Good things, short notice

Some today, some this week  -

  • Today at 4pm you should be at the Theatre Centre if you can. Nadia Ross and STO Union are in town and showing new ideas as part of the Tracy Wright Global Archive . It’s a treat to visit with the the 3 part work (installation, film and performance) about her travels to India seeking the seeker. The whole archive is a pretty amazing project and hats off to Franco, Ravi and Roxanne and co. for a rare, special and meaningful form of commissioning between an institution and artists. Also, a really lovely way to spend the afternoon. STO is company one should spend time with whenever available.
  • The Animal Project is a film by Toronto filmmaker (and previous STO Union collaborator) Ingrid Veninger . Small Wooden Shoe collaborator Hannah Cheesman is in it. It is very good and this is it’s opening weekend. As much as I love comic book movies and blockbusters – it’s a treat[1] a good indie film in the cinema and so this is your chance to do that:TIFF LightboxToday: 12:15, 2:30, 7:15, 9:30 and then through to Thursday.
  • Luminato is on and amongst celebrity and questions of stability – there’s actually some art happening too.
    • I’m looking forward to seeing Cineastas tonight. I saw a show by Argentine Mariano Pensotti at PuSh a few years back and really enjoyed it. For a theatre culture a little over-focused on Europe and the USA – this something different than that.
    • and we finally get Mammalian Diving Reflex’s All the Sex I’ve Ever Had in Toronto in full glory and that’s good news.
    • There’s a bunch of events and talks happening around the Copycat Academy that I’m curious about too. I’m catching Jennifer Doyle talk about emotion in contemporary art on Tuesday and while I don’t necessarily agree with Mårten Spångberg about much, but he made a big splash in the dance community last time he visited.
  • If talking Canadian dramaturgy is your thing - the LMDA Canada Mini-Conference is back on Monday at Tarragon to fill that need. Here’s the Facebook page. I’ll be there after rehearsals for The Summer Spectacular

Maybe see you in the next couple days.

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  1. And an important thing to do if you want to keep seeing independent films on screens in the future.  ↩

Puppets are great, but not enough

We reached our target – thanks so much.


In talking about The Summer Spectacular - often I’m all “Big Puppets! Spectacular! Summer!”

Which is all true but not everything.

We’re making the mash-up of history, science, politics and fun that I like so much and want more of in our theatre (and our world.)

We’re going to create the show by touring the park and telling each other [1] a mix of stories:

  • The Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus forms the scaffolding of the narrative. Often told as a warning to not get too big for your britches – “Don’t fly too close to the sun!” – I wonder if maybe we should ask “Why were they imprisoned on an island that they needed to invent wax wings to fly away from?”
  • J. Robert Oppenheimer is an iconic figure – physicist, activist, leader of the Manhatten Project to develop the Atom Bomb and accused communist and security threat.
  • Aaron Swartz was an activist and much loved citizen of the internet and democratic reform. While being over prosecuted by the US government and MIT he took his own life at 26.
  • A new barely science fiction story set in 2018 about a Canadian scientist having some trouble with the government about what she wants to say.

Quotes

“Trying to poison your tutor is no small infraction. Then again, you might decide, as the dons at Cambridge clearly did, that what had happened called for a measure of leniency. They knew that the student had never done anything like this before, and that he wasn’t well.” – Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker

“Two years ago, he was indicted on multiple felony counts for downloading several million articles from the academic database jstor. It is not clear why he did this. He may have wanted to analyze the articles, or he may have intended to upload them onto the Web, so they could be accessed by anyone. It is clear that he did not anticipate the astonishing severity of the legal response.” – Larissa Macfarquhar in The New Yorker

“This story thus encourages others to consider the long-term consequences of their own inventions with great care, lest those inventions do more harm than good” – Somebody on Wikipedia

“I’m pleased to announce the Support Our Strengths Act – ensuring that our leaders in extraction science will be able fast track their work without interference from destructive fringe elements.” Prime Minister Vic Toews, 2018 press statement. Elected to Majority Government with the support 13% of eligible voters.[2]


Map

I made a map of some thinking around the ethics and reasons for telling stories about people who are real. I’m only one degree of separation from people who loved Aaron and so I felt it was important to think through and articulate. Click to see the whole thing.

Ethics mindmap


  1. So that we can tell you
  2. This is fiction. I hope

Be 1 of the 67.8 10!

FWYC-embed

For just $25 you can make sureScreen Shot 2014-05-20 at 9.48.13 PMThe Summer Spectacular is as spectacular as it should be.

