Response to the CPC’s Unauthorized, Unofficial Statement on Arts Policy

(This letter is written in direct response to Daniel Karasik’s semi-satirical(?) post about the CPC’s arts policy. Which was in turn a response to Fannina Waubert de Puiseau’s open letter to the CPC.)

 Dear Sir,

Thank you for your missive of September the 10th, re: the Unofficial, Unauthorized Conservative Party of Canada’s Policy Position on the Arts. It was an absorbing read, and, typical of the CPC’s remarks on such issues more generally, rather dazzling in the sheer volume of misremembered facts and obfuscated issues. In this, your party is truly Canada’s leader.

This is not to say that there is nothing of value or truth in the letter; far from it. I myself have long complained of artists’ general complacency in terms of advocacy or activism. It is certainly true that the artistic community at large has alienated itself from the political process for a long time. We have not made our case to the Canadian population with anywhere near the necessary urgency or verve. We do not pay attention to the key elections that can have the most meaningful long-term influence on the Canadian art scene – school trusteeship. In fact, the absence of artists who run for school board trustee positions is doubly glaring; it’s a well-paid, part-time job, after all, and who would say there’s abundance of those?

I concede that general point. It isn’t a small concession on my part. Nevertheless, the ensuing bouts of free-association in the, say, latter 3/4 of your statement require my attention as a Canadian citizen. Though I did not vote for your party, I feel an unfamiliar – if not unwelcome – stirring of patriotism in my gut, and believe it is my Canadianly duty to correct you on certain points with respect to the existing facts. My hope is that this will improve your governance overall.

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A New Year’s Resolution for a Theatre Community

Dear Friends,

 

Regular readers of this space will have noticed a gap or lacuna in posts since last year. The reasons for this have less to do with other monopolizations of my time, & more to do with my having undergone in the past weeks a serious (though not severe) reassessment & reformulation of my own attitudes towards the theatre that is being produced in Toronto (geography & finance precluding me from enjoying the wealth of work in other cities), & a redrawing of those schemes through which I tend to scrutinize it.

Common threads of these posts have, it occurs to me, had much to do with various kinds of aesthetic prejudice: my frustration at what I perceive to be audiences’ tendencies to favour more traditional works based around conventional narrative structures, a lack of good faith on the parts of certain critics, &c. You might recall in particular my comparison of NOW reviewer Jordan Bimm to the food critic who complains that his sushi is undercooked.  These frustrations are authentically felt, & I think the comparison is apt; however it occurs to me that an honest assessment of my own aesthetic prejudices yields a glaring lack of self-awareness – not just in my writing on this blog, but also in the conduct of my life.

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So I won the Fringe Best New Play Contest yesterday…

I’m eating some kind of marinated tofu thing at Urban Herbivore in preparation for what was doomed to be a long, cold, hand-blistering but ultimately sort of bizarrely satisfying strike of the Mature Young Adults set at Videofag, when I get a call from Lindsey Woods over at the Toronto Fringe. She asked me if I was planning on attending the Fringe lottery party at the Transac lounge in the evening (having not entered the lottery, & being 100% certain Iwas not going to be winning any contests, I was not).

After a pregnant silence on my part, she concluded: “Because you’ve won the Fringe Best New Play Contest.”

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The time has come, my little friends…

“The time has come, my little friends, to talk of many things – of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings; of whether the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings…”

So as it turns out, a daily news post was a tad ambitious. Not to say that nobody read it (but then, what do I know about who reads this thing of mine), but to say that I have to eat and live and sometimes sleep, and working a full-time job whilst doing theatre stuff on my off hours has had a deleterious effect on my ability to regurgitate news media, I’m sorry to say, I know you miss it (no I don’t). I’m going to try to do my best to post a weekly round-up every Saturday or Sunday, which’ll sort of curate the week’s bizness into digestible chunks, for your reading displeasure.

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“Mature Young Adults” in Halifax

Well, my latest project, Aim for the Tangent‘s Mature Young Adults (which I directed & had no small hand in dramaturging) is now just over halfway through it’s run at the Atlantic Fringe Festival. From all reports, it’s doing very well. We’ve had some nice reviews:

mya1

& some not-so-nice ones, the burden of linking to which is no longer mine, since the URL no longer seems to be working. I put this down to a karma, or something like it; perhaps the CSEC.

Wesley Colford, who wrote & is acting in the thing, tells me that houses are small but that audiences are enthusiastic. I guess this is the nature of Atlantic Fringe. No disrespect to my compatriots in the Maritimes, but a beacon of theatre culture Nova Scotia is not. Thanks be to Indiegogo! My actors’ plane fare has been crowdsourced. The only one losing out is me – my scotch fund depends on Fringe dividends.

