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.

Playing the conditions

"The fundamental challenge remains: How can you foster both a deep and applied understanding of how things currently get done in a professional field, while also deeply questioning those standards of practice?"
-- Traditions of the calling - The Artful Manager

Can we both "play the condition" and work to change those conditions? It's a question that's been rattling around.

Tied as a performer - and as a producer and more importantly as a human being - to the questions in realism and pragmatism, it continues to trip me up.

In theatre school "playing the condition" was a significant part of what I took from the acting training of Penelope Stella and Marc Diamond (still missed.)

"Admit what's going on" is how I phrase it these days.

To see the world as close to as-it-is as I can manage, understand the circumstances that led here and then deal with this moment as honestly as possible. Whether applied to a fictional character, a task based improvisation or group facilitation, I find it hard to imagine "play the condition" not being decent advice to start from.

However, Brought up against a world so needing changing - whose conditions are unacceptable and unbearable for so many - do I play those conditions or try to change them?

In a positive sense, playing the condition is a call to be mindful of the situation on the ground; not to pine for a past that was never as good as we pretend and certainly never going to return; to take the situation as we find it and find a way.

In a less good sense, it can be seen as accepting the status quo and trying, at best, to game the system. It raises the historic failures of "changing the system from within."

It bristles against the hard-liner in my head that wants the conditions radically changed before any playing is to be done. "Playing the condition is the privilege of the few. The rest are played by the condition." …etc, etc.

I don't know that there are answers - but the question seems important.

loose thoughts at the end: It's worth being weary of abstracting performance practices and theories into geo-politics or social principles, but I think it is worth trying on, at least for moment.

Difference if not Contention

In Toronto Theatre: Five Points of Contention Holger Syme raises a lot of good questions and makes his arguments in a clear way. There are things I agree with and things I don't -- but thanks so much to Holger for bringing them out in a non-hysterical mode that allows for generous disagreement.

Below I go through his 5 contentions one at a time, include a brief summery of Holger's point (and approved by him.)

dir /w> 1.Our theatre needs classics 2.Our theatre is predictable 3.There is never enough time 4.Our theatre is a deeply immoral institution 5.Money isn’t doing what money should be doing


1. Our theatre needs classics

Approved summery: There are not enough plays from before the 20th century done in Toronto. This is in part due to false notions of relevance and nationalism.

I would frame this a little differently: Our culture needs context. And so stories are helpful.

My practical answer to most of this is in the becoming-regular Small Wooden Shoe Reads Difficult Plays and Sings Simple Songs

there is something more radically surprising about an innovative staging of an old play than about any staging of a never-before-seen play, because the former comes prepackaged with expectations that can be disrupted.[…]

plays become “classics” because of their ability to remain current — to continue to feel like “emergent” works, to continue to speak to audiences generation after generation (even if what the play is taken to say may shift radically from century to century).

This is, I think, confusing stories with plays.

The story of Iphigenia was well known at the time. Known stories are helpful entry ways into being able to change stuff up. They can also provide structure, which can be super helpful. This is very different from staging the old play.

I love the story of the Oresteia - but I will buy a ticket for a Charles Mee way faster than for a translation of Aeschylus – even for some fancy new translation. We are in a different time. Story telling modes change. (This DOES NOT mean grafting on conceits and technologies of the day - there better be a deeper zeitgeist than that in the modes of theatre)

Obviously - as Small Wooden Shoe finally gets to show people Even Webber’s Antigone Dead People – a show that has been supported by many and took a while to come to the stage – I think a lot about why we return to certain stories. But that’s a whole other post. <top>

2. Our theatre is predictable

Approved Paraphrase: There is not enough diversity of practice and approaches to work - new or old. Every play should be treated as new. Timidity is bad and a healthy competition for innovation would help.

That’s true. And I agree with you on most of this. (Though I think Factory could easily commission new tellings.) And I love the Brecht quotes, but I guess that’s not surprising.

I still think there’s a difference between a story and a play. Between a new treating of an old story and a new production of an old play.

