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

Author: Michael Wheeler

rocks voaden

Herman Voaden’s Rocks

by Jordan Tannahill

Below is a Facebook note I wrote several days ago on the ways in which we remember and assign value to plays in Canada. In the note I suggest an ‘anti-cannon’ of 100 performance works not easily captured on the page.

The list tends to favor my region and era of exposure. As such, I encouraged commentators to contribute their own suggestions. So far the response has been enthusiastic, but almost entirely Toronto-centric. My hope is this blog post will help extend the reach and dialogue to others across the country who might be interested in a crowdsourced Canadian ‘anti-cannon’.

A few days ago I was honoured with first place in the Herman Voaden Playwriting Competition for my play Late Company. While I believe the award serves the important function of supporting the writing of new dramatic text in our country, it also provided me the opportunity to reflect and question the ways in which we assign value to plays.

Herman Voaden was, himself, an early pioneer of experimental theatre in English Canada. His works of ‘symphonic expressionism’ were some of the first and most ambitious multidisciplinary performances in our contemporary theatre, in which sound, light, choreography, choral work, and even early forms of multimedia projection were given equal weight and importance as the text. Many of Voaden’s published texts are arguably shadows of the performances they attempt to capture – not ‘well made plays’ by any stretch of our contemporary definition.  It is ironic to consider Voaden himself may never have won his namesake award.

This spurred me to consider which plays in our country are canonized. It is perhaps only natural that the plays that exist most effectively and wholly as published texts are the ones that find their way most often into textbooks, university reading lists, lectures, and ‘Best Canadian Play’ lists. This past week I decided to sit down and consider which works of Canadian theatre and performance have been neglected or overlooked from the canon, based on (among other things no doubt) the difficulty of conveying their totality on the page.

Below this note are 100 suggestions for an ‘anti-canon’ of English Canadian theatre. An additional 30 titles have been listed for French Canadian theatre, shorter due to my lack of knowledge and exposure to it. I hope my colleagues in Quebec will help add to it. These are pieces that are historically and artistically resonant not because of their dramatic texts but for the total live event they presented. It is, by nature of the impossibility of the task, a woefully incomplete list. Many of these performances occurred before I was born. Many I never saw. But their impact, what is passed down through documentation, oral tradition, and the influence felt/seen in the work of subsequent generations of artists, has informed my selection. I acknowledge that this list is completely informed by my own biases and knowledge (and lack thereof) – it does not intend to present a complete narrative but rather a jumping off point for further conversation. It is something to be debated and added to. Hopefully there may be some interest among my friends and peers to do so.

PLEASE NOTE: After input from contributors across Canada, particularly those from Quebec, I chose to separate English and French Canadian works to recognize their distinct linguistic and cultural traditions. Also, I have included two small ancillary lists (performance art/interventions and theatre for young audiences) for further inclusivity and points of discussion.


Electric Company

Phobophilia (2007)

2b Theatre (Christian Barry, Steven McCarthy, Michelle Monteith)
Revisited (2005)

Alianak, Hrant
Lucky Strike (1978)

Alton (Kate), Manson (Ross)
The Four Horseman Project (2007)

Aluna Theatre
Nohayquiensepa (2011)

Anna Project, The (Suzanne Odette Khuri, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Banuta Rubess, Maureen White)
The Is For You, Anna (1985)

Arden (Leslie), Cascio (Anna Theresa)
The House of Martin Guerre (1993)

Arsenault, Nina
The Silicone Diaries (2009)

Atkins, Damien
Real Live Girl! (2003)

Augusta Company, The
86: An Autopsy (1995)

Barrow, Daniel
Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry (2008)

Bettis, Paul
The Rule Plays (1970-80s)

Bluemouth Inc.
Something About a River (2004)

Boca Del Lupo
My Dad, My Dog (2008)

Brassard, Marie
Jimmy (2001)

Brebner, Morwyn
Music for Contortionist (2000)

Brooker, Blake / One Yellow Rabbit
The Land The Animals (1991)

