Sunday, December 28, 2008

Reality Check

This is a hard post to write because things have just hit me.

I read this the other day in the G&M. The last name was familiar but I didn't think much more about it.

Well tonight I found out that this young man was the son of a guy I grew up with. I truly don't know what to say. I am hoping to get to the funeral this week.

But it left me wondering. Where is the arts response to this war? I have at least 10 Theatre Creator's Reserve applications for people to deal with their inner angst and personal struggles. Frankly they bore me. When are we, as artists, going to get our heads out of our collective navels and look around the world and have an opinion?
I don't even care if it is an opinion I loathe at least it will be better than seeing how much lint can collect in one place of the human body and then writing endlessly about it.

I yearn for art that has some balls.

R.I.P. Pte Michael Freeman

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Sunday Quickie

I don't know if it is just the season or what but Oedipus with vegetables somehow seemed appropriate

What will the new Europe look like through their on-line cultural database? Who knows? I haven't had a chance to delve into it but you might.

The Half: Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage
Simon Annand

Theatrebooks is out of it right now I believe but it does look like an interesting project

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday Quickie

Writing Thoughts

What have multicultural arts policies done for us?


What do you say when a play's a turkey?

I tell people that the only thing to say to me after a performance is "Darling! You were marvellous. Let me buy you a drink"

The more they hated the show the better the drink.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


and again sigh. It is so hard to try and put together a season. Even if that season is only a couple of shows. In fact the smaller the season the harder it is since more weight is placed on the shows you have.
My staff made me take a couple of days off this week to work on next years season so off I trundled to Theatrebooks where the guy at the counter asked me "Is there anything that I can help you with?"
Where upon I replied :"You could help me plan next years season". And so it turned out to be quite a lovely excursion with fellow shoppers chiming in to make suggestions.
I looked at a lot of plays and then I found one that I thought would be a great match, a quirky match, a match that no one would ever think of when thinking of Obsidian. I bought the script and devoured it. I talked to a director for whom I thought this play would be perfect. I finagled the budget in my head. I called Samuel French the next day to get the rights and .....sigh...someone else had called a couple of days earlier and and had dibs on it.
I am crushed. Not only crushed but ......well maybe I should leave it there.

All I can say is that if you are the person who has dibs on a Sarah Ruhl play or you know who that person is please give me a call and lets see if we can work something out.

I am so, as they say in Facebook, sigh.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


So I was sitting at the Starbucks on Bay just north of the Bloor subway waiting for my playwrights unit to show up and this is what I saw out the window.

I found myself wondering what it would take to get that many people so excited about theatre that they would don some glad rags and go running about the streets in a state of undress. I must confess that I could not think of a single thing.

And yet when my unit arrived we went on a fabulous excursion touring art galleries looking for art to inspire their pieces for the Mussorgsky Project. We saw a huge range of work, talked to artists and gallery owners and generally had a wonderful time exploring likes and dislikes.

We don't do that enough. None of us. Just take time to see and think and listen.

I propose that we should have an annual "Down Time" week where all artists just take off, kick back and spend a week delving into what we do.

If it could work for Alice then it could work for us.

Friday, December 12, 2008

in the pen case #2

So in the pencase starting tomorrow are as follows:
From left to right: A lovely sterling silver Wahl Eversharp Pencil with a cut floral pattern, the Cleo Sribent Chiffre 2000 filled with Private Reserve Fiesta Red, Waterman Coral Patrician {Modern}filled with Private Reserve Plum, Waterman Charleston filled with Aurora Black and finally a very nice Parker Burgundy/Black Duofold Junior filled with the Aurora Black as well. This Duofold has the original owners name inscribed in script on it which means that a copy of his signature had been sent along with the pen to the Parker Factory so that his actual signature could be inscribed. It's not pristine but it is rich with history.

Bad Dream Material

There are so many things that could be said about this.

I don't think I'll say much but really...I usually only get squicked by needles. This hit me in a place that I just don't want to think about.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Indie Caucus

I was at a meeting tonight of the Toronto Indie Caucus and I have to say that I was impressed by so many people there. Basically what they are working towards is a new agreement with C.A.E.A. that would bridge the gap between the Fringe Agreement and the Indie Agreement.
Forgive me if I get things a little wrong but I have to say that the whole deal for Indie producers is such a freaking mess that it takes a multi-tasking brain full concentration to try and find it's way through that whole Gordian Knot.

In a nutshell they are working to produce an agreement so that artist driven projects can get off the ground in both a fiscal and artistic way. They started working from a Toronto perspective but as things have evolved it looks like a national push will be next.

I don't have a list of all the people involved so I won't name names except to say that Jacoba Knappen and TAPA* have been fully there from the beginning and even though this is not an agreement that Obsidian would ever have an opportunity to work under I was pleased to support their initiative.

Making art can be so hard. And it is way hard when you are scratching pennies together. We have a system right now that encourages prevarication and that is just wrong. Wrong on so many levels but to me most wrong on the level that as artists we deal in truth. Without truth we have nothing more than facsimile. Without truth the work rings hollow and is easily dismissed. So to have to try and create truth from a place of lies is a soul destroying untenable place.

As the outreach to other theatrical communities around the country begins I will keep you up to date on this initiative because I believe it is one of the most vital things going on right now.

* Transparency Note: Edited to add that I am in my final year on the TAPA Board

Genealogical Reviewer Issues

Ok I am so not ready to understand the point of this post on the Arts Journal blog. I mean I have had suspicions about certain reviewers but this is perhaps a small toke over the line.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Voodoo Days

There are times when you start a new project that it feels like the only thing to do is to find a live chicken, a park and an altar and that is all that will make things right.
The phone call from the artistic director.
Ok, fine, dealt with.
The actor that doesn't show up.
Ok, fine, dealt with.
The playwright with helpful, albeit very, very late suggestions, comments and thoughts.
Ok, fine, dealt with.

Tomorrow is Sunday. Roast bird on the menu for sure. Chicken with Damballa Sauce.


From the Noises Off Blog some interesting thoughts about blogging rehearsals and even streaming rehearsals. I have often joked how I would love to have a web cam in certain rehearsal halls and now Ontological-Hysteria Theatre is doing it.

I wonder how that might play out here. I suppose it could only be done by an indie theatre not using C.A.E.A members but even so it might make for an intriguing event in and of itself.
The possibilities of perhaps comparing rehearsal to finished scenes might even prove to be a play on it’s own.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Content de Jour

Ok….a follow up to the previous post regarding directors and plays. It makes me crazy that there is a linkage to who can direct what. I know that it gets most sensitive when you have a white director directing a non white play and almost never do you have a non-white director directing a white play. But really the idiocy of that is beyond belief.
It somehow makes all black communities into one and that if you have some melanin in your skin then somehow you are entitled and cognoscente enough to direct any black play. And that is hogwash. There are many black communities just like asian communities or native communities and as such sooner or later you have to actually transcend the mundane and figure out that it is about the most perceptive director working with a cast that has the opportunity to create excellent work.

