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.

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