old guard to slip away so you can take over the institutions that have been built.

Some have suggested that you live in fear of rocking the boat and so not getting hired by whoever does take over theatres such as Factory.

Some say you are just rigid with apathy about the issues that have challenged Canadian theatre artists from the beginning of our short professional theatre history. We are after-all, for all practical purposes, just 70 years old as a theatre culture.

But I have worked with many of you, and I have sensed a fierce intelligence and passion inside you. So your silence I know is not simply due to the above.

Ken Gass


Is it that you don’t feel these issues are YOUR issues?

Because, I believe they are. The real issues at hand here are the issues of artist voice and artists’ moral rights to have a say in how the theatres that live or die by our work as artists are run. The issue of Board control over artists and their institutions has been a challenge to our Theatre since the first professional regional theatres were born out of the ashes of amateur theatre and throughout the evolution of large regionals, the alternative movements of the 70s and early 80s and the new wave theatres of the 90s and beyond. T

The issue is far larger than the firing of one AD (one, I might add, that has had a major impact on many of your careers…it was not after all the board of Factory that gave you a break when you needed it was it?) The issue is one of ownership of voice through the determination of how our institutions are run. If you do not speak out on this issue (and again, I care not what side you may come from, I ask only that you speak) you are in danger of backing yourselves into a corner of irrelevance.

When Sara Kane’s play “Blasted” was first produced in England, it received some pretty vicious press. The major artists of various ages in England were quick to respond through a very vocal and activist series of letters to editors, op-ed articles and broadcast debates. Many of the senior “established” artists such as Carol Churchill, Harold Pinter and many more went to the barricades to fight for creative voice. This has happened in England, the US, France, Germany (as I mentioned earlier) again and again when artists and their institutions are attacked.

Why are we so complacent here?

Why are you being so silent?

The blogs and papers and theatre lobbies should be abuzz with thoughts, opinions, letters from YOU (DOB 1977 and beyond)..yet I sense in sad recognition that the issue is slipping so quickly to just another Facebook entry-du-jour.

Please do not let that happen. Please do not be silent. Theatres like Factory were built with the blood, sweat and tears (and physical/mental/spiritual currency) of your predecessors in our community. They were not built to be passed on to board membership after board membership for patriarchal stewardship. They were built to be passed on to you! And when I see with wonder the explosion of new babies in your circles, it bears remarking that what you inherit, you will too pass on to them.

But Goddamn it, you have to stand up to be counted first. You have to get off the fence. You have to speak. All silence is the silence of complicity in your own future being determined by others.

With respect, solidarity and hope.

David Ferry

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48 comments:

  1. Wendy says:

    I, as part of the younger generation of theatre artists in toronto, am hyper aware of what the firing of Ken Gass says about the position of artists in our city. My silence is not because I am apathetic. I am outraged. But I am outraged by everything. Maybe I am only speaking for myself, but I know that a large degree of my silence comes from being overwhelmed with a feeling of impotency in the face of our political and social climate. I am constantly struggling with the relevancy of art in a world that seems to have much bigger issues than an Artistic Director getting booted from his position by the Board of Directors. An injustice? Absolutely. Wrong? You bet. Scary? Bone chillingly so. But what can I do? I can sign a petition. I can rant with other people in the theatre world about it. But what else? When there seems to be a systemic problem with power and authority overriding democracy… what can we do? Truly? And if I can figure out that answer I assure you I will be straight to the heart, to the root, of the problem.

    There is a drastic need for change in the structure of our theatre community. I can feel it bubbling. What may be taken as complacency and silence among a younger generation may just be a slow boil that will inevitably rise. How can I truly get behind Ken Gass being reinstated as AD when I don’t believe in the structure anymore as it stands? It is an exclusive structure. It is a structure built on commerce and not creativity. It is an old structure and one that does not speak for me or to me.

    Ken Gass should not have been fired. He should have been allowed to leave on his own accord and when he was ready to do so. But when was that going to be? Please. Do not think I agree with him being fired because I do not. Not one bit. But when would he have left? Factory Theatre was a tired institution regurgitating much of its older work.

    I disagree that the younger generation is waiting to take their place at the top once the current occupiers retire. No. That is not the case. I think we want a voice. I think we want to take part in a conversation. I think we want to be able stand side by side with an older generation of theatre makers, just as I hope I can stand side by side with the younger generation of theatre makers when I’m older. How is that done? By inititives in the community? That’s a start. There are some excellent ones. The truth is that I do not know. I don’t know. I just know that I don’t feel a part of this fight. If Ken gets reinstated then he can continue to facilitate work that I find mediocre and irrelevent to a multi-media and global generation. If he doesn’t get reinstated than I still continue to be wary and dubious of our current system.

    Like a lot of things for the younger generation: there isn’t much win win. Mostly the opposite is true.

  2. George says:

    “All silence is the silence of complicity in your own future being determined by others.”

    Clearly, you haven’t been paying attention to how theatre works in Canada.

    This has happened before. It will happen again. No-one will raise the stink you think they should for a few good reasons: peer juries; small communities; small audience base; “I don’t stage my work in theatres so why should I care?”; “I can do a fringe tour, so why should I care?”; “that’s the competition, and when they sink that’s more audience for me.”

    Comparisons with the UK are rather juvenile as well. None of the people you are mentioning were fired from a job. They were produced, reviewed poorly, but defended by the companies that produced their work AND people in the community.

    We shouldn’t be shouting about poor Ken Gass and the bastards that got on the board of his theatre. We should be making sure that “Artistic Director” means more than “Short Term Contract” and until something starts happening about that, why should people waste their breath yelling at the people they’ll likely be seeking favour from in the future?

    Here’s something to do. Get some actors to sue Equity for violating their members rights to freedom of speech and assembly (that is why the UK has the environment it does). Make it so that any person can work with any other person to self-produce whatever they damn well please. You might actually get to a place where the word “producer” doesn’t seem like a dirty one. The result may be a lot of people doing work for nothing, or a lot of bad work. It may result in a few big theatres closing down. But you’d give birth to the idea that anyone can create their own destiny in the theatre world (whatever possibilities they can find), and then you’ll see a few people realizing that their future is not determined by others. THEN they might say something.