The language has so changed and the way we hear language as people in the world, has changed. The way we understand pictures and what it means to be human has changed since the script first played. Never mind that the understanding is different between Halifax and Toronto. So something needs to be worked, to become local.

This is also true of translations - the Brecht translations (the ones I’m familiar with) need to be updated. They can play fast and with humour and they’re great that way – not the boring museum piece or an overwrought Müller rendition.

My Brecht is a Brecht for here and now. The translation I like and work on might not play in Germany, that’s fine, I’m not in Germany. All this to say, we need our classics. We’re also not all from one little white area of the globe anymore. Classics are going to be different now, if there’s to be any meaning in them.

I really don’t want to watch a bunch of people try to out innovate each other. They can start a jam band. Or invent a time machine to a different time. Also, I have seen some terribly boring European theatre too. Good work is good work. And the other way.

I worry about defining the problem with the word “timid”, only because my mind jumps to antonyms like aggressive, angry, rash, and to a lot of yelling and serious meaningful faces, and I want to die a little. Or at least, I want to do something else with my night out.

Because it can and must be a good night out. Good ideas are entertaining. The separation of pleasure and theatre is not helping anyone.

But also of course, bravery and courage are required. This is terrifying shit we’re doing and the material rewards are so little as to make us all into amateurs (those in it for love.) And it takes real bravery to work with pleasure and rigour and politics and ethics. And not many people are trying to do that. So that requires some courage. (To be reminded of the cliche that courage is only required where there is real danger and fear.) <top>

3. There is never enough time

Approved summery quote: "You can’t be innovative, or radical, or especially deep, or especially thoughtful in a three-week rehearsal process. It’s just not enough time."

There is magic math I believe in. A math of rehearsal time and interesting-ness. 4 hours is enough. 8 is too long. 24 hours, if in a row, is enough. One week is enough, 2 is dangerous. It goes on. And is imprecise and probably deeply personal.

But something in it holds - with Small Wooden Shoe’s work we think about it a lot. For the big theatre projects, I prefer multiple short chunks of rehearsal (10 –14 days) that have various sorts of pressures - performing for people usually - ideally spread out over longer time frame. I like to have time to let things settle and reflect in important ways. It also gives us the time to change our minds, something dearly lacking.

Also, I am useless after, at most, 6 hours of group work, and I don’t think I’m alone. Quiet time is needed in our life. As is time in parks and with friends doing things other than working on some play.

The intensive model I can get behind is the retreat mode. This often means short rehearsal times because of the cost of room and board - but I like it a lot. Especially on farms. The company eats together and lives together. The grounding happens through that process, and the space created by the distance from home.

For the fast work, we think about the importance of time math. We’re asking performers to swing big and have fun inside challenging material, and we think this can reveal meaning and depth. This means we try to be very clear and that we rely on the actors competencies. It is time to let loose and trust the years of work and pleasures of playing that have come before. It’s about allowing choices to made - getting out of our own way in the same way that long rehearsal periods can be about getting around our blind spots and inhibitions. The readers theatre is really a kind of actors theatre. Given all that, Leora and I are going to play to people’s strengths - a (basically) cold read is no time to get tricky with casting.

In these ongoing projects we build a language and a process and keep a good balance of regular collaborators and new people. This is what a standing company could also do. None of us have the resources to move beyond project funding, and so without alternative economic models, are not going to be able to maintain a “company.” I’m not convinced that that’s the model I’m interested in anyway. I want a creative and strategic core that is a stable and diverse team, but different projects need different people.

What I interested in with Small Wooden Shoe (and I don’t think we’re alone) is to create a more open company structure: where there is leadership and real value placed on previous experience in the processes and a relationship with the values of the work and we recognize the value of bringing new people into the work. (This work interests me - Jonah Lehrer scandal aside)

Part joys of the Small Wooden Shoe Reads Difficult Plays and Sings Simple Songs is that we get to meet and introduce people who don’t know each other. And enjoy reading difficult plays. Even this little blow to alienation from labour is a start.

