Friday, June 22, 2012

Factory Turmoil in Toronto

Meanwhile, at the Factory Theatre in Toronto, another bit of history has abruptly come to an end with the firing of Artistic Director (and company founder) Ken Gass. Details here.

George Walker is threatening to pull his new play, and urging others to do the same. All of this potentially has local repercussions: one of next season's scheduled shows at the Factory is the PuSh-developed Craigslist Cantata, mentioned in my previous post.


The Jessies at 30

On the eve of the 30th anniversary ceremony of the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards this coming Monday at the Commodore, in which PuSh Festival co-pros The Idiot and Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata are both up for multiple prizes, two related articles appeared yesterday in the local press.

The first, in the Vancouver Sun, on the grande dame who has lent her name to the awards (and featuring extensive remarks from friend and fellow PuSh Board member Jane Heyman), offers an informative portrait of the history of theatre-making in this city.

The second, in the Georgia Straight, takes stock, post the Playhouse Theatre Company closing, of the current state of affairs--and posits a surprising hypothesis re the competition for audiences.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Performance Publics, Public Discourse

Three newspaper articles--one international, one national, one local--that I've read over the past two days draw attention, in different ways, to ideas of performance publics and the performance of public discourse, ideas which I also consider a crucial animating aspect of this blog.

First, in yesterday's New York Times, an article on what an exiled Syrian playwright in Lebanon, Mohammad al-Attar, is trying to accomplish through theatre where international diplomacy has so far failed.

Next, in today's Globe and Mail, a piece from J. Kelly Nestruck about tonight's Wrercking Ball performance in Toronto, which is partly pitched as an homage to Edward Bond (a festival celebrating his plays is running concurrently in the city), but which also features a 10-minute piece from Brad Fraser rehashing the brouhaha a few months ago at Tarragon about AD Richard Rose's decision not to stage then playwright-in-residence Michael Healey's new satire about Stephen Harper. Fraser sees the issue as one of troubling self-censorship in the face of a federal government hostile to the arts. But this is based soley on Healey's side of the story. What if Rose, who has so far (and to his inestimable credit) refused to comment on the issue, just thought the play was bad?

Finally, in an op-ed piece in today's Vancouver Sun, my university President, Andrew Petter, and Chancellor, Carole Taylor, officially launch SFU's Public Square, an initiative to engage the community in dialogue about issues of pressing local and global concern. Although the square, per se, is neither materially located nor expressly linked to performance, it is hard not to see SFU Woodward's as playing an instrumental role in any such public platform, not least in terms of its own role within, and responsibilities to, the Downtown Eastside. Hence my inclusion of this story alongside the other two.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Artist Studios and Bike Lanes

Usually I treat with skepticism and a healthy dose of irony the self-congratulatory email blasts that arrive in my in-box from Vision Vancouver on a regular basis extolling the party's latest triumph at City Hall. These announcements often seem to me to be platitudinous wish fulfillment masquerading as planning and policy (the greenest city by 2020 anyone?). (I don't think I've been a paid-up member of the party since Robertson's inaugural mayoral run, but that of course hasn't meant that they've tossed my email address.)

Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened up my email yesterday to find not a missive from the mayor reflecting with shame (or nostalgia, for that matter) on last year's Stanley Cup riots (as most media outlets in the city have been doing this past week), but announcing progressive new measures (not least in terms of making available new affordable studio space) for Vancouver's artists. Good news for a city that has the highest concentration of artists in Canada. Details of the announcement can be found here.

What's more, this came on top of news that the Vision-dominated Council had approved making permanent the separated bike lanes along Dunsmuir and Hornby, as well as introducing a public bike share program like those in Toronto and Montreal and other major cities around the world.

Not a bad week's work, and for once my applause is genuine.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Positively Thrilled

I haven't posted in a while, mainly because I've been busy writing papers and preparing course syllabi for the fall, and generally trying to make up for all my procrastination during the past nine months I've had off from teaching. Then, too, I have been in Ontario for the past 10 days, first attending the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences co-hosted by the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, and now here in Toronto since yesterday for the premiere of my play, Positive I.D., at the 7th annual InspiraTO Festival of 10-Minute Plays, which runs from June 1-10 at the Alumnae Theatre on Berkeley Street.

Yesterday Richard and I, along with a posse of family members who live between Oshawa and Kitchener, attended the second of five performances the play will receive over the span of the Festival. I will admit that I was nervous. This was the first theatre piece I'd written in which I had no direct involvement in the workshop or rehearsal process, not least because I was several thousand miles away. Then there was he fact that the play itself features two black characters who not only speak to each other in the obscenity-laden invective of the projects, but who also must weigh in respectively on what it means to be a black man in today's world while somehow simultaneously avoiding becoming a caricature or stereotype on stage (despite the imprimatur of the judges who assessed my play as worthy of inclusion in the Festival, I couldn't help obsessing over me being a white gay academic who was likely channeling too much from The Wire). On top of this, the lead character in the piece, which I'd written for a black male actor, was--due to casting issues, and after a bit of quick rewriting on my part--going to be played by a woman!

I needn't have worried. Less than a minute into the play, I could tell that the instincts of my director, Ryerson theatre grad Madeleine Jullian, were spot on. She assembled a top notch cast in Kate MacDonald, Kelan Brown, and Virgilia Griffith, who found depths in my script I hadn't even known were there. In a short play like mine that in addition to borrowing from the police procedural has three distinct scenes punctuated by two separate blackouts, pacing and above all tone is everything. Both were evident in abundance last night, and I couldn't have been happier with what I saw, nor with the enthusiastic reception the piece seemed to receive from a surprisingly full house.

And while I regrettably was unable to meet Madeleine in person, I did get to give Kate, Kelan, and Virgilia each a hug. Then it was off to a fantastic meal at Jamie Kennedy's Gilead Bistro with Richard and the family. One couldn't have asked for a better night.

I would be remiss, in closing, if I didn't single out InspiraTO Artistic Director Dominik Loncar for special praise. This is the largest 10-Minute Play Festival in the country, and he works tirelessly to make it run as smoothly and professionally as possible, recruiting top notch talent not just on stage, but also behind the scenes, with the set design and striking and setting up of each new play being especially expert.

Check out the rest of the Festival at