Brooker (Blake) with Martini (Clem), Miles (Clem) / One Yellow Rabbit
Ilsa Queen of the Nazi Love Camp (1987)

Brooks (Daniel), Verdecchia (Guillermo)
The Noam Chompsky Lectures (1990)

Burkett, Ronnie
The Memory Dress Trilogy (1994 – 2000)

Core members of The Workers Theatre

Core members of The Workers Theatre

Canadian Workers’ Theatre (Oscar Ryan, E. Cecil-Smith, Frank Love, Eugenia Watts and Mildred Goldberg)
Eight Men Speak (1933)

Catalyst Theatre
Nevermore (2008)

Chafe, Robert
Under Wraps (1997)
Afterimage (2009)

Clarke (George Elliott), Rolfe (James)
Beatrice Chancy (1999)

Clements, Marie
Burning Vision (2003)

Cod on a Stick (1973)

Company of Sirens
The Working People’s Picture Show (1985)

Debajehmujig Theatre Group
The Best Medicine Show (1996)

Die-Nasty Troupe
Die-Nasty (1991 – present)

Druick, Don
Where is Kabuki? (1991)

Dyba, Kenneth
Lily, Alta (1986)

Earle, Chris
Radio: 30 (1999)

Electric Company, The (Kim Collier, Jonathon Young, Kevin Kerr, and David Hudgins)
Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla (1996)
Tear The Curtain! (2011)

emergency exit
trilogie (2005)

Froelich, Peter
Simpl (2003)

Gall (Brendan), McPhaden (Mike), Roberts (Rick), Tepperman (Julie)
The Gladstone Variations (2007)

Garnham, Ken
Beuys Buoys Boys (1989)

Gilbert, Sky
Drag Queens on Trial: a courtroom melodrama (1994)

Gilmour (Dean), Smith (Michelle)
Chekov’s shorts (1999)

Gorlin (Wendy) and Panych (Morris)
The Overcoat (1998)

Griffiths, Linda (with Maria Campbell and Paul Thompson)
Jessica (1986)

Gray, John
18 Wheels (1976)

Hines, Karen
The Pochy Plays (2004)

Hinton, Peter
The Swanne (2002-2004)

Hollingsworth, Michael
Clear Light (1973)
The History of the Village of the Small Huts (1982-2012)

Hummer Sisters, The (Janet Burke, Jennifer Dean, Deanne Taylor)
Hummer for Mayor: Art vs. Art (1982)

Jain (Asha), Jain (Ravi)
Brimful of Asha (2011)

Kane, Margo
Moonlodge (1990)

Keilly, Jillian
The Cheat (1996)

Krizanc, John
Tamara (1981)

Ledoux (Paul), Young (David)
Fire (1999)

Liitoja, Hillar
The Last Supper (1993)
Poundemonium (1993)

Luscombe, George / Toronto Workshop Productions
Hey, Rube! (1961)

mandiela, ahdri zhina
dark diaspora… in dub (1991)

McCurley, Jon & Friends
Double Double Land Land (2009)

Mercer, Rick
Charles Lynch Must Die (1990)

Miller, Rick
Bigger Than Jesus (2003)

Mills, Sonja
Dyke City (1994)

Moore, Mavor
Spring Thaw (1948)

Mummer’s Troupe
They Club Seals, Don’t They? (1978)

Mump and Snoot
Flux (2003)

Newton, Alistair
The Pastor Phelps Project (2008)

Nightwood Theatre
The True Story of Ida Johnson (1979)

O’Donnell, Darren
Pppeeeaaaccceee (2003)
Haircuts by Children (2006 – present)

Famous Puppet Death Scenes

Famous Puppet Death Scenes

Old Trout Puppet Workshop
Famous Puppet Death Scenes (2006)

One Reed Theatre
Nor the Cavaliers Who Come With Us (2006)

Ouchi, Mieko
The Red Priest (Eight Ways to Say Goodbye) (2003)

Parsa (Soheil), Quirt (Brian)
Aurash (1998)

