Puppets are great, but not enough

We reached our target – thanks so much.


In talking about The Summer Spectacular - often I’m all “Big Puppets! Spectacular! Summer!”

Which is all true but not everything.

We’re making the mash-up of history, science, politics and fun that I like so much and want more of in our theatre (and our world.)

We’re going to create the show by touring the park and telling each other [1] a mix of stories:

  • The Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus forms the scaffolding of the narrative. Often told as a warning to not get too big for your britches – “Don’t fly too close to the sun!” – I wonder if maybe we should ask “Why were they imprisoned on an island that they needed to invent wax wings to fly away from?”
  • J. Robert Oppenheimer is an iconic figure – physicist, activist, leader of the Manhatten Project to develop the Atom Bomb and accused communist and security threat.
  • Aaron Swartz was an activist and much loved citizen of the internet and democratic reform. While being over prosecuted by the US government and MIT he took his own life at 26.
  • A new barely science fiction story set in 2018 about a Canadian scientist having some trouble with the government about what she wants to say.

Quotes

“Trying to poison your tutor is no small infraction. Then again, you might decide, as the dons at Cambridge clearly did, that what had happened called for a measure of leniency. They knew that the student had never done anything like this before, and that he wasn’t well.” – Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker

“Two years ago, he was indicted on multiple felony counts for downloading several million articles from the academic database jstor. It is not clear why he did this. He may have wanted to analyze the articles, or he may have intended to upload them onto the Web, so they could be accessed by anyone. It is clear that he did not anticipate the astonishing severity of the legal response.” – Larissa Macfarquhar in The New Yorker

“This story thus encourages others to consider the long-term consequences of their own inventions with great care, lest those inventions do more harm than good” – Somebody on Wikipedia

“I’m pleased to announce the Support Our Strengths Act – ensuring that our leaders in extraction science will be able fast track their work without interference from destructive fringe elements.” Prime Minister Vic Toews, 2018 press statement. Elected to Majority Government with the support 13% of eligible voters.[2]


Map

I made a map of some thinking around the ethics and reasons for telling stories about people who are real. I’m only one degree of separation from people who loved Aaron and so I felt it was important to think through and articulate. Click to see the whole thing.

Ethics mindmap


  1. So that we can tell you
  2. This is fiction. I hope

Going Meta. Going forward.

I (like most of us) have no inside information on the reasons behind the cancellation of Helen Lawrence at the FTA beyond what is in the Globe article and the statements Arden Ryshpan and the Canadian Actors Equity Association (CAEA) have posted and comments on Facebook. But (like most of us) the headline alone was a trigger and I have some thoughts. Not so much about the case itself (because we don’t know anything), but about how it was handled and what the response tells us about the state of things.

Where I come from:

  1. Born, raised pro-Union radical left.
  2. The legacy organizations and metaphors - labour and producers etc… - in theatre and performance are not helping right now. Change is needed in how we organize and who gets to big salaries and Bay St. offices
  3. I want a 21st Century Labour Movement. We need it. The increased disparity between the rich and the rest is very bad news and only action in solidarity can change it.

So, in this case - in terms of public or community perception:

CAEA blew it because

  1. Near-total lack of faith in the CAEA in the indie community (members and non - the poorest of the field) or amongst people trying to figure out how to make and show theatre in the 21st Century. There is little belief that CAEA is protecting anyone other than themselves and their richest members (those working regularly in A house and above) or are in touch with the realities of making and showing work outside of the legacy PACT models. This lack of faith is based on decades of policy, behaviour and broken relationships.
  2. CAEA release citing timing of the request as cause for the concession. This reeks of the worst nightmare images that artist-producers have of dealing with the CAEA. It seems this is less the reason, but this initial release was perhaps the worst thing they could have said.
  3. People in community want these big co-production shows to work and know that there is such scarcity and rapidity of change that even the big A houses like Canadian Stage et al. need to find new and different ways and timings of getting things done.

Some good reasons that could have changed the story:

  1. A struggle against Precarity. That the CAEA is fighting the fight for artists not bearing the brunt of increased precarity in our economic system while executive, administrative, marketing and development staff have relative stability and high wages (cf #2.)
  2. Income disparity. That the CAEA is fighting for appropriate ratios of expenses between what artists receive and what executive, administrative, marketing and development staff receive (not to mention airline and logistic companies.) Negotiating for reasonable proximity in the ratio between the highest and lowest paid at the producer and presenters organization and where the performers fit in that is something I think people think CAEA could do.
  3. Unacceptable conditions That the CAEA was protecting members from a room, process, work or tour that had - for whatever reasons - gone deeply south and no longer constituted “safe working conditions.” It happens. It’s shitty when it does but it’s what solidarity is there to help with. Articulating this should include the continued anonymity of details and people involved, but is very different from saying “they didn’t file paperwork on time.”

