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

Category: Michael Rubenfeld

December 16, 2009, by

Guest Post by Simon Ogden of Vancouver’s The Next Stage – second in a series…


Greetings, my fellow Canadians (and theatre fans around the world), my name is Simon and I’m a blogging advocate. Which basically means I’m enamored with the potential power of internet self-publication as a business tool. I’ve been using it to much success in the past few years, and so I’m officially convinced of both its practicality and potency. Mike asked me if I would care to elaborate here (and over on my own blog), and having just publicly declared myself a blogging advocate, I had really no choice. We’re going to ping-pong a conversation about the Canadian theatrosphere spurred by Michael Rubenfeld over at Summerworks between us for a while, and see where it goes. We would be delighted if you would join the conversation, if you do your comments may be published in the hard-copy compilation in Works magazine. And we hope you do.

Preamble over, on to the business at hand…


(it will really help to understand what follows)

Thanks M-Dub (if no one calls you that they should, it’s dope. S.O. just sounds like a shrug). It’s a topic that I have a peculiar amount of verve about, so this should be a good conversation. And hopefully an inspiring one.

“While the digital revolution hasn’t changed theatre much…”

Four years ago I made a prediction that the rise of the blogosphere would radically change theatre in Canada. Change it in the way practitioners thought about the way they produce work, in the way resources were shared and in the dramatic expansion of the audience base. At this point I’m prepared to say that I wasn’t altogether wrong in this prediction, but I would certainly excise the word “radically” from that sentence. The internet is proving to be a tough monster to wrangle for our particular discipline, the growth of the Canadian theatrosphere so far has proven to be relatively slow. That is, relative to tech-centric arts communities; photographers and digital artists have a surfeit of chatter to engage with on line.

It’s essential here at the outset that we define what we mean by ‘the theatrosphere’, and what exactly it means when it uses the term ‘theatre blogging’. There are a lot of active theatre blogs that aren’t really part of the theatrosphere, these are self-contained sites – usually company blogs – that post solely on their own business. These are marketing sites, and have little or no interaction with the rest of the industry online. The theatrosphere uses social media for two distinct agendas – and yes, sometimes those agendas get muddied – to market our work, and to engage in dynamic, real-time conversation with our fellows. If you’re not connecting across borders, you’re not part of the conversation. This, in a nutshell, is the great hope of the core concept of theatre blogging: to create an inter-connected, self-supported, crowd-sourcing resource hub that anyone can plug into.

To put it another way, the theatrosphere is a big ol’ cocktail party that’s always running. It’s a klatch full of a crazy array of personalities, from brash and irritating to gentle and wise. But always highly opinionated, and therein lies its true promise. I hear young theatre artists constantly complaining about how cliquey an industry independent theatre is, about how tough it is to break into ‘the scene’. What they’re talking about is information sharing; where does your audience come from, what is it about your process that works for you, how do you get to know the critics? Etc, etc. I don’t believe that we’re cliquey at all, actually, we’re an art form that does its work in little groups in little dark rooms that require a certain bond of trust to get the most from the process itself. We’re not snobby, we’re just busy. And we’d all like to meet regularly to socialize and network, but who has the time? Making the time to make connections is the next stage in the evolution of the indie theatre industry, and the internet offers the most economic solution to time-manage our networking and marketing efforts.

And yet we still lack a true National connectivity. Or even a regional one. I have amazing connections in my niche across the country (not even counting the inspiration and assistance I get from theatre bloggers in the US – which has a busier if not a more comprehensive blog community – and the rest of the world), but the actual amount of theatre practitioners walking into this cocktail party is shockingly small. Engagement is so easy to measure on the blogosphere, because the platforms themselves tell you when someone is talking to you or about you. There is still only a handful of engaged theatre bloggers across the entire country. I know of exactly zero East of the Rockies until you hit Toronto, then a couple in Ottawa and…that’s pretty much it. Where are the theatre bloggers, Canada? Edmonton? Winnipeg? What’s up?

As for the question of comics marketing themselves on social media better than theatre, well, maybe. But it’s kind of apples and oranges, stand-up comedy is YouTube friendly, it fulfils it’s core objective – to make you laugh – on the computer almost as much as it does live. But theatre’s objectives – to make you feel, connect, respond viscerally – just don’t translate that well to 2D. Televised theatre looks like crap, unless it’s shot well and then it suffers the iniquity of being mutated into a different medium. On top of that, the public at large understands stand-up, it’s something they already want, while they still mostly think of us as tight-wearing, Elizabethan-blathering bores. So we have to get mighty creative with how we sell ourselves on the web. It’s happening, there are some wonderful explorations in digital marketing going on in our corner of art, but it is truly in its infancy. To grow it’s going to need a movement. We have to find some way of selling the power of blogging to the world of theatre, to create a true National presence. To brand independent theatre as a mighty, united force to be reckoned with. And then the people will come.

Simon, I certainly agree with what you say in terms of comedy being a much friendlier video medium. I haven’t figured out any way to create a video to promote a play reading festival so if someone has ideas I’d love to listen.