PME-ART (Caroline Dubois, Claudia Fancello, Jacob Wren)
Families Are Formed Through Copulation / La famille se crée en corpulant (2005)

Platform 9 Theatre Collective
White Trash, Blue Eyes (1989)

Primus Theatre
Alkoremmi (1991)
The Night Room (1993)

Radix Theatre
Instruments of Torture (1994)

Reaney, James
Colours in the Dark (1969)

Salutin, Rick (with Theatre Passe Muraille)
1837: The Farmer’s Revolt (1976)

Schafer, R Murray
Patria (1966-1990)

Sears, Djanet
Afrika Solo (1987)

Seremba, George
Come Good Rain (1994)

Small Wooden Shoe
Dedicated to the Revolutions (2009)

STO Union –  Ross (Nadia), Wren (Jacob), Wright (Tracy)
Revolutions in Therapy (2004)

STO Union – Cave (Diane) and Ross (Nadia)
The Alistair Trilogy (1995)

Tepperman, Julie
Yichud (2010)

Theatre Columbus
Fertility (1987)

Theatre Junction
On the Side of the Road (2009)

Theatre Replacement
Clark and I Somewhere in Connecticut (with Theatre Rumble) (2007)

The Chop – Itai Erdal in collaboration with James Long, Emelia Symington Fedy & Anita Rochon
How To Disappear Completely (2011)

Thompson, Judith
Enoch Arden in the Hope Shelter (2006)

Thompson, Paul and collective
The Farm Show  (1972)
I Love you Baby Blue (1974)

The Turtle Gals - The Scrubbing Project

The Turtle Gals – The Scrubbing Project

Turtle Gals, The
The Scrubbing Project (2002)

Tunooniq Theatre
Changes and In Search of a Friend (1986)

Verdecchia, Guillermo
Fronteras Americanas (1993)

Voaden, Herman
Hill-Land (1934)

Walker, George F.
Rumours of Our Death  (1980)

Williams, Alan
The Cockroach Trilogy (1980)

young.anitafrika, d’bi
the sankofa trilogy (2005-2010)

Carbone 14 Le Dortoir

Carbone 14’s Le Dortoir


Archambault, Francois
15 secondes (1997)

Barbeau, Jean
Ben-Ur (1971)

Blackburn (Marthe),(Marie-Claire), Brossard (Nicole), Gagnon (Odette), Pelletier (Pol), Théoret (France)
La Nef des sorcieres (1976)

Carbone 14
Le Dortoir (1988)

Caron (Jean-Francois), Champagne (Dominic), Messier (Jean-Frédéric), Rafie (Pascale)
Cabaret neiges noires (1992)

Champagne, Dominic
La Répétition (1990)

Choiniere, Olivier
Le Bain des Raines (1998)

Dalpé (Jean-Marc) and Haentjens (Brigitte)
Nickel (1983)

Danis, Daniel
Cendres de cailloux (1992)

Dupré (Louise) and Haentjens (Brigitte)
Tout comme elle (2006)

Garneau, Michel
Héliotropes (1993)

Gauvreau, Claude
Les Entrailles (1940s)

Germain, Jean-Claude
Les enfants de Chénier dans un autre grand spectacle d’adieu (with Le Théâtre de Même Nom) (1969)

Gratien, Gelinas
Les Fridolinades (1938 to 1946)

Laberge, Marie
Pierre, ou la Consolation (1992)

Lamarche, Gustave
Notre-Dame-des-Neiges (1942)

Robert Lepage's Lipsynch

Robert Lepage’s Lipsynch

Lepage, Robert
La Trilogie des Dragons (1985-86)
Les Sept Branches de la Rivière Ota (1996)
Le Project Anderson (2005)
Lipsynch (2008)

Brassard (Marie), Lepage (Robert)
Le Polygraphe (1988)

Le Théâtre Euh!
A bas le plan Trudeau! (1978)

Le Show des femmes de Thetford Mines
Si Cendrillon pouvait mourir! (1980)

Monty, Michel
Accidents de parcours (1993)

Théâtre des Cuisines
Nous aurons les enfants que nous voulons (1974)