Give now

With only 5 days left, we need 67.8 40.8 of you to give $25 to reach our goal. [1]

"I can do that. Take me there."

Your contribution will help us get the fabric, rope, paint, wood and aluminum that we’ll use to make the three giant puppets.

It will help us pay for the 3D printing and miniatures that will create the tiny worlds we’ll tour in the park.

It will mean that everything from the door goes directly to the artists.

“That all sound great – I’ll give now”

If you have more than $25 to give, AMAZBALLS. There’s some fun and/or ritualistically satisfying treats for you.

"I like treats!

Thanks so much

let me know if you have any questions


  1. That’s 13.56 a day, if you’re curious  ↩

In pictures of me with fire and few clothes: The Past of the Spectacle

I’ve talked to a few people who are surprised I’m making a outdoor summer show.

Maybe they’re used to me and Small Wooden Shoe looking like this:

Photo by: Dimitrios Touloumis

or this:

46 FP Feb Monarch

In a tie – with a microphone or two stuffed in my face.

And that’s pretty accurate for what I’ve been up to this century.

Last century however:

 This:

JZ Purple

led to this:

JZ Stilts

which led to:

Soltice JZ profile

and later, at Burning Man, in a Navada desert, to this:

JZ Crouch Red

and this:

JZ TF BM

I don’t have pictures from working with Public Dreams building lanterns, lighting fireworks or being inside a puppet rig for Parade of the Lost Souls. This was before we carried around a phone, let alone a phone with a camera.

I wandered away from this kind of work for all sorts of complicated reasons – personal and artistic. But there is no doubt that the years spent in the public spectacle world has been a huge part of my outlook on life and was incredibly transformative for a shy kid who couldn’t imagine running around a desert in a dance belt.

A few years ago, I started to get a hankering to return to outdoor spectacle work.

Soltice Lineup

I missed the connection with the audience, I missed the potential of people just stopping and watching, I missed the liberation and pleasure that comes with performing and rehearsing outside.

But I also wanted to include the values intimacy and big ideas that I love in performance.

I believe these things are complimentary, not exclusive.

And The Summer Spectacular is the first time we’re going to prove it.

JZ Flag

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.

Good things #2

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It’s been a crazy couple weeks of going out and seeing things: Conte D’Amour (and internet brouhaha); the very good Sufferettes (rumours of a June show for those that missed it or just want to go back because funny); Dancemakers; Trampoline Hall; Minotaur at YPT, and 2 book launches (get to a local bookseller before they are all gone.)

I might slow down for a bit and enjoy sunshine - but here are somethings on my radar:

I do a fair amount of legacy theatre company bashing - even if just by calling them legacy companies. So to praise when there’s a chance to praise:

Tarragon Theatre continues to do their mandate very well and with rigour.

  • Erin Shields’ new play Soliciting Temptation opens tonight. Adhering to the Three Unities, it’s a two-hander about sex tourism that does a good job of the difficult task of staging the ambiguities and complexities of a specific encounter. If you’re not into watching people act like they’re other people, maybe it’s not for you – but you’re missing one of my favourite that-kind-of-play playwrights.
  • In other good Tarragon news - Sean Dixon’s A God in Need of Help starts previews on my birthday (April 16) and opens April 23. I’m pretty excited to see it.
  • Erin and Sean had a conversation about Gods HERE

VideoCabaret continues to be one of the best things about Toronto ever. Their journey through the Village of the Small Huts is a remarkable work. The newest edition - TRUDEAU and the FLQ is apparently selling out quickly down at Soulpepper. So get on that.

In the big and splashy - Luminato released the full line up. Excited to see Mammalian Diving Reflex, The Roots, Buffy St. Marie and the return of Jason Collett’s Basement Revue.

Further off the mainstream path - something for this Thursday. Amelia Ehrhardt has been running a series called Flowchart about which I’m curious – even if I’ve been unable to attend. Be better than me and check out the last edition (and see the Shaw Street school Artscape reno if you, also like me, haven’t.)

Also - the only thing harder than being an out of town company visiting a city for the first time or being an indie producer is being an indie producer visiting a city of the first time. I know nothing about Shadows - in town from Ottawa -except that it’s playing at Videofag, which shows some good taste. Maybe it’s the thing you’ve been waiting for.

In Small Wooden Shoe news:

  • I just recorded an episode of the SWS Podcast with Adrienne Wong and guest Rupal Shah talking Diversity in various forms. Catch up on old episode while spring cleaning and that episode will be up in a few days.
  • We’re in exciting prep for The Summer Spectacular at the Toronto Fringe Festival in July.

