The delightful audience at our BroadFish presentation!
by Melissa D’Agostino
Hello lovely folks!
Last Saturday we presented our work-in-progress, BroadFish, to a wonderfully warm house at the Studio Theatre at Harbourfront Centre as part of #HatchTO. It was a wonderful evening of performing this theatrical piece in its current incarnation, and receiving some insightful and interesting feedback from the audience. I couldn’t be more pleased with how it all went down!
Making theatre is a fascinating process. When my team and I went into the theatre Monday morning, we had very little in the way of a clear script, or a solid idea of what BroadFish is or isn’t. We asked a lot of questions. We answered some, and left others for another time, the next phase of development.
I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to work with Hatch on this project. For the first few days of the week, I was in my usual headspace: we have to make a show. We have to have answers to all of our questions. We have to be perfect.
The set coming together. The light sabre photo did not make it into our final presentation, sadly. 🙂
This attitude, of course, did not serve the true exploration of the piece. And so, luckily, through the encouragement and pragmatism of my wonderful creative team, and everyone at Harbourfront Centre, I was able to let go of that by Wednesday, and just dive into the unknown. Let things be imperfect. And let beautiful gifts emerge from the ‘not knowing’.
Over the past few days I’ve realized what a metaphor this is for life, and more specifically, for weddings.
A lot of pressure gets put on that one day. The big day. The Wedding Day. This makes sense, since a wedding can often involve large groups of people, big sums of money, and huge emotions. A lot seems to be at stake.
All that said, the times that my fiancé and I, or my family and I have been able to just let go of our expectations and give ourselves permission to not know and not be perfect have been some of the most satisfying moments in this process.
Fabulous choreography, Monica Dottor, teaching me the tango that opened the show.
As it turns out, what happened between my Dad and I after that post became the closing monologue and an integral part of our presentation of BroadFish. And my Father was in the audience on Saturday, April 19th, and so, got to hear me talk about it. Which meant the world to me.
To close this chapter of #HatchTO, and as we move forward into the next stages of #BroadFish, I include the final part of that speech here for you. Thank-you for following our journey. Your comments, likes, retweets, insights and perspectives helped the piece so much. And I am bolstered and inspired by your courage, honesty and humour.
My Dad, my big Sister and wee me on Christmas Morning circa 1982.
Here’s what happened between me and my Father:
“I went to my parents’ house a few weeks ago to choose a song with him, and practice dancing. I was really nervous about it. I always feel very protective of my Dad and his sensitivity. I want him to know it’s okay to feel so much around me. Because I’m feeling so much too.
We listened to some songs, and settled on this Johnny Cash cover of In My Life by the Beatles (that song plays). We danced a bit in the kitchen, and it seemed to all go okay. But, if I’m being honest, he didn’t seem thrilled.
I debated whether or not to mention it. I’m always worried about making other people happy. An eternal pleaser. Was this a time to push?
I decided yes, I should make sure this is right for him. I asked him if he really liked this song? Is he happy with this for our moment?
He said yes. But I knew he wasn’t.
So we just sat there for about a minute. In silence. Together. We just let our desires float up to the surface and hover.
And then he, very quietly, said: “I guess we can’t do a tango, eh?”
And every fear bubbled up inside of me. What if we try this and he can’t? How much will that hurt and disappoint him? How much will that hurt and disappoint me? Can we actually face this situation with open hearts and take the risk that this might not work? And risk the pain that comes with that?
I decided, if he was brave enough to suggest it, I was brave enough to endure any pain that came from a discovery that we could not tango.
So we chose a song, and we got up and we started dancing.
And by the universe and everything within it, my sweet Dad who walks with a cane, and has trouble moving his left leg started to lead me in a beautiful tango. And his face – his face lit up like I haven’t seen it light up in so long. It was surprising and joyous and full of love.
And we danced. And our hearts soared.
And even if by the time the wedding gets here, something changes in his body, and we can never dance like that again: we will always have that cloudy Thursday afternoon in my parents’ kitchen when our hearts soared and our feet moved, and the only thing that mattered was that moment.”
#legacy opened and closed on April 12th. To say that it was a moving experience would be the understatement of the year. The opportunity to work with these incredibly brave and talented women in such a supportive atmosphere is a process that I will cherish for a long time. If you want to see more about how the week-long residency looked, check out my Storify post. As a follow-up post, I’ve decided to share the three letters that closed the piece–one from each of the women. They are powerful, poignant, and reflective of a legacy that transcends Twitter. This week, I’m sharing Judith’s.