Some big picture values that might help going forward

  1. Trust
    1. CAEA acting and altering policy in ways to build trust in membership and sector (especially younger and indie) that they are acting in good faith with a dynamic and up-to-date understanding the world. This will take a while and a lot of work.
    2. Transparent wages in the arts and adoption of Wagemark for all non-profit arts organization.
    3. Transparent relationships between all involved. See the Brooklyn Commune for some ideas. (but in basketball - down with Brooklyn, up with the North.)
  2. Responsive
    1. There is a need to shift to scale and types of work and have all parties able to do that. The world is always changing and we have to get with that.
    2. Different from compliant or complicit. Responsive doesn’t mean giving in to everything, but it does mean being able to change and contain difference.
  3. Justice
    1. Recognition that cultural workers are vasty underpaid relatively to the wealth of our country and that the long term goal is the raising of quality of life for the most people possible.
    2. Recognition that cultural workers have privilege and power that can be used to raise the quality of life for the most people possible or to participate in continued systemic failures.
    3. For all these solutions CAEA and producers would have to be an equal participants - i.e. sharing data on expenses and income disparity between executive staff and lowest paid member.
    4. Transparency is an often used weapon of the witch hunt, the bully and the oppressor - this is not my goal.

My regrets that this particular case didn't go down in a way we all would like and that people lost the chance to see the show and the work that was possible. Let's make it better going forward.

Public Funding - Mixing stability and agility

A little twitter back and forth with Praxis folk plus a desire to respond to Shannon Litzenberger’s Metcalf report, Choreographing Our Future: Strategies for Supporting Next Generation Arts Practice has inspired me to post some thoughts on public funding models. I’ve been thinking lots about this and below is an edited version of some writing about this for a funding body earlier this year. I’ll start with operating. In tracking the discussion of the future of operating funds it's clear a mix of stability and agility must be found. “Operating funding forever” is no longer tenable and maybe, in retrospect, not a good idea. I don’t want to see anyone loose their jobs or to increase the precarious nature of contemporary life[1], but a proper mix must be found to allow for renewal and change. Entitlement and expectation of complete funding is not realistic.

Yet Project, even multi-year project, funding is unstable and makes it impossible to plan and difficult to take risks. It also encourages a “giant project” model that will not suit all makers - especially those in marginal practices and companies working with small ongoing or repeating projects.

I have been imagining a 5-year operating grant renewed at the end year 3. This would mean that companies would have 2 years in which they knew the results and were able to plan ahead if the funding was renewed, and to seek other funding or wind down operations if it were not. It also meant the competition for funds would be more open to new or emergent companies and practices.

In the current economic structures and limited funds to art councils, however, it cannot be the Councils job to provide this for artists regardless of effectiveness and connection with (self-defined) community and society.

The issues of infrastructure and shared equipment are important and not entirely addressed by the above proposal. How are the very real needs of space, equipment and skills supported and continued? Again, a mix of stability and dynamism is required and artists need to be involved in creating the structures they need to work.

This is something that has urgency, but also requires fair warning.

There will be heavy lobbying from current operating companies and this must be viewed with an understanding that artists and organizations without operating funding usually do not have the resources or access to lobby in the same way. This imbalance is part of the larger dynamic that keeps the status quo firmly entrenched and brutal ceiling on emerging companies that don’t just want to do the same as the historic mainstream.


  1. It’s a tricky subject since I believe, politically and economically, in a minimum income for all Canadians. ↩

Letter: We need transparency in the Department of Canadian Heritage

[see also Policy, Politics and Rhubarb] from: Jacob Zimmer <jacob@smallwoodenshoe.org> to: andrew.cash@parl.gc.ca cc: shelly@shellyglover.ca, shelly.glover@parl.gc.ca, stephane.dion@parl.gc.ca, Brendan Healy <brendan@buddiesinbadtimes.com> date: Fri, Nov 29, 2013 at 2:39 PM subject: We need transparency in the Department of Canadian Heritage

Mr Cash, (cc: Ms. Shelly Glover, Mr. Stephane Dion)

I suspect I am preaching to choir, but none the less, I understand the number of communications matter and specificity from citizens in the riding can't hurt.

I am writing to ask for you to support a call for greater transparency and clarity from the Department of Canadian Heritage, specifically in their program: "Building Communities through Arts and Heritage."

This is specifically regarding the recent rejection of an application for Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and The Rhubarb Festival. More information is here: http://buddiesinbadtimes.com/canadian-heritage/

The program priorities appear to be in flux with organizations getting no clear response from officers about the criteria of assessment.

I have my own theories that I wrote about here: http://minorexpletives.ca/a/policy-politics-rhubarb/

At the least, organizations need to be given clear and actionable feedback for future applications.

Below is a personal account of the impact the festival has had on my life in Toronto and my connections to communities that make the city a livable place.

Thank you for your time Jacob Zimmer

Founding Artistic Director Small Wooden Shoe

Home postal code: M6N 3J5

-- In 2000, when I first moved to Toronto from Vancouver right out of university, a faculty member advised me to apply to Rhubarb. I did, and green as I was, was accepted. That acceptance meant much more than my first show in Toronto. I was able to sit in on the Buddies general auditions and connect with a huge number of artists. I met and worked with Jennifer Tarver (Necessary Angel, Stratford Festival) and Rebecca Brown and their community building *Director's Gym*. I met Franco Boni, the director of the Festival, who has continued to be a supporter and source of inspiration in his work at the Theatre Centre. I worked with a cast I could not have met any other way, and I still work with some of those people today. The show I did was a bit too serious for it's own good but I learned so much in putting up at the festival. It is easy to pay lip service to need for innovators to fail and try again. Rhubarb, at its best, creates the safe space for that process.