Conte D'Amour and self-aware problems

Conte D'Amour

Conte D'Amour - which ends it's run tonight at Harbourfront Centre has been the cause of much chatter on the internet. From a zero-star review in the Globe to reviews not worth linking to, with lots of Facebook stuff thrown into the mix.

If you like this discussion, you might like the CopyCat Academy that's happening at Luminato this year. A pretty great opportunity. Applications are due Monday.

Personally, first I spent an afternoon writing 2,200 rambling words about why I didn't want to see it (excerpted below) and then I went to see it and then I made a mind map in Scapple. (updated for this post)

I still have artistic and social differences with the ensembles approach which I will try to clarify at some point, and bunches of Cultural Industry issues with everything about the current creation and presentation modes of large scale ambitious work in Toronto and Canada that I also hope to continue to work out (some of which is happening with Adrienne Wong at the SWS Podcast.)

But Conte D'Amour is a serious and rigorous work that is well aware of it's own horror and boringness and problematics – and is more aware than anything I've ever seen in Toronto about the problematics of northern white male liberalism and the construction of privilege and the projection of fantasies on the Other (whether people or continents.)

Conte D'Amour

download PDF

Written Wednesday pre-show:

so I wasn’t going to see Conte D’Amor and I was going to write about why.

I’m still going to do that - even though I now know I’m going to see it tonight.

I’m going to see it because a) Lilya from the Theatre Centre posted on Facebook about an extra ticket and I thought “She will make the experience better.” B) It was a comp. I’m broke and impacts the amount of shows I see. And is breaking the way I see shows, especially shows like Conte D’Amor. But more on that latter. And C) because I thought I might write about and so should see it or risk being told I wasn’t qualified to comment.

Why I wasn’t going to see it:

It’s been a hard winter contributing to pretty intense case of “the blues.”1

And so, I just don’t want to have my “heart ripped out” or my “guts wrenched” because life is doing that just fine thanks.

I am very well aware of the horror of living in this world and I don’t need to pay $50 to watch a bunch of well funded white artists from Europe being paid a substantial amount of money to “make” me feel.

There’s a lot to unpack in that paragraph. Some about Art - it’s purpose and aesthetics; some about the Cultural Industry in this context; some about Society; and tons of just personal shit that I carry. And all that overlaps and blends together.

  1. Or depression, if we scrape away the euphemism. ↩

Good things from other folks

Recently someone asked if there was a place to go to find out about interesting work going on in Toronto – the internet and weeklies are just too unspecific. There’s not really. But it reminded me of the importance of spreading the good word:

  • Dancemakers Around opens TONIGHT and the runs this week and next Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm with Sunday matinees. Get tickets here. I’m involved with this one as a dramaturge, so there’s that – but Dancemakers continues to make worlds unlike any others in the city.
  • Especially for the 3penny and Kurt Weil inclined, there’s a perfect chance to go to the new Theatre Centre that just opened and runs this weekend: L’Orchestre d’hommes-orchestres | Cabaret brise-jour March 25–29. I’m going Friday.
  • A bunch of great artists from all around are leading a workshop in June. Luminato is hosting a crazy interesting Copy Cat Academy – and the deadline has been extended.
  • Two of the funniest folk ever, Kayla Lorette and Becky Johnson, are available on Thursday April 3rd. The Sufferettes are doing a solo show at the Comedy Bar. Buy your tickets HERE
  • Tuesday, April 8 at 7:30pm (FB event) at the Monarch Tavern, Carl Wilson is relaunching his amazing book Let’s Talk About Love - now made even more amazing by amazing contributors. Amazing.
  • Misha Glouberman is leading one of his great Negotiation Courses starting May 7th. Very helpful for life. More info HERE

Public Funding – Mixing stability and agility p2

I've got some interesting feedback / questions for clarity from the last post in the comments and off line. Thought I'd post some more thoughts here, on whether 5 years is too long... The reason I like 5 is that I think it's hard to know (sometimes) whether something is going well or not until year 3, and I'm nervous about constantly writing big grants.

and yes, 5/3 cycle funding would be a replacement for "operating" multi-year project grants (2-4 years) are a different good idea.

Maybe the whole package is something that looks like:

  • Short turn around micro grants / recommenders: There are little ($500-$2,000) things that need to get done quickly.
  • Project Grants: Pretty much like what we have.
  • Multiyear project grants: Covering 2-4 years and focused on a single "project" but including some operating expenses (covering activity outside of the single project like admin and ancillary projects)
  • Operating Cycle Funding: Described in the post. Allows for flexibility and stability and isn't as focused on a single project, but on a breadth of activity.

