Guess what? Nightwood Theatre’s Groundswell Festival opens today! This year, Nightwood has re-envisioned the festival as a national festival of contemporary women’s theatre. The festival offers masterclasses, workshops, readings and more, and it’s all about process, so it’s really fitting that I’ve been invited to sit in on rehearsals for all three workshop productions for this series.
To start, I sat in on a rehearsal for Jordi Mand’s Between the Sheets. It’s directed by Kelly Thornton and features Susan Coyne and Christine Horne. There’s some really lovely work being done here, and I’m not just saying that because Jordi is my cousin. This is the piece that I created as a response to their process. I’ll share the pieces I make based on both The Aftermath and The Debacle very soon.
As the artistic leaders of The Worker’s Theatre movement in Canada during The Great Depression, Dorothy Livesay (Dee) and Eugenia Watts (Jim), upon whom Tara Beagan’s new play Jesus Chrysler is based, grew up as good friends and were some of Toronto’s original radical organizers. Based out of U of T’s Hart House Theatre, the two were part of a group that staged agitprop plays that traveled throughout South-Western Ontario in Jim’s car, which they called The Jesus Chrysler.
Members of The Progressive Arts Club including Jim Watts top left. Click to enlarge.
These performances were sometimes done for a handful of interested onlookers and sometimes performed for thousands: When they performed in solidarity with mostly immigrant women cannery workers on strike in St. Catharines they were run out of town by the police. When they performed during the Stratford furniture strike at The Brooks Steam Motor plant they did so for an audience of 3,500, or twice the number that would pack a sold-out Stratford Festival Theatre today.
Eventually these artists went on to stage Eight Men Speak, widely viewed by cultural historians as a key event that motivated the release of Communist leader Tim Buck and his colleagues from the Kingston Penitentiary and signalled the end of the use of the draconian law Section 98, which could be used to jail anyone the state deemed “seditious”. Later in the 1930s, they became inspired by NYC’s Group Theatre and the works of Clifford Odets. Founding a new theatre group called Theatre of Action, they presented the Canadian premiere of Waiting for Lefty and a number of anti-fascist works.
By 1937, Jim had left for Spain where a civil war raged and she hosted a radio show, wrote articles for a progressive newspaper and drove an ambulance. Dee went on to become a major poet after the war, winning two Governor General awards and eventually becoming an officer of The Order of Canada.
Jesus Chrysler explores the complex relationship between these women and focuses on an imagined episode in and around the founding of the Theatre of Action.
Alan Filewod’s Committing Theatre begins with a single event from June 1919. Unable to get a response from his government about how the upkeep of city properties are impacting his private garden, a man goes to City Hall and presents the Mayor of Vancouver’s secretary with a bouquet of flowers picked from properties that adjoin his. The bouquet is covered with caterpillars.
This is an important refrain throughout the book. Filewod starts before the 1920s radio sermons of Social Credit founder and eventual Alberta Premier William Aberhart, and takes us all the way to the current Toronto-based practices of Mammalian Diving Reflex’s Darren O’Donnell. Throughout, Filewod keeps returning to the caterpillar episode he considers an example of what Bertolt Brecht would later call gest, “a theatricalised action that embodies, enacts and watches a social critique.”
Reading much this expansive history of Canadian political theatre sitting in and around Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park in NYC, I couldn’t help but speculate that these occupations of public spaces have something in common with the man who walked into Vancouver City Hall a century ago. Both are frustrated with a perceived injustice their government will not listen to, and both are determined to express this frustration through a non-violent gesture that exists physically in the real world. Both the Occupy protests and the man with a bouquet of caterpillars commit a consciously theatrical act.
Click below to read the rest of the review on Rabble.ca
Has anyone handed you a paintbrush dipped in red paint recently? We got one. Canadian Stage has upped its marketing game recently, with some interesting interactive elements for Red in particular.
Click to enlarge
Those red-tipped paintbrushes came tagged with the website EXPERIENCERED.CA and the site offers an opportunity to “interact” as artist Mark Rothko’s assistant using your computer’s own webcam. There are a series of different video responses from Rothko based on how each user responds, so theoretically you could have a different experience every time you interacted with the site.
