Left to Right: Aislinn Rose, Praxis Artistic Producer and Bunker Producer; Michael Wheeler, Praxis Artistic Director; Carly Chamberlain & Tanya Rintoul, NTS Directing Students.
This week we have been studying Social Design for directors at The National Theatre School. Social media as a tool for discussion eventually (immediately) brought us to the ongoing controversy surrounding when critics are invited to Opening Night at Factory Theatre. We asked Aislinn to have a google chat with us about it as she is the producer of the first show in the Factory Theatre season: The Art of Building a Bunker.
Ok so i got my invite to
The Art of Building a Bunker Opening today
How did you pick the guest list?
Well, it was a collective effort, given that this production is a partnership between Factory and Quiptake.
Essentially, we each created a list and then mashed them together. (Lots of duplicates of course.)
On our list, I specifically wanted to invite people who had spoken publicly about the SummerWorks productions, even if it was “I still don’t know how I feel about this show”.
Carly, Tanya and I have been talking about Social Design all week.
The controversy over who got to come (or more accurately is invited) to opening ended up being part of what we talked about
Due to it starting on social media
I hadn’t noticed.
At least some people are laughing about it. Phew.
i was curious about the thought process you had before entering into that HUGE Twitter discussion. Did you imagine it turning into such a big discussion, or were you just simply responding how you felt in the moment?
Ah, yes, to respond or not to respond. (I actually had to walk away from my desk today rather than comment on something.)
I saw what I thought was an unfair comment about something (and a comment I found rather flippant, about a decision that wasn’t made flippantly) and so I decided to respond. I certainly didn’t think it would become my next five days.
That actually leads into what we’ve been curious about, which is why/how/when the original decision was made.
There was a great meeting of representatives of all the companies who are part of the Factory season (except Ronnie, who’s on tour). It was an opportunity for all of us to get together, introduce ourselves, hear a little about what they had in mind for the next several months, and also pick our brains. Essentially we were in a room to say “we are the Factory season”. I thought it was a great idea.
At that meeting, the idea of a “new” kind of opening night was introduced. Nina said she was interested in changing what opening were about and who they were for.
It came down to wanting opening nights to be a great fucking night for the artists, and (as I put it) an opportunity for Adam, in the case of Bunker, to stand in front of an audience of peers, of fellow artists, of friends, family, people he admires, etc. to say “this is my show, I wanted to share it with you first”. It wasn’t going to be about impressing the critics you know are all sitting there with press kits on their laps.
And, you know, we’ve ALL heard critics complain that openings aren’t great opportunities to feel the real show anyway, because of the audience being stacked with friends.
i prefer press kits to be a USB now.
(You know I do too Mike. Or a link even.)
We didn’t think it would be a big deal.
Sorry…but…is that really what the artists felt like those nights were? My impression from my own experience has always been that openings were a big industry love fest night
Sure, there’s the love fest… but there’s always also been the stress of who’s out there.
There’s a reason many actors don’t want to be told when press are in the audience.
Here’s where I struggle with this and it has already been discussed a bit – separating critics from community
I mean i get it – the first rule of praxistheatre.com was no reviews
and it is a good rule Mike
so i understand how a critical voice changes a dynamic
But lets take Nestruck for example
He was a critic at McGill when i was an undergrad
He was a crtic at Fringe in my 20s
Now he’s a critic in our professional theatre
I can’t really imagine him as not part of the community,
(even when he torches one of our shows)
He IS a part of the community. But I see the community a venn diagram.
So while he a part of the community, he is also apart from the community, and necessarily so.
Right, but why make it about the exclusion of critics rather than making a separate community celebration if that is the goal?
I thought that’s what we did… but we didn’t call it community night.
We called it our opening.
And then Media Night was created, to coincide with subscriber night, to give critics the opportunity to see the work with a regular ticket-buying audience.
And part of the reason it was scheduled for a Tuesday was that it was thought Tuesday would be a great night to be able to get the press there together (because Tuesday isn’t such a busy night).
I also wouldn’t use the term “exclusion” of the critics.
It is really great to hear (read) this with such clarity, the press release and other media surrounding this topic have not come across so reasonably.
Hurray for clarity! (And thanks.)
I argue with the exclusion part though. Not inviting someone to any event is excluding them from the event
Well, some parties are family reunions, and some parties aren’t.
