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.

Slow down with those numbers.

For the record:

  • I believe that going out can have a positive effect on a persons life.

  • I believe that going out to meaningful and delightful things should be part of peoples lives.

  • I believe a function of art might be ease alienation without denying complexity or difference.

  • I belive the simplifying tendancy of lobbying is part of what’s broken in democracy.

  • I would really like to have a semi-public conversation about this. Especially with researchers who can dissuade me.

Over the past few weeks the Canadian arts twitter and facebook-verse has been full of studies.

Despite agreeing with the broad goals of all this excitement, I have a compulsion to ask about the studies, and have doubts about the methodology of lobbying / cheerleading. Part of the blame should be on my listening to Thinking, Fast and Slow which I’d recommend to anyone who wants to reflect on how statistical thinking is not something we’re good at. (Other interesting things in the book too.)

Here are the flags that go up for me – Definition of terms: As an artist working on an edge of the mainstream, I don’t feel bouyed by the tourism numbers or the broad questions about supporting "arts" and "culture". The 22% of overnight tourists who come to Ontario for “culture” are coming to already very large events (the marketing budget required to reach / appeal to out of towners pretty much gurantees that.) If funding priorities were to shift to maximize the Return On Investment, I don’t think the DIY/indie arts are going to do so well. I also have questionns about whether, when asking about support or participation in culture, how many people were thinking about the Rhubarb Festival and how many were thinking about the Strawberry Festival. Both of these things have value, both are culture but they are very different.

Seeing only what we want to: There are a lot of stats - and framing of those stats - in these reports that don’t get tweeted or put in headlines. For example: 42% of people who attend arts events don’t think those events are good. (“In terms of arts and cultural events, just over half rated the number (53%) and quality (58%) positively” - Heritigage ) All lobbyists do this kind of thing, and when we agree with the position of the lobbyist, we let it slide.

Association is not causation: Men who report going to more culture also report being less anxious and depressed. AND Men who report being less anxious and depressed also report going to more culture. Both of these can be taken from the Norwegian study. An arguement might then be - we should help men be less depressed, because then they'll go to more culture. I know I go out more when I’m less depressed. Going out to ANYTHING may improve my mood. Canadian content or artistic excellence are less a concern - socializing and disruption of negative patterns are doing the heavy lifting. Given that for 42% the experience of culture isn’t good, perhaps this effect is happening despite the art, not because of it.

Biggest Flag

Impact of Priviledge: Personal experience tells me that I feel less depressed and anxious when I have some extra money in the bank account. Also that I’m more likely to buy a ticket for something and go out. To not take the impact of social class and social capital into account seems like a desturbing blind spot, and yet I never see it talked about. I want break downs by reported income and education. I bet those numbers would make me feel pretty shitty about who culture is for.

My personal response to this is to think about ways to work as a citizen to decrease poverty and raise the standard of living and education for the most people. I support Guaranteed minimum income and free undergraduate education. I’m not great at being the activist I wish I was, and worry that by wanting lofty goals I don’t work the steps inbetween.

But I don't think we should be left off the hook on this stuff because our goals are lofty.

More less sexy quotes:

Conclusion:This population-based study suggests gender-dependent associations between cultural participation and perceived health, anxiety, depression and satisfaction with life. The results support hypotheses on the effect of cultural activities in health promotion and healthcare, but further longitudinal and experimental studies are warranted to establish a reliable cause–effect relationship. - Norwegian Health Study

Turning to education and income, arts and heritage attendance as well as personal involvement in artistic activities increased with respondents’ level of educational attainment and their annual household income. In addition, university graduates and respondents from higher income households were more apt to hold positive attitudes toward arts and culture, attribute importance to the arts in terms of quality of life, and feel their local arts and heritage facilities contribute a lot to quality of life in their community. - Heritage Survey p iii.

Public Application

On the day that the situation is back in the news,

Here is a draft of my Letter of Experience for the position of
Artistic Director of Factory Theatre.