An experiment in partnership with Toronto ad agency, Zulu Alpha Kilo, Canadian Stage tells us they are interested in exploring how pre-recorded video can be used in different ways to promote a live performance. Most of us have already discovered that staging live scenes for video just doesn’t work.
The site features Red‘s lead actor Jim Mezon in the role of Rothko, allowing users to get a sense of the play, without having to watch pre-recorded stage scenes on film. Check it out!
Written by: Tara Beagan & Directed by: Michael Wheeler Starring: Margaret Evans*, Aviva Armour-Ostroff* and Jeffrey Wetsch* Produced by: Aislinn Rose Costumes & Set Design by: Scott Penner Sound Design by: Verne Good Lighting Design by: David DeGrow Stage Managed by: Dini Conte* Assistant Director: Laura Nordin Movement Coach: Leora Morris
*Appearing courtesy of CAEA
Legendary activist and director Eugenia “Jim” Watts and poet Dorothy Livesay are embroiled in a mix of socialist organizing, sexual relationships, theatre rehearsals, and personal betrayal…
A world premiere by Dora-Award winning playwright Tara Beagan, Jesus Chrysler is an immersive production that revolves around Toronto activist and director Eugenia “Jim” Watts and poet Dorothy Livesay. An unsung icon of 1930s Toronto theatre, Jim had her work banned by a Prime Minister before enlisting in The Spanish Civil War, becoming its sole female ambulance driver. Livesay went on to become a two-time Governor General Award winner for poetry and an Officer of The Order of Canada. Jesus Chrysler invites you to explore their complex relationship in a show that engages with and questions the intersection of art and politics.
Click here to donate & receive a charitable receipt
This is an exciting time for Praxis Theatre. It’s our first production as part of the season of an established Toronto theatre, and the first time we have employed our artists as signatories to the Canadian Theatre Agreement.
All of this costs money and we couldn’t do it without the support of our donors. We are so close to reaching our goal, but we need your help to get us there… so we’re calling on our friends across Canada to help this indie company out.
For a short time, you can donate to Praxis Theatre via Theatre Passe Muraille and receive a charitable receipt. We promise, after Jesus Chrysler, we can leave you alone for a while!
Ride The Cyclone is quickly becoming a Canadian indie theatre legend. Exploding onto the Toronto stage at SummerWorks, it is already selling out houses at Theatre Passe Muraille with a show that opened on Monday night with more buzz than any indie-produced musical in recent memory.
Cyclone creator Atomic Vaudeville is engaged in a robust social media strategy with a convincing YouTube Trailer, Storify for production-related tweets, a recent live twitter chat with the cast via #AskTheCyclone, and apparently their own video game.
Also worth noting is that the show was first performed in Toronto via the infamous Heritage funding earmarked specifically for national companies that would be cut by the Harper Government six months later.
Looking forward to sharing the theatre with Ride The Cyclonenear the end of its run, whenJesus Chrysler will be playing concurrently in the Theatre Passe Muraille backspace .
The piece concludes with 5 core points about why CAEA needs to reform its policies with regard to independent theatre that still remain true, valid, and urgent to this day:
The future of the theatre in Canada lies in a new generation of hybrid producer/artists. There are very few artists under 35 who categorize themselves solely as “actors”. We are all using the same computer software to create the script in Word, the budget in Excel and make a presentation to the board with Powerpoint. This engager/actor framing device Equity is using to talk about this is at least thirty years out of date.
The average audience for theatre in Canada is very old and this must change for us to survive and thrive. If there is going to be anyone to see the work we make in fifteen years, we are going to have to reach new and younger audiences. Unlike the fictional Youthquake of Slings and Arrows fame this is not going to be caused by a slick marketing campaign – it will be addressed when work by new, younger and more diverse artists is supported instead of punished.
We are at a competitive disadvantage with the US.Contracts like the Showcase and 99 Seat Agreement in the US make new and innovative work much easier to produce. Lots of these shows become nothing. Some become hits and tour to Canada. We are at a particular disadvantage given that our current complicated indie agreements don’t even address touring or TYA productions. Is our major contribution to world drama this decade going to be limited to exceptional remounts of Andrew Lloyd Webber?