There was the notion of wanting to slightly delay the entry of the “official” critical voices into the conversations happening around the show.
this is a bad metphor
its an ecology not a family
we dont have to like eachother but we all have roles to fill
what kind of conversation do you imagine happening by adding this delay?
I want to point out the fact that Kelly himself has accused other critics/bloggers of becoming “too embedded” when they’ve disagreed with him on this issue.
@KarenFricker2 Timeliness, independence, relevance… You’ve embedded too far, Karen. How could this possibly be beneficial to our readers?
So he, too, seems to understand that he’s part of the community… but that he can’t become too embedded.
Okay, back to the conversations…
We talked about how – sometimes – public conversations can become limited once the voice of “authority” enters the picture. And, as I’ve mentioned to people online, I don’t use the word “authority” because it’s accurate, but because that’s sometimes how it is perceived: that mainstream media (MSM) are the voice of authority.
This situation alone has shown me again that people are reluctant to join a public conversation if it goes against something the critics are talking about.
But in what forum would these conversations be taking place? (I’m on board with the idea of this “voice of authory”, but without providing a space for people to discuss, I’m skeptical about what critical discourse is going to happen on twitter…etc)
Yes and Holger Syme has already pointed this out, but the conversation on social media about shows sucks. without the critics it’s a bunch of selfies and GREAT SHOW GUYS!
So while we want the contribution of critics at the table, we were hoping their voices could be added to an already engaged discussion.
There are a number of platforms that we’re looking at (all of which would be of interest to people studying social design).
and who is starting the conversation?
So we’re trying to find spaces online and off, where people can comment, questions, argue with the show. We’re going to try to move as much of the conversation to the interwebs as possible through twitter and a message board, but we also want to find ways to communicate with people who don’t want to use those platforms, or who want to engage anonymously.
Yes… twitter is a challenge specifically because of the limited number of characters.
However, it also offers that awesome tool of the hashtag to create much longer conversations with many more characters.
i am worried about the anonymous option, but still interesting
i showed these guys the open source feedback i did with Tara Beagan after she enjoyed and did not parts of Rifles.
So, as a super basic thing, we want to share our hashtags in as many places as possible, and teach people how to use them. It will help us track down the comments that are being made publicly, and help us draw out further responses, whether it’s through asking questions, probing for more detailed comments, etc.
Mike… wasn’t #cdncult part of the homework?
what’s a hashtag?
we were just told to read Charlotte’s Web
If I think back on the SummerWorks production, people were posting great feedback all over facebook and twitter, and I collected as many of those responses as possible. What I would want to do now, with this opportunity, is go back to those commenters and try to draw out more information.
but was anyone tweeting negative things? I think regardless of critics people are unlikely to post their negative opinions…unless they were truly incensed by something
and would you talk to those people?
But I also want there to be a physical space in the theatre itself where people can “post”… so we’re looking for an actual wall… leave the creators a question, tell them you think they’re racist, tell them what you didn’t understand, etc.
I would love to talk to the people who hate the show. And I did at the time.. or maybe not “hated” it, but were worried about it.
In fact, I can think of someone in particular who would be a great person to curate a response from. (Though, if you ask Holger, he says theatre companies have no business curating responses.)
Would you have gone about this differently in retrospect – or is the controversy just an essential part of making big changes?
Well, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’m feeling unsettled (and actually sent a facebook message to my favourite tv critic who came out against what Factory was doing because I wanted him to understand my position).
I don’t have ANY regrets about the decision to do this. And I don’t think any of us expected the response we received, and certainly none of us expected the kind of inflammatory language that has been used by some of the media.
However. I think, in retrospect, we might have communicated it differently to the press. But I want to be clear: it’s not about asking permission. Permission isn’t needed. But it would be about contacting them to say, “this is what we’re doing and why. We’re trying it with this show, and if it helps us build greater conversations than we’ve seen in the past, we’ll consider trying it with the rest of the shows”.
I’ll say this: I’m a little broken-hearted that Adam isn’t getting the opening night I imagined for him. But it doesn’t matter… he’ll kill it.
Yes he will. As I already tweeted “ADLaz Born Ready”
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
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.
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.
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.
Greta Papageorgiu is an actor, writer, teacher and director. She performs and teaches throughout Ontario and Quebec. Greta loves the theatre and hopes to share some of her love with you through 2 Minutes With Greta Papageorgiu.