When I moved back to Toronto after four years in Halifax, Rhubarb again was a place to connect to the community of artists, and this time, audience. Feeling like I was disconnected from the community and my work, I gathered the people I knew and made a show about the Industrial Revolution. It went over very well. Over three years Small Wooden Shoe developed *Dedicated to the Revolutions* in an ongoing relationship with the festival. At Rhubarb we also developed the national community for the work, making connections and eventually touring to Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax and Kitchener-Waterloo for the Magnetic North Festival. When we premiered the full work, we did it at Buddies in Bad Times. It was at Rhubarb that I discovered my community of colleagues, and more importantly, friends.

Rhubarb is a community of support and connection that is badly needed. It is a space for people who are excluded from the mainstreams of culture to come together and find solidarity.

Projects like Rhubarb - as specific and local as they may be - matter outside the careers or relationship of the artists involved.

They build vital, meaningful and deep connections that buffer isolation and depression. They produce engagement and ripples that are difficult to quantify but hold our societies together.

Serving historically marginal people in a non-commercial model means that these events require and deserve government support. Their value may be immeasurable, but it is not in the form of immediate renumeration. We, as a country, must stand behind this value. It is our connection to each other and the support that makes greatness possible.

Thank you, Jacob Zimmer

Founding Artistic Director Small Wooden Shoe

Policy, politics, Rhubarb

The Rhubarb Festival did not receive Department of Canadian Heritage (DCH) funding. Read the letter and response here.

Nothing New

The DCH is an arm of the government in power. That was true under the Liberals and PC’s when it was used to promote “Canadian” culture abroad and in Quebec. (oh for the ¿golden age? of Separatism and Cold War.) This direct relationship is why the move to arms-length funding is historically so important. For all the work to be done on public funding systems, the arms-length nature is integral to having an arts culture that can be outside the direct influence of government ministers.1 The idea that the arts might have a role to play in democracy other than cheerleading or distraction is contained in this idea.

I disagree vehemently about the governments policy and ideology (see below) but I can’t feign surprise at DCH not supporting Rhubarb.

Policy beats politics

Rhubarb didn’t have their funding cut (a thing we can protest) – they applied, unsuccessfully, for a project grant (a thing that artists do all the time.)

A shift in policy to support “community” is hard to argue against. All across the arts we’re seeing moves for “engagement” and a focus on participation and an articulated relationship with “community.”2 It is difficult and unpopular to argue publicly for the need for governments to fund things that only benefit a relatively small group of people. That’s what back room lobbyists are for.

Quiet policy change is Harper’s preferred method of politics, because it doesn’t look like politics until it’s too late.

In addition, for decades arts lobbyists have been been making the economic impact argument, claiming culture and heritage delivered “tangible and measurable results” for a broad civic good. Those of us dissenting from this argument, or even trying to complicate it, were being ideologues and/or paranoid about the political and economic consequences.3 We were asked to sit in the back and not rock the boat.

Again, this decision, and the rest I predict we’ll hear about, comes as no surprise.

The Rhubarb Festival does not fit into the Harper Conservative world view.

When Harper says “Canadians”, queer Toronto is not who he means. Queer Toronto isn’t a community worth supporting. We are not going to vote for him, and the world we want is (or should be) radically different from the one that Harper and Co. desire.

Any blow back will only help with his base who have been convinced by decades of divisive politics that we live in a cultural zero-sum game. The only culture political danger is in Quebec and so the administrative / policy nature of the changes provides cover and little to nothing will be said publicly.

In negotiation, we’re well advised to find mutual shared interest and work towards a solution that benefits all parties.

This is not a negotiation. It is a debate, where multiple sides are appealing to a “third” party (people who vote) to declare a winner. We can be sad about this state of our politics but we shouldn’t be naive about the strategies being used by the other side.

What is to be done?

Democratic reform: Canada needs a new way of electing politicians. Here are some resources. I’m not informed enough to know what is the best way, but we need to force the boys and the batshit old school back rooms of both the NDP and the Liberals to get over themselves and start caring more about the country than power.

Regime Change: While I’m grateful for those able to stomach lobbying Conservatives, I’m not one of them and I have no faith in shared values. While none of the federal parties make me excited these days, Harper needs to go.

How? The big question.

Of course, I don’t know – but the story needs to change. The conservative movement excels at defining the story, of creating the zero-sum scenario and manipulating it to their economic and political advantage.

Arts groups arguing for more arts funding fits perfectly into their story of privilege, waste and entitlement. Artists and art lovers arguing against community programs and changes to a problematic structure fit perfectly too.

I will write to my MP and have written a letter of support about the impact Rhubarb has had on my life (HUGE!) for Buddies – but I am doubtful about the effectiveness of these strategies. They fit into the expected narratively too cleanly to disrupt it.

This post is long enough - proposals can go in the comments and I’d love to have this discussion and plan to write more on populism, art and how those things can become something worth standing behind.