HONEST QUESTION And besides: How does a Shakespeare scholar support longer rehearsal times, given the modes of production at the time? I don’t want to open the original practices can of worms (or maybe I do.)<top>

4. Our theatre is a deeply immoral institution

Approved summary: It is immoral and unsustainable for theatre to be in a continual semi-pro status. It leads to under-realized projects, one person self directed shows and jack-of-all-trades master-of-none "theatre artists."

The “theatre artist” - for better or worse, comes in large part from a 60s movement of shrugging off the heavy dead velvets of a colonial hierarchy and trying to find room for autonomy. So it’s not shocking that it’s different in the mother country. It came at a time when the silos of universities, big institutional theatres and professional associations had almost succeeded in fitting an art practice into the beurocratic industrial frame. It came when there was so much more new money, that the cup runneth over and a little spilled over the edges of the institutions to almost create an independent scene.

That being said - I agree that skills are varied and that fact should be celebrated and put to use. We all have strengths and weaknesses – things we enjoy and are good at and things we’re bad at and don’t like doing. Largely, I try to find ways to do more of the former. And then find people who compliment those features and try to work with them. Enforcing singular roles on people or people doing things resentfully and poorly isn’t going to help. The money’s not good enough for resentment and the last thing we need is bitter and bad art.

Capacity, talent and desire should shape what people do. Desire usually trumps. Which should be leading to some difficult conversations, but often doesn’t.

We are also in the age of artist/producer - perhaps after only a short and lobotomizing detour. I keep meaning to return to Walter Benjamin’s The Author as Producer. The skills of dealing with the world are changing. I’m sorry that upsets the some part of the current racket. There is another essay coming on that article and how it plays now.

I am in complete agreement about cast size. Love me a big cast.<top>

5. Money isn’t doing what money should be doing

Approved Summery: The funding distribution is broken and supports an unsustainably large number of companies with unsustainably small amounts of money. There are options other than direct Council funding to projects.

I too lean this way time to time. That less people should be getting more money. But I will certainly say, reading it here, I thought, “That’s fine for tenure track to say.” The problem is that when any of us imagine this possibility, we imagine the money going to the projects and companies that we would pick. Which, given history, is an incorrect assumption.

I want encourage living wages, diverse earnings and support amateurism. All at the same time. And if we don’t do the last two, the first one isn’t coming.

Find me one knowledge worker who only does one thing any more? The age of life long single specialization is over. We can have some sadness, regret or outrage about this, but pretending that nothing has change isn’t going to be helpful. I worry sometimes that I missed a golden age that I should fight for the return of. But then, I believe in a guaranteed minimum income for all residents of Canada (not just the one town that one time) - so when we really want to talk economic models that don’t replicate and ensconce power, let’s talk about that.

And I certainly agree that the granting system needs a good shake. But I’m not signing on until it’s clear that established companies aren’t always going to come out the winner. I’m very curious about the changes to Canada Council Operating Grants changes. And IF they were made less substantial after the consultations – who were the current clients lobbying to prevent movement of funds based on value of contribution?

The 3rd party recommender system has real strengths, but it adds a bunch of curation and admin onto the theatres that they might not have interest or capacity in, and not everyone is a curator. It also runs the risk of turning to the NEA where only institutions can get grants and power stays the same.

But, no, don’t dream - You have a university worth of space. Who’s stopping us? The big bad System is a thing we made up and agree to keep making up the same boring way. Waiting for someone else (especially one doing ok in the current system) to change is a mugs game.

We can imagine different ways and agree on those.

It’s not going to be London in the good old days - (was that the bear bating or the blackface?) - nor Chicago or New York or Berlin. It might not be Bathurst Street or Queen Street, and I’m not placing bets on the Distillery. So it probably should be Mississauga or Scarborough or maybe the Junction.

What would we have to do?<top>

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. ?

Stand up for Justice

A song for your long weekend listening, from me and Sedition, or "Kindness Makes Me Cry Like Nothing Else":the JB McLachlan StoryGo to hear song Click through and play on the site.