As the Interim Artistic Directors of Factory Theatre, Nina Lee Aquino & Nigel Shawn Williams announced their upcoming season earlier this week. We asked them to provide an artistic response to the shows they selected for that season in the form of our 51st Variation on Theatre.
Every Letter Counts by Nina Lee Aquino
“Between his interest in words and his architect’s love of structure and order, [Alfred Mosher] Butts decided to work on a word game that utilized a grid concept. In addition, he wanted to create a game that combined both luck and skill, with stronger emphasis on skill. He also liked the idea of 100 tiles. As he began his first set of sketches, Butts called his boardless anagram game idea Lexiko, which later evolved into the board game Criss Cross Words.”
– Everything Scrabble: Third Edition by Joe Edley & John D. Williams Jr.
Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata by Bill Richardson & Veda Hille
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
– Hunter S. Thompson
Iceland by Nicolas Billon
“People are always asking me about eskimos, but there are no eskimos in Iceland.”
Stopheart by Amy Lee Lavoie
“All of us grow up in particular realities – a home, family, a clan, a small town, a neighborhood. Depending upon how we’re brought up, we are either deeply aware of the particular reading of reality into which we are born, or we are peripherally aware of it. “
– Chaim Potok
Photo of Nina Lee Aquino and Nigel Shawn Williams by Jonathan Heppner – click to read more about their new season
Last Friday I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Healey, whose play Proud is currently onstage at The Berkeley Street Theatre.
On beer, small people, confessions, and plays I haven’t seen
AISLINN: Thanks for Skyping with me today. I’m actually interviewing you from my local, The Mugshot Tavern… my favourite little pub at Bloor & Keele, where I can walk in and the owner will say, “Aislinn, I have a great new beer on cask for you”.
MICHAEL: That’s the sweetest thing! I don’t have a local… I don’t get out of the house much.
AISLINN: Well, you do have 2 small people…
MICHAEL: That’s right… who insist I stay at home. Oh, I’m so envious right now!
[He has spied me sipping my pint.]
AISLINN: Let’s talk about your play. I have a confession to make… another one.
MICHAEL: [Laughs] It’s just all confessions with you…
AISLINN: That’s the old Catholic in me… all the guilt and none of the faith.
So… Proud is the first Michael Healey play I’ve ever seen. Partly due to the fact I lived in Australia for four years…
Can you give me a bit of a backdrop for the trilogy? [Courageous, Generous, and now Proud]
Tom Walmsley & Michael Healey in the G&M Print edition
MICHAEL: The idea for the trilogy started 8 years ago when I gave Tom Walmsley part of my liver. I’d say prior to that my plays were interested either in form, or, in the case of The Drawer Boy I was trying to learn how to write a two act comedy structure. Or in the minutia of my own psychology. The couple of plays after the Drawer Boy were about the interesting corners of my own feelings and experiences, and that event [the liver donation] kind of turned my gaze outward.
This play is about what it is we want from our political institutions.
AISLINN: So what do YOU want from our political institutions?
MICHAEL: I guess I want to be offered ideas that I haven’t already heard, and I want to be inspired by those ideas. I want somebody to articulate a notion of our society and our country that’s larger than the one that I currently possess.
AISLINN: So your… in terms of the ideologies out there you’ve got the group of people who want the guy they can have a beer with… or the manager versus the leader. So you’re looking more for the leader than the guy who’s going to just manage the finances.
MICHAEL: I guess that’s right. The guy that I want is a pretty good manager too…
AISLINN: Which leads me to some of the questions for you that came to me via Facebook. What is your response to the notion of someone being “fiscally conservative and socially progressive?
MICHAEL: Well… I don’t see any incompatibility with those two ideas living together. How it works out, it’s always the distance between your ideals and what’s possible. Politics is the art of the possible. The difference between what you aspire to and what you can manage is where the truth lies. So… if there is any contradiction between those two statements, the way that you work out those contradictions is the way… is the kind of politician that you become… if that’s coming from a politician.
If it’s coming from a citizen, then… I think everybody is capable of maintaining ideas that aren’t necessarily resolved.
AISLINN: But what do you think “fiscally conservative” means these days?
MICHAEL: Well the problem is that fiscally conservative these days means “good with other people’s money” and the fact is that progressives are completely capable of being good with other people’s money, but that right has managed to co-opt that notion and own it.