I've broken it, for the purposes of the blog, into three posts
plus the older cover letter

Lots of people have asked if I expect that this will even be considered.
I don't know.
While the talk of mediation is important and hopeful, in the online discussion at least, there's lots of ego and turf claiming and stake placing. I can't imagine that being on the board is particularly fun or rewarding right now, so maybe a way out that isn't about "loosing" is a possible way out.

(of course, if I were doing this behind closed doors, it'd be more likely)

(and of course, they may just not want me for the job)

I also have no idea how the boycotters would react to my unlikely hiring. The language is very clear around Ken's return, but I would certainly be reaching out - lots of those people are friends and respected colleagues.

All that said, I submit this letter for review. Comments are welcome.
Typo and grammar corrections can just be sent to me direct at jacob at smallwoodenshoe.org - as can other feedback if you want.
There seems to be some shyness about talking about this in public for many folk.

Comments here are also welcome

Public Application: Cover Letter
A change in the cover letter: Originally I had said January 1st as a date for the turn over of the Board to be set. That seems unreasonable in terms of good governance and operation of the company, so I've moved it to March 1st, 2013.

Public Application Part 1: of Values
Public Application Part 2: Personal Background (an extended version of my bio - skippable)
Public Application Part 3: @Factory Theatre

Public Application Part 1: of Values

[In which I articulate some by big picture values for doing what I do]

of Values

It is the event of theatre that excites me. The meeting of two groups of people: one group who mostly knows what is going to happen and one group who mostly doesn’t. One group who mostly witnesses and one who mostly does. This meeting of publics and artists is so full of potential and hope: the excitement and unknown generated by a simple trip out, the faith and desire expressed by the audiences’ presence, the labour and love of the artists. The manner, meaning and ambition of this meeting is my primary concern in the theatre.

I want to speak to the curious part of people and to the alienated who wish they weren't. This is a potentially broad and diverse group, since I believe in the capacity for curiosity in everyone and we live in deeply alienating times. I don't think theatre is going to "cure alienation" or completely fulfill anyone’s curiosity. That would be absurd and terrible for them and us but I am drawn to create spaces in which people come together. Spaces in which there are conversations about things that people care about. The time is relaxed and filled with laughter, but death and politics are still discussed, people fall in and out of love, plans are hatched and actions taken. Stories are told. Songs are sung. A social, community-generating environment is created. The impact of Cape Breton and Halifax on my work should not be overlooked.

Public Application: Cover Letter
Public Application Part 1: of Values
Public Application Part 2: Personal Background (an extended version of my bio - skippable)
Public Application Part 3: @Factory Theatre

Public Application Part 2: of Background

[Biographical information: most worth skipping - if you're on the blog you might have some sense of it already.]Public Application: Cover Letter

Public Application Part 1: of Values

Public Application Part 3: @Factory Theatre


Beginning with my family and deepened by my experience as a director, dramaturge and organizer, I have been encouraged to be curious and critical with a belief that what we do and how we do it matters – politically, socially and ethically. I’ve been inspired to believe that the best things matter to the broader society I live in, as well as the community closest to me; that there is a responsibility to make something that matters.

I have independently produced and directed over 25 new works in the past thirteen years. With Sabotage Group (Founding member, Vancouver and Toronto) and then Small Wooden Shoe (Founding Director, Halifax and Toronto) I’ve expressed the belief that developing a sound artistic practice shouldn’t limit me to one performance genre or methodology. My work has included political agit-prop; hard-boiled live-to-air radio; Chekhov adaptations; multi-media solo shows and the conversational formalism I’ve become best known for. I have worked with playwrights, co-translated Brecht, staged monumental readings, convened community Christmas concerts, on-line think tanks, public meetings, taught workshops, sat on panels, given keynote lectures and written for publication.

My projects are created in collaboration. I often bring the conceptual framework and starting points to the collaborators and the work is the result of the responses to my propositions and my response to those responses. This creative feedback-loop expands the work beyond the possibilities of a single maker, with all participants having a personal investment in the work, while maintaining a distinct and rigorous artistic vision.

