Praxis Theatre is currently on hiatus! Please find co-founders Aislinn Rose and Michael Wheeler at The Theatre Centre and SpiderWebShow, respectively.
March 28, 2013, by

#CivilDebates: How we came to a debate about arts boards

Civil Debates 1

by Aislinn Rose

Last year, after 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 the newer generation of artists was so silent on the issue. Was it apathy? Had he and his contemporaries failed the next generation by not setting a good example?

“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?”

I responded by saying I felt the issue was larger than the firing of one Artistic Director, and that an assumption could not be made that silence on one point was an indication of apathy on all points. I talked about this generation’s participation in Toronto’s Culture Consultations, about our work with TAPA & Arts Action Research’s Theatres Leading Change, about the Indie Caucus and our ongoing struggles to bring necessary changes to an important but outdated institution that is the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association, and more.

“This is not apathy, but a quiet community of passionate and dedicated artists working away at changing what no longer works. I am not silent, I sit on no fence, and I am not complicit. I’m just offering my voice to a different fight.”

While it was clear that neither of us was going to suggest the firing had been handled well, we certainly had come out on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of what the response to the situation should be.

What was most compelling was the intense, articulate, and passionate debate that appeared in the comments sections of these posts. Across generations most commenters were willing to sign their names to their ideas and opinions. It became clear the greatest value to be derived from our disparate viewpoints was the space that was created between the two, allowing for discussion on all the murkiness and grey in between.

On Monday, April 1st, we’re bringing this discussion into a physical space and we’re asking our community to join us in that murkiness. The debate structure we’ve chosen, based on the Canadian parliamentary model, requires a bold, clear statement, allowing for our incredible speakers to address their opposing viewpoints with passion and rigour:

Be it resolved that Boards of Directors have the right and responsibility to overrule the Artistic Direction of a theatre company.

I want to be very clear about the nature of the discussion I hope this debate will engender. This is a complicated issue, and there is much to be learned on the topic. As a result, I feel I can’t say this enough: we are not coming together to argue. We are coming together to listen, consider and respond.

As we’ve mentioned in previous posts about Civil Debates, “just like the best acting, each debater should have a responsibility to hear the arguments that come before them and respond – not just deliver a prepared statement.”  Our goal is to address more than the firing of one artistic director, or one theatre, or events in one city. We’re addressing larger issues, the results of which could be seen in theatres across this country over the last few years.

Join us on Monday for this important and spirited discussion. I hope you will come with an open mind, a willingness to listen and learn, and even just the slightest chance that someone on this panel might change your mind, regardless of the perspective you came in with.


Creative Cities Debate - March 15, 2013

Creative Cities Debate – March 15, 2013

Debate 2: Arts Boards
Hosted by Theatre Centre Managing Director Roxanne Duncan
Moderated by Praxis Theatre Artistic Producer Aislinn Rose
Debaters Franco Boni, Brendan Healy, Gideon Arthurs and Jini Stolk
April 1, 2013; doors 7pm, debates 7.30pm
The Theatre Centre Pop-Up, 1095 Queen St. West, at Dovercourt
PWYC at the door.

Twitter Hashtag: #CivilDebates

Click here for more information about the Civil Debates series in partnership between The Theatre Centre & Praxis Theatre.


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  1. Christine Brubaker says:

    Timely and necessary. Thanks for launching and framing.

  2. Rosamund says:

    Easter, April Fools AND the Praxis Civil Debate all in one evening. What a good time for everyone.

  3. Aislinn says:

    Hope you can both make it, I can’t wait to have this conversation!

    Many people asked me, after the exchange of letters, if David and I were “okay” with one another. Well, we went on to work on Modern Times Stage Company’s production of The Lesson together, we’ve exchanged emails keeping each other up to date on some of our goings-on, and he complimented me on my spiffy new jacket last year.

    David and I can disagree on an issue in a big way (and probably will again), and still consider one another to be allies in the greater scheme of things. So, too, can this community.

  4. Marian Wihak says:

    Having a ringside seat to the event that spawned this debate, and highly engaged in the both the micro and macro ramifications and implications of the action, I am somewhat surprised at the statement used to problemitize/frame the debate especially given the useful and important continuing discussion the debate will engender tonight. I speak of the statement:

    “Be it resolved that Boards of Directors have the right and responsibility to overrule the Artistic Direction of a Theatre company”.

    I hope that the debate fosters lively and much needed continued discussion on all aspects of this still unresolved problem – that being how some boards see fit to ‘govern’ a cultural organization that they are in place to support , and yet you undermine your own hopes for a fair, open-minded debate by offering up a statement that contains already biased overtones. Thus, it falls short of the clear, bold statement to which you aspire. Similarly, it might have been wise to bring in a moderator who stands on truly neutral ground to insure that your important initiative plays out with the greatest success possible.

    Comments and criticisms aside, kudos to you for all the energy and vitality and passion you bring to the community, Aislinn, and I do wish you and the participants every wish in realizing a debate that is indeed full of listening, consideration and response.

    As someone existing both on the periphery and at the heart of the territory being discussed tonight, I see that a primary trust has been broken and a lot of work will be needed to mend it. Hopefully, your efforts will go some way to achieving that.

    Marian Wihak

  5. HI Marian,

    Thanks for your comment. It’s great to get long-form feedback that has really considered what we are up to.

    I think you mistake the necessity of have a bold statement to debate for bias. A neutral statement would make debate impossible. The resolution tonight could just as easily be:

    “Be it resolved that Boards of Directors should never overrule the Artistic Direction of a Theatre company”.

    The point is the resolution cannot be:

    “Be it resolved that the relationship between Boards and Artistic Directors is a complicated one with macro and micro ramifications.”

    There would be nothing to debate.

    I also think you mistake Aislinn’s disagreement with David Ferry for bias about the resolution. David and Aislinn differed on the question of the younger generation’s response to The Factory Situation. I think she and I are both pretty neutral on the question being debated tonight, which seeks to expand the debate outside of one specific instance.

    If the resolution was:

    “Be it resolved that the younger generation of theatre artists should be more engaged with the theatre community.”

    Probably Aislinn wouldn’t be the right moderator. That’s not what w’re debating tonight though and is why she will do a wonderful and unbiased job.

  6. Marian Wihak says:

    Hi Michael
    As I said, I hope you have a successful and vigorous debate tonight.
    I think you put words in my mouth with a suggested alternative statement that simply embraces an alternative bias, and in my view that also doesn’t foster true debate. Perhaps it isn’t clear what you actually are debating but, with the smart, insightful and intuitive individuals on the panels, it will be an excellent outcome if the evening is able to reflect both inwardly and outwardly and open up the possibility of new shared considerations.

    As all successful research indicates, case studies provide valuable insight, so you may find that there is presence even in absence.

    Good luck

  7. […] don’t mean that literally, of course. The April 1 Civil Debate on Boards, co-hosted by Praxis Theatre and the Theatre Centre, was a spirited, thought-provoking discussion […]