From the Summerworks page (look for the face)

“This story I tell you is true, my friend / This story of a miner, a man they couldn’t bend. / In the annals of labour, there’s none stands as tall, / As the great J.B. McLachlan, who fought for one and all.” Jacob tells the story, start to finish, in that order. With the occasional break for a song, in this first taste of a new work.

VENUE

Factory Theatre Courtyard, Sat August 11 and August 15 The Great Hall, Sat August 18

SCHEDULE Sat. August 11, Afternoon Wed. August 15, Afternoon Sat. August 18, 4:00pm

August 11 and 18 Jacob will find you. Free (20 minutes) Tickets for Sat August 18 are Pay What You Can

JBMcLachlan 344 cropped

Who to thank

Below is a letter I sent Monday to my city councillor. He's both on the Executive Council and not quite a Fordist hard-liner.On Thursday some of the cuts, including to the arts, were pulled off the table [read about it.]

Which is better.

I am grateful for the people who wrote and called their councillors, those who spoke to council and kept media attention going, to those who made their voices heard. And I am grateful to the staff and councillors who are working so hard to make the city work despite Fords' best efforts.

But I'm not sending thank you notes to the Executive or to Palacio just yet. First, I am suspicious of the strategy of announcing more cuts than intended in order to "save the day" at the last minute. This strategy usually means a whole bunch of cuts slip through with little notice and an opposition with no wind in their sales. It's going to take a lot more than one day of being marginally less terrible for the city to have me sending notes of thanks Ford&Co.

The pressure needs to continue, and the real work of changing a city and changing the conditions that made Ford resonate to voters needs to happen. I have little faith in politicians changing their minds. I still, despite all the possible cynicisms, believe that in ourselves and our fellow residents is where change can occur. Let's work on that.

One election day away.

Dear Councillor Palacio,

I am writing to ask you to reconsider your position as a supporter of Mayor Ford.

I moved into the riding in May 2011, buying a first home with my partner on Carrick Street. I love the neighbourhood. I love the economic, ethnic and resident diversity. I'm close to the Silverthorne Library, the hydo-line parkette and I have good access to to the West Toronto Railpath, which is amazing for my year round cycling. The Keele busses and the St. Clair street car make getting to the subway easy (I would love a few less stops, but that is a minor complaint.)

I am looking forward to interacting with the the community centre and park more in the coming year- passing by the full pool in the summer and the rink in the winter is a real delight that makes me happy and proud to live in Toronto and our neighbourhood.

One frustration is the empty storefronts along St. Clair by my house. Between Caledonia and Old Weston, there are almost as many "for rent" signs as there are business. I understand that the neighbourhood is changing and that there will be pains as things shift. But right now the only thing that seems likely to stick is Jonah Schein's constituency office.

I run an small but, potentially, growing theatre and events company. I want us to be a "local" company in many ways. Our shared office is on Dundas West and Keele and I am mindful of supporting local businesses. My ambition includes a real engagement with local schools and community centres, along with a rehearsal, teaching and performance space in the neighbourhood. As I pass by these empty storefronts, I think about these dreams, and the dreams of other young social and artistic entrepreneurs I know. I think about how we all dream of space, and I think about how we all face scarcity. We have ideas, skills and drive to make the city better, to contribute to our community and the lives of those who make it up - but the current administration is attacking the structures and feeling of possibility that make all that possible.

The relentless focus on cutting and destroying the social fabric and infrastructure is disheartening and makes our work and lives harder. The jargon of "tax-payer" over "citizen" or "human" crushes our higher potential and reduces everything to a base and petty level. A level that we should all be trying to live above. The feeling of absurdity and hopelessness for a better city that comes from hearing about a council willing to turn down free and necessary public health nurses; that spends more to have less safe cycling; that attacks the programs that house and care for our most at-risk while promoting red herrings like monorails and a war on public servants is crippling.