  1. There is of course a slower creep of influence and priority, and this is potentially dangerous, but is a space we can be happy about the pace of change at arts councils.  ↩
  2. Community is a word that is almost meaningless now. Much of the time, I’m on the pro-community side of conversations. I’m still working on a populism I can stand behind. There has been a harmful separation between the “real world” and “artists” that has been created by a combination of factors including Reagan/Thatcher culture wars and artists moving to the academy and self-reference for stability and community. For me, this is a situation that needs changing and that change is complex and not the same for any two artists, arts organizations and “communities.”  ↩
  3. I’ve been a little obsessed with evaluation these days - about wanting to find a meaningful, helpful and rigorous way to do it. I think a lot of things we’re doing aren’t going very well and that we should have processes to review that and get better. Right now the main evaluation model in the arts is quantitative analysis of numbers of people and money transferring hands. This is not meaningful or helpful for most arts work – or social work for that matter. Something else is needed and we have to be involved in its creation or suffer under the needs of short sighted, idealogical politicians. ↩

Fun Palace Set List 11/4

The Fun Palace Radio Variety Show. Photo: Erin Brubacher

Song With Everyone The Scarlet Plague Chapter 1 with Fun Palace Players From the DADA Archive with Anand Rajaram Monday Night Football pt 1 with Jacob Zimmer and Chad Dembski Reading the Internet with the FPP A (mostly) Standard Song from Anand Excerpts from Provincial Governmentality with FPP An Intermission for refills and pinball Songs with Thom Gill The Scarlet Plague Chapter 2 with the FPP Monday Night Football pt 2 with Jacob and Chad Not At All Breaking News with Rob Baker and Alastair Forbes The Scavenger’s Daughter - Dispatches from the Front with the FPP Song from Aimee Dawn Robinson Long Distance Lip Syncing with Katie Ewald and Chad Dembski

Song With Everyone Reprise

The Fun Palace Radio Variety Show

Beta 0.02 – The Monday Night Football edition

at the Monarch Tavern 12 Clinton St

Hosted by Jacob Zimmer

With the Fun Palace Players: Hannah Cheesman, Wesley Colford, Nicola Correia-Damud, Brendan Gall, Susanna Fournier,

And Music Director: Scott Maynard

Recorded by: Christopher Willes

And Special Guests: Anand Rajaram, Thom Gill, Aimee Dawn Robinson, Rob Baker and Alastair Forbes, Katie Ewald and Chad Dembski.

Writing from Susanna Fournier, Brendan Gall, Tim Maly, Members of the Ontario Legislature and other figures in history.

The Fun Palace gates open tonight...

==========================Update - Next performance Monday November 4th at the Monarch. Set list to be announced soon. ==========================

Fun-Palace-Wide-600-400

Beta 0.01 - The Ame Henderson birthday edition

at the Monarch Tavern 12 Clinton St 8pm doors, 8:30 Show

$5

TONIGHTS LINE UP

Hosted by Jacob Zimmer

With the Fun Palace Players: Hannah Cheesman, Wesley Colford, Nicola Correia-Damud, Brendan Gall, Susanna Fournier, Scott Maynard, Christopher Willes.

And Special Guests: Anand Rajaram, Brian Cauley, Nicholas Hune-Brown & Lorna Wright, Rob Baker and Alastair Forbes, Katie Ewald and Chad Dembski

Writing from Susanna Fournier, Brendan Gall, Tim Maly, Members of the Ontario Legislature and other figures in history.

The Set List:

  • Song With Everyone
  • From the DADA Archive with Anand Rajaram
  • The Scarlet Plague Chapter 1 with FPP
  • Reading the Internet Part 1 with the FPP
  • Excerpts from the Provincial Governmentality with FPP
  • Not At All Breaking Sports with Brian Cauley
  • A (mostly) Standard Song from Anand
  • An Intermission for refills and pinball
  • A song from All Our Happy Days are Stupid with Nicholas Hune-Brown & Lorna Wright
  • The Scarlet Plague Chapter 2 with the FPP
  • Not At All Breaking News with Rob Baker and Alastair Forbes
  • The Scavenger’s Daughter - Excerpts from the Front with the FPP
  • Reading the Internet Part 2 with the FPP
  • Long Distance Lip Syncing with Katie Ewald and Chad Dembski

Hope to see you there.

2 things to help in the rough patch.

It's been a bit of a rough patch. Broke and getting more No than Yes. Or at least it feels that way.

Many things are exciting and feeding me. The struggle is to focus on that. So inspiration is very helpful.

1.

Listening to Nature Theatre of Oklahoma's podcast is always good for the confirmation that others are fighting the good fight - but the most recent one with  Oskar Eustis, director of The Public Theater, is especially good.

A bold and honest conversation that is a must listen for every creator and artistic director everywhere. Great aspirations about bringing fairness and integrety back to not-for-profit theatre (hint: artists get more of the money, the cost of admission has to fall to turn away from elitism) and the search for a populism we can stand behind.

LISTEN HERE. Or download from ITUNES

2.

The new episod of the MADE HERE series (a HERE project) is also helpful - just to hear others say it out loud. It's also another example of a theatre institution doing important work on the internet.