Also I'm in favour of radically changing peer jury system - changing especially how disciplines and scales are thought of. Right now most of my frustrations are about the decisions being made by the juries, not the system. But the changes in the system could help. Again, there's more detail on options in Shannon Litzenberger’s Metcalf paper, Choreographing our Future.

Public Funding - Mixing stability and agility

A little twitter back and forth with Praxis folk plus a desire to respond to Shannon Litzenberger’s Metcalf report, Choreographing Our Future: Strategies for Supporting Next Generation Arts Practice has inspired me to post some thoughts on public funding models. I’ve been thinking lots about this and below is an edited version of some writing about this for a funding body earlier this year. I’ll start with operating. In tracking the discussion of the future of operating funds it's clear a mix of stability and agility must be found. “Operating funding forever” is no longer tenable and maybe, in retrospect, not a good idea. I don’t want to see anyone loose their jobs or to increase the precarious nature of contemporary life[1], but a proper mix must be found to allow for renewal and change. Entitlement and expectation of complete funding is not realistic.

Yet Project, even multi-year project, funding is unstable and makes it impossible to plan and difficult to take risks. It also encourages a “giant project” model that will not suit all makers - especially those in marginal practices and companies working with small ongoing or repeating projects.

I have been imagining a 5-year operating grant renewed at the end year 3. This would mean that companies would have 2 years in which they knew the results and were able to plan ahead if the funding was renewed, and to seek other funding or wind down operations if it were not. It also meant the competition for funds would be more open to new or emergent companies and practices.

In the current economic structures and limited funds to art councils, however, it cannot be the Councils job to provide this for artists regardless of effectiveness and connection with (self-defined) community and society.

The issues of infrastructure and shared equipment are important and not entirely addressed by the above proposal. How are the very real needs of space, equipment and skills supported and continued? Again, a mix of stability and dynamism is required and artists need to be involved in creating the structures they need to work.

This is something that has urgency, but also requires fair warning.

There will be heavy lobbying from current operating companies and this must be viewed with an understanding that artists and organizations without operating funding usually do not have the resources or access to lobby in the same way. This imbalance is part of the larger dynamic that keeps the status quo firmly entrenched and brutal ceiling on emerging companies that don’t just want to do the same as the historic mainstream.


  1. It’s a tricky subject since I believe, politically and economically, in a minimum income for all Canadians. ↩

Letter: We need transparency in the Department of Canadian Heritage

[see also Policy, Politics and Rhubarb] from: Jacob Zimmer <jacob@smallwoodenshoe.org> to: andrew.cash@parl.gc.ca cc: shelly@shellyglover.ca, shelly.glover@parl.gc.ca, stephane.dion@parl.gc.ca, Brendan Healy <brendan@buddiesinbadtimes.com> date: Fri, Nov 29, 2013 at 2:39 PM subject: We need transparency in the Department of Canadian Heritage

Mr Cash, (cc: Ms. Shelly Glover, Mr. Stephane Dion)

I suspect I am preaching to choir, but none the less, I understand the number of communications matter and specificity from citizens in the riding can't hurt.

I am writing to ask for you to support a call for greater transparency and clarity from the Department of Canadian Heritage, specifically in their program: "Building Communities through Arts and Heritage."

This is specifically regarding the recent rejection of an application for Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and The Rhubarb Festival. More information is here: http://buddiesinbadtimes.com/canadian-heritage/

The program priorities appear to be in flux with organizations getting no clear response from officers about the criteria of assessment.

I have my own theories that I wrote about here: http://minorexpletives.ca/a/policy-politics-rhubarb/

At the least, organizations need to be given clear and actionable feedback for future applications.

Below is a personal account of the impact the festival has had on my life in Toronto and my connections to communities that make the city a livable place.

Thank you for your time Jacob Zimmer

Founding Artistic Director Small Wooden Shoe

Home postal code: M6N 3J5

-- In 2000, when I first moved to Toronto from Vancouver right out of university, a faculty member advised me to apply to Rhubarb. I did, and green as I was, was accepted. That acceptance meant much more than my first show in Toronto. I was able to sit in on the Buddies general auditions and connect with a huge number of artists. I met and worked with Jennifer Tarver (Necessary Angel, Stratford Festival) and Rebecca Brown and their community building *Director's Gym*. I met Franco Boni, the director of the Festival, who has continued to be a supporter and source of inspiration in his work at the Theatre Centre. I worked with a cast I could not have met any other way, and I still work with some of those people today. The show I did was a bit too serious for it's own good but I learned so much in putting up at the festival. It is easy to pay lip service to need for innovators to fail and try again. Rhubarb, at its best, creates the safe space for that process.