Théâtre Expérimental des Femmes
A ma mere, a ma mare, a ma mare, a ma voisine (1978)

Théâtre L’Eskabel
Les Troyennes (1999)

Théâtre Sans Fil
Le Grand jeu de nuit (1992)

Pelletier, Pol
JoieOcéanOr – a trilogy (1992-1997)

Porte Parole
Sante (2003)


Ten seminal works of Canadian performance art/intervention-based performance

Belmore, Rebecca
Vigil (2002)

Campbell (Colin) and Dragu (Margaret)
I Am Already Changing My Mind (1982)

Dempsey (Shawna) and Millan (Lorri)
The Dress Series (1989-1996)

Dobkin, Jess
Fee For Service (2006)

Fletcher (Kenneth) and Wong (Paul)
Bruise (1976)

General Idea
The 1971 Miss General Idea Pageant (1971)

Kantor, Istvan
Blood Campaign (late 1970s – 2000s)

Laing (Jeremy) and Munro (Will)
The Pavilion of Virginia Puff-Paint (2006)

Mars, Tanya
women-and-power series (1984-1990)

Randy & Berenicci
As The World Burns (1977)

And because plays for young audiences seem to be so frequently omitted from these lists, here are ten seminal works for young people arguably driven by elements beyond text

Axis Theatre Company
The Number 14 (1998)

Children of Kush Arising

Children of Kush Arising

Black Theatre Workshop
Children of Kush Arising (1994)

Boyle (Shary), Fellows (Christine)
Everything Under the Moon (2012)

Canadian Stage Hour Co.
i.d. (1989)

Craig (David S), Morgan (Robert)
Dib and Dob and the Journey Home (1999)

Ducharme, Hélène
Baobab (2009)

Lebeau, Suzanne (1979)
Une lune entre deux maisons 

Massingham, Andy
Rough House (2005)

Northey, Michael P.
Cranked (2012)

Taylor, Drew Hayden
Raven Stole the Sun (2007)

July 2, 2013, by

Winterreise Projekt--Winterreise Collective (HATCH 2013)

Winterreise Projekt–Winterreise Collective (HATCH 2013)

 Tune in @ 2pm today via #HatchTO to participate in a Live Twitter Chat about Hatch 2013.


June 13, 2013, by

Section 98 was Praxis Theatre's first serious foray into Social Design

Section 98 was Praxis Theatre’s first serious foray into Social Design

By Michael Wheeler

I have been trying to figure out for a while how to explain what my role is on many of the projects I have worked on in the past five years. Although I am usually engaged as an artist in a traditional way, often I have taken on a role integrating these productions with online tools.

Theatre productions employ lighting designers, sound designers, costume designers, set designers and video designers. As productions become further intertwined with online tools, the person in charge of integrating a production with social media is in charge of social design.

Social Design: The strategic implementation of social media to deepen or broaden the nature of an artistic project.

In performance, the shift to communicating with online tools can be understood as a transition from Monologue to Dialogue.

Until recently, one-way communication tools like advertisements, posters, brochures, postcards, flyers, and notes in programs were the ways theatres and artists communicated about their work.

The arrival of online digital tools has redefined this relationship as a conversation. Social media requires interactive, user-generated content. The exercise is no longer how to blast your message at people, but how to encourage them to engage with you.

The type of interactivity a social designer can facilitate can be broken down into three broad categories:

Click to continue reading on

Click to continue reading on

May 8, 2013, by

by Michael Wheeler

Spring is in the air and creative juices are flowing. Below are three videos created by local socio/political talent taking the world into their own hands and making things happen.

1 Trailer for Sarah Ruhl’s The Passion Play

The Passion Play is a massive collaboration between three local indie companies (Outside the March, Convergence Theatre, & Sheep No Wool Productions) who have been laying the groundwork for some time to create epic indie conceived and created production(s).

2 Dave Meslin talks RaBIt on The Agenda

Ranked Ballots are coming to Toronto. Click here to read the proposed timeline of Municipal and Provincial votes that will bring this much needed empowerment to local democracy. Watch the video to see Mez call Steve Paikin a “nerd” and get away with it.

