OCAD's lobby became the overflow room to the overflow room. Photo: Sarah Mulholland
by Michael Wheeler
The biggest benefit of last night’s Mayoral Arts Debate organized by ArtsVote is the massive interest there was in the event itself. The doors opened at 5pm. At 5:10pm the room was declared at capacity and attendees were directed to an overflow room at OCAD. Next the overflow room itself began to overflow before being declared at capacity at 5:40pm. Anyone after that occupied the OCAD lobby, which became the overflow room for the overflow room. An estimated 1750 streamed it live on their computers, while 540 others watched it since.
All told, this untelevised debate attracted an audience of over 3000 active and engaged citizens. This will matter much more a year from now when the elected members decide which election promises to keep and which will shatter on the altar of “hard economic times”. Clearly this is an issue that the populace is engaged in and is willing to organize around. In short, and this is the only thing that really matters around City Hall, there can be tangible political consequences to politicians who dismiss the arts as inconsequential.
James Di Fiore spoke at the AGO as a mayoral candidate with a mission to improve citizen engagement in civic politics by 18-35 year olds.
Praxis Theatre was tweeting the whole debate if you’re looking for a play by play of the he said, he said, and a video replay is streamable here, but post-debate chat unanimously agreed the candidates presented a series of lacklustre performances due to the absence of both substance to the discussion and charisma or a sense of leadership on anyone’s part. Ford said a couple of outrageous things that were by no means the craziest things he’s ever said, and the other contenders managed to snipe at one another in a way that no one looked like a hero.
A bright spot to the evening was James Di Fiore, the candidate invited to participate through an online poll on the ArtsVote website. Admitting he had no chance to become mayor, he addressed the fact that in the previous civic election 18% of eligible voters under 35 participated. His main thrust was that the problem is not apathy, but a belief amongst this cohort that political engagement is a waste of their time as the discourse does not address them or their issues. None of the other candidates addressed these concerns, which pretty much reinforced the notion that James was correct in his analysis.
With major arts policy announcements earlier in the day, both Rossi and Smitherman announced their arts and culture platforms, which they both refer to as their “Creative City” plans, referencing the city’s 2003 Creative City culture plan. Heavily influenced by the ideas of Martin Prosperity Institute Director Richard Florida, it suggests that arts and culture can improve a city’s economy by improving its “creativity index”. Separate from the highly suspect nature of the premises Florida uses to support these claims, last night it allowed these candidates to use broad platitudes about contributing to both the “soul” and the “economic engine” of the city without saying much of substance.
Most candidates agreed to increase cultural funding from $17 to $25 per capita, which is exactly what councillors have solemnly resolved to do for quite some time while not actually doing it, so this was hardly earth shattering territory. Rossi tried to distinguish himself in this regard by committing to making the increase in his first year as mayor and have it up to $33 by the end of his (highly theoretical at this point) mandate.
The most memorable moment of the evening occurred when Rob Ford suggested holding fundraising dinners as a substitute for arts funding. Until that point the audience had been fairly civil and respectful to a candidate that had aggressively attacked the arts as a councillor at City Hall, but the crowd couldn’t resist responding with a pretty solid “Boo” from all corners of the room to this remark. Praxis Artistic Producer Aislinn Rose later noted: “It was like suggesting to an aspiring actor to consider getting a job at Stratford.” We had thought of that one a little while ago.
Skip ahead to 4:40 to see Praxis Board Member Bridget Macintosh explain the Praxis Gourmet Dinner fundraising events we’ve been holding since 2004. Complete with slides!
This will be remembered as the debate that no one could get into it was such a hot ticket. Blog TO reports that even some media were initially being turned away as the debate began due to capacity issues, and accounts from the overflow room suggest a boisterous crowd responding vocally to each performance. As the numbers attest, this was AN EVENT.