    And if that scares you… if you think “oh my GOD! It won’t be theatre, it’ll be a bunch of low rent shows with uncomfortable seats where no-one gets paid…” (etc etc) then go to Factory and ask them to let you on the board.

  3. Wendy says:

    George:

    I couldn’t agree more.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Maybe it’s because we believe that the way Factory went about it was wrong, but that the artistic leadership at that theatre was lacking.
    Maybe it’s because we believe that though we’ve heard one side of the story, there are several major voices which have yet to share the full picture.
    Maybe it’s because we’re not afraid the same thing will happen to us, as many of your generation are, but maybe we should be.
    Maybe it’s because we do speak in lobbies and online, but you don’t hear it because we speak in whispers.
    Maybe it’s because, ultimately, many of us love Ken Gass the man but couldn’t respect Ken Gass the artist. Though he once produced great work, maybe that hasn’t been the case in our time.

  5. These are some thoughtful comments. As my birthday is in 77, I am just qualified to respond.

    I’m happy to see the response here does not focus on the He Said/They Said Nothing involving the Board of Directors and the Reinstatement Movement. I don’t feel like I have enough information to take a stand and it is why I didn’t sign the petition. Clearly it was handled poorly.

    I agree with Wendy that there are things that I am much more outraged by and this conversation has given me cause to consider why this is.

    I think Wendy is on to something I can identify with regarding the need to radically restructure theatre in Canada and the notion that we seem powerless to do so. I also think George is onto something regarding the paltry amount of opportunity available to The Newer Generations of Theatre Artists and how that has translated into apathy towards the superstructure from them.

    Thanks to David too for asking these questions even if I can’t identify with his perspective. Why there is a lack of investment in this issue is possible just important as the issue itself.

  6. Nick says:

    The Attitude towards the younger generation of theater artists needs to chance period, frankly Factory Theater Claims to be the home of new Canadian Artists, However its really the home of New Canadian Artists that have been around and don’t need the help. I don’t know if Mr. Gass had anything to do with that. However In terms of us young generation how are we supposed to to give a break to someone who as far as I can tell, will not give a break to us?

  7. Sartorius says:

    We theatre artists of the younger generation see ourselves as the young Gods of Olympus. We don’t mind when the Titans fall. And when they fall, it amuses us.

    There are too many of us and too few opportunities, I’m afraid, David. We all feel bad for Ken Gass- and will learn from his betrayal.

    Unfortunately, it is hard for us “project based” artists to expend energy on anything other than ripping the carrion that falls to us to shreds.

  8. Jack says:

    Your questioning the Toronto youth for not rallying behind an AD who’s last season included four remounts by established playwrights? Of the “youth” Maybe Hannah Moscovitch or Anusree Roy should be up in arms, but why should the rest or us? When was the last time Factory has been the vanguard for emerging voices?

    Yes, I do think that Factory should belong to Ken, and I appreciate what he did for Canadian theatre, but Ken is going to be fine. There is always going to be a place for him in the Canadian Theatre community, regardless of whether or not it’s with Factory, or if any young artists support him.

  9. There is a growing disconnect between “established” and “emerging” artists. Look at yiur next Canada Council application and you will notice we are divided into those two categories!

    I’m born 74 and I started in TO theatre as front of house guy at Canstage in 1994 so I can’t put myself really in the new blood category. In the time I have been here the AD ships have been more akin to the same chess pieces moving positions on the board. How would a 27 year old director feel he/she would ever have a chance of running a theatre in the near future? Chris Abraham and Kelly Thorton were two new AD ships that opened up that I can think of but they are now more my age and we approach 40!

    I think the reality now is that running a theatre in the current system and the current realities of declining audiences is more a curse than a blessing for a younger artist. Unless there is a radical re envisioning many of our institutions are going to die or collapse. The economy is a serious factor but we are also being swept up by the digital wave. As a professional musician I can assure you the entire industry has been transformed (gutted?) in the last 10 years. It will never be the same. Many of the middle men are gone, the artists remain but the money is greatly reduced. We will pay $800 for an IPhone because it is so useful but paying an artist for music downloads is seen by many as some kind oppression or restriction on personal freedom. Maybe people won’t pay for theatre tix anymore either?

    That kind of transformation is coming to the rest of the live arts but I have no idea how it will manifest or how we will survive it.

    As Paul Thompson said to me many years ago when I was railing about the theatre he had helped found and how it was not this or that he looked me right in the eye and said. “Well go burn it down then. It’s just a building. Make a new one.”

    I have deep respect for Ken. Running a theatre in this city is one of the most challenging things an artist can do and I have seen a lot of good work there during his tenure. His dismissal was a PR nightmare and showed disrespect to one of our cultural leaders.

    I appreciate David opening up the discussion from his perspective and it is at the very least an attempt from the older generation to try and hear or understand the voices of the next.

    Yours
    RB

  10. Augustus says:

    This is at best, a call to arms when there is nothing to fight for.

    What company from this generation of theatre artists can say they have a building – their own theatre? What Toronto company outside of Scotiabank’s Soulpepper can say they have a definitive season?

    Mr. Ferry is asking us to stand up and fight for something that excluded us time and time again. We can sign this and say that, but us young bucks have a very different fight than those old farts that Mr. Ferry thinks are so deified. These “old farts” are asking us to hold on to a glimmer of the possibility of a theatre tradition in this country and city. Sure during the 70s there was no Harper, and the radicals of say Rochdale College and Passe Muraille were heros, but there is no replica of that or the avenue or welcome for that possibility of that in the current climate. Young companies are losing out on grant money time and again because of these stagnant heros, like Gass, that Mr. Ferry thinks are doing us a service by simply existing.

    What have you done wrong?

    Perhaps teaching us that holding on tight to a damp cloth is how it works.