3 The Harold Awards are here

Since 1995 The Harold Awards have come to represent the independent and hard-working spirit of Toronto’s vibrant theatre community – a kind of rabble-rousing alternative to the Dora Awards. To be Harolded is an honour of the highest subversive order.

This year the Harolds are on Monday May 13 at The Monarch Tavern. Hosted by Richard Lee & Lindy Zucker. Tickets only $10 at the door.  Follow The Harolds for updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Never miss The Harolds!

April 15, 2013, by


Justin Trudeau’s leadership acceptance speech this weekend.

by Michael Wheeler

Members of two the largest national opposition parties came together to make major decisions over the weekend.

In Montreal, the Official Opposition New Democrats continued to move towards the political centre at their policy convention, moderating the pursuit of “socialism” in the party’s constitution. In Ottawa, the third place centrist Liberals, running first in some polls, elected a leader with immediate celebrity status and political pedigree in Justin Trudeau.

Members of both parties are now returning to their homes across the country, fired up by the energy of working, campaigning and partying with likeminded organizers and activists.

For New Democrats, who have been working to solidify the gains of the past election as a credible Government in Waiting, they head home believing they are better placed than ever before to form the first ever Social Democrat-led Canadian government.

For Liberals, there will be a sense that their time in the wilderness is coming to an end: Suitably shamed for the Sponsorship Scandal, many feel powered by Trudeau-mania 2.0 they will soon reclaim government as the ‘Natural Governing Party of Canada’.

My belief is they are both wrong. Here’s why:

Energy. Young, innovative, passionate, creative, energy.

Where is it in our politics? More than anywhere else, it is in the protest movements within these parties working to make them less-partisan, more cooperation-driven entities.

Nathan Cullen went from NDP Leadership outside long-shot to extremely capable Official Opposition House Leader based largely on the energy of those that advocated cooperating with other parties to defeat Harper and reform Parliament. By the end of the leadership campaign, Cullen had signed up more new NDP members and received more votes from the floor than any other candidate, including eventual winner Thomas Mulcair.

The only candidate with enough resources to mount a sustained and legitimate campaign against the Liberal Establishment JT Juggernaut was Joyce Murray. With support from environmental groups and LeadNow, and powered by much of the same grassroots activist energy that fed the Cullen campaign, Murray also proposed cooperation with the opposition to defeat Harper and reform Parliament.

Thomas Mulcair's speech at the NDP Policy Convention this weekend.

Thomas Mulcair’s speech at the NDP Policy Convention this weekend.

These events having come to pass, and non-cooperative leaders having taken the reigns of these political machines, conventional wisdom is that these issues have been dealt with now. Each political party has a right to believe in its own manifest destiny and each has chosen to exercise that right.

Notwithstanding the Keystone pipeline, Senate reform and foreign investment, the policies and positions Trudeau and Mulcair represent will be hugely overlapping. These leaders will not ask their members, staff and volunteers to exclusively put their energy and hopes into defeating the Conservative Government. They will be putting significant energy into fighting tooth-and nail-ground wars between NDP and Liberal candidates with never-before-this-similar platforms.

The paradox of this use of political energies is vividly apparent in my riding of Parkdale-High Park in Toronto. How many activist hours, paid and volunteer on both sides of the fence, have already cumulatively been used determining whether Peggy Nash or Gerard Kennedy will represent the riding? Zero sum math about this question is not all that useful in any case, as it can’t account for how many more citizens would be inspired to participate in more meaningful, less alienating, electoral proposition.

Meanwhile, with each election, the size of Stephen Harper’s Government grows.

There is more than enough committed, creative, energy in this country to transform it politically. It is bursting at the seams in fact – looking for a chance to be a part of a seismic change that will sweep Canada when we find our collective will to elect a government that makes laws informed by rational evidence and human decency.

As long as this energy remains split between Liberals and New Democrats (and Greens, but they’re not the problem here), and as long as this energy remains focused on each other instead of Harper, we are likely to have Conservative Canadian Governments.

