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

Category: theatrosphere

August 19, 2013, by

by Michael Wheeler,


Andrew Coyne is questioned about the role of expertise in the cultural sector. Photo: Dahlia Katz

As moderator of the ‘An End To Arts Funding?‘ debate at SummerWorks, it seems unethical for me to engage in any sort of critique of the arguments presented Wednesday.

I hope to moderate more debates in the future, and I can’t have debaters wary that although I am quite pleasant in person, I’m storing their arguments for digital deconstruction post-event.

However, there have been a number of responses from people who were in attendance and have posted their thoughts online:

And of course, before the debate Nadia Ross published this ‘opening statement’ here on Praxis:


Photo: Dahlia Katz

Tangentially, a conversation came up at the debate connected to an ongoing discussion in this space: performance and memory.

Mr. Coyne conceded there was probably some role for the state to play in archiving and preserving great works, noting that mark of a great writer is their words survive themselves and their era.

As theatre artists, we can’t aspire for our work to be preserved in the same way. You were either there, or you weren’t, and you missed it. Gone forever. We can archive notes, programs, props – even scripts – but the work itself cannot be preserved (as Holger Syme also notes in his post to makes a different point) in a way that it can be reproduced  .

This is neither here nor there with regards to the substance of the debate, but it reminds me that part of what makes live performance distinct is it is ephemeral and I am cool with that.

February 22, 2013, by
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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).

November 23, 2012, by

This Onion Talk reveals some of the aspects we won’t be looking at in the workshop.

by Michael Wheeler,

Next week I am leading a workshop with Theatre Ontario on online tools and how they can complement and integrate with live performance. It is designed to be useful to staff at arts organizations as well as artists interested in these ideas and concepts . You know how they say spots are limited and filling up fast? This is also true in this instance.

Looking at examples from work with The Electric Company, Volcano Theatre, The Shaw Festival, The Theatre Centre, Praxis Theatre and The Wrecking Ball, this workshop investigates imaginative expression and best practices in performing arts and online integration.

Praxis Workshop @ Social Media Week 2012

Questions the workshop poses:

  • Where does your social media content come from?
  • What ‘voice’ should you use to represent your work or organization online?
  • What’s the latest with live-blogging and live-tweeting?
  • How can online tools and presence assist instead of distract from the work?

Participants will emerge with:

  • A better idea of your relationship to social media
  • A clearer idea of what approach to social media is right for you.
  • Information to inform your social media strategy.
  • Ideas for social media content and where to look for/create them.
  • A better understanding of trends and developments.
    WHERE: 215 Spadina Avenue, Suite 210. Toronto
    WHEN: Tuesday November 27, 6:30pm to 8:30pm
    RSVP: Theatre Ontario Registration
October 17, 2012, by

Doc Wuthergloom wants you to avoid your inevitable destruction at the demonic hands of the vile phantoms, which plague your soul unseen – by clicking here!

by  Michael Wheeler

Surprise! The theatrosphere has been a busy place with a number of interesting conversations to take note of:

  • The Canada Council is launching “a dialogue about how the arts bring value to the lives of Canadians”. Vice Chair, and No Culture, No Future author Simon Brault has written a blog post about this policy initiative titled, “Arts For All!.
  • U of T Prof Holger Syme continues to put out complex posts that challenge conventional wisdom driving TO theatre. In his post “Theatre does not tell Stories” he summarizes his critique as, “theatre can’t tell stories, because stories are always necessarily retrospective. And theatre isn’t about the past. It’s about the present.

    Howard Shalwitz speaks on theatrical innovation

  • Meanwhile Theatre Passe Muraille Artistic Director Andy McKim was on to a similar critique of contemporary drama when he reblogged (with an intro) a speech by Woolly Mammoth Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz at the at the TCG American Theatre annual AGM titled Theatrical Innovation: Whose Job Is It? Core takeaway: innovation in North American theatre is way behind what’s going on in Europe and it is hurting the art form, which is attached to outdated models. Time to move off the ‘assembly line’ of play creation and into a laboratory in which collaborators reinvent the medium.
  • Luminato AD Jorn Weisbrodt has started blogging on the festival’s website. His post titled Postcards from the Pool documents an exclusive trip he and husband Rufus Wainright  took to the Hearst Castle where the newlyweds recieved VIP treatment while lounging poolside – complete with shirtless photos! In the post he reflects on his good luck to recieve an invitation to stay overnight in a period where the castle was closed to tourists. Weisbrodt was able to experience, “Hearst’s overwhelming vision, his desire to change reality and make this place the greatest private residence in the world.”

    Vancouver affordable housing zoning

  • My recent post  Mirvish blows up downtown Toronto theatre, argued that the Mirvish/Gehry re-development on King St. could be a good thing if it included a 500-seat venue and mixed-income housing. Globe critic Kelly Nestruck and National Post Political Journalist Jonathan Goldsbie both wrote in support of a smaller venue recently, while The Grid’s Edward Keenan came out in support of inclusionary zoning, noting it is already the law in places like Vancouver and San Francisco.
August 27, 2012, by

by Michael Wheeler

It’s been a while since our last round-up of interesting ideas and discussions going on elsewhere.