Intimating the Intimate

okokokA few Fridays ago, I went to Hub 14 to see Chad Dembski and Cathy Gordon’s Hammer OK/OK/OK. Both were vulnerable and generous, honest and raw. Both Chad and Cathy are great performers, artists who have a wealth of experience and skills at being vulnerable and generous, honest and raw. They have the internal dramaturgy to charm without changing who they are in front of us. They are able to be in the same room as their guests in a way that is impossible to teach except through repetition.

The Intimate, Research, Community and a Populism I can stand behind

And I was reminded of the beauty and importance of the intimate. I’ve been thinking about my practice in 4 categories: The Intimate, Research, Community and a Populism ICSB. The state of the world and of my life and work, means I’ve been talking and thinking a lot about the Populism end. The truth is that the Intimate may be my home base.

In a city inundated with showcase festivals full of works hoping to be something else, to be picked up by someone else, the show was an experience that was more meaningful to me than anything I’ve seen in the past year. I am unable to know what the show would be like to the curious stranger[1] – and I don’t care. If the show never goes further than the 2 nights at Hub 14 for the family and friends who gathered – it will be no less of a success.

There is nothing very alienating to what Chad and Cathy are doing but there’s some stories that are funnier/more meaningful if you know Cathy and Chad and if know who DNA Theatre is and you know the story of Chad’s show at Studio 303. All this is true and might reduce the impact on the stranger, but it increased the impact on me, the friend.

And I'm glad of that. An important reminder.


  1. The fictional character I think a lot about.  ↩

Otherwise it’s not a change.

I just returned from participating in a meeting convened by the Edmonton Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council that had fifty of us discussing the future of arts research, advocacy and topics spreading out from there. It's the beginning of a conversation. Here are the notes I spoke from.

Who has a relevant voice for the arts and why? (What’s next?)

There’s no one answer to these questions, of course. And I can only bring myself and my context in Toronto.

For me, The key is in the “relevant” –

since relevance might be a path way to power. When we talk of getting the “relevant people” on board, I imagine we’re often talking about people currently with power.

(Power to me, equals direct influence and decision making.)

In our times, power is largely driven by money and access… the bread and butter of North American lobbyist democracy.

Those aren’t the “relevant people” – at least not for the arts I want to make or to attend Not for the world I want.

The people relevant to me are my friends and family, our neighbors and their friends and families and the friends and families of friends and families and so on.

The people relevant to me are also people who don’t participate in the Formal arts, in political debates, in elections. People who feel alienated and disconnected from (formal) “Civil” society and don’t imagine the Arts (as we in this room talk about them) are for them (and largely, they’re not wrong.) And even if they wanted to participate in what we call the Arts – they can’t afford to. Also, they have their own forms of participation and aren’t missing us as much as we’re missing them.

# I suspect I’m here, along with others, to be the outsider, a good position for an artist and I thank the organizers for including that role - I’m glad it was considered.

Small Wooden Shoe is named for the tools French workers would use to jam the machinery when they went on strike. Their “sabot” – small wooden shoes – gave us the word “sabotage.” Like them, I often want to disrupt the machinery of everyday operations in hopes for justice.

2 Speaking for the arts to the people with power in these times – is not something I’m suited for.1

Parts of me - let’s say the community organizer part, gets the appeals for the “adjacent possible” and dealing with the governments that we have. I understand the pragmatic do-what-works. I get that the strategies used by our lobbyists aren’t for convincingme.

But I’m not suited for it because, as a person in this country and as a maker – I’m not ok with it. I’m too angry, too impatient. – not about the arts, but about what’s being done to this country to this planet and the people who live in it.

And because the culture of media-manipulation, money, and lobbying, has destroyed democracy in the US 2 and threatens to do the same in Canada. and I don’t think we can fight War for Peace.

I don’t know how to get out of the pragmatist bind in this, Which is maybe why I make theatre.

3 As an artist - I work with the values: Admit what’s going on. Try to help. Which doesn’t mean accepting, “Just how it is.” I try to see the world as it is and intervene to make it better. I try to create moments – in product, process and experience – of the “world that could be.”

I hope to counter the numbing alienation I feel in our times With delight, respect and connection. I use the world around me to do that – Its technologies and trends, The connections and zeitgeist I try to attend to.

I don’t think I’m so special, so I think other people feel this way too. The art that I hope to make, is work that speaks with3 the people most relevant, if not yet receptive,

The People who might come to the show. The people who have the power to change our government.

This is, of course, idealistic and knowingly naive - But the alternatives strike me as short sighted and cynical.

In order to make this naive utopian vision happen Lots has to change – and not individually or incrementally.

The way art is funded and supported, the way it’s presented, the cost of it, how we talk about it - in language and in form – and most exciting – the art we’re making is going to change. It has to get better.

It is easy (and mostly true) to say that all artists want to make good work – Nobody sets out to be boring or banal. Few companies include “alienate the public” in their mission statement. But we do it.