Do you remember the story I told you about my childhood teddy bear, John? I took him everywhere with me.
It was war time when I was born and my father, who was in the RAF, was away from home. He was given special leave to come home for a few days with the family. He brought John with him. John was my first gift. I loved my bear and nothing in the world would have made me part with him at any age. He helped me with my homework, came on family picnics, went to bed with me and even helped me through my nursing training.
During our removal to Canada, he was packed in one of our big shipping crates. Alas it was John’s crate that went missing during the long Atlantic sea crossing. I had to fashion my life as an immigrant in a strange country without him.
When I told you the story of John, my old teddy bear, I never dreamed you would be paying so much attention to it, because you were only five years old. You asked me to draw a coloured picture of John so that you could find me a new bear that looked like him. I was then presented with John II. Now ten years later, I am involved in a project that has made me remember all of this.
For me, John ll is as good, or better, than John l, because it was given as a legacy of love.
Tommy and I (left) on our way to Parliament to check out Question Period on Monday Nov 18. Photo Aislinn Rose
by Michael Wheeler
At every stop along the #G20Romp tour we have provided the same context to our participant detainees – the almost 300 Canadians from across the country who have participated in telling the story of what happened to people at G2o Toronto in 2010. We said, “Hopefully, if enough people do it and we gain enough momentum, when we conclude the tour in Ottawa Members of Parliament will also do what you are doing, and stand up for civil rights by playing detainees in the detention centre.”
Meanwhile, everyone we were talking to in Ottawa was telling us the same thing: This is possible, but there’s no way to know until the day of the performance. MPs have crazy, ever-changing schedules, and when Parliament is in session there’s no way to know when there will be a snap vote or debate to attend.
So there had been a big red circle around Wednesday November 20th in our calendar for a long time: the day we would find out whether or not we were nuts, lucky, or both.
The day went down like this:
Tommy Taylor goes on CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning. Makes a pitch for MPs to join us onstage. Listen to his interview here.
News breaks that the RCMP believe Prime Minister Harper’s Chief of Staff Nigel wright committed bribery and fraud in connection with the ongoing Senate Scandal. Total radio silence from #cdnpoli journalists we had been connecting with as the biggest Parliamentary story of the year is breaking. Uh oh.
The whole #G20Romp team meets up at a coffee shop before heading off to a reception for the production on Parliament Hill organized by The Honourable Andrew Cash, Member of Parliament for Davenport.
Every MP, from every party, received 2 email invitations and 1 colour paper invitation to the reception. Still not clear if anyone will attend.
The reception for You Should Have Stayed Home takes place on Parliament Hill in Room 601, Centre Block. A number of Members of Parliament, media and Parliamentary staffers attend:
MP Niki Ashton and Praxis Artistic Producer Aislinn Rose
House Leader of The Official Opposition MP Nathan Cullen, Playwright/Performer Tommy Taylor and MP Andrew Cash
(l-r) Parliamentary Assistant & Playwright Darrah Teitel, MP Andrew Cash, Tommy Taylor, Michael Wheeler, Aislinn Rose, Rebecca Vandevelde, Scott Dermody, Parliamentary Assistant Jason Keays, MP Niki Ashton, MP Mike Sullivan
(l-r) MP Peggy Nash, Tommy Taylor, MP Libby Davies, Michael Wheeler, Aislinn Rose
The reception goes great. Many MPs tell us they wish they could join us in the cage, but have prior commitments, not the least of which is a debate occurring at 9:30pm that night on sending aid to The Philippines. D’oh, that’s about the same time You Should Have Stayed Home will be ending onstage…. Nobody panics, Peggy Nash and Andrew Cash tell us they’ll see us at the theatre tonight. We say great and ask no questions about how that will work with their Parliamentary schedules.
On our way out, the whole #G20Romp team meets MP Pat Martin. I deeply regret not telling him that he is missed on Twitter.
The team regroups for some sub-par french fries at a sub-standard pub. We discuss the surreal quality of the day so far, and review options that will allow MPs to be in the show and make it back to Parliament for 9:30pm.