Theater and the War Against Youth

American dramaturg, playwright and director (and fellow ART/MXAT grad) Marshall Botvinick investigates the way the supposedly ‘progressive’ theatre industry emulates many of the generational biases promoted by The Tea Party. He looks at a recent article in Esquire that explores generational conflict in the US and compares it to what is going on in the theatre industry for his post on Howlround. The post levels 3 accusations against the industry:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 bounced back and forth between Syme’s dispositio and Zimmer’s Small Wooden Shoe site. The 5 Points of contentions with ‘approved’ summaries are:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Michel Marc Bouchard has withdrawn his play Tom and the Coyote from the opening slot in their upcoming season. Bouchard cited the artist boycott of the theatre as his major motivation for the decision: “I cannot ask my production team to face the unheard of situation in which artists will be boycotting other artists.”
  3. The Factory Board responded to this withdrawal with a news release that lays the blame on what it calls, “boycott environment”.
  4. A whole bunch of famous Canadian artists wrote an open letter to the Factory Board regarding their use of the term “boycott environment”.
  5. 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.
January 24, 2012, by
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Small Theatre Administrative Facility is giving away a FREE Kobo to indie theatre artists. Click the pic to fill out a short survey about indie theatre to be entered in the draw.

Here’s a round up of some interesting thoughts and ideas from the local theatrosphere:

  • Previous Praxis Theatre contributor Lindsay Schweitz has been writing one blog post a day for an entire year. Each month has been devoted to a different topic dedicated to challenging the way Lindsay thinks about and lives her life, with her readers picking the final month’s topic. Check out what they picked.
June 24, 2011, by

Morro and Jasp decide the only way to bring about positive change is to take to the streets

by Michael Wheeler

Here’s a round-up of some items in or around theatre and the interweb.

December 23, 2010, by

The Carnegie Library at 1115 Queen Street West will eventually become a permanent home for The Theatre Centre

The Carnegie Library at 1115 Queen Street West will eventually become a permanent home for The Theatre Centre

by Michael Wheeler


A permanent home for The Theatre Centre

The Theatre Centre has existed in many locations since being founded in 1979, began a research and development program for Toronto indie theatre in 1984, and updated this practice in 2004 to its groundbreaking residency program now in place. It is an established leader in boundary-pushing, innovative and challenging approaches to performance and has nurtured and developed the talents of many of the city’s top artists.

In April, City Council offered the long-term lease of the former Carnegie Library at 1115 Queen Street West to The Theatre Centre as sole tenant. After 48 years of closure to the public, residents of Toronto will be able to enjoy the building once more.  More money still needs to be raised to bring this much needed resource and home for a community into reality, but this first step, and the commitment of a number of key foundations to support this move, is my #1 pick for 2010.


Citizens Against Proroguing Parliament

What? Yep. That was this year. Can you believe it? Hoping Canadians wouldn’t notice their democracy being shut down by framing it as a “procedural issue” Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament to avoid questions about the treatment of Afghan detainees and was met with impressive organization online and in the streets. It’s hard to tell what was more heartening: a single Facebook page becoming an overnight organizing megaforce or 200,000 Canadians asserting their right to live in a democracy coast-to-coast with a single voice. It’s a good thing we finally got to the bottom of that whole Afghan detainee thing….Oh – wait a second!?!


Rosie DiManno

For real. This is not a joke and I am not being ironic. Turn your filters off for a second: I get it. There was a point in my life where I was ready to start a “Bring Back DiMannoWatch” Facebook Page. Then Rosie became the only reporter in Toronto interested in capital “J” journalism as it related to G20. Instead of recycling myopic statements by subjects with much to hide, DiManno has been doing the work The Toronto Police Force and, well, every other journalist in the city, was unwilling or unable to do. She has already achieved tangible results by bringing the facts to a place where the public can interact with them and forced me to remember that human beings are often complicated and contradictory creatures.


People who did the thing they said they would do, in the time alloted, the way they said they would do it

Most successful endeavours this year were likely based on your contributions.



Summerworks is one of the most important theatre festivals for new independent performance in the country. Some of the shows produced there may not or may not speak to Conservative values, and the festival may or may not have submitted a grant late at a certain point. None of this changes the important role the festival plays in Canada’s performing arts ecosystem and the opportunity it presents for emerging artist/entrepreneurs to jumpstart their own careers.  The recent move to Queen W. and the inclusion of independent music are also a big plus for making it an event with wide community appeal.

Cardinal Clement was angered concerned data from the census could establish facts that differed from official state doctrine

Cardinal Clement was concerned data from the census could establish facts that differed from official state doctrine


Munir Sheikh

Whatever ideological differences we may have with one another as citizens, it is not acceptable for the government to act as if the Enlightenment didn’t happen. Facts are relevant, data is important and logic can only be ignored at our peril.


Sidney Crosby

An overtime sudden-death goal to win the final gold medal of an Olympic games, at home, simultaneously making your country the one with the most gold medals at the games, and establishing a new record for gold medals by a country at any Olympic winter games. Our grandchildren will be jealous.