A bit of a case in point. Weyni Mengesha did a fine job in directing Raisin in the Sun at Soulpepper. The only thing lacking, in my estimation, was the visceral understanding of what life in the 50’s and 60’s for a black person in the States was really like. They had a good approximation of it but it was apparent that approximation was all it was. The only reason that stuck out for me was because I was around during that time and kind of lived through it. But so what eh? I mean there are very few people kicking around from pre Stalinist times so who really knows what Russian society was like in those Chehkov plays. And yet they are done and no one blinks an eye.
My contention is that if Weyni can have the insight and talent to direct Raisin then she has those same capabilities to direct pretty much anything and I wonder where she is in the next years season. I mean there are 11 plays 10 of which are directed by cough white guys cough. Are they bad directors? Hell no. But what message does it send when the new big kids on the block can’t see their way past to actually walk the walk.
Well the message is simply the same ole same ole. Touch base with a black play, get a black director and look like you are doing some culturally diverse programming. Anything else well…hmmm step back.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dancing with August

Isaac Butler writes this amazing article for the Tony Blog. It is about Bartlett Sher directing an August Wilson play and then goes on to include some fascinating links. I would urge you to have a read and to follow those links all the way to the end.

The issues of who {ie what race} gets to direct a play about another race is one that is pretty fraught with land mines. I remember when The Colored Museum was produced by the Tarragon and Martha Henry directed. Martha was great. Ok she knew nothing about black women and their hair issues but she was able to direct us with craft and insight. Nowadays I don't think you would see that happening. We have managed come as far down the road as to only be able to have a non-white direct a non-white play.

Wilson talks about the need for a black theatre and his opposition to colour blind casting. It all leads to some fine contemplation of issues that never seem to get behind us.


R.I.P -----> C.A.S.H.

The long running, very hip and cool podcast comes to an end.

Suitably handsome

Dance Magazine has this article on Reviews entitled Knocked Sideways

It’s about receiving bad reviews and how they hit us. All of a sudden I was floating down memory lane. It’s funny how some bad reviews are just kind of fuzzy in my brain. And trust me I don’t really want anyone to dig up the reviews of my Othello from the Arts Club Theatre. I already have my excuses in place for that.

The one bad review I really remember was from a production of Absurd Person Singular that I was in at the Globe Theatre. Ah those halcyon days when my hair was still black. This was unlike the production that I had previously been in at the Globe where I played the spunky runaway slave to the sage Richard Greenblatt’s Thoreau. Of course in this production I did indeed create my theory of “Natural Savagery Acting”. But perhaps that excursion should be left to a late night revel with much scotch.

Ok avoidance over. In the review of my work of Geoffrey the Architect that has that wonderful 2 page monologue as his wife tries to commit suicide in front of his oblivious self the local paper said “ And Philip Akin was suitably handsome”. Suitably Handsome? Like taupe, dry concrete, spam or bad adolescent rhyming couplet poetry?
I was crushed.

But in a wonderful kind of way it became an insulation for whatever reviews followed. No matter what critics thought of my work, in my heart I could always know that to that one critic years ago I had been.....suitably handsome.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

in the pen case

As some of you may know I collect fountain pens. {Brief pause for the inevitable laughter to stop}. I won't bore you with the minutiae but sufficeth to say that if you ever get a check, note, or ask to borrow a pen then you will inevitably be handed a fountain pen of some description or it will be written by a fountain pen.
There is for me great satisfaction in pairing up various pens to ink and following the impulse of the moment as to which will be used. It is an in the moment piece of art that allows for random expression.
So from time to time I will post what pens I currently have in my pen case. They may reflect some inner clue as to how things are or maybe they will just, like much of what I believe is theatre, be an opportunity to be surprised.

So from left to right are this weeks current crop. Filcao Atlantica {ink: Private Reserve Plum}, Parker Duofold {ink: Aurora Black}, Cleo Scribent Chiffre 2000 {ink: Private Reserve Fiesta Red}, across the top a Parker Lady Patricia Pencil in Onyx {part of a set with a matching Ladies pen}

I seem to be heavily into red inks these days. I wonder what that invokes.

Alison Croggon

Alison Croggon, a theatre blogger from Australia writes in her post "Hope and so on"

"Culture isn’t the same as art. Culture is the contract, however defined, between an artist and his or her public. Culture is the lively communal yeast that makes everything rise. It’s the air that lets art breathe, the space where it can swing its arms, the multiple influences that flavour it.

If our theatre culture is deeply impoverished, it’s not because there are not committed and skilful artists, or that there aren’t audiences – even enthusiastic audiences – for what they do. It’s because something crucial is missing in between, in that implicit contract between the creation and reception of art. Whatever the causes – and they are manifold, historical and difficult to track – the effects are plain."

This is a huge post that is, in it's references, quite Australian. However I think that we here in Canada could make the necessary substitutions. This is a post well worth reading all the way through.

The front page of her blog, theatre notes, is here. And I will be adding her to the blogroll as I find her a fascinating read.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sunday Quickie

Conservative Theatre

Ottawa Festival Cuts

I don't know if the two go together but maybe....just maybe

or maybe this fits in somehow as well Sacramento AD Resigns

Monday, November 10, 2008

International Playwrights Forum - Fin

Kwame Kwei Armah, Philip Akin, Velina Hasu Houston
Photo by Dian Marie Bridge

This weekend opened up for me a number of questions. I was amazed at the magnificent artists that came and so generously shared with us. I was amazed at how those in attendance seemed to be so inspired and enriched by the Forum. Their survey forms often spoke of how they had been avoiding the difficult work that is inside them and how now they know that that is the work that has to be tackled. I was amazed at how, even though they registered, over 54% did not bother to show up.
I felt that this Forum was a unique opportunity to open some doors between companies and to activate the process of cross pollinization of ideas and cultures. But then again perhaps not. It was somewhat disheartening to realize that it may be easier to look outward, across borders and seas, to find people and companies that believe in this model instead of down the street.
It has left me with a lot to think about and to re-evaluate what direction will best serve Obsidian.

Internationa Playwrights Forum - Day 2

Roxanne Joseph, Marcia Johnson working after a Masterclass
photo by Dian Marie Bridge

Day 2 Started with a panel discussion with Velina, Kwame and myself. It did not stay that way as the audience had some great questions and we were able to be quite free ranging.

Kwame Kwei-Armah  finished off the forum with a wonderful address wherein he read from Naomi Wallace's essay on the Art of Transgression. He passionately took us into his world of political theatre and challenged us to write from any place that does not support the status quo. How the status quo is at best conservative theatre and that we as artists must not be afraid to break any idea of being conservative.

His Masterclass was an interesting one in that we asked each of us to say something to the group that we had no idea or intention of stating publicly. What followed was an intensely personal sharing. Kwame then spoke of how we as artists have to open ourselves up to that place. That place of nakedness and put that out on the stage. And that it is through that nakedness that the audience is clothed. It was a wonderful moment and thought and one that has lingered with me.