This is a problem of our own creation and it is within our power to solve.

The attack ads on Justin Trudeau are done.

I imagine they practically wrote themselves.

Ohh yes. They’re brutal. They’re going to ruin him.

Yeah, I’m worried about that too. We need him. If the ads are too successful and he gets into trouble, we’ll have to pull them.

*From Proud by Michael Healey, who has already expressed his reservations about political cooperation in this space.

If we must share power to end a terrible government in a time of great need – can we not set aside our own personal baggage and do what needs to be done here? How long will the clear democratic will of the country that consistently votes 60% + for centre-left parties be thwarted by the drive of these two competing parallel political brands to replace one another?

There are significant obstacles to overcome here, not the least of which are decades of mistrust, hubris, power and core values. It is a real test for both parties, which asks them to be committed to Canada first, and their own interests second. It is a proposition that could not be asked of a private citizen or corporation, but it is entirely appropriate to ask of a political party:

Do the right thing. Not because it will help you. Not because it will create vindication for anyone. Not because you and your party will always be remembered. Do it because it is your job as political parties to harness, encourage and express the political energy of the country. This energy has expressed itself clearly in multiple forms and political contexts.

Set aside incremental differences and both use both hands to throw the bums out.

It’s that simple. It can be done. After all, political parties are made up of people, run by people, and an unprecedented act of cooperation and political transformation is the energy inspiring people in Canada today.

February 22, 2013, by
1 comment

by Michael Wheeler

Ok, let us be the first one to get all the bad jokes out there: Theatre has gone to the Dogs, Theatre gets put in the Doghouse, Dog Gone it Get me a Ticket – because Dachshund UN is coming to Harbourfront Centre next week. Frequent Praxis collaborator Margaret Evans played a key role in casting.

Looking for other theatre blogs  considering pressing local issues? Umbrella Talks is up and running again with a series of new interviews with theatre artists. Just launched this summer, In The Green Room has also made a splash with multiple writers contributing to the site and a series called Stop, Start, Continue. Of course, don’t forget to check out Theatre Ontario’s Blog, which is a consistently updated resource for theatremakers.

At 6:16:11 PM on April 16 2010, Toronto City Council approved a Billboard Tax. This led directly to the increase in arts funding in 2013.  

At 6:16:11 PM on April 16 2010, Toronto City Council approved a Billboard Tax. This led directly to the increase in arts funding in 2013.

Toronto Arts and Culture got a big boost in this year’s municipal budget, with per capita investment going from $18.30 to $25 over the next four years. The funds were generated by The Billboard Tax, invented and proposed by Beautiful City, which we covered when it was going down at City Hall. Since then, the tax has been appealed all the way to The Supreme Court where the Billboard Lobby’s loss was Toronto’s gain.

In the world of federal arts funding, The Globe and Mail revealed most Canadians think the $30 Million spent promoting the War of 1812 was a waste. Conversely, they were disappointed The Harper Government didn’t spend more time celebrating actually important milestones like anniversaries of Women’s Suffrage and The Charter. No word yet on if there is a correlation between these Canadians and the ones The Toronto Star found had grown weary, “even hostile to”, Economic Action Plan advertisements.

The Montreal Theatre Awards are in the process of being invented. Anglophone theatre companies will have their own annual peer-juried awards, presented under the auspices of the Quebec Drama Federation. Right now they are picking the name of the award, which you can vote on in a Facebook poll.

Finally, in case you missed it, Necessary Angel announced Jennifer Tarver as their new Artistic Director and Factory Theatre announced Nina Lee Aquino and Nigel Shawn Williams as Co-Artistic Directors (no longer interim).

February 13, 2013, by

by Michael Wheeler

I am writing from the privileged vantage-point of someone brought up in a home where talking about feelings and mental health was not stigmatized. (Thanks Mom and Dad.) Still, I can’t help feeling pretty uncomfortable with the #BellLetsTalk hashtag that dominated Canadian Twitter yesterday.