When I moved back to Toronto after four years in Halifax, Rhubarb again was a place to connect to the community of artists, and this time, audience. Feeling like I was disconnected from the community and my work, I gathered the people I knew and made a show about the Industrial Revolution. It went over very well. Over three years Small Wooden Shoe developed *Dedicated to the Revolutions* in an ongoing relationship with the festival. At Rhubarb we also developed the national community for the work, making connections and eventually touring to Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax and Kitchener-Waterloo for the Magnetic North Festival. When we premiered the full work, we did it at Buddies in Bad Times. It was at Rhubarb that I discovered my community of colleagues, and more importantly, friends.

Rhubarb is a community of support and connection that is badly needed. It is a space for people who are excluded from the mainstreams of culture to come together and find solidarity.

Projects like Rhubarb - as specific and local as they may be - matter outside the careers or relationship of the artists involved.

They build vital, meaningful and deep connections that buffer isolation and depression. They produce engagement and ripples that are difficult to quantify but hold our societies together.

Serving historically marginal people in a non-commercial model means that these events require and deserve government support. Their value may be immeasurable, but it is not in the form of immediate renumeration. We, as a country, must stand behind this value. It is our connection to each other and the support that makes greatness possible.

Thank you, Jacob Zimmer

Founding Artistic Director Small Wooden Shoe

Policy, politics, Rhubarb

The Rhubarb Festival did not receive Department of Canadian Heritage (DCH) funding. Read the letter and response here.

Nothing New

The DCH is an arm of the government in power. That was true under the Liberals and PC’s when it was used to promote “Canadian” culture abroad and in Quebec. (oh for the ¿golden age? of Separatism and Cold War.) This direct relationship is why the move to arms-length funding is historically so important. For all the work to be done on public funding systems, the arms-length nature is integral to having an arts culture that can be outside the direct influence of government ministers.1 The idea that the arts might have a role to play in democracy other than cheerleading or distraction is contained in this idea.

I disagree vehemently about the governments policy and ideology (see below) but I can’t feign surprise at DCH not supporting Rhubarb.

Policy beats politics

Rhubarb didn’t have their funding cut (a thing we can protest) – they applied, unsuccessfully, for a project grant (a thing that artists do all the time.)

A shift in policy to support “community” is hard to argue against. All across the arts we’re seeing moves for “engagement” and a focus on participation and an articulated relationship with “community.”2 It is difficult and unpopular to argue publicly for the need for governments to fund things that only benefit a relatively small group of people. That’s what back room lobbyists are for.

Quiet policy change is Harper’s preferred method of politics, because it doesn’t look like politics until it’s too late.

In addition, for decades arts lobbyists have been been making the economic impact argument, claiming culture and heritage delivered “tangible and measurable results” for a broad civic good. Those of us dissenting from this argument, or even trying to complicate it, were being ideologues and/or paranoid about the political and economic consequences.3 We were asked to sit in the back and not rock the boat.

Again, this decision, and the rest I predict we’ll hear about, comes as no surprise.

The Rhubarb Festival does not fit into the Harper Conservative world view.

When Harper says “Canadians”, queer Toronto is not who he means. Queer Toronto isn’t a community worth supporting. We are not going to vote for him, and the world we want is (or should be) radically different from the one that Harper and Co. desire.

Any blow back will only help with his base who have been convinced by decades of divisive politics that we live in a cultural zero-sum game. The only culture political danger is in Quebec and so the administrative / policy nature of the changes provides cover and little to nothing will be said publicly.

In negotiation, we’re well advised to find mutual shared interest and work towards a solution that benefits all parties.

This is not a negotiation. It is a debate, where multiple sides are appealing to a “third” party (people who vote) to declare a winner. We can be sad about this state of our politics but we shouldn’t be naive about the strategies being used by the other side.

What is to be done?

Democratic reform: Canada needs a new way of electing politicians. Here are some resources. I’m not informed enough to know what is the best way, but we need to force the boys and the batshit old school back rooms of both the NDP and the Liberals to get over themselves and start caring more about the country than power.