AISLINN: And if we look at the recent big spenders in government across North America, I just don’t understand why those notions still exist…
Is Michael Healey a Soothsayer?
AISLINN: So now I want to ask you about some of the things that happen in your play. But first I want to ask… are you a soothsayer?
MICHAEL: [Laughs] You know… none of things that things that have come up recently were that hard to guess about. You know… the thing about the abortion bill in the play, and the guy’s abortion bill… or quasi abortion bill that got defeated in the house… since the Conservatives have been in power, backbenchers have floated four or five different Private Members Bills on Abortion… controlling abortion.
The Abortion Bill I describe in the play is verbatim to the bill that was brought up in, I think, 2007 by some guy. So, I may look clever, but these things are not terribly far fetched. But the timing is awesome. It’s great to get the play on at the moment that the House is coming back to it and these things are coming back to boil again.
On merging the left
AISLINN: I’m curious about your thoughts on voter cooperation. There’s a line in your play that gets a good laugh about the merging of the progressive parties… so I’m curious about how you feel about this notion of some kind of cooperation between the progressive parties. Or… the non-conservative parties…
AISLINN: I don’t know why you would mention him in this moment. I joke.
MICHAEL: My basic feeling about it is that anything that streamlines discussion… debate… is in the long-term, bad for politics. As I say in the play… once they unified the right, maybe it became inevitable that eventually the left would unite.
Cullen's NDP Leadership campaign
AISLINN: But what if we’re not talking about merging? Let’s talk Nathan Cullen’s plan – and to clarify for when I do the transcription – to look at those ridings where it looks like if the Liberals and NDP were to come together they could defeat a sitting Conservative, that you have run-off ballots in the lead-up to the election to determine whether it should be a Liberal or an NDP that should run in that riding for the election.
AISLINN: To get to a point where you get the Conservatives out, and then we bring in voter reform where it’s no longer this first-past-the-post system, so we can go back to running whatever candidates we want, and we have some kind of ranked ballots, or the proportional representation that Ontario soundly voted down a few years ago because no one knew what that complicated ballot meant…
MICHAEL: … all these ideas that everybody floats when they’re not in power!
AISLINN: Right, yes… as you say in your play.
MICHAEL: … and then just rejects!
I don’t know. Isn’t that just a sad way to have to beat these people? Isn’t that a kind of collusion, doesn’t that limit… ultimately limit democracy? I mean, I understand what it means in practical terms… I understand… generation upon generation of Harper conservativism… until somebody spends 35 years, the way that he spent 35 years putting an idea together and building a coalition among the people in the country… until somebody spends the time doing that… don’t we just have to wait? Don’t we just necessarily diminish the concept of democracy every time the Liberals and the NDP collude in a riding. Don’t we?
AISLINN: I’m a little depressed. Are you telling me that we have 35 more years of this to go?
MICHAEL: [Laughing] I think… well… I’ll go this far: they’ll win another majority in the next election. Beyond that I’m not going to say. So 2015, for sure. In my opinion. I just don’t see anybody… I just don’t see it… there is no short cut. And he knew that. He learned that, and he put in the time. And there is no short cut to creating a message that a wide swath of the middle of the country can get behind.
What are the requirements for running for office?
AISLINN: So I want to talk briefly about the female character in your play, Jisbella. She’s a former manager of a St. Hubert in Quebec. I’m curious to know what you think the qualifications of an MP should be.
MICHAEL: Well, I don’t think that there should be any beyond the ones that Elections Canada has… whatever they are. I don’t know what the qualifications are really. I mean, there are a lot of lawyers in Ottawa. It’s probably right that there are a lot of lawyers in Ottawa because it’s where they make laws.
I for one, love it when they get a Monte Solberg… is that who I’m thinking of? Who was the Reform MP who never took off his fucking cowboy hat?
MICHAEL: I just think, you know, it’s democracy and it’s messy and stupid, and occasionally it coalesces and awesome things happen, but in the main it’s messy and stupid. I think that the people who stand for election should reflect the diversity of that messiness and stupidity.
AISLINN: Right… and then I guess from that pool, we hope the leader will arise. That leader who will inspire us and give us a bigger vision.
MICHAEL: That’s right. It’s a frustrating and inevitably organic process.