Rehearsal. 17 detainees arrive to learn the scene, including our 2 MPs. Andrew Cash live-tweets some of the rehearsal:
At this point, the issue of timing and schedules needs to be addressed. We devise a plan where after the scene is performed, MPs will exit the stage to the dressing rooms where they will have preset their belongings. This will allow them to see most of the show, perform in it, and still make it out of the theatre in time to return to Parliament for the debate.
An amazing performance by Tommy Taylor to a packed Arts Court theatre on opening night. Here’s what the thing we always wanted to do looks like from the booth. MPs on stage in the cage:
I once titled this photo, “This is what democracy looks like”. I wasn’t wrong, but this is what it looks like too.
Several people have already asked me, “So was this just an NDP thing or what?” No. Not strictly speaking, although certainly the party most associated with social justice was the one that hosted us on the hill and performed in the show, and they deserve mad props for that.
A quantitative analysis of MP tweets and RTs to the #G20Romp hashtag would also reveal Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett as another huge supporter of our endeavours. Unfortunately, she let us know she was on a flight the night of our show. We also heard back from Green Party MP Elizabeth May, who sent her regrets from a climate change conference in Warsaw. So definitely the NDP came through for Praxis big-time – but on another day, in different circumstances, a multi-partisan cage might have been possible. We did not receive any expressions of interest from any of the Conservative MPs, all of whom were invited.
The entire #G20Romp team is pretty inspired by the participation of the Honourable Members of Parliament and we all went to bed very late, not really believing we actually pulled it off.
A sincere congratulations goes out to playwright Nicolas Billon, who has just been announced as the winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. Billon’s collection of plays FAULT LINES was published by Coach House Books earlier this year, and includes the award-winning plays Greenland and Iceland.
Rifles will premier in January, 2014 at the Next Stage Theatre Festival
This announcement comes at a particularly exciting time for Praxis Theatre. We have recently begun a collaboration with Billon on a new work called Rifles. The play will be an original adaptation of Brecht’s Spanish Civil War ‘Call to Arms’ Senora Carrar’s Rifles, which Michael directed as a Shaw Festival Director’s Project last year.
We’re happy to be premiering this piece as part of Toronto Fringe’s Next Stage Theatre Festival this coming January. Having produced 6 Fringe shows over the last 10 years, we’re pleased to continue our association with such an important part of the Toronto theatre ecology.
Rifles will be presented as part of Next Stage on the Factory Theatre Mainstage from January 8th to 19th. Tickets go on sale soon.
Well, hello, Toronto Theatre Community! It’s Pip again, sending you another dispatch from the booth of the Tarragon Mainspace. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve missed y’all.
Once again, the most wonderful time of the year is upon us. I am not speaking, as Andy Williams was, of Christmas, nor of the start of the school year, as the Staples commercials would have us believe. No, friends, the Dora Mavor Moore Awards are upon us, and it’s time once again for us to gather as a community, celebrate the best work of the season, mutter about who was robbed, and get shit-faced drunk with all of our friends and colleagues.
But looking at all the nominations that have been posted, can we not all agree that among the many worthy commendations, there were a few categories missing? That there is some work missing from the roll call of excellence this season? That perhaps 50 awards are just, at the end of the day, not enough? Allow me to stand before you and say that I believe they are not.
These, in my humble opinion, are some of the awards I would like to see added to the Doras next season.
Outstanding Vanity Project Disguised As Art
I think it’s time we recognized all those people who put so much time and effort into building shows that have very little to recommend them except the opportunity for said artists to put on a show. I think we can all agree that the most difficult part of this project would be deciding the criteria by which it will be judged. What ratio of art to vanity makes for a truly great vanity project?
Outstandingly Irritating Warm-Up By An Actor Or Actress
Stage managers, technicians, and front of house staff are invited to submit videos to the jurors for their consideration.
Patron’s Gold Star Award
Don’t you think it’s time that we recognized the most important people in the arts – the patrons who consume it? The best part is that this award may be given with full irony, so it could go to either the person who was actually a doctor in the house, or the woman who called your front of house manager an anti-Semite because he wouldn’t let her bring a cookie into the theatre. Imagine the suspense!
The Milford Award for Best Technician
Because the best technician, like a Milford Man, is neither seen nor heard, actually showing up to accept this award is considered grounds to revoke it. (BONUS: One fewer acceptance speech to sit through!)