Regime Change: While I’m grateful for those able to stomach lobbying Conservatives, I’m not one of them and I have no faith in shared values. While none of the federal parties make me excited these days, Harper needs to go.

How? The big question.

Of course, I don’t know – but the story needs to change. The conservative movement excels at defining the story, of creating the zero-sum scenario and manipulating it to their economic and political advantage.

Arts groups arguing for more arts funding fits perfectly into their story of privilege, waste and entitlement. Artists and art lovers arguing against community programs and changes to a problematic structure fit perfectly too.

I will write to my MP and have written a letter of support about the impact Rhubarb has had on my life (HUGE!) for Buddies – but I am doubtful about the effectiveness of these strategies. They fit into the expected narratively too cleanly to disrupt it.

This post is long enough - proposals can go in the comments and I’d love to have this discussion and plan to write more on populism, art and how those things can become something worth standing behind.


  1. There is of course a slower creep of influence and priority, and this is potentially dangerous, but is a space we can be happy about the pace of change at arts councils.  ↩
  2. Community is a word that is almost meaningless now. Much of the time, I’m on the pro-community side of conversations. I’m still working on a populism I can stand behind. There has been a harmful separation between the “real world” and “artists” that has been created by a combination of factors including Reagan/Thatcher culture wars and artists moving to the academy and self-reference for stability and community. For me, this is a situation that needs changing and that change is complex and not the same for any two artists, arts organizations and “communities.”  ↩
  3. I’ve been a little obsessed with evaluation these days - about wanting to find a meaningful, helpful and rigorous way to do it. I think a lot of things we’re doing aren’t going very well and that we should have processes to review that and get better. Right now the main evaluation model in the arts is quantitative analysis of numbers of people and money transferring hands. This is not meaningful or helpful for most arts work – or social work for that matter. Something else is needed and we have to be involved in its creation or suffer under the needs of short sighted, idealogical politicians. ↩

Fun Palace Set List 11/4

The Fun Palace Radio Variety Show. Photo: Erin Brubacher

Song With Everyone The Scarlet Plague Chapter 1 with Fun Palace Players From the DADA Archive with Anand Rajaram Monday Night Football pt 1 with Jacob Zimmer and Chad Dembski Reading the Internet with the FPP A (mostly) Standard Song from Anand Excerpts from Provincial Governmentality with FPP An Intermission for refills and pinball Songs with Thom Gill The Scarlet Plague Chapter 2 with the FPP Monday Night Football pt 2 with Jacob and Chad Not At All Breaking News with Rob Baker and Alastair Forbes The Scavenger’s Daughter - Dispatches from the Front with the FPP Song from Aimee Dawn Robinson Long Distance Lip Syncing with Katie Ewald and Chad Dembski

Song With Everyone Reprise

The Fun Palace Radio Variety Show

Beta 0.02 – The Monday Night Football edition

at the Monarch Tavern 12 Clinton St

Hosted by Jacob Zimmer

With the Fun Palace Players: Hannah Cheesman, Wesley Colford, Nicola Correia-Damud, Brendan Gall, Susanna Fournier,

And Music Director: Scott Maynard

Recorded by: Christopher Willes

And Special Guests: Anand Rajaram, Thom Gill, Aimee Dawn Robinson, Rob Baker and Alastair Forbes, Katie Ewald and Chad Dembski.

Writing from Susanna Fournier, Brendan Gall, Tim Maly, Members of the Ontario Legislature and other figures in history.

The Fun Palace gates open tonight...

==========================Update - Next performance Monday November 4th at the Monarch. Set list to be announced soon. ==========================

Fun-Palace-Wide-600-400

Beta 0.01 - The Ame Henderson birthday edition

at the Monarch Tavern 12 Clinton St 8pm doors, 8:30 Show

$5

TONIGHTS LINE UP

Hosted by Jacob Zimmer

With the Fun Palace Players: Hannah Cheesman, Wesley Colford, Nicola Correia-Damud, Brendan Gall, Susanna Fournier, Scott Maynard, Christopher Willes.

And Special Guests: Anand Rajaram, Brian Cauley, Nicholas Hune-Brown & Lorna Wright, Rob Baker and Alastair Forbes, Katie Ewald and Chad Dembski

Writing from Susanna Fournier, Brendan Gall, Tim Maly, Members of the Ontario Legislature and other figures in history.