Most of this work has been done with regular collaborators of Small Wooden Shoe, and has also included important partnerships with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Dancemakers, High Performance Rodeo, Hub 14, Theatre Passe Muraille and Canadian Stage, among others. We have found touring partners in Edmonton (WorkshopWest) Calgary (One Yellow Rabbit); Kitchener (Magnetic North,) Halifax (Eastern Front Theatre) and most recently, Montreal (OFFTA). I believe in the strength of these partnerships. We live in interdependent times and need to embrace that.

In my on-going dramaturgical relationship with Ame Henderson and Public Recordings I’ve participated in and grown from working with dance artists of incredible quality and on the development of performances that are at the edge of their field and have toured nationally and internationally.

Through my work as Resident Dramaturge and Animateur at Dancemakers and the Centre for Creation, I have invested in questions of how a company with a significant history engages with new work development, audience experience and organizational structure and leadership. Assisting Artistic Director Michael Trent, I have helped program seasons and taken part in strategic planning and field-wide discussions of value-based leadership and the role of performing arts institutions and spaces in the arts field and broader world

.

Public Application Part 3: @Factory

@Factory Theatre

[In which I talk about what imagine for a space like Factory. This is the first stage of the application and I haven't seen any numbers or talked with staff, so there is an aspirational tone without the specifics, but I believe in collaborating based on aspirations and then working hard on the "how."]

Public Application: Cover Letter
Public Application Part 1: of Values
Public Application Part 2: Personal Background (an extended version of my bio - skippable)


The space — physical, social and historical — that Factory Theatre affords is an amazing opportunity. I imagine a range of works on the main stage — works of scale, intimate works, musicals, adaptations and translations of classics from all parts of the world and brave breaks from what has come before. Artistic and political adventure with a populist frame. I imaging a “Never Be Dark” philosophy, with the Studio used as a flexible social performance space.

The building is an opportunity for an important centre for the city and the community. We must find a way, together as an organization, to make commitment more than slogans, we must aggressively match lived experience to our values. We have to lead in the Canadian milieu with a sophisticated and nimble relationship to our publics. As we bring them to us, so must we go to them and reach where they are - physically and virtually. I am inspired by movements towards transparency and affordable tickets. I am inspired by theatres that become more than theatres. Theatres that serve their communities

While there is no doubt that I would bring significant change to the company, I also believe in the values Factory has stood for: giving emerging artists an early safe space to flail (we all flail), nurturing on-going relationships with theatre makers of all generations and providing a space for Toronto as-it-is to be reflected and shaped. The wisdom of the current staff, associated artists and patrons are a great strength and must be collaboratively engaged with.

Working values of investment, respect and pleasure can guide these collaborations.

Looking ahead I imagine a theatre that embraces scale and ambition while maintaining the ethics of community and directness. I am compelled to find a populism I can stand behind. I want to direct a theatre that believes and provides “a good night out” while also engaging in the political, social and existential problems of our time. I continue to believe and pursue a practice that is rooted in the local and looks to the national and international for conversation and opportunity.

I will be happy to speak more to these ideas in future conversations.

Finally, I am not proposing to leave my position with Small Wooden Shoe to take the position with Factory Theatre. Rather, I propose: Small Wooden Shoe @Factory Theatre.

Small Wooden Shoe would continue to be the home for my artistic creation practice, allowing me to select, with the team, the other programming at the theatre so it continues to be a home for a diversity of voices and practices. Artistic leadership in the current and coming times can be driven by curation and programming - not just of works, but, by being a home to meet the public, of artists and collaborations.

I also propose a five year term for this relationship, extendable by one year if the situation requires and both the Board and I agree. After that, I will remain Artistic Director of Small Wooden Shoe, leaving Factory to new leadership and vision.

I believe the Factory Theatre has and can continue to have a central role in the theatre of Canada. I would like to be a part of that, assuming that we can reach agreement on the transition.

Thank you for your consideration
Jacob Zimmer

Artistic Director - Small Wooden Shoe

Talking about Generation

Working on Antigone - I’m aware that generation divides have a long history in the western world and in the theatre.

[Patti Smith Video]

That children desperately want distance and difference from their parents is so engrained in modern western thought as to be cliché when spoken aloud. The field of psychoanalysis is built around this want.