To reframe a revenue problem as a problem of expenses is small politics that aims at dividing and deconstructing our society for the betterment of the few. It should come as no surprise that these ideas come from an independently rich Mayor who inherited his wealth and influence. They are ideas that make starting new things very hard, ideas that keep things going the way they are currently going - environmental and social decline that increase that gaps between the rich and the rest of us.

While I'm well aware that lobbying for one's own particular field is limited, but I wanted to give a concrete example for you:

Right now I am preparing to submit an application for annual operating funds to the Toronto Arts Council. It won't be for much money, maybe $10,000 a year, not event a tenth of our yearly expenses, but it will make a huge difference in the stability of the company and reduce the amount of time we spend writing project grants - time we could use developing connections and programs to benefit the community and people of the city. It will also mean we could afford more space - perhaps one of those store fronts. With that kind of space, we could offer classes and performances that would benefit the area through participation and engagement as well as bringing new people into the neighbourhood who will support local businesses and activate the streets in a way that inspires new, grassroots businesses and services. But I am applying with the knowledge that we will not receive that funding. With the proposed cuts and/or freezes, there is simply no room for new companies to receive operating funds. My best chance of getting the stability those funds provide would be to take a job with a more established company - none of which are in this neighbourhood, so I will have to leave the storefronts empty, I will have to continue to support the development of other communities. I also have the fear that without transit, increased cycling infrastructure or neighbourhood community strength, any business that I start in the neighbourhood would fail.

Civic services aren't the cure-all but they provide an important part of making our city a better place to live, and I ask you, as a resident, voter and as a person who wants a better city, neighbourhood and life for everyone, to stop dismantling the city we love. Reinstate the vehicle registration fee and Transit City look for better relationships with the other levels of governments and revenue sources. I am sure there are places to save and decrease bureaucratic bloat, but please stop participating in the destruction the morale and capacity of our, potentially, great city.

We will all remember your efforts,
Sincerely,
Jacob Zimmer
Artistic Director, Small Wooden Shoe

Surprisingly timely

I wanted to take some time on our day off yesterday to write a little more about the show. The pressures and mode of presenting at a festival mean that I spend a lot time yelling “Come see us” and I end up feeling disconnected from any interesting conversation about what we’re doing. At least online. We’re having great conversations after the show.

When Chad, Ame, Kilby and I decided to return to Perhaps in a Hundred Years we didn’t know if the work itself would feel dated. It was one of the mysteries of doing a show from 6 years ago.

Now, a week into the run, the show feels absurdly of the moment. As if we might have been out-of-time the first time we did it. It’s a show about friendship and tender resistance in isolation. It’s about three people, stuck in a time and place trying to make it through together.


When we made the show, Torontopia was in full swing. We weren’t a part of it - or at least nobody knew we wanted to be - but the energy was in the air. We were poor, in various states of unemployment, but it seemed possible that performances in little rooms could be a part of a new city and part of a new life for us.

We haven’t changed the material in the show (though we’re better at performing it) but things have changed around us.

Harper and Ford and the threat of a three level love-in have brought the hard-right turn in Western politics to Canada and Toronto; the world economy is falling apart, there are riots in England - not to mention all the things we don’t hear about. And there we are. Holding out and holding on together with a small group of audience members in a small, sweaty room, finding a way to sing together, be vulnerable and keep moving..

Of course an intimate performance in a summer festival in Toronto isn’t going to change voting patterns or fix tax systems or massive class inequality - that’s a different, important kind of work.

But it might do something - to the people in the room at the time. A step enroute to action must be that we come together, and come together with openness, pleasure and silliness and other important shared values.

I’m looking for both a community theatre and a populism I can stand behind. It can be hard to reconcile this search with the “alternative” theatre scene. But it’s present or can be, if we want it. Carl Wilson wrote a great piece for the Toronto Standard on “Torontopia in the Age of Ford” that I keep returning to, including comments by Dave Meslin and Darren O’Donnell.

These responses offer possibility - a possibility I also feel at Hub 14, performing the show and talk with people after.


Writing this post in the middle of the festival feels as scary as doing the show does each night. I fear it’s too grand, to “serious” “sincere.” Oh well. If I don’t start here, there’s nowhere we can go.