The whole evening was possible due to some impressive work by ArtsVote, a volunteer advocacy group that has already been influential in civic politics as a force that contributed to Barbara Hall’s successful run for mayor. The focus and media attention this debate brought to the cultural community and the issues of arts funding this election solidify ArtsVote as a major player in Toronto elections by forcing politicians to explain their cultural positions in a high profile venue under a bright media spotlight.
They were standing all the way to the back doors last night at The Church of The Holy Trinity just west of Dundas Square.
If you couldn’t make it to the Emergency Community Meeting on Monday night organized by One Toronto, Praxis Artistic Producer Aislinn Rose was all over the Praxis Twitter account if you would like to review the evening’s speakers and topics.
For the last 6 weeks, I have not been working as an actress- but rather someone who casts actresses and actors- and I have had my eyes opened wide to the process of finding someone to “fit” a role.. and I want to write the following because I think it needs saying:
Stage actors and actresses are anomalies and jewels – if you have a resume which lists 10 or more theatrical credits in Canadian theatre- you are a national treasure, and you are in a field of a very few. This field is astonishingly smaller than you think. Much smaller.
I know this because I look at Casting Workbook everyday and I receive resumes and headshots… and add to that fact that if you are still active in the theatre after 20 years – YOU ARE A SUCCESS.
I can tell you that I am surprised constantly that resumes are organised with television and film credits first – as if they have more importance than what work you have done on the stage- who decided that?
I can tell you that if you do not celebrate your own accomplishments on the stage – then no one else will either.
I want to know how and why it was decided that holding stage credits up against hollywood credits was interpreted as success.
REALLY? DO YOU BELIEVE THAT?
I think that to be successful as an artist: is to despite all the odds; to keep on keepin on … and furthermore to be successful in this craft is to be the HEART of a human being , foibles, flaws, charms and vulnerabilities all – a believable human being in a vastly different set of circumstances/ genres/ stories.
If you have a theatre resume, be proud, be so proud because despite all the odds and rejections and POVERTY… despite the pressure of the film/television world, YOU HAVE CONTINUED… and if you are a woman over 40, you have infinitely beat the odds-
Yes film is a visual medium and because its run mostly on the whims of adolescents in North America there is a pressure to look a certain way… but for real artists and grown ups- we are looking for your craft and for your soul and that is something YOU and your HEART and your experience of life brings.
So stop where you are and dont compare yourself or covet what you see as beyond you.
Luxuriate in what you have done, live your life as an extraordinarily lucky person, celebrate yourself, dare to change your resume to show theatre first.
The theatre is something to be proud of in this vast country because the professional theatre is arguably only 60 years old here. The blood, sweat and tears that have made it have come with blind faith and no money – The victories and the magic that happens – is yours, all yours.
Theatre was and will continue to be the reliable source of talent that goes into all the film and television that is made- not just here – but in many other countries in the world. I mean think about Broadway or the West End and how people use it to prove their legitimacy as “serious artists”. Please celebrate the theatre what you have given to its continuance. You are a gift, your craft is a gift, you have a “noble” calling , your numbers are few, and its time that you were celebrated. So I write this to celebrate you all.
You can all join my “agency” anytime, the door is open, the coffee and tea is always on, the table has food and a box of tissue, there are books for your souls and poetry for your heart, there are plays that will build beautiful new worlds, and there is a dram of something for courage when needed, and always a smile, a laugh and a story to remind you: you are loved and you are not alone, never alone.
I will fight for each and everyone of you to hold your heads high.. I raise my glass to you, I salute you and thank you for the courage of your hearts which has brought beauty, laughter, eye opening – consciousness raising challenges and pure love to mine..
Here’s to you: You agents of provocativeness and charm, you Socratic questions all…
Kristina Nicoll is Assistant Artistic Director of the Tarragon Theatre. She originally wrote this piece as a Facebook note to her friends.
“This city is envy of the world and we’re acting like it’s falling apart.”
Filmmaker Atom Egoyan speaking as an observer at the launch of the non-partisan One Toronto movement to reduce the prevailing negativity of the mayoral campaign, and to encourage those Torontonians who support inclusive values to become engaged and involved.