International Playwrights Forum - Day 1

Photo Dian Marie Bridge

So our Forum was a couple of days of intense surprises, laughter, thought and artistic stimulation. We ended up having to change some things around as Migdalia had to return home early and so, she and Velina {as pictured above}, presented on the Saturday. They were so very different in their approach and yet so deeply inspiring. Velina has a clear, insightful approach to her work. She weaves her themes deftly together and her Masterclass followed that approach. 

All the Keynotes were done in the Enwave theatre and then the Masterclasses were held out in the lobby so that there could be a greater connection between the presenters and the attendees. This proved to be a great combination although they never seem to be able to heat the Enwave lobby to a nice comfort level.

Migdalia is so fierce. Her works are raw, passionate, visceral, full of images and fully grounded and realized. When she read it was like being emotionally hammered. Usually her Masterclasses are 3 - 4 hours long and since we didn't have that kind of time she spoke more about process. 

The Saturday evening finished off with our Across the Tdot Readings {or as i subtitled it, the Tapas Readings}. We were treated to to short excerpts of new works by, Laurence Anthony, Aisha John, Motion {Obsidian Playwrights Unit for this year}, Victor Gomez {Alameda Theatre}, David Yee, Marie Beath Badian {fu-Gen Theatre}, Alicia Payne / Don Molnar and Leah-Simone Bowen.

Miriam Makeba

Before the great singers of Mali or Ladysmith Black Mambazo were known there was Miriam Makeba. She even married Stokely Carmichael and how cool was that back in the day

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dora, Dora, Dora



TORONTO – The Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA) announced a contest today to redesign the Dora Mavor Moore Award statue. The Doras recognize excellence in theatre, dance, and opera on Toronto stages. The Dora Award Design Contest is open to all Ontario residents eighteen (18) years of age or older. The original Dora statuette, designed by John Romano depicting Harlequin from Commedia Dell'arte, will be replaced by the winning entry, and distributed for the first time at the 30th Annual Dora Mavor Moore Awards in June 2009. The winning designer will receive a cash prize of $2,000. 

"The industry has evolved considerably since the first Dora statue was presented nearly 30 years ago. The new Dora award will become an icon of Toronto's vibrant and diverse performing arts community," says Philip Akin, chair of the Redesign Committee. "We are not looking for a re-imagining of the current statuette, but something that will resonate with modern audiences."

"Dora Mavor Moore was a visionary who helped establish Canadian professional theatre. She was an innovative director, actress and educator," says Jacoba Knaapen, TAPA's Executive Director. "The winning design will embody her spirit and reflect the excellence of Toronto's theatre, dance and opera industry."

Entries will be judged independently by a jury of Toronto-based performing and visual arts professionals selected by TAPA (listed below). Entries must be received by 5:00 pm Monday, January 12, 2009. For full contest rules and how to submit entries, please visit www.tapa.ca. 

Dora Statue Redesign Jurors:


Philip Akin, Jury Chair: Philip is a Founding Member of the Obsidian Theatre Company and is currently its Artistic Director. Directing: Black Medea (Obsidian Theatre), Intimate Apparel (Obsidian Theatre), and Born Ready (Obsidian Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille). Upcoming: Toronto the Good (Factory Theatre). Philip has been an actor for the last 33 years and was last seen in Othello {Stratford Festival} and this spring he will reprise his Dora nominated performance in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (Birdland Theatre). He has also performed in over 150 movies, MOWs, television shows and series, the most recent as a recurring character in Flashpoint.


Sarah Diamond: Sara is the President of the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD), Canada’s foremost university of art and design. She holds degrees from Canada and the United Kingdom in social history, communications, new media theory and practice. She is currently a member of the Ontario Ministry of Culture’s Minister’s Advisory Council on Arts & Culture, the Board of Directors of the Toronto Arts Council Foundation and of ORANO, Ontario’s high speed network. She is a founding member of CONCERT and the Chair of the OMDC funded Mobile Experience Innovation Centre. She provides media consulting to Heritage Canada, SSHRC, CFI, Industry Canada, CHRC and DFAIT, as well as international governments, institutions and agencies as diverse as China, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Finland, Australia, Brazil and the USA.

Prior to her presidency at OCAD Diamond was the Director of Research for the prestigious Banff Centre. She created the renowned Banff New Media Institute (BNMI) in 1995 and led it until coming to Toronto in 2005. Diamond developed international summits and business development workshops and accelerators that explored the near future of new media. She built alliances between artists, designers, architects, scientists, social scientists, and international and Canadian businesses. Diamond created and was Editor-in-Chief of www.horizonzero.ca, an on-line showcase for new media art and design, in collaboration with Heritage Canada. She is a visualization software researcher and developer www.codezebra.net.


Camellia Koo: Camellia is a set & costume designer and installation artist. Recent designs include the set for The Stepmother (Shaw Festival) and sets & costumes for East of Berlin (Tarragon). Other collaborations include fu-Gen Asian Canadian Theatre Company, Cahoots Theatre Projects, bCurrent, Modern Times Theatre, Nightwood, Native Earth Performing Arts, Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, Fujiwara Dance Inventions, Great Canadian Theatre Company, The Shaw Festival, and The Second City (Toronto and Chicago), Soulpepper and Tarragon Theatre. She is the recipient of four Dora Awards and shared the 2006 Siminovitch Protégé Prize. Camellia holds an MA from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design (U.K). 


Scott Lyall: Scott lives and works as an artist in Toronto. His work encompasses graphic design, painting, and sculpture, along with references to performance events, architectural environments, and design software. The possibility of living performers haunts his abstract, formalist practice. He has exhibited across Canada, the United States, and Europe, with recent shows in Paris, New York, Cologne, London, and Basel, Switzerland. His exhibition “Color Ball” is currently installed at the Power Plant in Toronto. Lyall has also collaborated with artists in other fields and disciplines, including at the 2008 SITE Santa Fe Biennial in New Mexico, and with the choreographer Maria Hassabi on a new evening-length dance. He attended undergraduate studies at Queen’s University and received a Law Degree from the University of Toronto (1991). After completing his MFA at the California Institute of the Arts, (1994), he spent several years in studio practice in New York and London, England. He has taught at the Art Schools at Guelph and York Universities, and has visited as a lecturer at Western, Goldsmiths College, and Columbia. Upcoming exhibitions include Miguel Abreu Gallery (New York), the Contemporary Art Gallery (Austin, Texas), and Confort Moderne (Poitiers, France). 


Andy McKim: Andy is currently the Artistic Director of Theatre Passe Muraille. He has spent most of his professional life developing, dramaturging and directing new Canadian plays. Early in his career he worked in PEI, at Neptune Theatre, in London, England and now in Toronto where from 1985 to 2007 he was the Associate Artistic Director at Tarragon Theatre. Andy has directed more than 50 different productions. Nearly all of them were world premieres. Most outstanding amongst them is 2 PIANOS, 4 HANDS. He sat on the Dora Awards Board, the Toronto Theatre Alliance Board (TTA), served as the TTA President, sat on the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres (PACT) board and served as the PACT President. Andy has taught in a variety of contexts and is serving on the Theatre Department Advisory of both Sheridan and Humber Colleges. He has also received the George Luscombe Award for mentorship.