  11. David Ferry says:

    I really love the discussion and all points of view are right.
    The system is fucked and has been since I was a younger artist.
    Indeed if tearing it down is needed, then get the fuck out there and tear it down.
    Raoul is right, the whole ecology has shifted, it shifted when Bob Rae made cuts that affected colleges and their response was to increase drastically the intake of students into arts programs in preparation for an industry that couldn’t possibly support them. It shifted when Mulrooney made an under the table deal during free trade talks to gut culture in Canada. It shifted when Harris gutted the arts and Hal Jackman dictated to the OAC and others that trickle down economic theory works for the arts…build an opera house and the arts will flourish down on the “lower levels” (ha!) It shifted when theatres started to cut programming due to financial challenges and yet insisted on hanging to an antiquated subscription model thus guaranteeing an increasingly aging and more conservative core audience (and subsequent programing.) It shifted with the proliferation of fringe and poorly funded satellite festivals with an appalling lack of dramaturgical strength or rigor resulting in a majority of bad plays. It shifted with the increasing, and state encouraged re amateurization of the arts. It shifted with Harper’s increased determination to kill cultural industries . It shifted with the memorization of the masses by social media and it’s indoctrination of the banal. So there is clearly nothing to lose for many in tearing it all down….but in order to do that, people have got to actually get up and lead and organize and storm the barricades and not hide behind anonymous acronyms…our your faces and names out there and get the fuckers like me out.

  12. David Ferry says:

    PS sorry for the typos in the previous rant! But I suspect you get the gist.

  13. Holger says:

    I don’t know that the lack of AD-opportunities for under-35-year-olds is something to be lamented. ADs are senior figures. Nothing wrong with that. What is a problem is ADs promoting and nourishing the work of artists of their own generation, while offering few or no opportunities to younger colleagues — playwrights, directors, but especially actors.

    I am constantly perplexed by the relative invisibility of 20-somethings on the established Toronto stages. The contrast with other major theatre cities, London in particular, could not be starker. And it’s not like we suffer from a lack of young talent, as the Fringe shows year after year: writing may range from the seriously mediocre to the brilliant, direction can often be unambitious or unimaginative, but there’s always an abundance of very impressive acting on display — and yet, those young actors very rarely get a look in when the city’s “professional” companies do their casting.

    I don’t find it surprising at all that those theatre artists, overlooked year after year by ADs throughout the city and used to mounting their own productions instead, feel indifferent to Ken Gass’s fate.

  14. Augustus says:

    Storming the unseen trenches ain’t gonna work. It will tear it ALL down and there will be nothing left. Outside of private funding and deeply engrossed festivals, Toronto will have nothing left aside from Fringe.

    I hate the Fringe; I do. It smacks of everything bad about theatre – from party to stage. But it is something honest, and hopeful. You can put up a show with a sausage and a balloon, and they’re gonna support you with space, time, personelle, and publicity. Which is not what Factory Theatre is doing, or what Gass got out there and did. I mean no one is running around handing out free passes like the Fringe does… and fuck juries, put it all up if you want to see how see how sad the fight is.

    Perhaps the quality of work is severely lacking at the Fringe, but at least it’s honest.

    Tear it down? ” Once it’s gone there ain’t no coming back.”

    We’re walking a fine line, radicalism just doesn’t work anymore man.

  15. As a part of the artistic community, I’d like to suggest that perhaps many who are not commenting on this issue realize that we as artists of any generation have a select few roles at the top of the pyramid of arts organizations, and any change could mean good change.
    Perhaps it is not lack of opinion, but rather silent recognition that these sorts of growing pains might be an opportunity for new blood, both for the organization and for Ken as a leader. These organizations are largely not-for-profit with a large population vying for a few roles of leadership. One does not have to be vocal and visibly critical to have an opinion or recognize the importance of the situation—one can learn and internalize, and enact change in their own way. Montreal students teach us that a car-burning protester trying to burn down the old institution does more harm than good. Positive discussion can also have little effect at times— I’d suggest that action is a better solution than chatting with each other about these heavy issues, and that is likely why you haven’t heard the younger generation crying about it.
    As you have grouped yourself in with Ken as part of a generational unit, I’ll create a suggested reply to your question. I would suggest that Ken and team built the theatre, and its organizational structure and processes, so one cannot villify the board for doing their job. The older generation has built the system, so why should the younger generation spend time discussing why its bad— shouldnt they spend more time in action trying to create their own opportunities (or dare I say spending more time moving into the roles left vacant to enact that change?).
    In a similar way, companies across the country seem to question why there is worker apathy from the younger generation, while eliminating pensions and workplace initiatives. This is the system that the older generation has created,… one of cut-throat competition and expendability of employees, especially in the arts.
    Is it sad that Ken was removed from a role he enjoyed? Yes.
    Is it a negative for all that this happened? No…
    perhaps the young generation is seeing this as an opportunity, and they dont need to broadcast the fact that removing one person from this leadership role might mean an opportunity to move into that role eventually.
    This is a job, however, and all artists would sympathize that this the business of arts, and a tough business. Do we need to lament that Ken had built and run a theatre group that eventually decided he was not the one to lead them in their next phase of growth? No.
    We should celebrate that now Ken can work on new projects, and other artists, potentially members of the younger generation can now have an opportunity to lead as well.

  16. Kate Fenton says:

    I agree one hundred percent with Wendy’s comments. Thank you for being so articulate. There is a larger change in motion and we the next generation are in the process of establishing what that change will look like. The tension and conflict related to Ken Gass’ firing may be connected to the larger need for change. Time will only tell.

  17. Ryan Hurl says:

    Dear David Ferry,

    If I could make you a list of the injustices our generation faces, it would fill volumes. It would take up infinite space on the world wide web, it would pollute air ways everywhere with noxious realism. It would shatter this attitude that it is 1982 forever.

