Before posting the second half of my interview with Malcolm (in the middle) x, I wanted to address the issue of “ordinary” vs “elite”, and the way culture is being used as a divisive wedge issue during this election.
I was raised by a single mother in the suburbs. As a kid, my mom would take me (in the wood-paneled station wagon) down to the then-O’Keefe Centre, where, for two or three hours, she’d marvel at the sounds of Verdi, Puccini, Mozart et al, and I’d try to figure out what the heck was going on. I’d fall asleep in the car on the way home, but come the next morning, I would ask her a million questions about what I’d seen the night before, at the opera. One of my favourite memories is seeing Carmen for the first time; I couldn’t stop singing the songs (with my own words) once I’d heard Bizet‘s crazily-beautiful music. There was never a debate about whether it was “doing me good” or if I, as a child, was engaging in “elite” activity; my mom was sharing something with me that she loved. Period.
Once the Toronto Symphony Orchestra moved into the then-newly-built Roy Thompson Hall, there was yet another occasion to get into the station wagon (okay, by then it was a Crown Victoria). My mom had worried that I wouldn’t be able to see in the TSO’s old digs, Massey Hall. I remember looking over the balcony onto the actual stage during my first visit, entranced. The first time I heard Beethoven in a live setting, I thought I’d been hit over the head -but in a really, really good way. Saturday afternoons our house was filled with the sounds of the Met, live on Radio Two. When the Treasures of Tutankhamen visited the ROM from Cairo in the late 70s, we waited in the long line that snaked down University Avenue, eating popsicles and drawing. Again, it wasn’t so much a case of, “this is good for you“, but was something she was interested in and something she wanted to share with her child.
Does this mean we didn’t do so-called “normal” things? Not at all. We still went to movies (and, with the advent of the new-VCR technology, rented them), watched The Flintstones and Three’s Company, ate KD, played board games, and jumped rope. I got a kid’s baking book which I loved, took piano lessons, went bowling, and rode my bike to the library. We went to church (it happened to be very music-oriented) and ordered pizza Friday nights. Video games and MuchMusic came along, and kids like me thought they were the coolest things ever.
My love for theatre probably began a friend of my mum’s who was a regular attendee (and subsequent supporter) of the Stratford Festival. I remember wonderful summer weekends filled with the sounds of Gilbert and Sullivan at the Avon Theatre. One of my favourite memories is setting Doug Chamberlain in The Gondoliers, and Nicholas Pennell in… well, any and everything. It may have been Nicholas who got me interested in seeing Shakespeare, in fact. I remember loving his voice, and his warm onstage presence. Years later, I’d learn that he’d chosen to stay in Canada, with the Festival. It struck me as sort of cool. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was the first heady piece of theatre I was exposed to, and my mum was worried I’d be bored. But I clearly recall being entranced by the language -its rhythm, its cleverness, its flow -and the wonderful performances. I couldn’t have been more than 10.
There are so many other things I could mention, but, in the interests of brevity, I’ll just say this: “ordinary” means many different things to many different people. My single mother raised me to culture -to love it, to live it, to share it. “Ordinary”, for me as a kid, meant a lot of driving, a lot of sleeping in the backseat, and sitting through a bunch of stuff I didn’t understand. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Culture is not something that divides, but something that connects. It’s not for a “niche”; it’s for everyone. I’m ordinary, I’m Canadian, and I’m eternally grateful.
What a great post, thanks for that.
I wonder how much further along the performing arts industry would be in Canada if we were exposed to it at an impressionable age. All my parents took me to was Andrew Lloyd Webber stuff, and ballet, neither one are my particular forte in theatre now, but the experience of being in those huge rooms with the performers certainly left an impression.
Imagine if we could show kids professional level theatre about stuff that really fascinates them. The performing arts could explode in 10 years…
Thanks for the comment over on the ESO blog. In response to Stephen Harper’s comments I’ve created a flickr group called Ordinary People – pics of people participating in the arts. Hope you and your readers will join in!
When a government cuts funding for the arts, often the arts groups form consortiums and develop an outreach plan to locate new funding sources among private foundations. Corporate foundations give to arts groups if there are tax breaks, especially companies that are doing well and otherwise expect to pay the same taxes to the government. If the government reduces their tax liability when they give to charitable organizations that support the arts, funding remains in the private sector of the economy.
During the industrial revolution in the United States, there were a few very wealthy industrialists and a much larger, poorer working class majority. Congress decided to give them an incentive to share the wealth by reducing their tax liability in exchange for corporate giving to private charitable and community foundations. This enabled people from the poorer and middle classes to complete college educations and improve their career options over generations, and still does.