Outstanding Achievement In Social Media Promotion
I mostly just hope that by making this an awardable category, my Facebook feed will become more interesting and less full of uninspired pleading.
Outstanding Efforts Made In Drunkeness At The Postshow Party
Last man standing at the postshow party receives a bucket with a clown on it, and an extra-large poutine.
Oustanding Video Design
Oh, let’s face it: it’ll be 2054 and all actors will be holograms performing on a VR stage before there’s a video award at the Doras.
I’ll see you all on Monday evening, gentle readers. Happy Dora Awards, and may the odds be ever in your favour!
Sarah ‘Pip’ Bradford is the Mainspace Technician of Tarragon Theatre and a lemur enthusiast. She blogs here (tips from pip) and here (The Christopher Pike Project), and also live tweets really bad books @pipbradford #pipreads. She may make fun, but she unabashedly loves the Doras, and she can’t wait to see them again.
Hospitality 3: Individualism Was A Mistake by PME-ART, Photo by David Jacques
by Jacob Wren
Authenticity is a feeling. There is no such thing as ‘real’ authenticity. Something is authentic when we feel it to be so.
I have been making performances for almost twenty-five years. If I think back to the beginning, I recall I started because I was searching for an experience that was considerably less mediated, less passive, less alienating than watching television, movies or listening to the radio. (Experiences that, for the most part, made me feel I was living in a world I could barely relate to.) At the time I believed, or at least hoped, that performances might be an art form that provided a more immediate experience; more live, more communal, less distancing. All of these youthful desires were also tangled up with questions of authenticity.
Twenty-five years is a long time to struggle with a single question, and my feelings about performance today are considerably more complex – a complexity that, at times, verges on bitterness. My work took place in a culture that clearly preferred the experience of watching movies to that of watching performance. This may simply be because movies have considerably more resources at their disposal, the stakes are higher, and these (plus other) factors attract a more skilled/brilliant set of artists. It might also be that the most recent art form wins. Or that movies are better. (Cinema is like a dream, and in a dream nothing can hurt you.)
However, I have also come to believe that the inherent fragility, the awkwardness, the vulnerability of a live performance is an uncomfortable space in a world filled with images. In most performances I see, the artists do everything possible to armor themselves, to protect themselves from the discomfort and judgment of the audience. This is more than understandable, and is often referred to as quality or professionalism. Nonetheless, for me, trying to make a performance perfect only makes matters worse.
In my work I have instead tried to engage with performance’s inherent weakness, to embrace the always-present fragility of doing something in front of other people who are watching you, the very quality that is, in fact, what makes something ‘live’ most different from the mediated world that surrounds us.
In his book Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture, Philip Auslander historically demonstrates that the term ‘live’ was never used, in the sense we understand it today, before the invention of cinema. A performance is only ‘live’ in relation to a movie. In the theatre, rehearsal is simply an earlier form of reproduction. Making a performance exactly the same every time is a trick the movies can do so much better.
Where are the artists, working on stage and off, who are willing to take the risk of leaving things open, of allowing the performance to be as different as possible each and every time we come to it anew? Of allowing themselves to be vulnerable in the face of an experience they have no absolute way of knowing will work out for the best? (These questions are directed primarily at contemporary theatre, but it also seems to me that, more and more, performance art needs to engage in a similar struggle.)
Photo by David Jacques
Of course, like everyone, I often prefer to watch something that ‘works’, whatever that might mean to you at different points of your life and artistic understanding. However, for me, a performance can only work if there is also some possibility that it might (at least partially) fail, if it is open to this possibility, if this is one of the ontological reasons that interests it in being a performance in the first place.
I now suspect the intimacy I was originally searching for in watching and making performances is the very intimacy I had already found in reading literature. (These days, I am also very much addicted to the internet.) Yet reading was my way of avoiding people, performance a way of bringing myself closer to others.
A performance is live when it feels live. For me, this feeling has something to do with taking an artistic risk, with avoiding the safety of over-rehearsal, avoiding a safety that often expresses itself as a desire for perfection, of asking oneself what is possible in a live-space that is simply impossible in a movie theatre (or on the internet, etc.), of not being too afraid when things go wrong, of seeing that when things go wrong it is actually only the beginning.