The Set List:

  • Song With Everyone
  • From the DADA Archive with Anand Rajaram
  • The Scarlet Plague Chapter 1 with FPP
  • Reading the Internet Part 1 with the FPP
  • Excerpts from the Provincial Governmentality with FPP
  • Not At All Breaking Sports with Brian Cauley
  • A (mostly) Standard Song from Anand
  • An Intermission for refills and pinball
  • A song from All Our Happy Days are Stupid with Nicholas Hune-Brown & Lorna Wright
  • The Scarlet Plague Chapter 2 with the FPP
  • Not At All Breaking News with Rob Baker and Alastair Forbes
  • The Scavenger’s Daughter - Excerpts from the Front with the FPP
  • Reading the Internet Part 2 with the FPP
  • Long Distance Lip Syncing with Katie Ewald and Chad Dembski

Hope to see you there.

I don't actually want Batman.

A day after reaction to the Summerworks Shoptalk debate from August 14. There were other triggers as well, but I think those will be integrated into later posts.


There’s a fantasy about the rich guy (and sometimes his friends) with the great heart, skills and all the best toys who protects the rest of us - King Arthur, Robin Hood, Batman, Iron Man, Rockefeller and Carnegie.

We’re in a crazy age of comic book and fantasy movies - technology, movie profit models and a deep need to be rescued, have combined in time to bring these epic fantasies to life. And I love ‘em, always have - even as I’m growing a bit bored and fearful that everything else is out of sight. Plus the last Batman movie was crazy propaganda.

But it’s a fantasy. And we are in reality.

The fantasies never show the aftermath - there is no discussion of whether Tony Stark can pay for the damage caused to the destroyed city infrastructure or the hospital bills of the carelessly wounded. There is no before, there are no systemic changes required. There is not reality.

Yet here was Andrew Coyne arguing for no government involvement (funding or tax breaks) in anything (arts, media, oil companies, roads) except for the narrowest view of the “public good”1 in favour of user fees and the “fair exchange of value” and invoking the impresario and philanthropist as the savours of the rare, the new and the radical.

I respect his consistency and at times (like today) agree with him. But I don’t think blanket solutions of any sort aren't so good for the complex world we live in.

I’m sure this system would work great for him and his friends - but for the rest of us? It is, as Nadia Ross pointed out, hopelessly (willfully?) utopian and naive.

I was flabbergasted and so rambling in my question - I could barely get out an un-articulate “Really?” I am grateful for the event and Mr. Coyne for reminding me where the differences are.

His insistence that “I don’t see these ‘market forces’ people talk about” felt like a fish asking why everyone is so worried about having their head held underwater.

A full-bore version of the rational actor theory given the amount of money spent on product and political advertising seems delusional. It requires ignoring a lot of experience and data to claim that this would be a level playing field where good things will naturally rise up, regardless of the wealth and access of the creator. I don’t believe in the straight line of progress - but I had hoped we wouldn’t have to re-tread this ground.

I am really willing and wanting to have fundamental discussions about the nature of our government and how we arrive at “the public good”; I’m willing to have fundamental and difficult conversations about arts’ place in the world and how the current funding system supports that or doesn’t2.

But these discussion need to be based on reality and not fantasy.

Tony Stark turns out to be Vladimer Putin and Karl Rove is Alfred to G.W. Bush’s Batman - all funded by money, hate, lies and ponzie schemes posing as financial markets.

Probably abstractly radical.


  1. Police and defence were cited - the public is apparently very scared. ↩
  2. Hint: I’d lead with the proposal that it’s not the bogeymen of “corperate boards” or “beaurocrats at the Arts Councils” - it’s the poverty of imagination, vision and dynamism in the Artistic Directors, the work getting done and the decisions of the artists on the peer selection juries.) ↩

7 responses to 7 Important things

  • I cried. Not a common thing in the theatre. And as is mostly the case, it is the kindness that made me cry. It is a remarkably generous show.
  • To talk about the world as if there were options - options on how to live in the world, and how we could organize ourselves in that. The pitfalls and blind spots and unintentional consequences of those choices, but the choices are there to made.

    (As if there aren’t any unintentional consequences of just going along with the world as we find it.)

    To say “capitalism” as if it were one among many of the ways of organizing things. And maybe not the best one for all us. There were titters in the audience most times “Capitalism” was said. We are not fish, and this capitalism is not water. It fills me with happiness to hear it spoken as a thing able to be discussed, as a thing that has real emotional, personal and social impact. It is part of the dull emptiness of Canadian Theatre (and contemporary life) that we don’t hear it more.