About the Dora Mavor Moore Awards

The Dora Mavor Moore Awards were founded on December 13, 1978 by a committee convened by Millie Drain. On that date, Drain and the other founders (Ann Antkiw, Ronald Bryden, Bill Glassco, Graham Harley, Leon Major, Sean Mulcahy, Peter Peroff, Heinar Piller, Susan Rubes, Pat Stewart and Sylvia Tucker) decided to institute an award to recognize outstanding achievements in Toronto theatre. Today, the Doras honour the creators of over 200 theatre, dance and opera productions annually. Each year, thirty-five awards are presented to winners across five divisions: General Theatre Production, Independent Theatre Production, Dance, Opera, Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA).


Further information about the Dora Awards and a biography of Dora Mavor Moore visit www.tapa.ca/doras.


Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts:

The Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA) is an arts service organization that represents nearly 200 professional theatre, dance and opera companies in the City of Toronto, and works to create an environment in which the performing arts may flourish and maintain its leadership role in the vitality of the City of Toronto.



Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Free and Read

I had never heard of the Free Night of Theatre Promotion before and so was quite intrigued by the possiblities. I wonder if we could get something like that going here. I daresay the bigs would avoid it like the plague but it might be a very cool thing for the independents. Maybe we should start this conversation.

And from the Guardian a bit of a rant about playwrights reading their own work. On one hand I did hear a record of June Jordan reading her poem The Talking Back of Miss Valentine Jones: Poem # one. Now she does not have the best of reading voices but her reading blew me away. That poem became one of my favourites and is still one that resonates. I wanted to do a play using her poetry and it kind of slipped by the way side as politics changed the landscape. Poem about my Rights is a great illustration of that.

Anyway...playwrights reading their own work. I can't think of any. Can you?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Quickie

I think that all theatres are adapting as best they can to the greater use of the web for marketing materials. We all struggle with "how to" or "what equipment" issues.

Factory Theatre has an amusing season announcement video that I quite like. It has a kind of rough steady cam'ish feel so when I found this article about inventors I figured that this was something that might prove to be of value to the rest of the theatre community that is looking to do video without spending mega bucks. Check out his YouTube videos and go here to get the plans for his steady cam.

The ongoing issue of women playwrights and directors.

Theatre Customer Service.  Ok so how would you rate your theatre experience? Best/worst?

Friday, October 24, 2008


So like is it February already?  What the heck. Trying to find a non-working black actor in Toronto has become impossible. Ok some are in Raisin, some still at Stratford, some working for Ken Gass and his Canadian Rep Company, some flying off to Winnipeg to do Medea, one in Wild Dogs and most everyone else I am trying to hire for the International Playwrights Festival. Ok so it's not so bad unless you count the 6 actors I have still to find for a piece by Kwame Kwei-Armah that features 6 males, 2 females. All Caribbeans or Africans with British overlay accents ranging in age from 20 to 50. I am not having any luck and man o man do I ever hate February in October.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Playwrights x 3

I have talked earlier about how playwrights should get more money. And I have also been known to expound on how the greatest growth for playwrights comes through productions. It seems like the Mellon Foundation agrees. Well they agree with a ton of money which in my book carries more weight than just someone nodding their head over a beer in Little Italy.

I have been obsessing over playwrights recently because, {insert totally shameless plug here}, Obsidian has been working on putting together an International Playwrights Forum, seeing some plays, hearing some readings from local playwrights and generally grooving with some international ones all for the low cost of $5 FOB. I find it hard to believe that we have not hit our target of 100 participants. Frankly I am somewhat appalled by that fact.

Black Canadian plays are a scarce commodity. I wish I was sitting here with so many scripts that I could plan for the next three years. Well I can do that but not with Canadian plays. I am at my wits end for one of those breakout plays. A play that has the music inside it and just hums along. A play that transcends the obvious and playwrights who start to eschew the literal narrative form for other means of theatrical expression.

One of the best things about our Forum is the fact that all the international playwrights are mixed race and their work either explores that fact or leaves it behind for other things that interests them. This is a unique opportunity to have one of those real cross pollination experiences instead of staying inside the confines of the funding reserves.

Maybe if we start to commit to the idea of the playwright as a full partner in the centre of our art then other people will as well and maybe, just maybe, there might be a Canadian version of the Mellon Foundation that will fight against the cult of the virgin play and pour some new money into production

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ten Things

Ten Things

ok a Sunday Quickie on Friday night. So sue me it's Thanksgiving weekend for crying out loud.

And I saw Scratch last night and Catherine Fitch and Monica Dottor rock my world. Charlotte is a heck of a playwright but she needs to just write plays. Write one for Obsidian Charlotte

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Ok so this is not so much a theatre post other than the fact that I think that as artists it is important to reach out to as wide a community as possible.
So I was turned on to Kiva a few months ago and since then have bought into the whole idea of micro banking in a big way. The Kiva website explains it way better than I ever will but after loaning a number of times they changed the website to also enable Kiva groups or teams and so I created an Obsidian Theatre Team. 
So if any of this appeals to you and you decide to participate in Kiva please look up the Obsidian Team and come on board.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sunday Quickie

There is so much I could say about the state of theatre school training. There is even more that I could say about how non-white performers are treated. I should probably say what I want to say after a quick review of the law.

So while we wait for that how about a fine essay by The Feminist Spectator.

Standing at the corner

So at the intersection of race and art politics there is a continuing undercurrent of not only who is black but also what makes a work black. Is it about parentage, blood line or appearance?

I met a young aspiring director the other day. He was quick to point out to me that he was of mixed race and I suppose that since I run a black theatre company he wanted to be sure that his light appearance would not be held against him.

First off I think that I have a pretty broad based idea of what constitutes being black. If you have the ancestry and the belief then that pretty much works for me. If you create a play and you fulfilled the qualifications of the previous sentence then to me it is a black play.

I have told people in my playwrights unit that if you want you can write a play about three white frat boys it is still a black play in my mind. Why? Well because I believe that the depth and breadth of black/human experience is more than just meditations on one’s ethnicity. Being black is not going to change in one’s lifetime and your experience of that fact will always be a part of what you create. However that manifests itself is just part of the artistic exploration. Even if you want to deny it fully then even that act is part of the whole deal.

There has been a lot of talk in some places about how do mixed race artists fit in. Frankly rarely have I seen as much hogwash written. In the black communities mixed race mostly means black/white combinations but in fact it is applicable to any combination of races.

The odd thing is that if your heritage comes from the slave diaspora then as a black person you are already mixed race. What passes today for black is mostly a hodgepodge of many different African/Indian/Caucasian tribes so the idea of a mixed race peoples looking down at a more current mixed race person and denying them their place in black art and culture is at best a vapid and uninformed view.

So where to go with all this? I explained some of my vision here.

I believe in inclusion. Inclusion in the fullest and best artistic sense. What new synergies have been lost because of our own self seclusion? How can we, standing at the aforementioned intersection, open up all our visions and let ourselves be open to artistic surprise. 

I think that the answers to all that is the work for the future. 
And yes, I did indeed offer that young director a chance to work with me on a project.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Quickie

Critics Best Before Dates

The whole "What is Black Theatre" with a side Mixed Race Stuff. The mixed race stuff comes from a link to a Facebook discussion mentioned in the links. 