All the time. We do it with high ticket prices and a lack of neighborhood options. We do it with terrible graphic design and worse mobile experiences. We do it by only taking to the streets when it’s us they want to cut and only courting the rich and powerful. We do it by silo-ing the “professionals” from the “amateurs” and the “communities.” We do it with unwelcoming spaces and disheartened Front of House staff. We do it when we diminish, ban and prosecute different or emerging modes of expression and engagement.

Access is a financial and geographic issue but it is also an issue of humour and pleasure, of politics, charm and entrance points. I’m going to keep hammering the “good night out” drum until I have a few in a row.

For my own work I think about 4 categories of practice – Research, Intimate, Community, and a Populism I can stand behind. I can talk more about these, but I want to be clear: I believe in the vital importance of Research and Intimate work, Work that may be difficult, if not impossible, For a curious stranger to access.

Public and institutional funding must support this work in the way that public funding is needed to fund primary research in science. And it has to be protected from strict quantitative evaluation and Creative Capital instrumentalism.

Qualitative evaluation and understandings must be developed – we are not the ones against evidence and reflection on causes.

### My hope is inspired by Manifesto and Beautifulcity.ca, Idle No More and Musagetes, by Progress Lab and The Toronto Dance Community Love-in –

In constellations, networks and wandering bands Making work for and with the people relevant to them. This is the hope I have for myself and the ever shimmering group of irregulars I’m blessed to be involved with. There are dangers and needs – but there is also strength, and I’d rather start from those.

To talk flexible tactics along with bigs strategies. Store fronts and community halls Art in every neighborhood. More access to public space for public use.

Art doesn’t change the world (except when it does) - but It can increase the chance of solidarity and provide a shared experience over which strangers and families and lovers and neighbours can meet and be glad of.

These people will then speak for the arts. In the voting booth they will speak for a world they want and that they treasure - and art will be part of that.

The potential for radical change needs to be assisted and defended from the top – but it will emerge from the grassroots & frontlines.

Otherwise it’s not a change.

Thank you.


  1. As a person in this country, I can’t flatter or soft sell the Harper or Ford Government on the need to support the arts until scientists are unmuzzled, until everyone, regardless of wealth, can challenge our government in the Supreme Court, until the right to dissent is protected, street nurses are hired and wet shelters opened. Until anti-terrorism laws aren’t aimed at the civilly disobedient, until there is meaningful recognition of our home on native land and historic systemic oppressions are addressed. As a person, with the right to vote and speak in Canada, I can’t applaud the Harper Government until it is headed out the door. ↩
  2. See Lawrence Lessig and his (US focused) TED Talk ↩
  3. We don’t “empower” people (give them power.) We don’t “speak for those who can’t speak for themselves” – because we can speak for ourselves and we do have power and saying otherwise is part of the problem. At best, perhaps, we facilitate people understanding our power. We use our privilege, skills and access to clear blockages. And it’s not enough to do this on a solely personal level (“I have the power to make different choices, to express myself, to claim my strengths as strengths” etc..) – because our personal power is often diminished and restricted by systemic barriers. Questions of access and wealth, education, gender, sexuality, practice, ethnicity, politics, language and culture (chosen and historic) all have systemic impact. With these barriers, I as an individual can’t do much - I can barely speak to them. ↩

 

Material surprise

I caught two programs at the Images Festival this weekend and wondered if –The nature of surprise is different in analog and digital

(for the sake of a very digital either/or I’m including live performance in analog and - importantly for my experience at Images - including film as opposed to digital video)

maybe

In analog, we (the audience) can be happily1 surprised by content and by material.2

In both analog and digital we can be surprised by content of course - something unexpected happening in the thing we’re seeing. Structure, events, language, image, context, juxtaposition etc… The common elements can all be a part of this. Experimental or classical, academic or populist etc… all play this game.

In analog work, the material can also surprise - first the artists and then the audience and this surprise can be central to the meaning making. The body can do the unexpected, the language slips, the paint behaves in unpredicted ways, the celluloid does something different. These productive mistakes are then integrated into, or become, the content.

But material surprise is not something I, as an audience member, look for or experience with digital. When it exists it's only jarring (I'm thinking of digital noise, broken code, dropped frames)

2 pieces by way of example:

In Sugar Beach, it’s the in camera processing of film that surprises - Mark shoots through a small hole, rewinds the film and does it again – resulting in a “same but different” that’s beautiful and bound to the material of film.

On the other end of the spectrum: Simon Quéhiellard’s Maître-Vent is a piece of him setting up discarded materials (broken umbrellas, boxes, skin ply) by the side of the highway and recording their reaction to the wind of passing trucks. So much surprise, delight, tragedy, expectation and narrative ensue from watching his desire and the reactions of plastic bags and pop cans. It’s the best Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton film made last year. The surprise, though, isn’t in the material of video. Digital accidents would be out of place and much less meaningful.

This probably isn’t a new thought in the world - and I’d love to be pointed towards the exceptions - but it was lovely to experience it first hand.