  • The show is about a person of a certain age being interrogated and loved by someone a half generation or so younger. I am half a generation younger again, and I am no longer “the youth.”I have a lot of anger about the Boomers. About how that generation in Canada and the US have fucked up the world, and now, in the ruins, are desperately clinging to power and will consume the civil society, social security and the environment the rest of us have to live with. They will extended the retirement age and weigh down the institutions they run, blocking innovation to keep their jobs. They were a generation that rose up against the past, and are now working to make sure that will never happen again.

    This show is about the effects of not participating in that destruction - about what happens to one person when they decide not to destroy the world they live in.

    It’s beautiful and heart-breaking and hard but mostly it’s inspiring. Inspiring about being a human being - which is a pretty rare thing in life and theatre in these times.

  • The dances - beautiful moments of real bodies being bold and honest in a way that destroys the dance numbers of the ironic theatre of the moment.
  • The thin and perfectly danced line of “being yourself” and stage craft. Ross is a master of this. She has crafted a show with George that shapes and reveals. The mask, the simple rolling furniture and long hanging drape, video that solves problems.
  • The show in Canadian Theatre Economic and Presenting contexts.
    • [the angry reaction] Why the fuck is this show at Summerworks? I’m glad it’s here and I hope everyone goes and they rock the door. But this is a show that should be well presented and supported, not in a pay-to-play setting. AD’s and presenters of Toronto, I’ve seen what you spend your money on. This is better. Perhaps it was too much of a risk. Perhaps you were unsure if you and your staff could connect with the people who will love the show – well, that’s your job. Do your jobs.
    • [the positive version] This show is a beautiful part of Peter Hinton’s legacy at the National Arts Centre and a reminder that small spaces like Hub 14 can start great things.
  • It is good to have role models and elders who remind me of the possible. People who remind me of my own responsibility to make something different - different from the mainstream and different from their work. What I can and should do is not what Nadia does - I am another person from another time and place. If I act out, reject or build over the work of STO Union, if I try to top it or make something better, then I am honouring the work and the people of STO Union. And I do. I do so honour.

Let’s make the best things possible.

Share our office in the Junction

We’re looking for 2 office mates in Toronto. Please feel free to spread the word. Available September 1

Shared office in the Junction

Ame Henderson (Public Recordings) and Jacob Zimmer (Small Wooden Shoe) are seeking like-minded spies to share our office space at Dundas West and Keele.

We are (mostly) performance makers running indie companies as well as freelancing.The West Toronto Moving Company (as we like to call it) is our workspace for the administration and production side of our arts practices.

We are hoping to find a couple office mates who are working independently in the arts, design or social enterprise fields and who share our interest in creating an open and flexible workspace.

$250/month, includes internet

For more info - email info@publicrecordings.org IMG_3535

Museums, Votes Left, Silence and Class war. Evidence of our time.

Links for May 27th through June 27th:

  • Museum 2.0: Memo from the Revolution: Six Things I've Learned from our Institutional Transformation - This past weekend, I had the opportunity to give one of the closing talks at the Theater Communications Group annual conference in Dallas. TCG is the industry association for non-profit theaters, the way AAM is for museums.
  • Not Enough | Parliament of Things - Today we launched a simple protest / art event / action that we have called Not Enough. It is a simple expression of a feeling that is becoming increasingly common amongst people, particularly young people around the world.
  • Debates - Issue 151 - April 16, 2013 - "a larger story, one where the Harper government is trying to systematically silence individuals and organizations who dare to challenge it publicly.The story began with an attack using — or more accurately, pulling — government funding. Women's organizations were among the first to feel the heavy knife of the Harper government slashing their funding. That was back when this government still was enjoying the healthy surplus it had inherited from previous Liberal governments.Women's organizations were told that if they dared to engage in advocacy — in other words, if they came to Ottawa to speak up for the causes that their members believed in, subversive causes like child care or equal rights under the law — their funding would be cut.

    International development organizations then came under fire. We all remember KAIROS. That organization engaged in such dangerous activities as social and economic justice projects with local partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Its members included radical organizations like the Anglican Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Canada, the Quakers, the Mennonite Central Committee Canada and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. The funding to KAIROS was eliminated."

  • Senator shows why ‘sober second thought’ matters: Goar | Toronto Star - "Since 2006, the government has systematically cancelled funding to groups that question its priorities; women’s organizations that promote gender equality; the Canadian Council on Learning, which advocates education beginning in early childhood; foreign development agencies that side with impoverished Africans and Asians against western development of their resources, and anti-poverty groups at home."
  • The Wire creator David Simon on what's behind the US war on drugs - extended video interview | Media | guardian.co.uk - The war on the poor.