The whole issue is a bit of a tricky one and I think I would like to take a stab at the whole debate in my next post.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Participation Rights

I was talking to a friend today and we chatted for a bit about the PGC & PACT negotiations that are ongoing. One of the issues she said was in regards to Participation Rights.

Here is a short extract from a much better and definitive article.

In recent years, a growing number of theatre companies have sought to obtain “participation rights” from playwrights who have been commissioned to write an original work or where the theatre is mounting the premiere production of a work.

So the deal basically is that if you produce a premiere production then you get a piece of the playwrights royalties for any subsequent productions for an agreed upon term. Just to be clear ...this is money that the playwright would have to give the original company out of their royalties. It is not paid for by the subsequent producing company.

I have heard this referred to a "tip of the hat" to the original company. Now this amount is somewhere in the range of 2% -5% of the playwrights royalties. If a basic guaranteed royalty is $2500 we are talking in the range of $50 - $125. If of course you have backed a show like The Drowsy Chaperone it could add up to huge dollars. But really so what.The vast majority of plays in this country don't even get a second production and the playwrights full financial return on several years work is $2500. In my mind if they are blessed with a second or third production they still haven't recovered anywhere near the effort and work they have invested. Also consider the fact that of all the salaries in a production the playwright is in the bottom third. Well into the bottom third. On most indie shows I know that the actors make way more than the playwright. 

For example in an F house the actors would be in the $700 range. $700 x 8 weeks = $5600. About 125% more than the playwright. So I say that arguing for participation rights is like spending time complaining that your change at Starbucks is a penny short.

If and when we can at least pay playwrights the equivalent to an actor and above then perhaps we can start to worry about getting another $100 from them down the road.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Debates Akimbo

Actors denounce Tory arts rhetoric

There have been a ton of articles written on Steven Harpers comments regarding artists as not ordinary working people. I don't even know where to begin with that so I won't.

In response to all of this Bravo has set up a Townhall evening on October 2nd.  Alas it is on the same day as the 1st Leaders Debate and the 1st Vice Presidential Debate.  So I expect that there will be a split focus which is quite unfortunate.

I must say that I am quite heartened that the arts has made it to this profile level. Usually nobody much cares unless you want someone to sing at an event. I strongly urge people to get out and be vocal and to take advantage of the numerous opportunities to ask the arts questions to the candidates in their riding.

Check out the PACT website for more opportunities and if you want to submit a question to the leaders debate then go here.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sweet Sweet

 Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award                                                                                                   

Congratulations to Tony Kushner on this award. It led me to wonder about his and other awards. I know that Lynn Nottage is one of the current recipients of the The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "Genius Award" which is valued at $500,000 over 5 years.

What wonderful support for playwrights.   The Siminovitch Prize  is our most valuable and prestigious prize and that is shared among several disciplines. And yet we hear constant questions questioning the value of the arts. I mean some people get it. They get the necessity of why beauty and joy and challenges are necessary for the imagination of everyone. Why work that provokes and questions can lead to new ways of thinking and open the avenues to different ways of seeing.

But mostly what we hear is from people who think that if they don't "get it" then it is useless. If I hear again how easy it would be to create some piece of abstract art and sell it for a million. And what a waste of money that is I will send that person a paint set and say show me. I'll say that I am from Missouri and if it is so easy then do it. Make the money. Gloat your way down to Florida. And if you can't then please try to understand that art is never as easy as it looks. The execution may be easy but the inspiration and desire and thought comes from a place that was encouraged and enriched by many others over years. And for all art there is an audience for which that work hits deep and hard. And wouldn't that be better? To be big enough to have art enough of any and all kinds so that everyone who chooses can have something that speaks to them.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sunday Quickie

The Necessity of Theater; The Art of Watching and Being Watched       


True and False

Theatre & Waste

Theatre Pollution Threat        

So this was the headline that got my attention. It links to The Stage and talks about the pollution that is on the rise at UK theatres. There is also a link to Glyndebourne gaining approval to build a wind turbine to power their theatre.

Ok so there is no way that we will be seeing wind turbines powering theatres in the Distillery District any time soon but it got me to thinking how much waste is generated everytime we do a show.  

The set of The Monument was a beautiful raised disc set on two by four's and covered with a canvas. Since we were downstairs at Berkeley they could just open the load in doors, drop the disposal bin and have at the set with skilsaws and within 30 mintes the whole thing was cut up and gone.  I hated to see that but what else could we do. There is no place to store sets anymore and no one wants the wood.  

With our current shows we are in a slightly better position since 3 of the 4 set pieces for Late are already spoken for and the metal panels can be re-cycled yet we still have the most expensive piece, a kitchen island, that unless we can find a home for it will either have to be stored or have the hardware stripped off it and then throw it out. 

Obsidian has a storage locker full to the brim of props, costumes and old set pieces. I always thought that they were worth keeping since they might be used for future shows but that really doesn't seem to happen. Everything gets built or bought and the old stock just becomes fodder for moths. I am not sure what to do. Yes we can hold sales and see if we can move some of the stuff out but that is a big undertaking if we do it ourselves. I wonder how many other theatres are in the same position and if there are a few then perhaps a group sale might be the way to go. At least it would help amortize the costs of the whole thing and maybe these items could get a new lease on life.

I wish that there was a way to not feel like an ecological Genghis Khan every time we do a show. I would welcome any suggestions. Oh and if you are looking for a kitchen island, yellow formica table with four chairs or a 10 x 8 used only once light grey carpet let me know.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Quickie

Sorry for the lack of posting this week. We just finished up our 3rd week of rehearsals for Late and Black Medea and move into the theatre on Tuesday. I hope to have a little something tomorrow for a Labour Day present.

To tide you over here are this week's quickies:

Growth and Spaces

Music as a new Revenue?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Quickie

Tear Down This Wall

Green Edinburgh Fringe?

A view of the Shaw guy.   For your ongoing Share the Stage peeps

Horses for Courses.  For the record I wrote an AD statement based on this phrase a few months ago so when you see it remember that ok?  smiling

This edition of Sunday Quickies was brought to you by the stalwarts at Arts Journal.com

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


From The Guardian this wonderful article about the revival of a play by a living playwright.

David Eldridge's "Under the Blue Sky" has currently been remounted and he has some interesting thoughts on what that whole process has been like. This quote is one I wish I had written...really, really wish that I had written as it so perfectly sums up the situation here in Canada as well.

Theatre in this country is currently preoccupied with a cult of virginity, with new plays premiered and discarded in rapid succession; far more than it is in nurturing a contemporary repertoire that will sustain modern playwriting long-term.

The cult of virginity. The perfect descriptive phrase.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Via Arts Journal there are a couple of interesting links today.

The first is about the L.A. based Celebration Theatre and the vision of the new artistic director to broaden the reach/mandate/ audience. It's interesting since as the premiere gay theatre he is looking to non white gays, lesbians and heteros to be part of the new mix. I will try and watch this one with interest as broadening a mandate can be a road fraught with peril. Also of interest is the financial side of the organization. I have to say that it makes me grateful for the support we currently have here.