Bell Lets TalkWith endorsements and early tweets from celebs ranging from William Shatner to Strombo, many commentators seem unbothered by the corporate branding of a call-to-action for mental-health discussion. Although the initiative’s being hyped for the 5-cent donation made for every tweet using the hashtag, it is actually part of Bell’s greater commitment to donate $50 million to mental-health causes over the next five years. It is a campaign that lists as partners and resources many frontline mental health organizations.

This laudable charitable donation is getting a lot of leverage in social media. Using the hashtag isn’t the only way to promote the initiative (see sidebar), which is connected to a well-designed interactive campaign page that allows visitors to share compelling facts about mental illness via Facebook and Twitter. It is a high-end social media campaign that seems to be impacting public discourse and pushing mental health to the forefront. This is a good and necessary idea.

My concern stems from the specific and conscious design of this social media campaign to force participants to use the sponsor brand as a call-to-action. Tweeting to #LetsTalk is a useless gesture – you can participate only if you use #BellLetsTalk. Only by citing the name of a corporate telecom giant can you add your voice to this discussion of mental health.

By laying claim to language that is normally crowdsourced by the community and imposing their corporate brand, Bell has co-opted naming rights to an urgent discussion. This is lightning in a bottle for any company. I’m imagining it’s great for one that six days ago, was cited in a scathing report for the CRTC by the Competition Bureau on how uncompetitive practices by Canadian telecoms make the industry a global leader in giving customers a bad deal. These practices contributed to Bell generating $2.6 billion in profits in 2012.

Donations to charities are important. They should be respected, applauded and encouraged. One assumes that there will also be significant tax benefits associated with donating $10 million a year to mental-health charities. The ethical lines become blurred when this giving can then be leveraged a second time as defacto naming rights to a conversation around a cause.

Naming rights are a big deal. They are valuable and are usually negotiated vigorously. (Or not in the case of BMO Nuit Blanche.) Defining discussion around mental health through activities that force public endorsement of recent corporate donors is problematic. By creating a system that requires sharing the Bell brand on Facebook or using their branded hashtag on Twitter, the campaign crosses a line.

With #BellLetsTalk, Bell is crowdsurfing us, asking us under the patronage of their brand to share brave and vulnerable stories with our personal networks. These thousands of personally charged endorsements are the type of exposure that cannot be bought through a traditional ad buy, as thousands incorporate the Bell brand into personal, meaningful acts of sharing. Throw in the sub-phrase “Lets Talk” also relates to the services and products Bell provides at some of the most expensive rates on Earth – and we have a winner from the kids down the hall in marketing.

It’s important to resist this redefinition of language and space for conversation. Double-dipping as both charitable good work and for-profit viral marketing gives both concepts a bad name. Probably the only way to stop this kind of corporate encroachment into personal issues and public spaces is for online communities to respond. In this case, I hope #LetsTalk (sans the Bell brand) takes off as an alternative hashtag to discuss mental health issues online. The only thing enforcing the old hashtag is our own acquiescence to corporate branding of our personal stories.

January 2, 2013, by


“We were barely there. Our feelings could not be hurt because they lay elsewhere, off-campus, aurora borealis. I drew pictures of it on my binder, a smudge in a heart. A smudge and me in interconnecting hearts. Me and a smudge and a half human/half-smudge baby…What a terrible mistake to let go of something wonderful for something real.” – Miranda July, “Making Love in 2003”



Julia Variation Image


WITH LOVE AND A MAJOR ORGAN plays at the Next Stage Theatre Festival, Jan 2nd-13th at Factory Theatre: Studio (125 Bathurst) Click here for schedule and ticket information.

Directed by Andrew Lamb, Written by Julia Lederer, Featuring Robin Archer, Julia Lederer, and Martha Ross. Click here for more information and everything you need and want to know.
Julia Lederer is a playwright and actor who enjoys playing small instruments- for example, the mini-harmonica and the ukulele. She has always been drawn to the colour purple. Since the dawn of time, probably.