    The fact is David, this is not going to be the first Factory to fall. Ken Gas will not be the only one shoved back into the fringe where the rest of us dwell. The industrial age is coming to a close, and for many of us, this is just one more fitting metaphor. We are inheriting a world where democracy its self is in question. Barons and tycoons do what ever the hell they want. Liberal arts, science, progressive thought are being repressed absolutely everywhere. I wouldn’t be suprised if something much more sinister happend to remove Ken from his post. That kind of thing doesn’t shock me.

    When my generation stands up you call us entitled. Your generation only speaks when It effects YOU, when it effects your microcosm. Because that has been the way everything has been viewed. Everything has a category and can be separate ie: A Canadian play, a play about domestic violence, a play about race. My generation see’s the interconnected level of all of these subcategories and realize there existence stems back to a messed up system called capitalism that has been fostered by individualizing all the issues, and giving them separate platforms, cleverly disguising the root and creating a mass confusion that keeps each rightious person fighting the good fight in their own little corner, not realizing that the same beast births the dystopic clutter.

    Many in my generation have simply stopped talking, and we hate the news paper, and the news papers hate us. We read a million news sources a day, blogs, and share our ideas everywhere we go. We wear our ideas like jewelry. We are trying to learn practical skills that will allow us to diversify. We are trying to learn to grow our own food and fund our own enterprises, so that we never need a Canada Council Grant ever again. We are trying to learn how to talk to each other truly again. Our creative call is so much more then a black box theatre, we are trying to black box an entire operation. This means that we need to be multi-faceted big picture type people.

    Because David, We are going to need to put this whole world back together.

    So maybe it’s a good thing Ken got fired. Cause when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose. Like my generation. So let this be a wake up call to Ken, and to all those who think its all seperate issues that don’t talk to eachother.

    HELLO: This is the MACROCOSM CALLING! It’s not just you’re job that is in danger!

    Maybe you should stop looking at institutions to solve your problems. Then you’ll really meet my generation. Because we are smart, informed, and we don’t freak out when we need to find another way to make a buck. We make your coffee, clean the toilet and brave the feedback we get when the globe and mail tells us our arts degrees are worthless. We have been angry for a long time, we are beyond it. We’ve tried everything. We’ve numbed ourselves, we’ve attempted to escape, but now we just prepare and make jokes about how we are going to buy land together one day and leave the city tomours.

    Ken is going to need to do what the rest of my generation does every day. We go into disguise. We are true artists. We are practically ninjas. We enter the pavement. We lurk in the sidelines, watching and taking it all in, waiting for the opening. We memorize and absorb information. We do what we need to keep moving. We do our best to learn how to break free. We were raised on Capitan Planet and taught that we are all “special”. And we are. And we will be.

    Because one day, All the factories will close. And the world truly will be a stage. And your generation and mine will just be a bunch of people trying to be a planetary body called Earth. Our theatres will tell “Our” story.

    People will be sovereign, and no longer look to corperations, boards of directors, or politicians to tell them how to live. Their art will not be able to be contained. Time will be Art.

    So there you have it David. We’re right here. Where we always were.

    Ryan Hurl

  18. Steph Berntson says:

    This is interesting, but quite contradictory to my experience. The most impassioned criticisms I’ve read about the firing of Ken Gass — along with the most ardent calls for petition-signing — have been from theatre artists under 35. This feels a stalwart and brave action in the face of my actual experience with older artists in Toronto: at openings, panels, shows, and social events, I’ve rarely met an established theatre practitioner over thirty-five who shows interest in the opinion of my immediate peers — as emerging performance studies scholars and artists — or has been willing to speak to us at any length at all. (Unless, of course, they share doctoral seminars with me and are obliged by scholarly courtesy or friendship… and this tends to happen well outside the artmaking scene.) It’s an inversion of your position, David: I am usually met with extreme indifference, silence, and — yes — apathy as a younger person looking for advice from more senior folk.

    But the letters, notes and notices I have received (from Brian Postalian, Haley McGee and Noam Lior, among others) been written despite this, and despite Holger’s (very accurate) assessment of the broad exclusion of most younger artists from the institution of Toronto theatre. Now, I don’t find my peer group excluded from art-making entirely – we’ve had luck having our projects funded by the arts councils or crowdsourcing and we’re making the work on our own — but in social or professional conversation, I can’t get established artists to care much. I typically find them precisely what you abhor — complacent, cold, or disrespectful. As I read your letter, I began to worry that that phenomenon is now bleeding into public discourse… and yet, all the while my friends continue to write supportive letters.

    Much more than all this, though, I think a blanket putdown of digital advocacy is outmoded. Why are fiery reactions circulated through online forums not valid reproach? They reach a massive audience, and many young readers take “Facebook entries du jour” to heart in order to conduct further research and react accordingly. I certainly do, and my friends and students do. For many of us, online newpapers, alt-news feeds, journals, op-ed mags, and multi-point aggregators are our principal news resources. Digital postings can be legitimate news. If “we”, the (relatively) young, read and write online in an engaged way, then why should we be generating paper in order to be counted amongst those who happen to value the analogue more highly?

    Born in ’81 and paying attention,
    Steph

  19. Emerging Ball of Slime says:

    Mr. Ferry,

    Your call to arms directed at a younger generation of theatre artists was much appreciated. Oh, that sounds so measured, doesn’t it? I won’t respond by burning down the theatre. I really like that place. But perhaps offering some insights into what you perceive as my own silence could be helpful. I hope it doesn’t upset anyone ;)

    I’d suggest that of any generation, this one is most eager to connect to the politics and exchanges occurring in the Canadian theatre industry. We like the Canadian theatre glitterati. We look for it on Facebook all day. We posted passionately on our walls about the Michael Healey/Tarragon Theatre controversy. We gossip loudly about Daniel Brook’s departure from Necessary Angel. When the Summerworks’ Heritage Canada funding got cut we went into our own pockets, already broken from years of emerging self-producing, and showed our dedication to the indie theatre community. We seek out the news and we do respond; we do have a voice. Perhaps you might rebut about the inefficacy of these “du-jour” entries or the common donation online- but this is how we talk to each other. And there’s no ‘good’ news nowadays anyway. It’s all we’ve got.