The second is about the possible amalgamation of the two major theatres in Perth, Australia. I found myself imagining what that would be like if we had an amalgamation issue here in Toronto. The last one I can remember was between Toronto Free Theatre and Centre Stage to create Canadian Stage. Why does that seem like just the other day when in fact it was ummmmmm way too long ago.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Share the Stage Oh My!

There has been a whole mess of talk online and off about the Share the Stage effort. You can find online copy in Facebook or at the Globe and Mail.

Some other discussions have grown up on the message boards in that group and while I was just going to keep a low profile this came up and I came back.

She said: {in part}
Walking around this morning, I thought about a conversation I had with an Upper Middle Class etc..., and mentioned something about Obsidian Theatre as an exciting company and this person reacted strongly to the black only aspect of the company as being racist against whites and all else. I was shocked and very defensive saying "but they've put together a powerful company that allows them to WORK!". Then thinking about it, as fabulous as companies like that are, if we start creating all these group specific splinter companies, then we are adding to the mentality of the public that segregates us. The only way to change that is by integrative casting. And that it not be an issue.

I said: {in part}
Am I right in thinking that your friend was an actor? I find it remarkable that people that don't know shit from shinola have such uninformed opinions.
Actors tend to think that only what is shown on the deck is representative of a theatre. It is a myopic and, quite frankly, offensive view.
A quick run down on what Obsidian does. We hire more non black people in a year than any other company hires black people. In my upcoming production Marjorie Chan directs a play, Richard Lee does Sound Design, Ming Wong is Head of Wardrobe, Rick Banville is PM and Ash Knight is a big volunteer for our Season Launch. One play is by Marcia Johnson and yes she is black and the other is by Wesley Enoch who is an Australian Aboriginal. Have your friend come and check out our office and get the facts instead of half baked opinions before they run their mouth.
As for why splinter groups. Well that is the only way to get money from the councils. Check out the Canada Councils definition of culturally diverse and you will see why things are the way they are.

Some other of my thoughts that came out of that posting thread. 

”I am sure Obsidian gets our fair share of dissing. It's not a problem. We work with a number of theatres who want to create good art regardless of colour. But outside of that community, by that I mean the diverse community, I think that segregation is a valid option. I don't care what Shaw does or what "name your theatre does". I believe in facts and the fact is that no theatrical venue in Canada is run by a culturally diverse theatre company. None. So if you want to get het up and change the world lets change that fact. Lets put our energy towards creating venues for companies that actually do the work. The rest will grow or fail as entropy dictates.

You don't change a company by browning up the stage. You change a company by changing the corporate cultural culture. Until you do that then this is all just about actors getting jobs.”


” It is fine for a white AD to say let them have their theatre and we will have ours. No problem from me at all. The problem comes in about resources aka filthy lucre aka money. I say give us equal funding so that we can have the multiplicity of theatres then that is equal. The argument is not about a black theatre or a gay theatre it is really about many black theatres, many gay or asian or etc etc theatres. None of these communities speak with one voice or language and thus they should all have a shot at defining their art.

I have done my outreach to other theatres and usually what sells is a good production. So first make the art and then worry about the ancillary stuff. If people want to get in touch I am pretty easy to reach.”


"There are a lot of battles to fight. One is not exclusive to the other. So what Obsidian does or does not do will never reflect the needs of everyone. So if you have the big urge to play Hamlet then that is a battle that has to be fought. 

For myself and my vision I would rather spend my time and money on developing new works and artists that create other supremely high standards that black artists can strive for.
Obsidian cannot fix everything. I cannot fix everything. I can work towards fixing issues and art that excites and intrigues my audience, my staff, my board and myself. That's it. That is my art. It is a big vision. It has room for lots of people. But I am not Noah and this isn't an ark.
So if you have a fight worth fighting go forth and do battle. If I can help I will. If not then find others who will.”

Apologies for the length of this. I really need to learn how to do a cut line on this blog. So that is my project for this weekend.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Abilene Paradox

Whoa....Butts in Seats led me to a great management concept. Ok that sounds all kind of non-art related but it's not. 

It's about the Abilene Paradox

{The Abilene paradox is a paradox in which a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of any of the individuals in the group. It involves a common breakdown of group communication in which each member mistakenly believes that their own preferences are counter to the group's and do not raise objections.} Now does any of that sound familiar? 

I am sure that there must be another name for a situation where someone does indeed speak up and is ignored. Suggestions?

Sunday Quickie

Splurge: From the Met /Arts Journal

Just a few ideas for getting the word out on your show

updated...... Isaac Hayes died today

My favourite song was "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic" but it isn't on Youtube so I leave you with this.

Friday, August 8, 2008


I am probably going to have some things to say about this but for now all I can say is

"What he said"  

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Images, art & religion

I had a couple of thoughts collide this morning. Early this morning alas. The first was that art begins at the first point of information contact with a potential audience. By that I mean that for most indie companies it is the advertising/marketing materials which should be one of the strongest artistic points of a production. A provocative, seminal, arresting, deep image will set the tone and expectations in a profound way. Or conversely something quirky and attention getting. If, like that terrible old saw, you only have one chance to make a first impression, then this material is your first impression.

I love these two images as the first {Sex and the Saudi} stamps the story immediately and the second {Arm's Length} intrigues one in. {Both shows at Summerworks www.summerworks.ca  I seem to have used up all my space for this post so some links won't stick}

I was told by a producer that I really respect that one of our posters looked like it should be in an art gallery. He didn’t mean it as a compliment. He felt that it did not do enough to sell the show. I felt caught between God and Mammon. Ok a bit of hyperbole but you get my drift. Was it about the art of first contact or to sell the show or to strive to find a perfect balance?

The second early morning idea was that without the knowledge of Judeo-Christian religion it is much harder to understand a great deal of Western Art/Theatre/Culture. Ok you can throw in Greek and Roman mythology as a bit of seasoning.

Here is the image {http://www.canstage.com/2008-2009/play.php?ID=17} for Studio 180’s production of Blackbird. A simple shot of an apple and yet:

Apple = Garden of Eden = Original Sin = Forbidden Fruit = a play about pedophilia.

I love the idea that it’s a Golden Delicious Apple as well. All of that works as long as you know your history and Christianity.

And if you don’t? Well then how much time would you have to spend to explain it? No time at all if you are writing as one of the main stream culture but it struck me that playwrights who are coming from other cultures where an audience here might not know all of the cultural modifiers now have a bit of a dilemma. Do they spend time doing exposition to explain, do they leave it up to program notes or do they just forget about it and let people catch as catch can. 

I was coaching an actor the other day and one of the lines referenced “Cupids strongest bow”. I asked her what was her image of Cupid and then did a Google search for images. Well the Valentine’s Day chubby came up alongside of paintings of Cupid making love to Pysche. You could use either image for your poster or for your imaging of the text. They would each tell a hugely different story and would skew the perception of your play. And that is the point isn’t it? To shape that first reception perception and to use cultural context to enhance the work.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Morality and Art

Wendy Rosenfield of The Mirror up to Nature has a great post up about morality and theatre. 