December 14, 2012, by

by Michael Wheeler

RaBIT is a grassroots initiative to change the way we vote in Toronto municipal elections to a ranked ballot.

Over the past five years, many places have switched to ranked balloting including San Francisco, Minneapolis, Memphis, Oakland and The Academy Awards. There are a number of benefits to this system, but two of the biggies are it ensures majority support and encourages a more positive political environment.

Viewed in this context, RaBIT is proposing a transformative adjustment to what politics is in Toronto. Gone would be talk of pushing lower profile candidates out of races to eliminate vote splitting, candidates would be respectful to opponents whose support they may need, and extreme candidates would have to convince a majority of voters their extreme ideas are attractive to win.

In the current first-past-the-post format that defines our voting system, none of this is possible. Divisional and oppositional wedge politics are the most effective route to power. Candidates are routinely elected with a majority of electors casting their ballots for other candidates who wanted different policies from the ones they support. I can understand how this ethos alienates a huge swath of people from engaging with politics.

So I’m going to the meeting this Monday to learn how to volunteer. There are a lot of problems in Toronto and issues I would like to put my energy into, but you have to pick your battles and this one seems like it could have some far-reaching consequences for many future administrations. The RaBIT team has done a great job to get this issue on the public agenda and taken seriously by city councillors and the media. Now is the time to push for this – and there is no substitute for a well-organized group of passionate citizens. As of publication there were already 90 confirmed attendees on the Facebook.

Hope to see you there!

Facebook Event: Hop to it! RaBIT volunteer meeting!

Monday December 17, 7pm @ Toronto City Hall

November 29, 2012, by

(l-r) Adam Wilson, Ava Jane Markus and Maev Beaty are directed by Mitchell Cushman in the SummerWorks darling turned Mirvish hit Terminus

by Michael Wheeler

I haven’t seen Terminus yet – going with my Mom next week. I don’t want that to stop me from writing about it here though, as we don’t do reviews in this space in any case.

It bears mentioning though that local indie theatre has created a genuine artistic and commercial hit, and that this comes in the form of Terminus. The production is the first show in a pretty big risk Mirvish is taking with their new indie-focused, Off-Mirvish season.

One of our most read and commented discussions this year was, Mirvish Blows Up Downtown Theatre in which I argued that A) A Mirvish interest in regularly and commercially producing the work of indie artists could be significant in an awesome way and B) the Mirvish re-development on King St had the potential to bring a net benefit to Torontonians and theatregoers if it included a smaller venue than the Princess of Wales, which will be demolished.

Since that post, The Off-Mirvish season has probably gone even better than anyone at Mirvish or their indie partner Outside The March could have imagined. It has received stunning reviews, social media buzz is at a fevered pitch and shows are selling out. Hope you don’t want to go this weekend Friday – as tickets are not available.

Anyone who has paid a casual interest in our industry knows it has been tough times as of late. Theatres are closing, deficits have been posted, boards are overstepping their mandate – questions of relevancy abound. To see a potential upswing, a positive sign that artist-driven independent work is viable and can excite not just our own community, but the city at large, is worth noting. Not only can this thing get turned around, we’re the ones who can do it.

Certainly there is value in much of the other work our community creates that is not commercially focused. God knows I wouldn’t be running this company with Aislinn and making this work if I didn’t think so, but what gives theatre its intrinsic value isn’t really what is at stake here. Theatre will always exist and address core questions of humanity as long as humans can get together somewhere. What’s at stake here is establishing a viable sustainable professionalized urban theatre industry.

If you remove the artists who work at our major non-urban festivals, that is something we don’t have in Toronto currently. Those artists that do work regularly here almost all have secondary focuses. By creating a regular link between independently produced and created work and commercial theatre, Mirvish threatens to redefine this paradigm. Not because we will work on Mirvish shows, but because it has the potential to reignite interest from audiences and other producers in what we do.

So hats off to Outside The March Artistic Director and recent Praxis blog writer Mitchell Cushman. We all really needed this to go well coming out of the gate, and you are passing off the baton with an early lead.

David Mirvish with the Terminus team