Images Festival is on until April 20th two things other things I want to catch:

  • Rope  - FADO co-presention at the Theatre Centre Pop-Up. April 16th is your last chance.
  • Ants at Interaccess - Oh!m1gas is a tribute to the sophistication and organization of ant colonies

  1. “Happily” for me is a pretty open term I use for a response that one is glad to have had - this, of course, can include a wide range of responses. ↩
  2. Another insufficient but helpful dialectic. ↩

Story Structures for Learning Creative Learning

As part of MIT's free online course on Creative Learning that I'm taking, they assigned us to learn something and teach something to the online community. After taking a helpful Project Management 101, I decided to give a Freemind talk on Story Structures in a way that could be useful for people across a broad spectrum of backgrounds.

It's a little scary to post it here – at the intersection of my geek, educational and theatre practice. Those are all related, but not quite the same, or they might be different audiences, and so it feels like a risk to share between. Since, however, I'm interested in iterative development that means doing things in public. And getting feedback and other people's thoughts

I had some screen capture issues so this is a slightly wonky recording. It starts about 8 minutes in as I try to give some context on the importance of thinking about many kinds of story structures. Also, there are typos and misspellings.

Notes:

Freemind file (required Freemind - free/Java) Image of outlinePNG Google DOC

Mentioned Links: Jacob: Small Wooden Shoe Public Recordings Dancemakers

In talk: Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee Ira Glass on Storytelling Choreographers Handbook

Adding Desire to the Viewpoints.

I've started regular idiosyncratic Viewpoint workshops. More hereWhat follows is some thoughts on the nature of those idiosyncrasies.


Overlie included “Emotion” and Bogart took it out.1

And I’ve been missing something, in the eyes and at the fingers. In the centre and in the lips.

Objective, intention and action are all words that might try to get at a similar thing. But I’m going with Desire.

Desire can lead to performance states and to physical change or be image or character based. It’s open and specific in the way that the Viewpoints are.

This will involve lots of work with eyes. A bit of an obsession lately, I’m looking forward to working on eye focuses, seeing the room and your fellows and how working with Desire we can avoid the dreaded zombie eyes and/or single point blinders that so often afflicts us on stage and in rehearsal.

Viewpoints, like many performance frameworks, is a prism through which impulses can be separated and worked on. Viewpoints can be a way to surprise yourself with clear choices that serve the whole. Breaking out the choices we make as improvisors, devisers, creators, etc… we can practice working in categories of Time and Space. Mary Overlie, the choreographer who coined the term spoke of six viewpoints: Space, Story, Time, Emotion, Movement, and Shape. Anne Bogart and SITI speak of 9: Kinaesthetic Response, Tempo, Duration, Spatial Relationship, Gesture, Shape, Topography and Architecture.

In the tradition and belief that Viewpoints should be open this way, susceptible and enriched by “house rules,” along with adding Desire, I’m also mangling some Laban vocabulary to talk about the qualities of movement itself. Free and bound, sudden or sustained, light and strong and indirect and direct are helpful spectrums to articulate and adjust physical states allowing us, in training and creation, to find surprise and understand the big picture and audience perception.


  1. I have always imagined this was because when working in American Theatre, emotion is not something actors need to be reminded of. It is bread into the bone to be “feeling it.” In an ecosystem with Method actors, Viewpoints could offer a balance - a way to encourage and develop skills for paying attention to other things that are happening on stage.  ↩

Other people's podcast

After a "podluck" at the Academy of the Impossible on Thursday, I am inspired to share my podcast list - partly because I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts and sometimes people ask and so other people might be interested - and partly because I would like to know if there are any obvious missing ones for those that know me, or can make some assumptions from the below list.Leaves tips in the comments…

Theatre

  • National Theatre (UK) [RSSwebsite
    • Good interviews with people working at the National.
  • 2amt Podcast [RSSwebsite
    • Occasional posts from USA hashtag turned theatre movement.
  • OAC podcast [RSS] website
    • Some primers on grants
  • The Traverse Theatre [RSS] website
    • Occasional posts from the Traverse.
  • Anne Bogart and SITI Company[RSSwebsite
    • Very occasional posts from SITI.

Culture and ideas

  • This American Life - NPR  [RSS] website
    • Classic.
  • Radiolab - NPR [RSS] website
    • Science show that is very very well edited.
  • Spark - CBC [RSSwebsite
    • Nora Young hosts one of the best CBC shows. About society and technology.
  • Writers and Company - CBC [RSS] website
    • Eleanor Wachtel is one of my favourite interviewers
  • The Thing Is - NPR [RSS] website
    • Alec Baldwin talks to interesting people.
  • Planet Money - NPR [RSS] website
    • This American Life spin off on money. Not revolutionary, but clear.
  • On the Media - NPR [RSS] website
    • USA media gets talked about by USA media.
  • 99% Invisible [RSSwebsite
    • Design and the world.
  • Front Row - BBC [RSS] website
    • Culture reporting from the BBC
  • Arts and Culture from Nightwaves - BBC [RSS] website
    • Interviews with people about things they do.
  • In Our Time - BBC [RSS] website
    • Smart British people talk history
  • Decode DC [RSS] website
    • Good politics. Not very frequently.
  • Ideas - CBC [RSS] website
    • Not as good as it was. Especially now that David Cayley retired.
  • Roderick on the Line [RSS] website
    • Merlin Mann and John Roderick weekly phone call. Might not help, but sometimes does and I like hearing friends talk.
  • Savage Love [RSS] website
    • Dan Savage talks about sex and relationships
  • Studio 360 - NPR [RSS] website
    • Interviews with artists and other people.
  • Tapestry - CBC [RSS] website
    • Religion and spirituality.
  • Thinking Allowed - BBC[RSS] website
    • British people talk about academic things.
  • You Look Nice Today [RSS] website
    • More Merlin Mann and friends. More comedy focused.