I know for me that I’m a lot less engaged in blogs, even my own, because of needing more time away from the computer and from Twitter. Twitter’s much less time consuming way of receiving and conveying information. I’m not sure if that says something about me or if that’s a trend in general. The more growth there is, the more overwhelmed I feel by it all.

I’m curious to see where this experiment between the two of you leads. I’m one of those lucky people who have met both of you and have a ton of respect for how the two of you manage to stay engaged in the blogosphere on top of all the other things you do.

Twitter’s really got you, eh? I totally get it, there’s been a real waning of the blogoshpere since twitter tipped. And that’s probably a good thing, full posts tend to be fewer and farther between, but the quality has escalated.

Another tick in the win column for twitter.

There actually were a ton of theatre co’s here that had never blogged that jumped on twitter, it’s my sincere hope that it proves a gateway to full blogging. Because I’d really love to hear about their work from the artist’s perspective.

August 3, 2009, by


Last year the Festival got a lot of press with some controversial YouTube videos you produced. Is that the strategy this time round?

The strategy is to be provocative and playful. The controversy last year was great, as it attracted a lot of people to the blog, and started a really compelling debate. The intent, however, was not to be controversial, but to be playful and provocative. I’m a big believer in provocation… I like taking questions I have and turning them on their ass a bit. This theatre community needs to be braver. We’re all much too precious, in my opinon. We take ourselves VERY seriously, and attach a certain preciousness to what we are doing that is often standing in the way of creating an HONEST dialogue about real things. There is too much bullshit, if you ask me. Too much talking AROUND issues. If we want people to actually give a shit about theatre, we have to start making work that people actually give a shit about. That doesn’t happen often enough. We spend too much time trying to please each other, than ask each other to have legitimate thoughts and feelings about things. We’re too afraid of being disliked–as if being LIKED should ever be the goal. How about making something INTERESTING?

This year your first video about a “Typical Canadian Play” pokes fun in particular at art councils for supporting queer and First Nations oriented material. Was there any intention to tie this message to the critique you made of the Dora jury system on the Globe and Mail website the day after Agokwe swept the Doras?

The intent was not to poke fun at art councils, but to poke fun at Canada. Its no secret that we, in Canada, put a lot of effort into supporting ideas of diversity. You may have interpreted the video as poking fun at Arts Councils, but really, the joke was about a white man trying to appropriate as many cultures as possible to try and get some money from an arts council. Personally, I happen to think its very important that there is support and continued development of voices from as many cultures as possible. I don’t happen to think we do a very good job at it, mostly because we’re too afraid of NOT supporting diverse cultures, that we often throw money to anything resembling diversity. And so, I happen to think the idea of using diversity as a ploy to get arts council money is very funny. I’m not blaming anyone in particular… I’m just interested in trying to get conversations that we’re not having, going. Anand Rajaram has written a really great piece about this in our upcoming issue of WORKS.

My critique of the Dora Jury system had nothing to do with First Nations culture, and everything to do with mediocrity. Kelly Nestruck questioned why Agokwe got as many nominations as it had despite his belief that it was mediocre. And so I explained how, often, mediocre work will get a lot of attention at the Doras because of the specific points sytem the doras use. I think it is flawed, and I also think there should be more than 10 jurors, and I think there should be criteria for the jurors. If we ever want to take the Doras seriously, there should be a lot more thought put into how decisions are being made. I understand, though, that this is difficult given that Jurors are donating their time.

Also, my critique was prior to Agokwe sweeping the doras, not the day after.

Alon Nashman, NOW Magazine’s top theatre artist of 2008, stars in the first video promoting this year’s SummerWorks Festival.

What’s up with the small animal theme to the SummerWorks brand?

They are Toronto’s downtown animals — squirrels, racoons, pigeons and skunks. They are often given a bad rap, and so we thought it would be nice to throw some love their way. We’ve also given them sashes, turning them into a sort of beauty pageant contestants. The irony makes me happy. The design is also pretty. I think they’re all kind of cute. A re-contextualization of “pests”.

Canadian Actors’ Equity Association is working on a new agreement they say will be more responsive to membership taking place in festival like SummerWorks. Have they contacted you for any feedback or input? Have you heard about them asking anyone for input? What would you like to see in it?

No, CAEA only gets in touch with us when they want to make sure we are not breaking any rules. I would love it if they asked for our input. I would also love to see CAEA having a universal agreement that would let people produce their work under any name, despite their history, at the festival, without having to jump through hoops. To be honest, though, I’ve never really had a problem with equity when I was producing at SummerWorks in the past … when writing to Equity they didn’t really offer me any answers except for that individual companies should be contacting equity themselves.

Going into your second full year as Artistic Producer of SummerWorks, what is the one thing you wish wasn’t part of your job description?

Having to be both the Artistic Director and General Manager, with not enough money for myself or my staff.

The SummerWorks Festival runs August 6 -16th.  

It has a great website here.  And a cool blog here