The broad-based support for this campaign impacted me more than the rhetoric for cameras at the One Toronto media launch. Certainly all the right things were said: There was a call for thoughtful non-partisan dialogue, respect for inclusive values, and a Toronto where anyone can succeed. This was expected. What was unexpected is how varied the groups backing this initiative are.
Look let’s be honest here: Luminato is more of a centrist Ontario Undergraduate Student Association (OUSA) kind of organization than a natural CFS ally – and the CFS has more of a Fringe Festival vibe than a Luminato one. Yet this is not the time for what become trivialities in the face of an almost unthinkable municipal administration that would decimate both culture and students with little regard for these distinctions.
Clearly it is time to make some new friends and work together. The distinct possibility of political apocalypse makes for strange bedfellows and a strikingly broad base of support that cuts across traditional fault lines in civil society.
One Toronto organizers are proposing Torontonians ask candidates what they would do specifically (no platitiudes) about three core issues that SHOULD be dominating the debate, but are being lost in sea of angry populist disaster porn: 1) Climate Change, 2) Inclusiveness and Equality, 3) Services and Programs. This is pretty wide ranging stuff you would think is a no-brainer, but is getting absolutely no play in the race right now.
This election will be decided by a ballot question that has not yet been set. Currently the question is: “Do you want Rob Ford to dismantle City Hall?” If that remains the question, he almost certainly will win. If the question becomes something else, something positive that addresses all of the ways municipal government can engage with and improve our lives as Torontonians, his chances of winning decrease significantly.
As we have seen from the discussion still going on in the comments to Monday’s post, strategy and picking a single mayoral candidate will play a big role in how this all plays out. Just as important as WHO people vote for is WHY they vote for someone though. This is an area we have a lot to work on in a short period of time. Fortunately a week is a lifetime in politics, which means we have five lifetimes to change the tone and topics of this debate.
One Toronto has called an upbeat, completely positive, Emergency Community Meeting for Monday September 27thfrom 7:30pm to 9:30pm at The Church of The Holy Trinity (Behind the Eaton Centre).
My Gaza, ’tis of Thee co-writers Alex Rubin (L) and Jiv Parasram (R) are Toronto-based actors, directors and playwrights. Graduates of UC Drama at the University of Toronto and founding members of Pandemic Theatre, they have spent the last year focused primarily on politically satirical pieces. Currently, Rubin and Parasram are serving as actor and director (respectively) on My Gaza, ’tis of Thee.
The show runs runs September 16th – 19th & 24th – 26th at 8pm (2pm matinees on the 17th and 19th) at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse, 79A St. George Street (just south of Harbord). $15 General, $12 Senior/Student/Underwaged.
Jonathon Young and Laura Mennell on film with Scott Bellis and Dawn Petten on stage
by Michael Wheeler
I wonder if this is what embedded journalists feel like?
After two trips to Vancouver to participate in both the filmed and theatrical execution of this project, it is impossible to provide anything approaching an unsentimental analysis of it. I really like the show, the people who made it, and I sincerely hope it comes to Ontario someday so I can show it to people.
I’m sure it will inspire a number of conversations about performance and form: Is it a movie? Is it a play? If it is a hybrid of both, what do you call it? I think it is something else entirely however:
I think Tear The Curtain! is an ode.
The production begins with a film clip of theatre critic Alex Braithwaite being driven to review a performance by his secretary Mavis:
You know what your trouble is?
Dawn Petten as Mavis and Jonathon Young as Alex Braithwaite
I’m a hack writer living in a hick town.
A hick border town where we’re raised on foreign ideas and foreign stories which we imitate, pretending they’re our own… I should have left when I was twenty and gone where the action is.
You just don’t know what you want Alex. I’m sure we may be hicks compared with other places, but don’t deny yourself the privilege that gives you.
The freedom to create our own future.