We are also in a specific time of generational shift. A massive and incredibly privileged generation in the Boomers is getting older. This is causing institutional upheaval all over the place. Theatre is no exception. In Canada, many of our mid-sized theatres were started by Boomers - inspired by the Massey Commission, Trudeau money and alt.theatre.nationalism.

We are no longer in those times, and questions of what comes next and how it comes is very much in the air.

Along with this, there is a mini-baby boom happening with mid-30s artists (at least where I am) - this also changes things: suddenly stability, parental leave and daycare are issues for the “emerging” class. People with babies and mortgages (not to mention years of experience) are less likely to wait patiently.

No matter what the strategies and tactics end up being, pretending there’s no generational difference or tension is irresponsible and naive.

A few things I’m thinking about generations:

Beware of speaking of progress

We need to see these differences and tensions outside the frame of linear progress. Things are not moving only in one, progressive, way.[1] The new doesn’t surpass, oust or necessarily improve the old.

Different times and ages require different responses. Looking for an "objective" better-or-worse is probably unhelpful. Change subjects us all.

The privilege to deny difference.

(A great video game metaphor for explaining privilege)

  • "Race doesn’t matter” says the Caucasian.
  • "There’s no glass ceiling” says the man.
  • "Class doesn’t effect success” says the wealthy.
  • "The generational divide is a construct” says the generation in power.

 

Generational power is weird wonky stuff.

The trouble is that no one thinks they’re “in power.” We can fetishize the aesthetic of young bodies, while dismissing the thoughts of young minds. We can insist on experience and “out of the box thinking”. We dismiss grey-hairs as conservative or old fashioned while relying on their wisdom, experience and resources.

It’s happening all over.

"Now entering retirement age, Boomer administrators are finding themselves hovering between holding on and letting go of their current leadership positions in a field they largely established. The next generation is markedly different from theirs, however, and they are apprehensive about handing over the reins." --(from Boomers, XY’s and the Making of a Generational Shift in Arts Management by Victoria J. Saunders

I believe in mentorship and the wisdom of elders. Experience is real and time on the deck can make us better. And there is something important about change and letting go.

Diversity mandates must include a generational diversity more substantial and honest than fetishizing the next hot young thing, supporting the younger artists who make work that is most like the work of the artists before them and/or condescending to give under 35’s[2] a “break.”

It must include respect and meaningful relationships with elders and experience while acknowledging that there will be consequent difference in intent, aesthetics and approaches - artistically and administratively. These differences will sometimes mean disagreement and conflict.

Finding ways to navigate these questions is going to be the work for the next 5-10 years.


  1. For example, social services have never improved in my lifetime. There has only been a fight to maintain or slow the decline of resources. ?
  2. Luckily as a 36 year old, I’m well clear of such daft categories. ?

Theatre without ruling

Some thoughts spurred from a few Michaels comments.


I’m not looking to run an arts service or research organization – I’m a theatre director.

I believe in leadership. I believe in curation and position taking.
I’m not looking to run an “open-source theatre”, or a broadly defined “shared stake holder” art space [1]. Nor am I necessarily a champion of the New or the Next. I don’t think of myself or my work as avant-garde or that radical.

For better or worse, I’m absurdly interested in what can happen in the theatre. So, first, I want to find a home for my work [2] as a director and instigator of shows.

I also believe in a kind of generous ethical transparency [3].
I believe in the intelligence of the room and the vitality of agency and investment for collaborators and co-conspirators. There are people I turn to for inspiration, advice, support and deep input. I think there are times when crowd-sourcing is a great strategy. I believe that public, honest conversation can be good and healthy.

My interest in theatre and use of digital networks grew at the same time. The internet is making different things possible across distance and changing how ideas are shared. Expectations for participation, investment in process and recreational practices are changing. Definitions and understandings of “professional” are changing. There can be great and important lessons for the world and art making in all this opening and changing of tools and norms.[4]

Still, I believe in leadership. I believe in curation and position taking.
Not everything goes. The populism I can stand behind makes choices and is willing to articulate those choices. Not everyone will like the choices or the articulation, but that’s nothing new.