Photo of Jacob by Brancolina
Jacob Wren is a writer and maker of eccentric performances. His books include: Unrehearsed Beauty, Families Are Formed Through Copulation and Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed. As co-artistic director of Montreal-based interdisciplinary group PME-ART he has co-created the performances: En français comme en anglais, it’s easy to criticize (1998), the HOSPITALITÉ / HOSPITALITY series including Individualism Was A Mistake (2008) and The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information (2011) and Every Song I’ve Ever Written (2012). He blogs here.
He will be participating as a Team Leader in Volcano Theatre’s inFORMING CONTENT, a three-day creation lab combining an exploration of experimental approaches to theatre-making. With inspiration provided by a group of scholars giving short presentations from their various expert viewpoints, inFORMING CONTENT aims to expose young theatre-makers to forms of creation that are outside the scope of most traditional training in Canada. Click here for more information. May 3-5, 2013.
It’s Sunday afternoon, March 24th, and I’m sitting in the lounge at Billy Bishop Airport about to catch a flight to Montreal on Porter. I’m going to direct something in the city and I’m happy to have the chance to get away. The airport is always less crowded and chaotic than Pearson and Porter is so convenient it’s crazy! Everyone is dressing in his or her Porter best, the cappuccino is free and the lounge is comfortable.
I read a sign as I walked through: The Toronto Island Airport was the largest airport in Canada in the 1920s.
Just earlier as I had approached Porter pulling my two suitcases behind me, I noticed ahead of me a number of police officers in their day glow cop coats and a group of people gathered at the entrance where the cars and the taxis park. Then I saw they were holding pickets. It was a picket line.
Local 343 at Porter is on strike.
Now I have never crossed a picket line in my life (as far as I know). I remember at SFU when CUPE was on strike my best friend and I worried we would miss final exams if the strike continued. It didn’t. I have joined strikes before. I have supported many causes intent on protecting workers rights. I fully understand that labour is under attack in this present climate and that the rights and benefits workers have fought for years to gain are in jeopardy. And like I said I’ve never crossed a picket line. That was just the way it was when I was growing up. That was the golden rule.
Sunday I crossed a picket line.
Why? There are so many excuses. Does it matter?
I crossed a picket line.
I wasn’t brave about it. I snuck through the schoolyard so I wouldn’t be seen. I kept my head down. My suitcases dragged in the mud. On approaching the terminal I noticed the Porter bus from Union Station was parked just on the edge of the field with passengers getting on and off far away from the crowd of workers and their placards. People adapted easily and went about their business. The police smiled politely as if to let us know we were safe and not to be afraid of the striking workers.
As I scooted by two young men were handing out pamphlets. They were Porter workers. I took the pamphlet and said ‘Good luck you guys’. They smiled brightly ‘Thanks!’ I wanted to say ‘I’m so sorry I’m crossing the line here, really I am’. But I just put my head down and kept going.
Porter has hired replacement workers to do the work of those who are on strike. As I made my way though the terminal I kept wondering ‘Are you replacing someone? Are you?’ As I made my way through the terminal hundreds of other passengers made their way to flights or returned home. People helped themselves to the complimentary snacks. And I wondered ‘Did anyone else cross a picket line for the first time today?’
ACTRA has asked its members to support the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 343 by boycotting Porter. I haven’t seen anything from CAEA. I’m not on Facebook, don’t really follow twitter and there is very little about this strike in the media. So who knows about it? And how do we get the information out there?
This little dude thinks Porter workers deserve a living wage and safe working conditions.
Those of us in the theatre love Porter. It’s so convenient. We fly to Montreal and Ottawa and New York. Will this strike change that? Will we as a community boycott Porter? I plan to look into a train ticket for my trip home (a VIA Rail ticket can be as low as $39 one way if you book in advance and online).
I just wish I hadn’t crossed that picket line.
Fuellers at Porter have been on strike since January 10th. These workers get paid on average $13.00 an hour. Workers at Pearson doing the same job get $17.00 an hour. Numerous health and safety violations and poverty wages have forced the workers to walk off the job. In a letter to Porter President Robert J. Deluce, Sid Ryan president of the Ontario Federation of Labour states:
“A living wage that enables a household with two working parents and two children to live adequately in Toronto was estimated to be $16.60 in 2008. Workers at Porter, along with all working people in Ontario, deserve a living wage.”
If you want to support these workers you can call Porter at 1-888-619-8622 and ask them to return to the bargaining table or visit www.dontflyporter.com. And if you want some travel options check out Via Rail or Air Canada .