While she takes particular issue of man vs crustacean the article also talks about right/wrong vis a vis pedophilia. That particular post is here.

It feels a bit like in Toronto we are in the midst of talking about pedophilia what with productions of Absit Omen’s My Fellow Creatures, CanStage’s Doubt and Studio 180’s Blackbird. A veritable inundation of the discussion in fact.

However one of the morality issues that has long been part of my internal discussion has been about Eric Fischl’s Tumbling Woman. This piece was created after 9/11, installed and then the controversy had it removed. 

Public art vs morality or taste. It is always a continuing debate but for me Fischl’s work is one of the most compelling, disturbing and powerful images I have ever viscerally felt. The thought of it not having a place in our public spaces is a profoundly depressing one.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Neutral Masks

Ok I know that everyone who went to theatre school had to do mask work. It’s just one of those things that theatre school is all about and no one ever seemed to make an issue when all the masks came from a European background. I mean it's not like Africa or Asia or anywhere else in the world had a tradition of theatre/religion and masks. Even the famous neutral masks were neutral in the sense of bandaids being skin coloured…..heh… what skin, what colour, you may well ask.

So a few years back I bought a couple of these neutral masks because they were ummmmm Afro Neutral. They are hanging in the Obsidian office and I loan them out when asked because it just seems like such a great idea to have neutrality defined per particular race as opposed to just one race. They come in female and male and are really lovely to have hanging about looking back at you.

Now if theatre schools would only broaden their curriculum to include plays outside of the European canon we might actually be getting closer to 2008.

The Roan Group

I first met Neill Archer Roan at a CAPACOA conference a few years back. I was truly impressed by his two-day presentation and took away a ton of insights that have served me well. We , as theatre artists, tend to look down somewhat on the marketing folks. I think that deep inside we think that they only care about selling a product which, just so happens this time, to be us. Neill loves performers and their work and that shows in his wide range of topics and ideas.

I have read a number of his articles and this one is one of my favourites because it shattered my own ideas about supporters/donors.

"People who love you most will leave you quickest."

I am still working that one out.

When Numbers Lie

He hasn’t been posting much lately but I would encourage you to go to his site and cruise about. 

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Building Theatres

Joe at Butts in Seats has an interesting article on building a theatre. That is the building itself


Theatre and religion...now that is an a marriage made in ummmmm something.

Artists and Managers Redux Pt 1

I was in an interesting meeting this week. There were a number of reps around a table meeting with an artistic crew who have a very fine project on offer. Well I believe it is a fine project but with what transpired I was taken immediately back to the discussions about artists in administrative roles and what they can bring to the process. {I am only going to deal with part of that issue right now}

The artists have done a huge amount of work on their project. Raised a bunch of money and pulled together a fine creative team. They were looking for a number of partners to get to the next level. And as they made their pitch I wished that they had taken the time to have brought on board a producer/administrator/GM type that could have made the entire session a whole less like watching the Rope-a-dope strategy gone bad.

Instead of a proposal that would have outlined possible time frames and critical paths, research on the best producing times, a clear and realistic budget and an overview of the current state of the industry instead it was an off the cuff presentation by people who were clearly out of their depth. The hard won knowledge and nuances of today’s producing issues could have been accessed easily by them but they choose not to do so.
And as a result instead of having a meeting that was about producing partners looking for ways to be a part of this project it was more of a …hmmmm is this something I want to really commit to, kind of session.

If ever anything cried out for the marriage of artists and administrators then this meeting was it.

Something to consider: Any good creative team should always include an administrator.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How to move forward.

So what is to be done with the state things are in? The Law of Unintended Consequences has made a real hash of how independent theatres of all colours can actually operate. Multi-disciplinary theatres are even in a worse bind since none of the agreements actually fit.
One tack that is being taken is there have been conversations between a group of indies and Equity to create a Toronto Agreement that would address the particular needs of that community. It started life from the NY agreement and with much input the process has at least started. There is no word yet how it is progressing and what kind of time line is in place.
I hold out some hope for this as the people on the indy side are smart, knowledgeable and determined. I am also impressed with the new ED at Equity. She seems to have a great amount of common sense. Alas that has not resulted in any clear changes but again it is still early days.

On the other hand what if there is no movement? What if the soon to be started CTA negotiations once again result in the jettisoning of platforms that are vital to the non white theatres? I can offer this illustration.
When I last drove across the country it was early fall. And all across Saskatchewan the fields were being burned of stubble. Farmers know that whether or not you plant, rotate or lay fallow it is usually good to burn the fields and boost the nitrogen in the soil.
And so in James Baldwin fashion I offer the solution that if Equity and PACT cannot find a way to move up to 2008 and to address the issues of the non-white theatres then we as a group should remove ourselves from those organizations. 
Now that is a pretty provocative statement and a pretty final step. But really…Martin Luther King would never had had the appeal that he did if the alternative had not been Malcolm X. If there is no movement towards recognizing the needs of the changing communities then we need to absent ourselves from a futile process.
Frankly I believe that it is time to make the culturally diverse issues a part of the main stream discussions and to take it out of breakout sessions and sidebar dialogues. If not then we will be forever marginalized. 
At this point in time no theatre venues are run by a culturally diverse theatre company. None. In the entire country. And since the CTA and its sidekick agreements grew out of Equity and the venued theatres needs and desires there has been little room or progress for the rest of the ecosystem.

So maybe it’s time to burn some fields and start things over again. 

Friday, July 25, 2008

Good / Road

Imagine a time when the bulk of acting work in this country was theatre based. Ok radio drama was big as well but theatre was king. To work in this country was to be able to get your Equity card as it was the passport to better pay and some safeguards against being stuck in Saskatchewan on a busted contract. You basically had to be offered the work at a “real” theatre to get the credit to get the card. Thus many actors of a certain age spent a season touring the back woods of the Prairies doing school tours and the pay off was that red and white piece of cardboard.

Time moves on and Tax Credit movies, MOW’s, tv series and films start to be the big dogs and of course the mainstay of the performers are from theatre transitioning over. To help both unions grow, a reciprocal agreement is made and basically an unholy alliance is formed. If you belong to one association and you want to work in the others jurisdiction you HAVE to join the other association. And so it started.

Things took a bit of a turn when in the spirit of helping disadvantaged performers ACTRA decided that if you were white you needed to earn 6 credits for membership. If you were non-white or disabled then you only needed 3. This reflected the reality of the day when non-white and disabled performers had substantially less work opportunities.

With the development of fast internet technologies and shortened time lines for auditions Equity creates the e-drive to facilitate the dissemination of work related opportunities for its members. They decide, in their wisdom, that in the spirit of colour blind egalitarianism Equity would have the right to remove any reference to ethnicity, age or body type so that there would be an even playing field.

Which brings us today to the perfect storm. Consider this real life example. It is not a solitary one by any means. 