    I’ll begin by offering a reminder: you and your colleagues are our celebrities, Mr. Ferry. I was born in ’85 and my Canadian Theatre History class was riddled with the names of your friends. I read Ken Gass’ essays on the Canadian theatre before bed every night (yeesh!). I did my first scene study with Walker’s words. You showed up at my undergraduate university one day with performers like Tony Nappo and Irene Poole. I was amazed. I was one of the lucky ones that got to travel with you to Ottawa, play a bit part and see how the people I admired worked. Upon graduation, I gawked and awed whenever one of the ‘greats’ emerged at the same theatre I was at. Pure nerd, I know.

    We’ve talked about you, and we still talk about you a lot. I teach a class where I teach other people to talk about you (well, and some other people now too). We wanted and still want to be just like you. Maybe you’re not in the right bar to hear it. Maybe you haven’t found a way to talk to us. And maybe we know something that you don’t know.

    And my argument is starting to tread off course here, as I now buttress the importance of the established theatre artist while also justifying our silence for not doing something when the livelihood of those very individuals (well, one, in this case) is threatened. So maybe I can offer some further clarification.

    3 points that might attest to my own silence:

    Less Useful Point #1
    Tragedy.
    Maybe I’m not saying anything because it’s fun to watch the celebrity fall. Maybe I think Factory was like a relic from an age by gone, and it was heading in this direction all along- it just couldn’t see the forest from the trees. That the whole notion of a theatre dedicated to ‘national’ aims is, well, a bit passé. Maybe some of us felt the place was out of touch. I’ll admit that several of my colleagues and I, on a walk down Bathurst one night, laughed uproariously at a season that featured Rick Miller so many times! I didn’t see the shows again. Some people born in 93 who didn’t know about Miller did though. And they were amazed. That’s good. I’ll also suggest that seeing Itai Erdal’s recent show was one of the most exciting theatre experiences I’ve had this season. I’ll offer here, rather self-consciously, that this point sucks. It doesn’t matter what I think about the Factory’s season, really. I start with this terrible point because this is the hinge that most conversations about this issue are turning on, in my experience. Yuck. We all could weigh on Factory’s artistic merits and it’d get pretty messy. And not every “emerging” or “established” theatre artist would agree. And it wouldn’t help Mr. Gass anyway, would it? Because ‘Board knows’ if that’s the reason he is gone anyway (see point #3). So I’ve vowed silence in these contexts because I fucking despise this kind of conversation.

    Onto Point #2
    Quiet consent.
    After the closure of the Vancouver Playhouse earlier this year, there was a whole lot of conversation on social media about what it means to have something die. What it means for one thing to close. Does another door open? I’m speaking here directly to your characterization of my entire generation as Prince Charles’ (how SWANKY and gross). I think the ways of thinking through that closing controversy have certainly shaped my own response to this firing. Jacob Zimmer of Small Wooden Show wrote deftly on the Small Wooden Show website about the efficacy of the ecology metaphor when considering the closure of the Playhouse:

    “So, if we take, for the moment at least, the ecology metaphor a step further, the problem is that we, as an arts community, seem to want endless growth. Current structures to be maintained while new ones are continually born and grow. Which isn’t how I understand ecologies to work. To be blunt, things have to die in order for other, new, things to grow.”

    I’d suggest that Zimmer’s gesture to ecology (which is more apt than this small excerpt allows) is one that comes up again here with the fear you articulate: that we are waiting for the ‘passing of the guard’. Maybe. I think we are really profoundly grateful for the blood, sweat, tears and money (because it has something to do with that, doesn’t it?) that Gass and his colleagues sacrificed to build this theatre. I think we are all enormously thankful, and I think we wonder if we might, just now, be able to do justice to his legacy. And we’re having all these babies so we need jobs to feed them.

    Not me though. I can barely do anything right now and I don’t like babies. But there’s some other people, I’d maintain, that are chomping at the bit. Maybe that’s why some of us are being quiet. I don’t think it’s that we’re too tired from producing our own Fringe shit. I don’t think it’s that we’re “overwhelmed” (no offence to Wendy). Gun violence freaks me out, sure. So does the European debt crisis. But we can wear K-vests and occupy and rail wildly. I think it’s the calm before the storm.

    Most Glaring
    Point #3
    Who, What, Where, When, Why?
    Finally, I’ll suggest that much of my silence also has to do with the fact that I just can’t get enough information. I, for one, am reticent to make public comments without gathering a necessary daily dose of statistics, and consultation with primary sources. I can’t pull an argument from out of nowhere, and I am too conscious of my googling friends to make assertions that don’t stand up. So, I think I have hesitated from the defense of one my theatrical heroes because I just don’t know what the hell happened. If the walls could talk…. I don’t feel as though anyone in this conversation has been particularly honest about what is going on. I feel like the theatre still has something to say, and I wonder if it will say it by virtue of their new hire. But maybe I just have too much faith in the place because I think of it as what Gass made it. I hope the situation unfolds and demonstrates otherwise. I think an honest campaign to the Factory from the community asking for the disclosure of more information, once more, would be beneficial.

    In short, I hope this has provided some insight on my own silence. I haven’t really been silent. I’ve been talking. You haven’t heard me. Maybe other people have been talking too. I’d really hesitate to say that my reality speaks to any other artists. But I do know I have talked to other people too. I’ve tried to be as honest as possible here, and I’ve tried to cover some of the issues articulated above, while adding new fuel to the fire (I hope). I submit anonymously because I can.
    And I fucking will, OK?
    Just want to pack some heat ;)

  20. David Ferry says:

    Monsieur Ball of Slime,

    Awesome.

    I actually do talk to people in the bars you refer to ya know.

    Always have.

    My letter was to get people talking out of bars. Not behind them.

    Daf

  21. Emerging Ball of Slime says:

    Ah-hem-Mademoiselle. I’ll hit the streets, proverbial ‘balls to the wall’ soon. But I’ll need another drink first.