We're not saying good looks don't matter...
AISLINN: Okay! So then what do you think of the new Trudeaumania?
MICHAEL: Well yeah! He doesn’t have his father’s depth…
I’m not saying that the hair and the good looks don’t matter, and the fact that he’s charming doesn’t matter…
AISLINN: … and a good boxer!
MICHAEL: … sorry?
AISLINN: … and a good boxer.
MICHAEL: And a good boxer! I’m just saying that 10 minutes in a ring, so to speak, with Harper in one of these debates and we’re just going to see… you’ll just see.
My job that he always wanted, and why he was glad to see Aaron Sorkin go
MICHAEL: I find it instantly intimidating to speak to you… you remind me of that… because, I mean, I’m talking about things that you have a kind of legitimacy about that I will never have.
AISLINN: Were you a fan of the West Wing? You do seem to speak with some legitimacy. I mean, yes, I’ve seen some of this stuff, but it does ring quite true to me…
MICHAEL: Well, I’m probably the only person in the world who preferred the West Wing after they kicked off Aaron Sorkin, and they hired a bunch of former White House flacks to come in and write… because the stories instantly became more true to politics in that country.
AISLINN: You said something on Facebook about me having the job you always wanted… surely that’s not true.
MICHAEL: It is… when I was 12 years old I explored the possibility of becoming a page at the Ontario Legislature… I was one of those kids, and then it never came to fruition.
In some ways, that world does fascinate me… I think the same things that fascinate me in the theatre are the same things that fascinate me in that world… the distance between aspiration and reality, and the drama and comedy that are available inside that gap.
The thing I don’t have patience for is consensus building… the art of the possible. I think I’d get very frustrated very quickly with the glacial pace of a legislative agenda.
Atwood signing remotely via "longpen"
AISLINN: Did you know about the autopen, did you know there was such a thing?
MICHAEL: I guess I was. I assumed these people don’t sign their own letters anymore. Isn’t Margaret Atwood’s thing just a long-distance version?
AISLINN: But Margaret Atwood… she’s still signing from long-distance. She’s still doing the arm movements across the world to do the signing. The autopen is someone like me sitting in a room with a big stack of letters, and a big wonky wheel that turns around and makes the pen move to look like the signature.
But every now and then I’d be working on a letter saying “we’re sorry we have to cut down the tree on your lawn”, and every now and then I was able to save a tree and say, “no, I don’t like this answer…”
MICHAEL: Would you really do that?
AISLINN: Oh yeah, if I got a letter where I’d see we were giving the standard response to what didn’t seem like a standard situation, I’d pull it and talk to the appropriate person in the ministry to see if we could get a different result for that person.
MICHAEL: So really, in a lot of ways, power resided with you.
AISLINN: Oh yeah, totally…
MICHAEL: I’m kidding, but it’s also true…in the same way that, you know, that your leg works because of its joints… you were right there in that moment, you were the only person with an engaged brain in that moment between constituent and elected official.
AISLINN: I think, for me, that was part of my survival in that job and feeling awful about being there. But if I could walk away at the end of the day where I’d fixed something for someone… I could feel okay about.
Off topic and onto Factory Theatre…
AISLINN: So I do have one final question for you. It’s off topic.
For me, I intend to continue supporting Factory Theatre, and the new mission of Nina & Nigel as they work on the creation of their new season.
I wonder what you would like to say to someone like me who intends to continue with that support.
MICHAEL: I think you absolutely should. I think that the reason I’m so categorical about my reaction to Ken’s firing was because I was around… I wasn’t around in 1977 when he started the theatre, I was around in 1996 when he saved it. I was actually part of the community when that happened. So I saw him… the padlocks were literally on the door, he went in, he put his own money into the place, and then he took no salary for almost a year, and they went from there in 1996, to a place where they owned that $10 million piece of property.
And I think, for that, because I experienced that, my position “you cannot fire that guy that way”, and all of the actions I took that flowed from that position, which is to say writing the boycott letter… my reaction and my response to this is personal, as is yours, and is therefore legitimate.
That’s really all I can say.
The Boycott's full page ad in NOW
Was I hurt and disappointed that every play wasn’t pulled from the season immediately? Yes. Was I hurt and disappointed when there wasn’t a universal outcry and condemnation of the board among theatre artists in this city? I was hurt and surprised in the same way I was hurt and surprised by the Tarragon’s behaviour, in much the same way.