In 2007, the Indie Caucus was announced by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts as a forum for companies to work together through the many challenges that face indie theatre in Toronto. However, for the last few years, the Caucus has been focused primarily on tackling the major issues we face together in relation to Canadian Actors’ Equity Association.
You can click here to read the plethora of Indie Caucus-related posts we have written over the last few years. These posts include our campaign to get an indie-focused slate of candidates elected to CAEA Council in Ontario – along with our 5 successful new Ontario reps.
Last year I took on the role of Co-Chair of the Caucus, taking over the reins from everybody’s favourite guy, Richard Lee, and I was later elected to the TAPA Board of Directors where I’m a representative for indie theatre, amongst an awesome group of people advocating for Theatre, Dance and Opera in the city.
On Wednesday March 6th, I’ll be co-Chairing our next Indie Caucus meeting, but this one is going to be a little different.
On March 6th, our meeting will be held at Suburban Beast’s new interdisciplinary performance space, Videofag. We’ll be meeting with our regulars for a quick update at 6pm (where we’ll probably talk about Equity’s new “small-scale” theatre policies), and then opening the doors at 7pm to anyone who’d like to know more about the Indie Caucus, and any companies or individuals interested in joining.
I look forward to talking about joint marketing initiatives, an indie mentoring program, and other issues you might bring to the table – and probably a recap about Equity’s new small-scale theatre policies.
TAPA has created a non-facebook event here, where you can RSVP to let us know you’re coming. If you can’t attend despite your interest in the Caucus, feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add you to the list for future meetings and event invitations.
Abdelfattah Abusrour, Amer Khalil and Kamel Elbasha in Facts
Dan Daley sends Praxis a letter from Palestine where he was touring with Arthur Milner’s Facts:
Palestine: how much do you know about it? In the little town of Bethlehem on the closing night of the month-long Arabic language tour of Arthur Milner’s Facts, I feel that I know even less about Palestine. What I do know is that I met numerous Palestinians with big hearts and a great passion for the arts. Yet still I come away from it unsure of what to do – to forget or to take action?
Kamel Elbasha & Abdelfattah Abusrour
Our Canadian team included myself, Arthur, Samer Al-Saber (director) Martin Conboy (set & lighting designer) and a brief visit from Jennifer Brewin (artistic director of Theatre Columbus). We were given an entire apartment to live in at the home of Dr. Abdelfattah (co-producer and actor) and his wife Naheel Abusrour along with their five children. We could even get a lift from the Doctor’s employee, Salim, whenever we needed to go somewhere.
Dr. Abdelfattah or “Abed” as most call him, runs a cultural centre in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem (a small village of homes that stand butted up against the separation wall) This camp has existed since the Israeli instated partition of 1948. If you’re not aware, this was one of the first extensive occupations that led to thousands of Palestinians refugees in the region. Abed was born in Aida camp during the 1960s. He is the only one in his family of seven children to study abroad and achieve a doctorate (a PhD in biological engineering). One evening he said to me: “I quit my career because I saw that I could make a greater difference through art and theatre and now it has become my career”. So he formed the Alrowwad Cultural & Theatre Society with its own educational facility in the heart of the camp. I spent much of my time volunteering at the centre as we prepared for the tour. On a daily basis I saw numerous children from the camp receiving an education in music, dance, media arts and theatre.
Alrowwad became the co-producer of the tour with the New Theatre of Ottawa. It’s impossible to describe how the limited resources of Alrowwad continually contributed to the success of the production. Most of their equipment including video cameras, computers and stage gear is donated. Most of the young men and women who work there are donating their time. In my two months here I can say I have become very close with several of them and that’s just the kind of people they are.
Cast at the home of Kamel Elbasha
Kamel Elbasha, the translator of the play, is the single reason the show managed to find a co-producer that could commit to the time the project needed. He essentially championed the project from the beginning and even took on the role of the character Yossi.
The tour wasn’t all fun all the time. There were times that it seemed like no one could care about what we were doing. The team and me were always un-sure if anything was actually going to get done and if anyone was actually going to come and see the show. Given our Canadian sensitivities, we had to get used to their way of working and sure enough we were delightfully surprised by their ability to coordinate huge tasks at what seemed frighteningly last minute. Much gets lost in translation I think.
