The “Theatre Community”

This essay first appeared in the Feb. 22, 2022 episode of Stageworthy.

Here’s a question that I’ve been thinking about for a while. Just what is the theatre community? We often talk about the quote unquote theatre community. What does the community think about this? What is the community doing about this?

And I love the idea of the theatre community, but often a moment after I talk about the theatre community, I find myself wondering what exactly is the community and how do I find it? Because a community is a social unit with a commonality, like a, an identity or a religion or values or, or passions. Or in the case of the theatre world of vocation, but a community needs to be a social unit.

Now I live in Toronto, which is a pretty big city for theatre, but there are small pockets of theatre all over this city. Lots of theatre cliques for want of a better word. There are some names that everyone knows, and a lot of names that might be known within a single clique, but might not be known in another.

The problem with these clique’s is that they are both the theatre community and not, they are the community because for the people involved in that group, that’s their community, but they are not the community because they’re a small group for the larger theatre community. That’s something that’s more complicated to describe.

When I think about the theatre community, when I’ve asked people to tell me what they think about when they think of the theatre community in Toronto, the only thing they seem to be able to think of is the fringe tent or the patio or whatever we’re calling it. Now, fringe seems to be the one time of year when the theatre world comes together and forms a community.

We gather, we have a few drinks, we have some conversation. We talk about the amazing theatre we’ve seen. We talk about the things that we’re working on. We hang out and just enjoy being with other theatre people. And for 10 ish days, we have this place that we go. And when it’s over, that’s pretty much the end of the community for the year, because it’s the only time we seem to gather as a group.

When I first came to Toronto, when I first started hanging out and being in the world of Toronto as an adult, I learned that there was a bar called the Green Room and I assumed that was the theatre bar. And I thought to myself how amazing it was that there was this place where all the performers and other theatre people in Toronto could go and hang out.

Well, imagine my surprise and disappointment when I discovered that it was just a bar. Occasionally you would find some theatre people there, but it was not a theatre bar. And I think about New York city, where there have been restaurants that were integral to the theatre world, like the Edison cafe, sadly, no longer with us and a cursory Google search assures me that there are other cafes and restaurants that are theatre centric where people go, we don’t have that here.

There are a few places that have become central to the theatre scenes in cities here and there. At least during the fringe season, someone will have to let me know if they’re theatre hubs all year long in Winnipeg. The Kings Head becomes the bar of choice for fringe casts and crews. And in Edmonton, the performers shunned the beer tents and instead head to Steel Wheels.

But to my knowledge, these places, these hubs of the theatre community are temporary and mostly related to the local fringe scene, but it would be great to have a place that could be more of a regular gathering place, where we could talk about things happening in the theatre world, where we could meet where we could have community instead of making Twitter, our theatre commons, because Twitter is no place for discourse, but when we have no place to gather on the regular, how can we be a theatre community, I guess in the end, I don’t have an answer because I still don’t know what the theatre community is.

It’s something we talk about as though it was a thing and every now and then we get a taste of what it could be and then it’s gone, but I long for it. And maybe you do too. The only question is what do we do about that?

Why on earth would you decline your ballot?

Lately, I’ve been seeing lots of posts on Facebook and Twitter giving instructions on how Ontario voters can decline their ballot on election day. There are articles, and even a website extolling the virtues of declining your ballot on election day.

Perhaps I’m overly skeptical, but I’ve been wondering who is benefitting from this campaign? While it is your right to decline your ballot, I wonder about who is behind this push. Why? Because I think its worth thinking about. Who benefits if you decline your vote? How will politicians react to an increase in the number of declined votes? They won’t. They will, in the end, do what politicians do, and play to those who voted for them. They will make choices based on the demographic that votes for them, or that votes at all. And declining your ballot is not voting.

So I wonder to myself, who benefits if people decline their ballot? My skeptical brain thinks its the Tim Hudak and his conservatives. But it doesn’t matter. I tried to do some digging and find out who the website was registered to. But that information isn’t available. Even the about section on the website doesn’t state who is behind it. So that makes me suspect that one of the parties is behind it. Since I don’t like Tim and his cronies, my brain makes me think its him. But let’s be honest, it could also be the Ontario Liberals or even the NDP. I can think of reasons why they would all benefit.

Think of it like this: Declining your vote will not prevent that politician you hate from being elected. Since it takes your vote out of the equation, it may in fact make it more likely that this politician will find themselves in power. Because you didn’t vote. Because declining your vote isn’t the same as voting.

So, do your civic duty. Take part in the election. And choose a candidate. Because that’s what voting is.

Building An Arts Community

At the beginning of the year, I talked about wanting to put together a “creative support group“.  I said:

I’d like to propose a regular get-together of creative people.  Coffee (or beer for those who drink it) at some place where we can sit and talk about theatre, or writing (or whatever) in the hopes that I can keep the creative juices flowing (and hopefully so can the other folks participating).

A few people contacted me, so we made a Facebook group, and we’ve had a couple of meetings.  Basically, its people who have a creative leaning getting together and talking about the things that they are working on, general encouragement, and just socializing with people who create.

Last night, we happened to be discussing yesterday’s post, and we started talking about the disparate arts disciplines.  The people who met yesterday were predominantly of theatrical disciplines and we were discussing how there is a distinct lack of “community”.  We talked about how the theatre “community” exists on something of an existential level: theatre folks tend to meet up while working on a project, and then go their separate ways.  One of the folks called the “theatre community” more of an underground brother (or sister)-hood.  If you extend the community discussion to include other disciplines, things get more muddy.  How many of us network with dancers, or painters or sculptors, etc?  Very few of us, we found.

Why don’t we socialize with artists from other disciplines?  And if we don’t, how can we possibly become the kind of “boosters” of the arts in general, that I talked about yesterday?

When I first started organizing the “support group for creative people”, I envisioned it as something that encompassed artists of many disciplines.  Due to the network of people I have friended on Facebook, most of those who have joined in the group have been theatre people.  But I’d love to have dancers, other performers, and artists from non-performing disciplines join us.

I have found the regular get-togethers of this “support group” to be creatively invigorating.  I’d encourage you to form your own: gather together artists of all stripes, and talk about what you’re working on, encourage each other, learn about the arts that you don’t “get”, and keep yourself inspired through interacting with other creative people.

And maybe, if we all do something like this, we’ll start building the kind of unified community that can better become the kind of arts boosters we need to be in order to help bring more audiences to art in general, so that we can all

“make the case for the case for the relevancy and value of our art”?