Part of the building-dream is that the main hall wouldn’t have to rented for the business plan to work. It would be in use: teaching classes, holding meetings, a space to run around and a place to dream, but first and foremost it should be a home for creating and rehearsing Small Wooden Shoe projects and the projects a couple other resident companies. I think of it as mostly a rehearsal/creation venue with performance opportunity - more Progress Lab than Theatre Centre or Buddies. Toronto doesn’t need even more mandate duplication.

Participation in the neighbourhood, the day care, after school programs, food services etc… might happen in the other spaces of the building, run by people much more qualified than I. There would need to be a connection with the working of the theatre companies - but also important separation.

Somewhere, I think in Brecht’s journals (to show my theatre-geek) - I read:

“How to lead without ruling?”

That’s been my question since.


  1. Those things have value in the world, just that that’s not what I would be best for. ↩

  2. “My work” involves many deep ongoing collaborations and meeting new people - it’s not only theatre but it mostly is. It is not an isolating activity, yet it does make choices. ↩

  3. Though I’m wary of certain calls for transparency, which are often thinly veiled attacks on front line workers and political enemies.  ↩

  4. There is also developments to be opposed and alternatives proposed.  ↩

Public Application Cover letter

Lots and lots and lots has been and continues (great comments in those last two via Praxis) to be said about the situation at Factory.Now the official call has come.

I have been thinking about buildings and space a lot recently. Thinking about finding a home for Small Wooden Shoe and my work, as well as about community centres, curating and supporting artists to make work that matters in our world. I've been thinking about change and the space for positive engagement in creating that change.

Factory Theatre, in this moment of transformation, might be a place for such a thing.

I also think there needs to be options other than: “I will work for this Board” or “The status quo must be restored” “I will only work for Ken” and “Whoever signs the cheque is good by me.” “Any one who applies is a douche bag.” or "This is a chance of a lifetime.”

It is up to us to open those options.

So here is the beginning of my public application to Factory Theatre. I’m going to propose something different than a standard AD relationship, since I don’t want to abandon the work, relationships or investment I’ve created with Small Wooden Shoe – there’s a problem with emerging Artistic Directors abandoning the history they’re making in order to maintain the historic structures. And the models are more malleable than we admit. There will be more coming, but here is the first part.

Thoughts welcome.

A draft of a first page of A public application to the Factory Theatre position.

Dear Search Committee,

I am applying for the position of Artistic Director of Factory Theatre. We are in a period of change in Toronto, in theatre production and in the world. Cosmetic change to our organizations and ways of working is not going to be enough. Embracing the history that got us here, we must also alter the systems, structures and relationships at the core of what we do. The internet, changing economies, governments and demographics are creating problems and possibilities for all of us.  As Artistic Director, I believe I can contribute to Factory Theatre becoming a leader in the ever-emerging future.

I appreciate your promise of confidentiality, however, given Mr. Gass’ abrupt dismissal and the protests that resulted and continue, I feel it is important to apply in public.

In order to continue with the process, I have one wish: Even disregarding blame, accusation and specifics, the current position is untenable for significant artistic leadership since community, supporter and artistic faith in the organization has been deeply shaken and nothing is possible without that faith.

Given this, a refresh of the governance of the organization will be needed. Towards that end, I request a binding written commitment from all current Board members to move on by January March 1, 2013. If hired, I would form a committee of leaders and thinkers in theatre, non-profit and organizational best practices to conceptualize and recruit a new Board of Director and a new structural relationship.

The month of December will be enough to transfer institutional knowledge.

In our shared desire for the strength and vitality of the Factory Theatre, I hope you will agree that this is a required step for the organization. Agreement on this point should precede further conversation.

Sincerely, Jacob Zimmer

Honest questions about our dreams.

An honest question:If the petition was: “Re-instate Ken Gass or close the doors of the theatre forever” would you sign?

If “no”, what is the difference between the above and a boycott?

As I’ve said before, I think sometimes theatres should be closed, so it’s not a crazy idea that the call be “Ken or nothing.” I might actually be able to get behind its honesty.