  22. Wendy says:

    No offence taken, Ball of Slime.

    I think you have clearly articulated many sound points.

  23. Just wanted to jump in to thank everyone for the respectful exchange of arguments and ideas here. I often feel the comments after articles online or on Facebook contain unconstructive monologuing that doesn’t try to address themselves in the context of a conversation.

    This doesn’t seem the case here because we have all collectively decided to act this way. Thanks for that.

  24. Way-to-wag-a-figure,-Ferry says:

    Hi David

    I perceive a distinct arrogance and deliberate simplification in your argument-slash-scolding.

    You ask: Why is there such relative silence from your generations of theatre artists?

    To suggest that there is a single answer that accurately represents TWO generations (X and Y) of Canadian theatre artists and artsworkers would be absolutely ridiculous. What would be further preposterous is that your PERCEIVED silence from these generations is in fact APATHY…well, that is a bogus generalization – and one that smells of a “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” attitude. Think about it, David – really.

    As the brave responses to your open letter demonstrate (braver than mine, as I’m responding anonymously), many folk simply don’t…

    - agree with the tone / call to action of Ed’s petition (i.e. reinstatement),

    - and/or do not want to condone comments made by some on the petition (i.e. Walker’s),

    - and/or don’t feel sufficiently informed of both sides of the issue,

    - and/or don’t agree that theatres needn’t have AD succession plans

    - and/or seriously question the validity of a 15 MILLION capital campaign as the solution to Factory’s fundamental problems,

    - and/or do not like the at times hateful comments that “your generation” is making about arts Boards…after all, who is responsible for effective Board recruitment and relations? In a FUNCTIONAL organization, that lies squarely at the feet of the Artistic Director and his/her administrative head. One of Canada’s best, most respected AD’s once told me that he spends upwards of 60-70% of his non-artistically focused time working on/with the Board and that he wish he had time for 80-90%. They are volunteers, not ATM machines. You want them to dream big, work hard, share their networks, buy into your “vision” and think/invest ART first etc let alone raise 15 million? You make your bed….

    - and/or feel that a new artistic vision for Factory, while unfortunate for Ken, provides a rarely available opportunity. It’s inspiring how Brendan’s leadership has done marvels for Buddies… there are a lot of Brendan’s who have been waiting, for eons, in the wings….

    These are a select few points raised in passionate discussions that I’ve participated in. And yes, mostly with members of the despicable under-35 crowd.

    Last point:

    You suggest that the reason our discussions remain verbal, and out of the social media circus, is because we’re all scared of not being hired by the “old farts” or that we’re Prince Charles waiting for the ole broad to croak…

    David, David, David. In this case, I sincerely think that most common reason that people are “silent” is a pretty genuine and well-meaning one: We love Ken. And we don’t want to hurt him, especially after this horrible ordeal…because even though we didn’t sign the petition, we do think that that Board of Directors is in DIRE need of courses in communication and crisis management.

    Nor would we want to insult Andy, Richard, Matthew, and Albert. Because even though they are old white men, we love them, too. And we’ve worked with them, or auditioned for them or, at the very least, grown up in this industry watching and admiring them.

    Born in ’79

  25. David Ferry says:

    Hey “way to wag a finger” ferry;

    Don’t mind you so vehemently objecting to my questions (though come on “anonymous’—quel merde de poulet) but please read what I said a bit more clearly…I said in part:

    “Others of my generation of Canadian theatre artists have suggested that you are simply waiting, like Prince Charles for the old guard to slip away so you can take over the institutions that have been built.

    Some have suggested that you live in fear of rocking the boat and so not getting hired by whoever does take over theatres such as Factory.

    Some say you are just rigid with apathy about the issues that have challenged Canadian theatre artists from the beginning of our short professional theatre history. We are after-all, for all practical purposes, just 70 years old as a theatre culture.

    But I have worked with many of you, and I have sensed a fierce intelligence and passion inside you. So your silence I know is not simply due to the above.”

    Please do not quote my letter inaccurately…I clearly spoke of what OTHERS have suggested to me…I never represented those thoughts as my feelings about any silence.

    Attack me for my position by all means, feel insulted by my asking the questions I asked or in having the audacity to dare write a letter in the first place, but please don’t Mis-speak what I write.

    I gotta say, the people who are irate that I asked the questions I did are for the most part remaining anonymous and not really reading carefully.

    I am sincerely yours, DAVID FERRY, not ‘jimmidy cricket’, or ‘robinthepoortofeedtherich’ or any other cute alias…bring it on.

  26. Tina Fance says:

    Dear Mr. Ferry:

    I have been following this feed since it started. I thank you for your letter and for providing this small platform for discussion. I think there are some incredibly insightful responses and, for the most part, they have been delivered in a respectful manner.

    I question what precisely you want, Mr. Ferry? You have posed a question that has received multiple answers and yet you seem to still take an antagonistic approach. One person says you aren’t listening in the right bars and to the right people. You say you are. One person says that the old analog form of communication isn’t how our generation talks to each other. You say to take to the streets. I am unsure what your desired outcome is?

    You are undercutting people who post anonymously, which is their right.

    You don’t seem to really be engaging in a conversation and a dialogue about the issue. It appears that you’ve already made your mind up. Everything someone says you undercut rather than ask questions or seek to understand – which makes me wonder why you bothered to ask the question in the first place?

    Maybe I am entirely misreading you, as you claim many of us are, and if that is the case than I apologize – it is not in my intention to be antagonistic.

    Best,
    Tina Fance ’84

  27. Steph Berntson says:

    Thanks, Tina, for making my point without the misspelling I did: I meant *analog* communication, not “analogue”. Which is to say: Must we all dissent the same way? Seems a bit of a contradiction. Or better: CAN we even all dissent the same way? I wonder how one can criticise digital advocacy — which, as I said, I see happening — when the voices of most of the young artists I know would never be published as a lead story by major papers, or in fact, perhaps (and with all due respect), Praxis Theatre.

  28. @Steph – Thanks for the respect, not sure whether it is due, but we”l take it.