8 comment of the year

I would like to acknowledge the highly subjective “winner” of this category each year in this space. Even though I just interviewed Brendan Gall six weeks ago, if we’re going to base these things on merit, I believe he was also the clear winner of ‘Comment of the Year ’ for his response to our February post: “How Do You Get a Grant?


The moderate growth of the theatrosphere

Although there is plenty of room for many new projects at the intersection of online tools and performance, 2010 was the year many companies committed to expanding their artistic practice online. From interviews with Studio 180’s creative team, to checking out pics Obsidian Theatre had uploaded of a cast member transforming her appearance, to Alberta Theatre Projects creating an audio mixtape from online submissions, to hearing from a flow of artists creating new work through the ‘My Story’ posts on The Tarragon Theatre Facebook Page – this was a significant year for the integration of social media tools with performance.


It’s still unclear whether any of the funds from the City’s Billboard Tax will reach their original target of “public art” to offset the visual pollution caused by billboard advertising as originally intended, recommended by city staff, and supported by a majority of Torontonians. Ten years from now, the real value of this movement may be the politicization and organization of a generation of artists and community activists.  This is a new cohort of engaged citizenry that understands how to communicate through social and mainstream media and is determined to have an impact at City Hall – not just for arts funding – but to contribute to a city that is understood as a community and is based on inclusive values.

October 22, 2010, by


by Michael Wheeler

Halfway through the final round of voting for The Canadian Blog Awards, I thought is would be a good idea to point out that there are a good many incredible Canadian blogs that are not involved in the competition. Perhaps they are unaware, don’t care, or both. People use the internet for all sorts of reasons and having a blog is not necessarily a popularity contest.

Have you voted for yet today?

You can vote once every 24hrs from now until Wednesday at noon.

Here’s just some of the great blogs just from Ontario, in the realm of culture and/or politics, that I read from time to time that I noticed weren’t in this year’s competition:

Unedit my heart: Leah Sandals is a Toronto-based art critic. Her blog allows her to amalgamate all her writings for various media in one place as well as have a forum to publish the other art-related things she is thinking about. The comments section often erupts in genuine dialogue about the role and nature of art. As a theatre guy I have found this portal an interesting introduction to the Toronto art scene.

Mez Dispenser: Dave Meslin is a musician who plays with the Hidden Cameras and frankly Toronto’s most prolific activist. Amongst other activities, he is credited with being involved in the creation of the Toronto Bike Union, City Idol, The Toronto Public Space Committee, and RaBit. The blog is not updated regularly, as “Mez” is often being more effective as an organizer on Facebook where he has 3,122 friends. Still, a good blog to keep bookmarked as it has all the highlights of whatever he is currently engineering.

The Arts Policy Diaries: Shannon Litzenberger is a dance artist, writer, director and as well as the first-ever Metcalf Arts Policy Fellow. This means Shannon is an established creator and performer who is spending a lot of time exploring the relationship between arts policy and practice at all levels of government. As part of this Fellowship she is blogging about the issues and concepts she encounters. If you consider yourself a Canadian arts policy nerd – make this your homepage for the next year. It will make you happy.

Inside Politics (author0b70f): Kady O’Malley is one of CBC’s Ottawa based political bloggers and rumored to be the fastest operator of a blackberry keyboard north of the 49th Parallel. I was reticent to include a blog by a journalist that is hosted by a corporation, but decided to for three reasons: 1) Praxis Theatre is a not-for-profit corporation, 2) Susan Delacourt’s blog, who is essentially Kady’s contemporary at The Toronto Star, is also nominated in the “Best Overall” category of the CBAs, 3) Anyone whose live blogging of parliamentary committees can consistently make me squirt coffee out my nose gets special consideration.

Struts and Frets: Kris Joseph is an Ottawa based blogger, bon vivant, and an actor who performs frequently at The National Arts Centre. I feel like this blog is the closest thing there is to in Ottawa. It’s mostly about theatre, but like myself,  it seems Kris can’t help discussing politics from time to time. Kris is also the Chair of CAEA’s Independent Theatre Review Committee, which I just wrote about recently. He is a busy guy.

Theatre Ontario: If we’re going to list great somewhat-theatre-related blogs in Ontario, then imagine how pissed Communications Coordinator Brandon Moore would be if I skipped the Theatre Ontario Blog! This is where you can catch all the openings in the province each week, as well as news about who has won this award, and who got that residency, and all the other ephemera you’re probably silently keeping tabs on if you make theatre in Ontario.

The Old Soul: Amy Pagnotta is a musician, television producer, and actor who recently appeared in the hit indie film No Heart Feelings. I’ve been friends with Amy since 1999 when she was an assistant stage manager of McGill University’s undergraduate original adaptation of Gogol’s The Nose directed by Alexander Marine (which I still consider one of the top three shows I’ve ever acted in). This is a very cool blog that unlike the rest listed here, seems to have no particular agenda – other than providing Amy with a venue to express whatever is going on with her through words, image, sound and video.

January 4, 2010, by