Despite my public application, becoming the artistic director of a theatre with 35 years of baggage and a new explosion of dysfunction is, surprise, surprise, not my dream job.* Nor is taking over a worn heritage building in the midst of condo developments.

There’s a church for sale around the corner from my house that I’ve got my eye on. A space with an elevator, industrial kitchen, big front yard - perfect for a creation and performance space with some offices and space for a day-care and food program. It’s in an emerging, economically and ethnically mixed neighbourhood – my neighbourhood. (BTW, remember when theatres led, as opposed to desperately chasing, demographic shifts.) This is my real dream job – for Small Wooden Shoe to have a home to call our own, a home to create the kind of space I would like to work in, to live with.

But, even given the various councils’ current re-thinkings**, the chance of developing the public funding stability that would enable us to cover the operating expenses is next to nil. There is simply little to no room in operating budgets – especially for another Toronto theatre led by a balding white guy (which, given the state of things, is fair.)

So, I (and the others Wheeler thinks are applying in secret) am left with the dream of making something we can believe in with the hand-me-downs of previous generations.

Which is not our dream, but that’s reality.

*not to mention, I don’t think the board is going to agree to resign in order to interview for the position.

** Re-thinks are being challenged/complained about – quietly – by the mids and bigs currently holding all the funds.

Questioning the everlasting nature

Is there ever a time when it's ok for a theatre company to close?This is the question I keep asking myself these days. I'd like to separate it a bit from the closing of the Vancouver Playhouse, though obviously that is what has it on my mind. I don't know enough about the situation or the scene to comment about the specifics, but there is something general that I think needs to be talked about.

Old Growth Forest

The "ecology" metaphor gets a fair amount of play in the arts. The idea being that a scene is a complex, interdependent network of big and small, a diverse community that relies on each other in potentially unexpected ways in order to thrive. It's a metaphor I've used and genuinely generally am ok with. I do believe in the value of healthy bigs and successful commercial theatre along with the nimble, emergent and experimental and most of everything in between (it is a bloated middle that I worry most about.)

So, if we take, for the moment at least, the ecology metaphor a step further, the problem is that we, as an arts community, seem to want endless growth. Current structures to be maintained while new ones are continually born and grow. Which isn't how I understand ecologies to work. To be blunt, things have to die in order for other, new, things to grow.

So, is there ever a time when it's ok for a theatre company to close? Is it that it should only be by clear choice, rather then to avoid the creditors? This seems historically unlikely. For economic reasons, companies refuse to die. The need to maintain the operating support from government alone means that there is a rotation of Artistic Directors, a turning of larger and larger ships, with more and more influence from the Boards and mandates, structures and models developed in the 70's and 80's.

(Da Da Kamera is the only company I can remember closing shop. [Read Daniel McIvor's remarkable account here] It's rare and full of potential and hope along with sadness.)

With "austerity" and a growing radical conservatism meaning arts funding or private support isn't going to keep pace with the ever growing number of applications and companies, the ecology is going to fail if there isn't significant change.

I will admit that an early thought in hearing about the Playhouse closing was "Oh, at least there will be new money at the councils next year." It feels horrible to think these things, like a philistine betrayal of my peers.

But, We rail against greedy investors and CEO's who keep the lid on the 99% for endless growth, but we replicate it. We rail against politicians who want to hold up the status quo of economic relations, but we fight to maintain our own.

I sincerely hope the best parts of the Playhouse can live on. I hope that there are plans for the costumes and props and physical resources to be distributed into the community of companies, that the patrons and audience and supporters will continue to go to the theatre in a city that is doing amazing things. That the staff take their expertise and commitment and help others to grow to fill the gaps, and to create new, unexpected solutions.

The social and political world we live in is different from a metaphoric or even real ecology. There are ideologies and choices being made: agendas and missed chances. I recognize that.

But I also want to ask, is it ok for a theatre company to close?

**** Another possibility worth discussing: mergers

**** Updates: A good post by Ian Leung challenging the use of the ecology metaphor.

In thinking about the Polar Bear extinction issue (if we ruin the planet, that's not part of the ecology) is important. Though any one theatre is not a species.