Toronto Sun Continues to Blast Play No One Has Seen

In Yesterday’s Toronto Sun, an article entitled PMO Frowns on Terror Play, the paper continued its campaign against the Summerworks Festival for daring to produce a play about one of the Toronto 18.  The article quotes a representative from the Prime Minister’s Office as saying “”We are extremely disappointed that public money is being used to fund plays that glorify terrorism”.  Of course, no one, not even the star or the representative, know if the play “glorifies terrorism” since they haven’t seen the play.  This is just bad journalism. This is like a movie reviewer posting a review about a movie they haven’t seen.  Of course, The Sun doesn’t care about journalistic ethics here, all they care about is restarting their old campaign against using public funds for art.  The article also tries to make it sound like people in the arts community are afraid (due to the comment from the PMO) that arts funding will be cut as a result.

The reaction from the PMO has some in the arts community nervous that Frid’s play will become an excuse for more cuts to arts groups by the Conservative government, “I would hate to see them use this play as an excuse to pull funding for anyone,” said a Toronto theatre worker who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisal by the Conservatives.

A Toronto theatre worker who asked for anonymity because of possible Conservative reprisal? Quite frankly, I doubt this person exists.  No name given.  A quote that is actually in line with what The Sun wants:  a cut in funding as a result of this?  The only reprisal that an artist might fear is having an arts grant application declined as a result of their comment.  But since the Canada Council for the Arts is an arms length agency, which means that the PM (or any other government official) does not directly influence its decisions, there is no real reprisal an individual “theatre worker” might fear.  Again: bad journalism.

The real hero of the piece?  TD Bank, who refused to consider pulling their sponsorship, saying:

“The intention of our sponsorship of Summerworks is to encourage and support young artists,” said Matthew Cram, a TD spokesman. TD Bank is kicking in $5,000 to help cover Summerworks’ bills. The Royal Bank, whose corporate headquarters is also across the street from one of Adbdelhaleem’s targets, is also helping fund the festival.

Continued Musings on Social Networks

I’ve been continuing my musings on a social network for entertainment industry professionals. The more I think about it, the more I am seeing that the current social networks do not serve the entertainment industry well. Sites like LinkedIn are work well for people in traditional industries, but for people like actors, dancers, and other entertainment industry professions, LinkedIn fails.

Social Networks like Linkedin or Facebook become too cluttered with other information and applications and don’t provide ways for people in the industry to properly connect. I guess the real problem is that they are not focused on what people in the industry might want or need. And why should they? Sites like Linkedin and Facebook aren’t really for us. They are for other people. People who have “normal” careers.

So, what would a social network for people in the entertainment industry be? What features should it have? A few that I can think of off the top of my head:

  • Discussion groups
  • Easily updated resumes
  • Photo gallery
  • Twitter/Google Buzz/ integration
  • Email notifications (and the ability to turn them on or off)
  • Simple way of connecting with others
  • Such a network should also be simple to navigate and use. Ideally, anyone who was familiar with Facebook or Myspace would have no trouble in using it.
  • Should be focused on network rather than the social.

What other features should a social network for people in the entertainment industry have?

The Sun and the Arts Funding “Debate”

Sometimes I read the Toronto Sun.  Not because I like the paper, but because I really hate it.  I think its important to know what the “other side” is saying, and to understand that there are people who actually believe what that newspaper prints.  Case in point: this article from the online version of the paper, which references an article in yesterday’s print edition.  The article outlines a complaint from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation complaining about going to the Summerworks Festival, specifically due to funds going to a play called “Homegrown”.

Homegrown is a play about one of the members of the Toronto 18, calling the play sympathetic to terrorists.  The article uses this play as a springboard for the Sun’s familiar complaint about funding for the arts, and how the funding plays is destroying the fabric of our society – ok, this article doesn’t say specifically that, but its clear that the Sun is revving up their readers to be outraged about this “abuse of public funds”.  Some choice quotes from the article:

The [Summerworks] festival receives more than $90,000 from all three levels of government including $35,000 from Heritage Canada. Homegrown received $6,000 from the city funded Toronto Arts Council for a workshop.  The play’s writer, Catherine Frid, stressed Friday that the play isn’t condoning terrorism but is a “sympathetic portrait” of one of the men caught up in the terror bust.


