Photograph of Seana McKenna and David Storch by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Gerald Schoenfeld, Chairman of the American Shubert Organization, has died. He was responsible for bringing many of the big shows (like Cats, Phantom, and A Chorus Line to Broadway. His obituary from the New York Times is here (you’ll have to register, but I guarantee you, it’s worth it). Schoenfeld was an interesting figure; while he had a lot of detractors, no one in the industry would deny his importance within the theatre world. Rocco Landesman, President of rival Jujamcyn Theatres, credits Schoenfeld with saving commercial theatre. He may not have been popular in not-for-profit circles -“There’s no profit like not-for-profit,” he used to say -but reading his obit, I can’t help but think that his approach is such a good model for theatre, all theatre, anywhere. From the big things to the small things, Schoenfeld never left any detail to chance, and he fought for his productions. He also gave a lot of people jobs and consistent work. And, to quote the article, “Mr. Schoenfeld argued tirelessly that the theater was an economic engine for the city and deserved greater help from City Hall.” Now there’s something we can get behind.
CBC Arts Online reports that British Columbia arts groups are buckling down in light of this week’s B.C. Ballet layoffs. They’re also thinking more about marketing -which probably makes sense for all arts groups right now, really. For example:
Ballet Victoria, a smaller ballet company than Ballet BC with just 10 dancers, is very aware of the need to attract new audiences.
Artistic director Paul Destrooper said he always programs unusual works that might attract audiences that don’t normally come to the ballet.
“We draw in the audience with a bit of a surprise. I always build my season with one big ballet that will draw a crowd that might not necessarily see classical ballet, and then when they see the level of the dancers and the choreography they’re drawn to other works,” he said.
That’s just how it’s done.
Over at the Guardian, Christine Bacon, the Director of Actors For Human Rights with UK-based theatre company iceandfire, rebuts the notion that theatre can’t respond with appropriate swiftness to current events. Not only is theatre able to do this with the required fast action, but, she argues, it should. And it doesn’t depend on funding, either:
Because we use a rolling cast of actors who donate their time and have no technical requirements, we can provide a “rapid response” event for whichever organisation asks us to turn up. We normally perform in churches, village halls, pubs and lecture rooms – anywhere we’re invited, really – eliminating the usually prohibitive cost of hiring a theatre space. This method allows us to act as messengers; rushing the urgent news to audiences who need to hear it now – not, in two year’s time, when the Arts Council funding has come through. It’s the economy and portability of the concept that really allows us to deal directly with some of the most pertinent issues of the day…
It reminded me of Kelly Nestruck’s columns from earlier this year about the lack of current events being portrayed on Canadian stages lately (if anyone can find that link, post it please). Theatre is Territory has opened up the discussion about politics and theatre because of the article. Hopefully it generates a good discussion. Theatre can be, and is, many things to many people, and I believe there’s room for all of us -to learn, to grow, and to expand.
Off to see Soulpepper’s A Christmas Carol tonight; I’ve not seen their production, or indeed, any production of Dickens’ classic tale, onstage, ever. Friday’s booked for Canstage’s It’s A Wonderful Life, the staging of which I find greatly intriguing; it’s set as a radio play, which hits a personal/professional interest-button. But thematically, both are more than just jovial feel-good tales. As Richard Ouzounian wrote, no two works could be more relevant in this economically harsh festive season.
Walking up Bay Street at 10pm Saturday night, I couldn’t help but look around in wonder. The streets were jammed, and there was a palpable excitement in the air. It was the third annual Nuit Blanche, and Toronto was staying up late to catch the “all-night art thing.” Whether visual or performance, everyone was curious about experiencing… something. The flashing pixellations in the windows of City Hall were like a beacon for the thousands walking up Bay street, past the lineups of others curious about finding out about being part of a live art installation.
Waiting to meet a friend in the chaotic, crowded madness of Nathan Phillips Square, I had to wonder: “Wow, are we all elite?” Stephen Harper’s sad, sadly hilarious idea about art being a “niche” meant only for elite people at galas seemed really removed from the reality surrounding me Saturday night.
And after wandering around the city all night, and taking in the smiling excitement, open experimentation, child-like curiosity, and outright wonder that such an event produces, I can only reiterate my own position: culture isn’t partisan. Like good food, we all consume culture. We all have our tastes, sure, we all have our favourites, we all have the things that work better for us than others. But we still share the passion, curiosity, wonder, and delight. Art isn’t made by, much less for, outsiders. It’s about us, for us, by us. Hallelujah.
In that spirit, I’m excited about the spate of openings coming to Toronto this week and next. Tonight the magnificent Famous Puppet Death Scenes returns to the Young Centre; I saw this wonderful show, by Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop, last year, and in all frankness, it changed my life. It changed the life of my 905-dwelling friend, too. Never having been to the Young Centre, much less to puppet theatre, she was so enamoured, enthralled, and inspired, that she’s planning on returning with a gaggle of 905 buddies this year, to introduce them to the wonders of Old Trouts, puppets, the YC, and the Distillery District. Ordinary? Whatever.
The next fortnight also sees the openings of Scratch, a new play by newcomer Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman, whose mother, journalist Caroline Corbeil, died of cancer. The play is based those experiences, though it has comic elements. With my own mother starting a second round of chemotherapy this week, there’s a special significance to the work for me. Something about the scenario of a young woman writing and sharing her life and vulnerabilities that I find very brave. Sometimes art helps us make sense of our own lives through sharing experiences. Carrying on the big-up-tha-women theme, Nightwood Theatre launches its fall season with an adaptation of the Helen Humphreys novel Wild Dogs; from the sounds of it, the work is challenging, disturbing, unusual. Good. I like that.
Speaking of challenging, Canstage opens their season next week with Frost/Nixon, a play about the famous interviews between Richard Nixon and David Frost in the 70s. Having already played to great acclaim in Vancouver, I’m looking forward to seeing this Ted Dykstra-directed work, with its timely themes and, from what I’ve heard, excellent performances. Soulpepper, a company Dykstra helped co-found eleven years ago, offers the Toronto premiere production of A Raisin In The Sun next week too, and never having seen it live, I’m looking forward to it immensely.
Amidst all this, I’ll remember the mascots, who were probably my favourite Nuit Blanche installation. It was silly, stripped-down, basic theatre in its most absurd and joy-full state. Called I Promise It Will Always Be This Way, and performed beneath the blazing lights of Lamport Stadium, with Yoko Ono’s enormous IMAGINE PEACE billboard illuminated in the background, the sight of various furry mascots dancing, jumping, and instigating cheers made for pure, unfiltered joy. I looked around at my fellow Torontonians, between snapping shots and dodging the bouncing beach balls tossed into the crowd; everyone was smiling. Isn’t that the point?