    We’re probably not as explicit about this as we should be, but one of the goals of this space it be home to voices that challenge the status quo, so I hope there will always be a large gap between what you will find here and the mainstream papers… until they fold.

    If you are emerged, submerged or demerged and have something that you think would be right for here creators can contact us through the info@ account on the site.

  29. Steph Berntson says:

    @Michael: I stand happily corrected. I relegate those comments to the MSM, not y’all.

  30. Tina Fance says:

    @steph SHOULD we all dissent the same way? I’d even go so far as to say that the term dissent is partially archaic in regards to this dialogue. I think Ball of Slime (man, that makes me chuckle to type) was right in saying that we are a generation that asks the who, what, when, where, why. We are amass in information and we like to know all sides of an argument before making an informed opinion. I also understand that this is a very generous and generalized thing to say about my generation who also, may or may not, be idle buffoons deeply entrenched in the shit factory. I’m an optimist.

  31. [...] This comment has been getting such great attention on Facebook that I thought it was only fair to repost it here. This is a response to David Ferry’s letter about the younger generation, original post here: http://praxistheatre.com/2012/07/an-open-letter-to-the-newer-generations-of-toronto-theatre-artists-… [...]

  32. Aurora Stewart de Peña says:

    Hi David,

    It’s good to read this letter, it feels like we might be lacking communication, you and I.

    Among my group of friends and collaborators, Ken Gass being fired from his own company is constant topic of discussion. We are concerned, confused, frustrated, thoughtful– but we’re slow to speak our mind, at least in public.

    It might not seem that way, being the internet generation and all, but we like to collect all the information, have all the living room/wine discussions, before we come out with a position.

    Being a descendant of your generation of theatre artists, I see how you support each other, how you rally to defend those you perceive to be mistreated, stand up for what you believe. I love that, it’s inspiring, it’s motivating, but it’s not me. And (forgive me if I don’t speak for you all) it’s not our generation.

    We are a slow burn. You might see us take action in the way we build our own companies, make our own work, whether we choose to have a board at all.

    I care about what happened to Ken Gass. The Factory Theatre was his. He produced the work he thought was valuable, put it out there for people to see, and it was an enormously important to arts in Canada.

    The Factory has never produced me, and that’s okay. They haven’t produced anyone in my immediate circle, and that’s okay. We’ll do our own thing.

    They don’t owe the younger generation of artists productions or nods or workshops or anything. They do what they do and people love it, audiences come to see it, reviewers review it. I buy tickets and look forward to the shows. I don’t think the Factory needed a change in Artistic Directorship, it wasn’t everybody’s theatre, it was Ken Gass’, he made it, so it should stay his.

    We are at the cusp of a really exciting time in theatre, there are lots and lots of new companies doing new things. We might not have spaces now, but we will someday soon. Performance is growing. It doesn’t have to be an old guard vs. new guard thing, the two can co-exist.

    I remember that you, David, participated in a workshop of a Julia Lederer play that I had the fortune to direct. We didn’t have a tonne of money to give you, but you did it because you believed in developing young work. A blending of generations’ artistic ideas can be a wonderful thing, it’s amazing when it happens.

    Praxis is doing something neat here, they’re giving us all a forum to talk with each other. I might be wrong, but I don’t think that really exists anywhere else. We do kind of work in isolation from each other. We can feel competitive about grants and festival slots. But really, I’ve found that the more friends and collaborators, of all generations, you have, the better your work is.

    So while we may seem like passing ships in the night sometimes, it is getting brighter. The more of us there are, the more likely we are to make change.

  33. Holy shit. That was like the most awesome letter I’ve ever read about theatre! Kudos to you, and let me know if there’s any way I can help…

    Bobman

  34. Wow. I just spent like an hour to read all of the comments. lol

    A few points.

    1. I never felt like part of the theatre community until precisely this moment. lol I’m proud of all the brilliant posters. I didn’t realize there was so much fire here, and from the next generation! It’s inspiring, and I’d also like to thank David Ferry for starting this conversation. He’s being pretty brave, and antagonizing for a reason. Picking a fight with people you care about comes from a place of LOVE…

    2. I disagree entirely with all the people that say silly things like: “Ken Gass doesn’t do anything for the younger generation!”. That’s simply not true. I was in the Factory Theatre playwright’s lab at the age of 23, and have had quite a few opportunities there. In fact, ironically, pretty much ALL of my opportunities at Factory happened while I was in my 20s. (I’m 34 now, and hence still qualified to post here. — :p )

    3. While I have had a couple days to ponder these important questions David is asking, I almost think the question isn’t really about Ken Gass at all. I think many of us love and respect Ken. Anyone who has worked at Factory Theatre – and most people who know about Factory Theatre – know that Ken gives/gave every inch of himself to make that place run. (Even his own money.) I think it’s pretty unfair to criticize Ken in this forum. Factory Theatre (under Ken’s leadership) has done more than pretty much ANY theatre in Canada to develop Canadian playwrights/actors, and break barriers by providing substantial opportunities to multicultural artists. These accomplishments should not be taken lightly, or taken for granted. Ken Gass is a pioneer, and a theatre without his leadership will take a significant hit for ALL of us. It is NOT an opportunity, it is a LOSS.

    4. While ardently defending Ken Gass, I was still largely apathetic to the greater issues surrounding Ken. That should not be confused for ambivalence toward Ken as a man and artist, but more perpetual indifference to the bullshit that surrounds us all… We’re all so poor, none of us work as much as we’d like, there are so few jobs to make ANYBODY happy (of ANY age), etc etc. If you ask me to defend Ken Gass’ character, I’ll write you a master’s thesis. Ask me to defend an antiquated system of failure that perpetuates itself through fake elitism, and government-dictated, watered-down art, and my response will be very different…

    5. I don’t think we should burn it all down and start again. But I also don’t think we should pretend that the system is working in its current form. I make my own work by operating completely on my own, using my own money, avoiding unions (when possible), cutting costs way down (even avoiding the antiquated, exorbitant costs of an established venue) and perceiving the whole thing as a hobby I love. Does it denigrate the work that I am not willing to literally starve to make theatre? I don’t think so. I think the ridiculous notion that our creative work is only relevant insofar as we receive this stupid grant, or get a review from that irrelevant newspaper, or involves someone whose ‘name’ we recognize from somewhere, or gets nominated for a Dora (whatever the fuck that is)… is precisely THE PROBLEM.