A responsibility (and a privilege)

Another thing that I particularly like about the Pomegranate Center is that they clearly see community improvement as their mission. Their work then flows from that belief. I would argue that any 501(c)(3) organization has that view as a responsibility (and a privilege). How is the work of the arts altered or adjusted if that mindset is adopted?via Engaging Matters | Pomegranate Center.

I've been thinking more and more about this responsibility and privilege.

3penny Christmas Concert Choir. Photo: Omer Yukseker

Small Wooden Shoe is in the process of becoming a charitable organization. A step that most arts organizations take in Canada. It allows us to write tax receipts for individual donors, apply to foundations and to request larger, on-going, grants from government funding bodies. It means that we are responsible to the Canadian Revenue Agency for how we spend our money.

The nagging feeling that I have though, is that we're not (as a sector/community/"industry") living up to actually being charitable: working for the good of the community.

This is a messy and potentially controversial subject, but I simply don't think that my self-expression is a charitable act. Nor is the self-expression of the other professionalized, privileged artists I mostly work with.

Something else is needed. I want to take seriously a mission of reducing alienation through engagement, rigour and "a good night out." I want to take seriously the charitable goal of reducing "need." And I want to work in the frame of theatre. I could, and do, volunteer with other charities and NGO's (what would change if if arts groups thought of themselves as NGO's?) But it is theatre that I know best and somewhere, despite much evidence, I believe that the process and event of theatre can make people's live more better. The important word here though is "can" - I don't think it inherently does. I think we have to work at it, make choices and probably change some thing about the work and the modes of production and distribution.

I'm thinking a lot about teaching and community work right now - about how Small Wooden Shoe can do those things both within the context of contemporary arts practice and in the community.

This certainly ties into the question of Populism that I've been hacking away at, as well as events like the 3penny Christmas Concert, Upper Toronto and Galileo.

We're starting up a program that mixes teaching and community productions for people who have no interest in becoming professional.

This is, like Populism, something that I want more movement around. It's not an either/or. I want to be able to do the kind of work discussed on Engaging Matters and I want to work with highly talented and skill artists on projects like Antigone Dead People and I want all of that to be responsible to our charitable status.

Where does the name come from?

This requires some back story.Right after university I founded a “collective” called sabotage group with a bunch of friends who did things other than theatre: a film-maker, a few writers, a geography PhD candidate, a few musicians (many of these people over lapped these descriptors.)

“Collective” requires the quotes because really, it was a led-collaboration, but at the time, anything short of “collective” seemed like a political failure.

Under that name there were 3 shows - 1 in Vancouver: Pleasure is So Hard To Remember (a title I’d love to re-use); and 2 in Toronto: …Open Wound and Other Than War. The shows were, generously, young - but each had moments and aspects that certainly track through all my work, and I worked with truly amazing people - many of whom I still collaborate with.

Other than War - a show bringing together narratives of the Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof) and Uncle Vanya in the spring of 2001 (during Quebec City, pre-Trade Towers) - was the pinnacle and the destruction of the ability to work in the supposed collective. All very ambitious, all very glad it happened - but there are things I’d do better.

I fled to Halifax (it was planned before, but still felt like fleeing) and needed a name to produce under - something that I could do without need to deal with the mux that sabotage group had become personally. I had hopes that sabotage group wasn’t completely finished, but I needed what might be a side project. /back story

“Sabotage” comes from (in some reports) striking French workers throwing their “sabots” - clogs - in to the machinery in order to stop scab labour and force owners to settle in order to get the machines fixed. I looked “sabot” up in a French-English Dictionary and it said, “a small wooden shoe.” I thought Small Wooden Shoe was a good name for the side project.

And 10 years later, I still like it.

I've been thinking lately about how to talk about the political instinct/desire to disrupt and make changes that the name carries. I think about differently than I did 10 years about - but I still think about.

"Throwing a clog into the machinery of the everyday" - just not sure. Thoughts welcome.