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.

Unthrowing my name

[Background]

I am revoking / not going to submit my application for the position of Artistic Director of Factory Theatre.

There are some very practical reasons.[1]
but more than those -

My application was made in an effort to have a conversation. This hasn’t materialized. I’ve had some interesting private chats with people I run into, but, despite being able to see that the blog posts have been read bunches – there has been no real conversation about possibilities. I know that close friends have not known how to start conversations with me about the proposal, so maybe there’s something in the writing or the mood. If that is going to be true, I want no part of it. The conversation that has been happening on Facebook and in the press is of zero interest to me and makes me depressed and frustrated. My only possible responses are sharp and unhelpful. If that is going to be true, I want no part of it.

Which leads to the most important reason: I don’t want the job.
Don’t get me wrong, I want a job (anyone?) and
I really like the idea of a home for the work I want to do. Work that includes theatre, but also includes community and neighbourhood. I think more theatres need to become neighbourhood centres[2], have real connection with the people and businesses that surround them and respond to the local issues and needs.

And, honestly, I don’t want to spend that much time in the entertainment district. Bathurst may have been something else before and something else in the future, but as it is, I’m not the person to try and make the Factory into the kind of local working / internationally looking neighbourhood theatre space that I want to be a part of.

I’m not sure that big ship can turn. Or, again, I’m not the person for it. I’m un-interested in fighting the forces that will lay claim to the legacy. I don’t care to struggle through the press and the conservatism[2] of the “community” evidenced this summer. While I have many differences in outlook and approach, I have such empathy for Matthew Jocelyn and his struggles with a hostile environment for change.

also
Given the range of change possible, I think an Artistic Director who is not a white dude would be better. This shift might get the boat turning and better reflect the Toronto and Canada that should be represented in downtown theatres. I would urge that there needs to be more than the same types of works written and performed by different people, but different people might be a decent place to start.

ultimately and productively -
I want to be part of starting something else. It will probably not be in the Entertainment District (which seems to have spread west to Ossington and north to Bloor) and it will probably be something more than a “home for the Canadian playwright.”
I’m not sure what it is, or how we get there. . But those are problems I’m way more interested in working on with others. (Want to join?)

Thanks for the conversations that I have had - it’s been a very useful process of writing and coming to this place. I wish everyone involved better summers in the future.


  1. Like not thinking the “boss” is going to resign in order to interview me. And having other things I’d rather be working on. ↩
  2. Not all. And some are. ↩
  3. Literally, “wanting to conserve things as they are”. ↩

Attention and behaviour

Some recent (slightly cranky) thoughts on attention and good audience behaviour:

Be interesting enough to take photos of and record

If the person next to me taking photo is more interesting or too distracting compared to what is on stage – that’s the performances problem not the audience members.

That person is a fan - or potential fan. A fan who is so excited by what they’re seeing that they want to share.

Choir!Choir!Choir has been successful mostly because it’s a great idea, led well (a lesson for theatre in there too.) ALSO, it’s a great idea that has been documented well and shared - allowing it to spread.

Anyone here have a serious current issue with bootleg images and recordings ruining their business plan?
Anyone here have a serious problem with too many fans who care about what you’re doing?
I hate to speak for others, but I’m going to wager the answers are no.

Yes, yes of course – “But my show’s that’s not a like that, it’s quiet and delicate flower and requires full attention” – sure you can still try to arrest with quiet quality - I love those shows too. The show I can barely imagine breathing in, let alone take a picture.[1]

I believe that coming together in quiet reflection and solidarity is needed in this world – especially for us secular folks who don’t have the space provided by religious practice.

I think there are people who really want and need that, and that it’s a service that theatre can provide some of the time.

None of these beliefs are going to change what the audience walks in the door with. That’s my work as an artist.

It seems likely that the focused perfect submission in the dark room is no longer going to be the norm. The brief period between the integration of electricity and middle class decorum through to the invention of the ubiquitous computer/camera/connection device may have been the heyday for our quiet shows[2]. But, with the rate of theatre’s adaptation, we’ve still got time - as long as we don’t need new people to come.

Take our attention

If you have to harangue us with volunteers and pleading from the stage to pay attention you are: a) doing it wrong. b) doing it at the wrong time c) doing it in the wrong place d)all of the above. - Taylor Mac taught me that in a heartbeat.

We’re so busy threatening to charge people with transgressing, we’ve forgotten our job is to arrest and encourage them.

We’re supposed to lead, not plead for a return to yesteryear.


  1. I don’t take pictures or tweet during shows. I have enough trouble paying attention, and besides they often don’t turn out. But that’s me and this stuff is not native to me.[?]
  2. No way that Beckett writes Godot in the same production conditions that Shakespeare writes Henry IV.[?]