I suddenly felt like I had been making assumptions about something, and that the reality was wildly different from those assumptions.
I think your position is absolutely legitimate. I’m sorry about the way that this has all broken down, I think there are less reasonable people on my side that think the way I do, and less reasonable people on your side as well, and that thanks to them, there is a kind of bizarre rift in our community at the moment.
AISLINN: Well, the challenging thing for me is that I don’t feel like I’m on a particular side. I find the situation to be incredibly complex and probably more complex than the “official sides” are allowing it to be, and so, I feel like I can be “for” Ken, and I can also be “for” Factory Theatre, and all of the people that are still there, and who were incredibly hurt by the notion of The Factory falling apart without Ken, when they had previously felt that they were also important pillars of that organization.
MICHAEL: They absolutely are important pillars of that theatre. I don’t blame anybody for any of the feelings that they had.
My over-simple analysis… and I own the fact it is over-simple, is you can’t fire that guy that way. And all the decisions I’ve made and taken since that moment were based on that. I honestly thought the boycott would be a universal boycott, and that within a matter of weeks Ken would be reinstated, a negotiation about how his exit would be handled would be underway, and that the season would be restored and that nobody would have to lose a job. I lost a job, I was supposed to be in George Walker’s show.
And I’m here to tell you that I’m surprised.
If you want to catch Proud before it closes October 6th, you should get your tickets soon as performances are selling out. Everything you need to know can be found on the Proud website here, or on the box office website here.
“It is with sadness that we, the undersigned participants of the Factory Boycott of 2012, witness Ken Gass’s honourable exit from the whole debacle. We respect Ken’s decision to do so and understand his desire to move on. However:
While we do not want to impinge on fellow artists who need or desire to make their art on the stages of that venerable old dame, Factory Theatre, we believe that theatre artists are, and must be, responsible for the actions they take when dealing with unacceptable theatre governance.
Therefore we cannot move on without reiterating that the board of Factory theatre has behaved in an appallingly disrespectful and off-handed manner, not only towards Ken Gass but to the 4000 plus people who signed a petition protesting the board actions, the significant group of artists and other citizens who participated in the Factory boycott and, indeed, all of The Factory’s stakeholders within the community.
We believe the nine directors on the board showed and continue to show contempt for the artists and arts supporters who asked simply for meaningful dialogue, respectful action and serious mediation in this sorry affair. As long as the current board still reigns, there will be a black asterisk next to the name of Factory theatre.
It is our belief that Mr. Struys and his cohorts entered into the process cynically and in bad faith. Both prior to and during the month of August they ignored mediation opportunities that might have saved the season from collapse. Only 36 hours before the start of mediation the Board appointed an interim artistic director team charged with finding replacement shows. This pre-empted any meaningful possibility of Gass’s involvement in the season should mediation be successful. Given the board’s steadfast refusal to respond to any community demands over the past three months, is it surprising that mediation failed?
Is this what the artists, Factory supporters and audiences deserve?
Our answer is a resounding; “No!”
Mr. Struys and the Factory board may feel today that they have simply “played a hand” well, that their policies of stonewalling and intransigence have paid off. However, there is no justice here, only shame. We believe there can be no true peace in this community unless and until the current Factory board resigns. Furthermore we wish for an engaged, renewed Factory board and membership that will be committed to putting in place a code of conduct that respects artists’ moral right to determine how our theatres are run.
We urge the various arts councils (OAC, TAC, CC), foundations and artist organizations engaged in collective bargaining to proactively engage our theatres in a dialogue about Board conduct. In the end the broader issue of who owns our theatres and artist participation in the governance of the institutions we have built must be addressed.
We fervently believe that only then we will be able to truly move forward. Only then can we go about healing the wounds within the community. Only then can this black mark be expunged from the Factory’s inspiring history. ”
Richard Alan Campbell
Laura de Carteret
C. David Johnson
Lora Senechal Carney
George F. Walker
David S. Young
The news met mixed reaction on social media with some commenters noting that a mediation session with Ken Gass had been scheduled later in the week. For these commenters, making this announcement ahead of these talks reinforced the notion that the board was heading into these talks in bad faith.
Other commenters (myself included) applauded the selection of two artists that had a long history of working at Factory Theatre and were capable of carrying Ken’s vision forwards while infusing the institution with new ideas.
