Unthrowing my name


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.

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”. ↩

We get to choose what to talk about.

Peggy Baker There are more interesting things to talk about. Part of the problem with the side bar to the article on Peggy Baker that people are talking about, is that it deflects from some of the very important and difficult things about gender and dance production that Baker raises.

Baker made a point in her speech about embracing androgyny and deploring gender stereotypes. … “I think that’s why I’m not a ballet dancer,” she explains. “Ballet is about dividing men and women. Women dance on pointe shoes, boys and girls don’t take class together. You also see it in folk dancing, where women do one step, men do another.”

And about producing on a "minor" scale (minor is my word and will continue to be developed here - hence the title):

When I mention a dream gig – say, choreographing a piece for the National Ballet of Canada – she smiles and shakes her head.

“I’d rather show things in more intimate settings – the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre rather than the mainstage. I’m talking with the AGO about creating dances for different galleries. And I loved my recent Nuit Blanche experience.”

Small-scaled, then, but never small-minded." RTWT

Both of these quotes are worth spending a lot of time with. They’re thoughts of an artist who has deeply considered her craft and the world it exists in. They’re deeply challenging to the status quo of dance discussion in this city and country. Way more interesting then a writer under a deadline spicing up a story with false comparisons. And yet, they’ll go under-discussed (except maybe in study group or late night in a bar) — again — unless we decide to talk about them.

We get to choose what to talk about.

Not just America, not just journalists

99 Seats is talking about media complaints about the media in Most Everything That's Wrong With American Journalism.The specifics are helpful and the analysis right on - and connects with a thread I've been thinking about for a while.

In a large group discussion about, I think, politics and theatre from a year or so ago, we got to complaining about how the "media" told stories a specific way, creating identities and fault lines, how they were responsible for keeping the "people" down.

I think there's a lot wrong with various media types and modes and I think it's useful to name the damage they can do (see 3:15 - an oldy & goody)

But when we, as people who make things for others to see, talk about media as not us -  denying that it is something we participate actively in by creating events that create meaning - it drives me a little crazy.

Of course small scale theatre is a different, less broadly influential than networks or newspapers - but that doesn't change my responsibility to make work for the world  I want to live in - to resist trends in other media and power structures that create fear and alienation. Because of our scale - because of the freedom it can give - we can speak towards a better, different way.

It is an amazing trick that even Newsweek writers seem to take part in, and the CBC does it all the time (with questions like "Do you think the medias reaction [to the story we've spent 3 hours in a row talking about] is overblown?") –  so I guess it's no surprise that we on the margins can  play too.

But it doesn't make it better. And I'd like to think that we can do better.

Is this unfair?

No one is going to do it for us.

PME Art - Hospitality 2Artist and writer Chris Dupuis has taken some well aimed swings at a side bar in this weeks NOW.

The "who's the next... Peggy Baker, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan" form is generally a trite move to force a connection. At best it might be an understanding of working in tradition and a way to contextualize new work — but really I'm just being nice to give that much credit. It's simplistic and un-useful and often damaging to everyone involved.

Chris is right on in identifying the gender trouble and disciplinary ideology in Sumi's piece and I'm glad he wrote a response.

But there's a larger thing in the wider complaining about the coverage in the mainstream press (and make no mistake — NOW is mainstream) that happens in Toronto: The mainstream press is in trouble — it's thrashing and dying and grabbing for every ad dollar out there.

And as scarcity presses down on the print media and local TV and radio — contemporary art practices are just not part of the money numbers game. Theatre has it great compared to dance and dancers can look to poets if they want to feel good about their coverage.

While I think calling out damaging articles is important — it's the other promise of Chris' Time and Space that feels more urgent, more useful.

We are not mainstream — so we need a not-mainstream "media" — and we need it to be informed and thoughtful and engaged in the practice and removed from advertising prerogative and well written (more smarts / less jargon.) And the only way we're going to get that change is by being it — sorry to get all Gandhi, but he was right.

The French New Wave invented themselves in part with Cahiers du cinéma — writing well about each other and insisting that there was something important going on* (and of course it is important that something important is going on. The cycle of bad work and bad writing about it needs to be broken at all points.)

No one is going to do it for us. And there is no longer much of a limit to distribution or word count. Only to our willingness to step up and do it. Which I acknowledge can be a big and scary limit.

This is the beginning of me trying to do it here — I'm not going to write reviews — but I am going to participate through writing that is distanced from my roles with larger entities (Small Wooden Shoe, Dancemakers...)

[* The New Wave example came through Jacob Wren and his blog - but I can't prove it because I can't find the post - but in the process I remembered how much the blog is really worth going back over]

What I was thinking


THE “WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?” AWARD Small Wooden Shoe’s Dedicated to the Revolutions, in which theatre artists attempted, badly, to explain scientific concepts they did not, or could not be bothered to, understand. What’s next: Hairdressers Teach Shakespeare

I would like to answer the question, “What were we thinking?” (At least for myself, I can’t speak for the others.) I think your question was rhetorical, but it’s always a fair one. I also think it’s fine if you didn’t like the show – of course that’s going to happen. But I do think that questions should be given some kind of response.

When we made Dedicated to the Revolutions, I was thinking a lot about expertise and knowledge – about broader social questions of specialization and the assumptions that go along with them.

A culture in which some people are allowed to speak of certain things and others (hairdressers, actors and the like) should just sit quietly and then applaud at the end is what I was thinking about. I was thinking that science (and art) are areas where this opinion is particularly strong – areas where non-experts fear to venture due to possible scorn and humiliation at the hands of the experts.

It’s an attitude that can lead to catastrophe as expertise removes itself from the everyday and we suddenly find ourselves with an economic crisis we can’t understand, a world we have to take on faith and hairdressers that aren’t allowed to do anything else.

I was thinking about how there might be room for something other than a particular kind of virtuosity and showing-off. And I love virtuosity and showing-off, and I think from your list that it’s the style of art you prefer too, but I wonder about other options – of proposing other strategies.

Of proposing vulnerability and even the importance of exposing our vulnerability in public. The show was loose and goofy in parts – maybe too much for your tastes – but it was intentional. The act of standing in front of people and trying to think, as opposed to recite, with pleasure, desire and not a small amount of vulnerability was a proposal for the loosening of the structures that dictate who can think about what.

Questions of expertise and virtuosity in art are long standing and always shifting, but those aren’t the most important questions – taste in theatre and the people who write about it will change and change back. It’s the social questions I return to.

Of course a 90-minute performance isn’t going to solve these problems. But maybe we can be part of a discussion; maybe we can open up the conversation even just a bit.

That’s a least part of what I was thinking.

Jacob Zimmer Artistic Director, Small Wooden Shoe