Entertainment/Research:

  • The World Exists [RSS] website
    • Roundtable storytelling. Funny and friends talking.
  • Old Time Radio Drama [RSS] website
    • What it says.
  • Old Time Radio Comedy [RSS] website
    • What it says.
  • All Songs Considered - NPR [RSS] website
    • Good music. I mostly listen to their year end, and that way, I'm only a year behind.
  • The Truth[RSS] website
    • Podcast radio drama or "movies for your ears"

Deep geekery in tech and work flows (I feel shy about sharing the depth of these. But I find this "how to work field interesting and have been a Mac geek for a while [previous geek posts])

  • Back to Work - 5by5 [RSSwebsite
    • Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin talk, nominally sometime and sometimes more focused-like, about issues of working. Mostly for tech world, but I like.
  • MacPower Users - 5by5 [RSSwebsite
    • Mac geekery. Workflow episodes are my favourite.
  • Systematic - 5by5 [RSSwebsite
    • Brett Terpstra - crazy coder for the text people - talks to other people.
  • Crossover - 5by5 [RSSwebsite
    • 5by5 hosts talk.
  • Let's Make Mistakes [RSSwebsite
    • Nominally about design.
  • Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders - Stanford [RSSwebsite
    • Fancy people talk about things. Sometimes good. Always a little troubling and telling
  • The Talk Show [RSSwebsite
    • John Gruber of Daring Fireball talks Apple and other gear/software stuff.
  • Work Talk Show [RSSwebsite
    • A new one. More on "how to work"

Oh and of course

  • Minor Expletives - my regularly irregular podcast [RSS] [iTunes]

Maker - Artist as Producer Pt 2

Maker notebookI’ve been thinking about maker culture and theatre lately.

Briefly - “Maker” gets used to describe a hacker/DIY culture that values getting involved in building tech and stuff from the ground up (see: Wikipedia, CBC’s Spark.) There’s a leaning towards digital, robots and 3D printing, but I might toss in the resurgence of craft and reclaimed wood into the broad category.

There’s also lots of stuff around on “artist as entrepreneur” (like a whole magazine issue) and while I get the angle and think it can be helpful to bust up the entitled bureaucracy of Not-For-Profit conservatism, there is something in "maker" that draws me in. It resists the Always Be Closing, money driven image that entrepreneur calls to mind – but mostly making sounds more like what I want to do with my life. I’ve had a DIY value set since the beginning1 and I want to continue that, even as my ambitions grow.

There are questions of course: barriers to entry (knowing how to code) and orders of mystery (I don't want to have to make everything I use) and the fact that maker cultures are often amateur and/or supported by day jobs. But it’s a frame that I find helpful right now. And want to acknowledge more.

Making theatre, as I imagine it, is led by curiosity and a desire to put things in the world that make it better. It’s dedicated to human scale and connections. It’s social and accessible in the doing and the seeing. It's resourceful and cunning, ethical and generous.

An important part of maker culture that I’m missing, is the getting together. Toronto theatre big as it is, has all the problems of Toronto, big as it is.3 We’re busy, we’re trying to get by, we’re moving around and staying in our hoods. There are festivals and openings, conferences and professional development opportunities, but making needs something a bit different - it needs hackerspaces and meet ups. Something more open and announced than drinks with friends and less formal and certainly less expensive than associations and conferences in swank hotels.

It needs a bar night.

So, let’s make one. - Next Thursday - January 24th. Monarch Tavern (12 Clinton). Anytime after 7. They have drinks and some food for sale. (and some pinball) CLICK HERE for more info/let me know you’re coming.

Everyone is welcome. I talk about theatre in this, but think there are shared issues with dance makers, music makers etc…) No agenda or structure. Social and led by desire.

It's that easy if we want it to be.


  1. My parents were back to the landers and both did a lot of starting things. Halifax was a pretty boring place for a teenager, so fun had to be made. At university I was given the tools2 and as a young artist there was little was little option. I was (am) too contrarian / scattered / picky / impatient etc… to be a very good assistant director or to work my way up some ladder of approval in the established theatre. So the only option was to make and produce my own work. This has, almost to a fault, continued.(Yes, there’s a footnote in this footnote. Linearity is hard.) ?
  2. At SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts, there are a series of courses on Playmaking. In my day that looked like a semester of intro to story structures, Aristotle and writing alone and in groups, a semester of Clown-through-Mask with Penelope Stella, then Black Box, a class making a new show of short works every two weeks (more come soon - I’m looking to do this in Toronto - email me to keep informed) and finally an advanced story structure class. These courses and the general ethic of the school at the time undeniably shaped my values on this. ?
  3. Probably not unique to Toronto, but the scale does seem to impact. ?