The news came later in a day when another Artistic Director, Buddies in Bad Times AD Brendan Healy, posted a popular Facebook note inspired by his first vacation after three years at the helm of the institution.
The note lays out “Four thoughts for my future self” (that are not about Ken Gass or the Factory Theatre but that have certainly been affected by Ken Gass and the Factory Theatre). They are expanded upon in the note, but the four thoughts are:
I am not the theatre company and the theatre company is not me.
The theatre company owes me nothing.
I will lose everything.
My work exists inside the people that I have shared it with.
Hoarding of Resources and Deprivation of Government Funding: For the 2012 fiscal year, the NEA awarded $3,216,000 in grants to 119 theater companies. Only 7 (5.88%) have been in existence for less than ten years. Government funding is essentially not available to the under-35 set.
Exploitation of Young Labor through Un/Underpaid Internships: Out of the sixty LORT companies that advertise professional internships/apprenticeships/fellowships, only thirty–four of these companies (56.66%) claim to pay interns a weekly stipend. The average weekly stipend offered by these companies is $149.50.
Profiting from the Peddling of Impractical Degrees: Similar to Mike Daisey’s American MFAs as Ponzi Scheme critique. Botvinik wonders if many US MFA programs would meet the standards of The Gainful Employment Act which is applied to new programs and asks them to prove that their students will be able to find work in their field after graduating in order to be eligible for financial aid.
Toronto Theatre: 5 Points of contention
U of T prof Holger Syme and director and artistic director Jacob Zimmer have had an in-depth discussion that has bouncedback and forth between Syme’s dispositio and Zimmer’s Small Wooden Shoe site. The 5 Points of contentions with ‘approved’ summaries are:
Our theatre needs classics: There are not enough plays from before the 20th century done in Toronto. This is in part due to false notions of relevance and nationalism.
Our theatre is predictable: There is not enough diversity of practice and approaches to work – new or old. Every play should be treated as new. Timidity is bad and a healthy competition for innovation would help.
There is never enough time: You can’t be innovative, or radical, or especially deep, or especially thoughtful in a three-week rehearsal process. It’s just not enough time.
Our theatre is a deeply immoral institution: It is immoral and unsustainable for theatre to be in a continual semi-pro status. It leads to under-realized projects, one person self directed shows and jack-of-all-trades master-of-none “theatre artists.”
Money isn’t doing what money should be doing: The funding distribution is broken and supports an unsustainably large number of companies with unsustainably small amounts of money. There are options other than direct Council funding to projects.
This conversation seems significant to me not because Syme and Zimmer agree about all these ideas, but because I’m hoping it could denote a turning point in the Canadian theatrosphere: Maybe long-form intelligent discussion and exchange of ideas is possible online after all?
Factory Theatre Battle for Hearts and Minds Continues
Some major pieces of information have come out about the ongoing controversy surround the firing of Ken Gass, The Factory Theatre and its Board of Directors:
Board chair Ron Struys confirmed: “We recently met with Ken with the help of an outside facilitator and agreed to get the wheels in motion for mediation in order to find common ground.” No information was given as to whether the search for a new artistic director, which is still on the Factory Theatre homepage, has ben halted.
The Actors Fund of Canada is accepting donations for the artists who just lost their jobs weeks before opening, with little hope of finding a replacement gig this late in the game. Social media commentators estimate lost wages to artists from the show’s cancelation to be approximately $80,000.
When Praxis Artistic Producer Aislinn Rose responded with a letter of her own, this went to a whole new level, with more people coming to the site in one day than saw all three of the shows we presented in 2011 combined.
The pieces, as well as the intelligent and thoughtful comments that followed them have motivated a few responses on the internet:
* Producer and marketer Sue Edworthy put together a Wordle for all four of the major notes written on the subject including Facebook notes by Chris Coculuzzi and Lisa Norton.
* A number of prominent artists are calling for a boycott of The Factory Theatre. They have set up a website: savethefactory.ca which outlines why. In reference to artists boycotting the theatre’s season, Ken Gass had this to say in the comments of a recent Torontoist article on the story:
I just want to make clear, I would NEVER ask artists to pull their work from the season, no matter who is running the theatre. […] there are many arenas of protest other than ones that will impact on the financial welfare of artists.
“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.”