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”. ↩

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.