On tour we drove across much of the Palestinian territory and into Israel, back and forth across numerous military controlled checkpoints. One such checkpoint confiscated our rental car and put it through an inspection that involved pulling body parts off the frame. It was almost amusing watching a young Israeli soldier carry our spare tire out from the inspection garage to be x-rayed. The best was watching another soldier come across a stack of our tour postcards. She had a moment with it, of course noticing the Arabic text, showed it to her companion and moved on. This was possibly our worst encounter. In most cases, we would flash our Canadian passports and they would barely blink. However, if you got into a discussion with them, their party line was often: “What are you doing here?” Our reply: “Visiting Palestine!” Their reply: “Don’t you mean Israel?”…
At the performances we would usually have a “talk-back” session with our audiences in a mix of Arabic and English. Rarely did these discussions leave the realm of politeness, but on occasion some presented a critical reaction. One such audience member criticized Palestinians for maintaining a level of complacency that is undermining their freedom. Another attributed this complacency to the extensive amount of foreign aid in the region, which has improved the lives of many, but like a bad drug, it only numbs the pain while Palestinians continue to bleed more land to Settlers – that’s my own paraphrase, but I think it’s a good summary of what she said.
Arthur with audience post show in Ramallah
I appreciated one young woman in the crowd who exclaimed that she wanted more from our play, that it could go further, but she couldn’t articulate what exactly “further” meant. Others felt it was a refreshing experience to see a play “which did not depict Palestinians in a depressing light”. Many were excited to have a pair of Israeli characters on stage. At Jenin’s Freedom Theatre, the excitement was palpable in a room full of young Palestinian men under the age of 21. I had been told that much of the arts are inundated with the same images emphasizing stereotypes and failing to recognize the good humour Palestinians have about their situation.
Many have asked Arthur why he wrote a play about Palestine and Israel, why he as a Canadian was even interested and how he came to tell this story. One very different question, which generated a strong discussion, came from a young girl who asked, “What did Canadians think of the play?” Before Arthur could answer, one audience member exclaimed, “must have been like preaching to the converted!” and Arthur replied, “No, it was like preaching to the ignorant”.
The production under the direction of Samer (a Palestinian-Canadian) has taken on a greater sense of humour than I think Arthur or I expected. The depiction of the Settler appeared sheepish and pathetic. He is much less threatening than our Settler was in the Canadian production. I guess there is a need to laugh at that which oppresses us. What better form of therapy? I only make note of this because our
Samer pre-show with audience in Jaffa
Canadian audiences, in a concerted effort to be considerate and compassionate about everything, took the performance somewhat more seriously. The text is full of jokes geared toward a western audience, which the Canadians responded to, but our Palestinian friends used physicality to generate the humour.
A man of great distinction in Bethlehem, a professor of biology who attended our opening night, proclaimed “I would pick the Settler over the Palestinian Cop any day!” His point being that you can trust the political leanings of a Settler, especially a fanatic settler since their intent is pretty clear. To the Professor and other audience members, a cop of the Palestinian Authority needed to be a bit of a low-life. It became clear that there is much distaste for the Palestinian Authority. Alternatively, our PA cop behaved like a role model, as the ideal version of a government representative they might want.
The talk-backs, personal discussions and encounters I had here led me to think a lot about fanaticism and the purpose it has in a place like this. Fanaticism gets attention. Many settlers are considered fanatics and they’re hated by both Palestinians and any left-leaning Israeli. There are Palestinian fanatics too, but sadly I’ve heard them described as “oh yes the people living in Gaza right?” Or to take that stereotype further: “the terrorists right?”
Loading out from Bethlehem
I can only base my reactions upon what I saw here. I don’t know enough to fully understand the situation. There are divisions upon divisions within both nations. Some would say there are several nations, for example: separating orthodox Jews from secular Israelis. However many divisions, the dispute continues to subject Palestinians to a discriminatory occupation and Israelis to an instituted level of denial. No one is at ease.
Our tour of Facts was a success for the people involved. It has been invited back to perform for a complete run at several of the theatres we visited including a venue in Ramallah, Hebron and Jaffa. Our Palestinian co-producers plan to do just that and return to those venues in the new year, but this time it will be without the Canadians. Instead they want to come to us in Canada and if anyone knows a pool of money to help them come here, please be in touch.
If I cannot forget then I want to make sure others can witness.
Arabic Language Tour of Arthur Milner’s Facts
“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.”