Theatrically, Tear The Curtain goes on to embody this conversation by becoming a piece of theatre that lives within the constraints of this debate by doing something new and exciting, while acknowledging the cultural constraints of living in a city fifty clicks from the United States. Recognizing and integrating the generations of storytellers and shifts in technology that have come before them, the production sets out to be a performance that uses new forms and tools to re-imagine Vancouver within an archetypically American film noir aesthetic.
This is why I think Tear The Curtain an ode. It is not just film noir gangsters, dames, and crazy film integration within a vacuum. It is an ode to the City of Vancouver. It is attached to a particular perspective about what it means to make art in this place, in this era, and everything that generations of artists have gone through to arrive at where they are today.
My part in one of the film clips is so incidental that there are no stills of me with my eyes open. (If you listen very carefully however, you can hear me chuckle at one of Alex Braithwaite's jokes.)
Like the rest of this process, tech at The Stanley Theatre was a whirlwind of activity. What distinguished this week-long period where actors and designers finally integrate their offerings from most, was the extra factors that had to be set in tandem with all the regular ones a director would consider. Each moment is precious in the time you have from when you move into the theatre to to opening night.
Because many of the filmed segments had audio scored directly for the image on the video, but the audio cues for the live action were being set as we established actor blocking, there was a lot to think about in terms of what audio was coming, at what level, and was it attached to the film or called live. Often when audio was activated was related to the fly system for the show, which incorporates three different curtains, a scrim, and a very large wall that are continually emerging from, or disappearing into, the air above the stage
Even the simplest video elements in a performance piece can devour precious tech time, but the scale and resolution of the images captured by the Red camera posed particular challenges for Video Wrangler Michael Sider:
My favourite thing about this scene is that the projected image actually exists legitimately within the given circumstances of the story.
To get the largest, richest image to fill the entire scrim, two identical projectors are broadcasting simultaneously, mounted parallel to one another. These images are also broadcast on different surfaces that are varying distances away from the projectors, so each surface has to have its own focus where the images from the two projectors overlaps correctly.
Separate from projector concerns, once we moved into the theatre, many video sequences needed to have small adjustments made on the fly. A number of factors including small text changes, the timing of scored audio, and blocking adjustments, meant many scenes needed to be shortened or lengthened, or faded in slower or faster, than how we had been working with them back at Progress Lab.
Lighting Designer Alan Brodie faced his own particular challenges working with mixed mediums: The lighting hang used the maximum amount of dimmers available for lighting equipment in The Stanley Theatre. The show requires this many lights because a number of the focuses occur though the light that is video, through or around a scrim, on or within a three-dimensional two-story set, in the house, or any combination of those factors.
Additionally he was charged with using all of this light to maintain a dark, cold, and smoky film noir aesthetic already captured by cinematographer Brian Johnson in the filmed sequences. This had been planned at length in meetings with Director Kim Collier as the three of them established together the visual qualities of the world they would create before either the film or play had been made.
All of these elements are called by Stage Manager Jan Hodgson, who had been practising activating and integrating these elements verbally in the rehearsal hall. Tech involved incorporating new elements and timing as well as actually working with the real things. Most importantly, it was the time to gain an understanding of the rhythm of the show.
There is music to how all these components are related and need to be called. In many ways the art of this production relies on the way the stage manager understands the music the director is playing in all these cues, as much as it does performances on the stage. Although depends a lot on those too. As I put the finishing touches on this piece on a crisp Toronto morning – two days separated from The Electric Company, my thoughts turn to all of the performers in the show:
Today is opening night day! I think the opportunity to be on a stage like doing this show, at this place and time, has a lot to do with why performers gravitate to the theatre, and this is ultimately why Tear The Curtain is a piece of theatre (in the form of an ode). You will never get that feeling on a film set; you have to be there alive in that room with the other people who have chosen to be there, to know what it is. Wish I could be there to share it with them.
James Fagan Tait and Dawn Petten form a single potent image
“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.”