A young actor of brownish hue graduates from high school with one theatre production under their belt. They get an agent, land a couple of commercials and a small day player part in a series. Under the ACTRA rules they now join and become a full member.
A theatre company looking for a young actor of brownish hue has a perfect role for this actor and upon offering them a moderate part in their play now find out that the reciprocal agreement kicks in and the actor has to join Equity. Their agent says no way are we paying for that so the theatre company has no option but to pay the membership fee for that artist.
After a successful run of the play this actor is now a member of Equity and they have no, repeat, no training. Nonetheless they sign on to the e-drive to see what else is out there and lo and behold not a single job opportunity shows up that says that they are looking for brownish hued type folks.

Road, meet good intentions.

The actor now is locked into the associations and their opportunities for non-union work have vanished. This scenario particularly strikes the brown sectors. When a few actors in those communities get their ACTRA card and then they get to do the reciprocal dance all of a sudden they find themselves being restricted from even working with their own theatre companies. Their company's outreach and development opportunities are thwarted, since by rights, the artist should now always be working in jurisdiction and they can’t afford that. All the good intentions have in fact created a situation that retards the growth of non-white performers/theatres and communities.

And so…what’s to be done?

Stay tuned C.T.A. Part 3

C.T.A. Part 1

Or should I join Equity or not. Well that is the question for many new actors coming into the business. And sometimes one even has a choice about it but often, due to an interesting set of alliances, there are no choices.

First some background. Many times we talk of getting or signing an Equity contract. And indeed there are actual Equity contracts. The Independent Artists Projects Policy, Small Scale Theatre Addendum or Guest Artist Policy contracts are a few examples. The main agreement is the Canadian Theatre Agreement that is negotiated every three years by P.A.C.T {Professional Association of Canadian Theatres} and Equity {Canadian Actors Equity Association}. If you have your copy of the CTA handy take a look at the back cover and see how the word “Professional” is misspelled. Simple typo or editorial commentary? Who knows.

Most of the venued companies in the country are PACT members and therefore operate under the CTA. And so since this is a negotiated agreement we should stop skewing our view of it and properly call it a CTA contract. That way the praise or blame for what is in there can be evenly distributed.

Once you willingly or forcibly join Equity you can never really leave. Until it was changed a few years back Equity used your S.I.N. as your RRSP Contribution number. So theoretically if you resigned they would have to cancel your RRSP which would in effect stop them ever using your S.I.N. again as an identifier if you ever re-joined. I’m not sure the S.I.N. was ever intended to be used in such a way but there you have it. I think that then a decision was made that even if you resigned you could not completely collapse your RRSP. 10% always had to be left in. That way it stayed open, your S.I.N was still linked and operational and you were still an Equity member. Thus whatever your life choices were after that you were still supposed to operate under the rules of the organization. Real life Hotel California

In recent years the S.I.N. was de-linked and everyone was issued an Equity# but I am still not sure if you can withdraw 100% of your RRSP upon resigning.

Once you have joined Equity as a full member your work choices both broaden and diminish. They broaden because there are all those wonderful PACT houses that you are now available to work in. And diminish because if, for example, you fit into the definition of culturally diverse then your opportunities for work just dropped.

More on this in C.T.A. Part 2

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The World of Black Theater Becomes Ever Bigger

Published: February 21, 2007 NY Times

A very interesting article on Black Broadway aka the chitlin circuit. I love the comments about August Wilson and his play Fences….

One choice quote

if the audiences who go to Mr. Wilson’s plays are predominantly nonblack, he asked, then how significant could he be to black people?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Late to the Debate

There has been quite a wide ranging discussion regarding Administrators vs. Artists and I am coming a bit late to the whole thing but I thought that over the next few posts I would try to add a bit of a perspective on some issues.

Ok..first out of the chute are some of the comments from Theatre is Territory

The first is:  Both AD and GM should have a deep understanding of, and empathy with, the other's importance and aims.

Also, these should always be TWO people. DOWN with "artistic producers" or whatever.

I fully agree with the first sentence but I have some issues with the latter one. Throughout this whole discussion I am never quite sure if we are only talking about throwing stones at the large regional theatres or the entire ecosystem. For an independent theatre like us the luxury is in the idea of having two people in those positions. No one, would by choice, take on an artistic producer position unless there was no other choice. Well ok maybe you want to do two huge jobs with little recompense in such a manner that your entire life is subsumed in desperately trying to keep up. There is no time to think, to dream, to vision, to check the audit etc etc. It all gets done but you are constantly in hyperdrive. Really the absolute power thing does not sustain you when you are feeling like the Paul Simon "human trampoline" without the pleasure.

I remember saying to someone in the office after we had a 4-hour reading that the reading was all my art for that month. And yet this may be the only way for an organization to survive. Founders really are the biggest donors to an organization and the telling factor is how the organization grows after they are gone.

The biggest reason the artists were removed was because it was best for the institution. I often have to remind myself that “institution” is a nice word for “nonprofit corporation,” and the primary goal of any corporation is to grow.

It can be a nice word for non-profit corporation but it is also, at least in Canada, also a word for a non-profit charitable organization. And with every charity comes a host of strictures and regulations that determine a particular hierarchical structure that I don't believe is helpful for the arts. The entire concept of a Board of Directors hiring and overseeing the Artistic/Administration team is at best inefficient and at worst destructive. But since money, the tracking, accounting, raising and spending is at the heart of any charity the theatre is already being skewed to a particular path. And at this point the art starts to take a back seat. 

As an organization you are now on a track that, whether you like it or not, you have to meet a set of standards to receive money. And also, like it or not, how you grow now becomes an essential part of that process. You really don't have much of a choice in this. Your continued allotments from the councils are hooked to how you grow. 

So how we stop being moths to the funding flame? Well, we can accept that growth (and probably decline) is just a part of the cycle and that we still have some means to keep on track with our art and the artists who make it.

We can say:

Does my organization have a clear code of ethics that drive our philosophical ideas?

Is there a commitment to that code?

Do we have a long term plan to improve the artistic experience for performers and our audience?

Are we committed to paying artists first and paying them always above scale?

With strong guidelines woven throughout the entire corporate structure we at least have a chance to keep alive the spark that pushed us to create this whole thing in the first place.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I have wanted to write a blog for a good long time now but frankly time was short and the arts discussions were long. I read a number of other blogs regularly. They range from political to personal to arts to knitting to fountain pens. Now in truth I don't knit but The Panopticon is such a great read that I could never resist. And Franklin's 1000 knitter project is one of the nicest arts projects around.

Reading blogs helped me find plays for this season{Black Medea}  and last {Intimate Apparel}. They have sparked much debate for me and have led to great discussion points in our playwright's unit. The current discussion that is ranging over the theatresphere of arts admins vs artists was the Tipping Point for me so here I am.

Thanks to Mike over at Theatre is Territory for the final little shove.

Nsaa is the name of an Adrinka symbol for hand-woven cloth  that stands for excellence, genuineness and authenticity. I had thought of my favourite martial arts phrase of Jikishin {Direct Mind} as this blog's name but somehow the idea of thoughts, desires and words weaving together through discussion seemed more relevant. I am not that interested in this being a marketing space but rather one that can be far ranging and a little bit eclectic.

Much like what goes on in my head.