    We are all thinking like OLD FARTS (no offense intended). I went to school for Economics (briefly, thankfully) before I transferred to theatre. And one piece I always kept with me is the concept of business cycles: They persist over time in a perpetual form. When things die, others emerge. While I don’t think Ken Gass’ career should be over, I do think that the old notion of an artistic director running a theatre that costs way too much money to operate, and gets way too few people to attend it is: OLD THINKING. Almost, stupid thinking. This debate has nothing whatsoever to do with Ken Gass, this debate is about the fact that my generation (the under-35s) realized a long time ago that this system is a STUPID FUCKING WAY TO MAKE ART.

    I’m not an angry, failed artist. I’ve published several plays, gotten lots of great reviews, written (or been in) lots of hit plays. In a way, the system has been working for me. Yet, I still realize how fucking stupid it is. (I’m swearing a lot. Don’t tell my mother. It’s her birthday.)

    In summation, I think that Ken Gass should be removed from this discussion entirely. He’s sort of beside the point. Young people’s apathy toward Toronto theatre has NOTHING to do with Ken Gass. Ken is NOT the problem, and the exact same reaction would be evident if Richard Rose or Albert Schultz suddenly lost his job unfairly too.

    This reaction is basically a ‘fuck you’ to the theatre industry that has been asking us to wait our turn for 15 years – with vague promises of a bright future.

    We’re too smart to buy that bullshit. Way too smart.

    Bobman

  35. [...] Last week traffic to praxistheatre.com exploded when we re-published David Ferry’s Facebook letter asking the under thirty-five set why they were not outraged by the firing of Ken Gass as Artistic Director at Factory Theatre. [...]

  36. [...] up with the closing of the Vancouver Playhouse, and I believe that it’s also at the core of the lively debate on praxistheatre.com regarding the fate of Factory Theatre. A younger generation is looking [...]

  37. [...] the board’s resignation passed 3,000 signatures, actor and director David Ferry wrote another open letter, asking why more young theatre artists weren’t speaking out against what he saw as an issue [...]

  38. Frank Trotz says:

    I was co-founder, with Ken Gass, of the original Factory Theatre Lab. I was one of the young ones of that time, and I so appreciate your letter to the young ones of this time. My heart is in the Factory and it pains me to see what is happening to it, and to look with horror at the possibility of the death of the Factory if this board is allowed to continue with the course it is still one, which has not changed since the beginning of this fiasco, and will not change unless this board is forced to step down. It has now dug inits heels and taken up a power position. David, if you read this comment, I want you to know that I have contacted Roy McMurtry through his brother John, asking if Roy knew of any way that a board like this can be forced out. His reply was not a direct answer to this question but rather an email through John that spoke of very strong support for Kenn Gass by Roy McMurtry. If you email me at the above address, I will forward Roy’s response to you and you, as a powerful force in our theatre scene, might want to get in touch with Roy to get his advice.

    We need to find a way to end this quickly and get the Factory back on its feet moving in the directions it should be moving, with Ken back at its helm. I will do anything to help make this happen.

    Has anyone thought of creating an alternate board and asking the Factory membership to vote in a new board? I would off my name to sit on such a board.

    Cheers
    Frank

  39. [...] feud with Tarragon Theatre, Ken Gass’s firing by the Factory Theatre Board, and a rift between “newer generations” of artists and the “old farts,” just to name a few. At the end of 2012, what we really needed was a vote of confidence: some [...]

  40. [...] year in particular there has been a lot of conversation about the divide between younger artists and more established artists, with the [...]

  41. [...] been a tumultuous one to say the least. From the firing of Ken Gass from the Factory Theatre, to the open letter to younger theatre artists by David Ferry on the Praxis website and the debate that ensued. From government funding, a desire for a new [...]

  42. What???!!! says:

    What???!!! The summer Globe articles were chock full of comments from the younger generation about the Kennie’s firing, many of them lambasting our boomer generation. What, exactly, are you on about, you perennial attention-seeker who STINKS in anti-histamine commercials?

  43. [...] the firing of Ken Gass from Factory Theatre, David Ferry and I exchanged open letters on this site. David’s letter, addressed to the younger generation of theatre artists, first appeared on Facebook.  He asked why [...]

  44. [...] and lots and lots has been and continues (great comments in those last two via Praxis) to be said about the situation at [...]

  45. annon says:

    It never seemed like the board did anything wrong.

    There was tacit agreement the work produced at Factory was severely lacking, as with most Canadian-produced work (maybe, if your appraisal of our general sentiment was correct, this is why the youth were less willing to emphatically defend our local status quo). His ousting created hope for a brighter future.

    It’s hard to pity Mr. Gas for having a relatively amazing job these so many years (then finally losing it), when many you’ve encouraged to take up arms can have difficulty landing a non-paying, one-night-only production to work on. It’s also hard to pity him because it seems like this change was entirely within the bounds of the contracts he signed and agreements he made. It’s also hard to pity him because, regardless of losing his title and his salary, he appears in a position to quite easily make his living within the industry- an existence only a very select elite will ever be able to claim (and should be grateful for).

    So, a lucky man with an established name was sent packing from a theatre where his work was unappreciated by many- a theatre which was another faded face in the wasteland of the local establishment- to continue his career elsewhere; and all was done within legal terms both parties had agreed to.

    And we are supposed to be as outraged as ‘the old farts’ (your words)?

    Asking us what we think is important might be a more effective way to stay in touch with the youth, rather than tell us what’s important and berating us for not reacting how you would like us to.

    with respect,
    young gun

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