But Kevin Gaudet, of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said tax dollars shouldn’t be going towards a “terrorist love-in”. “You want to put on a play? Fine. Hang up your shingle and ask people to pay for it … and if it has to do with sympathetic portraits of terrorists who want to destroy my country, I won’t go,” Gaudet said.

It is of course, important to note that the CTF:

objects to funding for all festivals from Pride Toronto to the Calgary Stampede, he said.“We advocate against all this type of funding in that context,” Gaudet said.

CTF is a conservative group that objects to most public funding of events. Of course, without the kind of funding they object to, there would be no Fringe Festival, no jazz festival, no TIFF, no Stratford or Shaw festivals, or really any cultural events whatsoever.  The play that CTF is “objecting to” is an excuse for the old saw about the bugaboo of the evils of public funding for the arts.

Arts funding organizations from all levels of government need to fund shows based on their merit or their relevance, rather than on their political ramifications.  This means that sometimes there will be controversial plays that are funded by the government.  But this is not a bad thing.  The arts should challenge political correctness, they should be controversial, they should spark debate.  If nothing controversial can ever receive funding because the sensitive right-wingers at the CTF (which will always be offended because public funds are involved) or the Sun might be offended, then all funded art will be safe and boring.

The article itself may be familiar territory for the Sun, the most important part of the article are the online comments.  Many of the comments are from people who are just as outraged as the Sun (and the CTF) wanted them to be.  These are the people who believe that the arts are not worth funding.  These are the people who think that artists are swimming in money, people who think like Stephen Harper does when he talked about funding cuts back in the last Federal election (“I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren’t high enough, when they know those subsidies have actually gone up – I’m not sure that’s something that resonates with ordinary people,”*).  In my mind, the comments say the most.  These are the people and attitudes that artists are up “against” when election time comes, when people want to be outraged about “wasted government spending”, and how the arts are for the rich and not for “regular people” so why should we fund them?  I’d consider the comments a “must read”, at the very least, to know what those people who disagree with arts funding believe, so that those of us who recognize the importance of funding can plan our response.

*Quoted from the Toronto Star, Sept. 24, 2008

World Theatre Day 2011

World Theatre Day occurs on March 27.  The 2010 edition has passed by, but I noted that there isn’t really much that happens in Toronto to mark this day.  Sure there are people who participate via Facebook and Twitter, but it seems that actual events (you know, where people can actually show up and participate in some way) don’t seem to happen here.  In fact, the only place in Canada where I know that there were some events to mark the day was in Vancouver.

It really is a shame that more isn’t done to mark this “world day”, and I think that needs to change for next year.  Couldn’t we have several cities across Canada participating, contributing some theatre.  Perhaps a live video feed between all the participating locations, so that everyone can share in it?

Maybe that’s a lofty goal, but why not?

What would you like to see happening for World Theatre Day 2011?

Is anyone “just an actor”?

Michael Wheeler has a great article on the Praxis Theatre blog titled “Why Canadian Actors’ Equity Association is important and why it has to change” about the conflict with the Canadian Actor’s Equity Association for artists who create their own work.

Of particular interest are the 5 dramatic shifts in Canadian Theatre.  These start with:

There are very few artists under 35 who categorize themselves solely as “actors”. We all have multiple identities now. Someone is a playwright-dancer-director, another artist is an actor-choreographer-writer, and I even know a stage manager-lighting designer-poet. These are the people creating art now. Most importantly, we are all producers. If you try to explain this to anyone at CAEA they look at you like you’re speaking gibberish. It’s like there are no check boxes to accommodate this reality so we’re just going to pretend it isn’t the case.

Of course, there are a lot of artists over 35 who fit that same bill.  I don’t know anyone who is “just an actor” anymore.  Every theatre artist I know writes or otherwise has a hand in creating their own shows.  Sometimes I wonder if anyone can “just be an actor” these days.

I’m not an Equity actor (I hope to be, but I’m not there yet), but the decisions that Equity makes on this issue will have a profound effect on the future of Canadian theatre.  Every theatre artists should be looking at this issue, and every Equity artist who can should be taking place in the Regional AGM.