Canadian theatre has really sub-par engagement with diverse communities. Both in terms of audience and practitioners our industry is overwhelmingly white. This despite Canada being home to several of the most multicultural cities in the world.Equity needs to wake up to the fact that when they curtail and limit indie theatre, whichis farmorediverse, they are actively making this problem worse.
This multi-year battle is wasting everyone’s energy and time. How much energy has gone into our multi-year internal battle to have CAEA stop treating its younger and self-producing membership like they are committing a crime for trying to create new plays subsidized by their sweat and hard work?
Yes, we’ve posted this before, but it’s still funny and, apparently, still relevant.
Our post from Spring of last year was motivated by the frustration that came from there being not one – but two consecutive votes at AGMs (One in Toronto and one in Montreal) by a combined vote of 138 – 5 to address the problems facing indie theatre.
After more than two years or stalling and delays, The Independent Theatre Review Committee was set up and commissioned a study to look into the indie issue. An executive summary of the report has recently been posted to the CAEA website, but moves to release the entire document have been met with more stall tactics.
In terms of the existing small-scale agreements, satisfaction levels are highest among the Festival Policy (formerly Fringe Waiver) and the Guest Artist Policy. [It is worth noting that the Festival Policy was recently changed to closely mirror the TorontoTheatreAgreement originally proposed by The Indie Caucus and presented to CAEA Executive Director Arden Ryshpan in 2008.]
45% of respondents had engaged fellow Equity members to work on a theatre project.
25% admitted to having worked off-contract
80% said working on small-scale projects is very important or somewhat important to their career.
Factors more than 50% deemed “very important” included the ability to “work in a flexible schedule that permits other work or commitments”, opportunities to “work with people they admire or respect”, and the desire to “create new/original work”.
More than 66% were willing to waive quotas of Equity vs. non-Equity members within a given show, as well as pay for a full work week regardless of their level of participation.
Equity members have voted overwhelmingly in favour of steps being taken to address significant dissatisfaction among members with regards to small scale and independent theatre creation at two consecutive AGMs, beginning in February 2008.
Deadlines have come and gone, and Equity seems no closer to action. It must be asked: how much more time does Equity need to implement the clearly expressed will of membership?
This question goes to the heart of the future of Canadian theatre. Will we see more theatre made for a predominantly wealthy, white, elderly audience created by major institutions, or will we see more theatre made for and by the vast, diverse and eclectic population of Canada?
Membership has already clearly stated which option they would like to pursue, the question now is whether Equity will listen and adapt or continue to ignore and deflect.
The CAEA Ontario RAGM is Sunday, November 20th at 7pm at the Wychwood Barns, located at 601 Christie Street. All members in good standing are welcome, and it’s recommended you bring your membership cards with you.
As a result of the City of Toronto’s KPMG Core Service review, and the city’s public consultation process, Council recently voted in favour of looking into selling its city-owned theatres.
Mayor Rob Ford has since created the Mayor’s Task Force – Arts & Culture to investigate the “city’s rationale for owning and operating live theatres”. You can read the announcement of the task force here, and the press release announcing two public consultations on the issue here.
From the press release:
The panelists will investigate the impact of these theatres on the local economy and make recommendations on what changes may be required in terms of their operations to meet the City’s objectives. We will consider a variety of options. As part of the process in making recommendations, we need the input of the community and stakeholders like you.”
Praxis Theatre Artistic Producer Aislinn Rose will be Live Tweeting one of the two public consultation sessions today, from 9:30am to 11:30am at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. Join in the conversation whether you are there too, or following along from home or work.
Last month I was able to spend an afternoon with Frank Cox-O’Connell and Evan Webber (and Christopher Stanton on the sound board) as they worked on their piece Ajax.
This intimate piece will be staged alongside Little Iliad this spring. I was able to watch them work through two sequences – the beginning and the end – of the piece. The show will only accommodate a very small audience so I’d urge you to book tickets really early – all of the tickets for this year’s World Stage season have just gone on sale on November 1st.
Materials: Vellum, Tape
About the show: Ajax & Little Iliad will play from April 4-8, 2012 as part of this year’s World Stage season at Harbourfront Centre.
Shira Leuchter makes performance stuff and other art stuff. She recently worked with UnSpun Theatre on a new piece that was performed as part of Harbourfront’s HATCH program.
Her website is here and she collects all of her shallowest thoughts here.
“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.”