In other news, my partner, Nicole Wilson, & I have begun serious work on our next project, a show about the slaughter/meat-processing industry. Big, big stuff. I’ll report more when I have more.

Stick it in the fridge, kids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wesley Colford, MYA

Today was officially the last day of rehearsal for my current project, Aim for the Tangent’s Mature Young Adults, written by Wesley J. Colford, starring same & Hystericon alumnus Renee Hache (imagine, if you will, the appropriate accent marks; it’s 11:17PM & I simply haven’t the strength of will), directed by yours truly. The show’s in good shape, notwithstanding various technical snafus which simply can’t be avoided, given the hugely unhelpful Halifax Fringe staff (all of whom work unpaid, so I don’t entirely blame them), & the cast leave for Nova Scotia on Monday.

If you’re so inclined & are interested in perhaps accruing some karma, I give you this: the Mature Young Adults Indiegogo Campaign, featuring a hugely weird video of us looking like bonafide psychos.  Your donation will help us gogo.

Moreover, there is also this, an interview with Wesley by the Cape Breton Post, talking theatre, Fringe, Rehtaeh Parsons &c. A certain someone is curiously un-name-dropped. Interviewers never care about directors…Ah well. The cast are excited.

See?

Long overdue, an interview, &c.

Well folks, I know this post is long overdue. The brisance of Toronto Fringe Festival has given way to a kind of post-apocalyptic scrambling for resources, which has enjoined me in spending vast numbers of consecutive hours either writing stuff up for clients (including a children’s educational book on communication inventions for Crabtree Publishing, more on that to come), or trying, desperately trying, to get a play written for the Tarragon Theatre’s RBC Emerging Playwright Contest. Attaching a $3000.00 price tag to any contest is ipso facto motivation for donating the sum of one’s creative energies, but beyond that, I’m just using it as a deadline, an anchor, something which will force me to do the actual physical labour of writing. As Dorothy Parker once put it, “I hate writing; I love having written.”

The new script (the name of which I can’t mention, lest I poison the integrity of the contest’s “blind panelist”) is almost finished (it should be, it’s due on Monday) & I have just begun to phase myself into my next creative project: directing Wesley J. Colford’s play Mature Young Adults for its upcoming run at the Atlantic Fringe Festival. Produced by the wonderful Aim for the Tangent, whose previous productions The Wakwoski Brothers (Best of Fringe 2012), & Genesis and Other Stories have earned them considerable critical acclaim & sold-out runs, MYA is a bit of an experiment in that I’ve never done the Atlantic Fringe (which is located in Halifax, Nova Scotia) before. Indeed, seemingly no one has. Aside from the fairly tortuous time we’ve had extracting information from the AF people w/r/t the actual dimensions & character of our venue, the publicity apparatus of the Halifax theatre community leaves much to be desired. Well, praise the Lord & pass the ammunition.

The production stars the playwright himself, as well as the lovely & talented Renée Haché, who performed in my play The Hystericon last month. A kind of contemporary response to David French’s Salt-Water Moon, the play explores the evolution (or devolution) of a young teenage couple in small-town Nova Scotia, as they struggle with sexual awakening, gossip, & the rigours of finding love in a thoroughly cynical world. At the behest of the Aim for the Tangent, I did a little Q &A, which should give you a nice idea of what the thing’s about:

Aim for the Tangent: What interests you about Mature Young Adults and what drew you to the project?
Alexander Offord: If you're any kind of consumer of culture at all, there are certain trends or evolutions in form that you've necessarily been saturated with, particularly in the last twenty years or so. Almost of all of these trends or forms reduce to what we might call "irony," which is to say the kind of  self-conscious, wink-wink-nudge-nudge-ing that one sees in TV programs like HBO's Girls, where day-to-day tragedy & self-reproach & inner turmoil are removed from the characters' experience & replaced with a carapace of dramatic self-awareness that is both a) the inevitable consequence of a generation of hyper-educated, internet-fed young people suddenly being driven to create art, & b) dangerously seductive in terms of being accessible& entertaining to watch. It also happens, at least in my opinion, to be at times seriously abrasive to the soul. The American critic Lewish Hyde once wrote, in an essay called Alcohol and Poetry: "Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage."
Mature Young Adults appealed to me because it is about unhip, uncool, unsexy subject matter. It is about the day-to-day experience of human beings who, above all else, feel. It is about two young people who are in love, old-school love, before whole notion was reduced to eye rolling and a misting of A10 cells with dopamine in the ventral tegmental area of the brain. If there is going to be another major aesthetic movement in the coming years, I suspect it might be a return to themes or characters that are easily written off as "sentimental." It will be a second-coming of characters who don't need to be admired, only loved.
To Wesley's credit, it's also one of a very small minority of plays which I read & didn't just see the playwright trying to convince the audience how smart he is.
Were there any challenges that come to mind (either working with a new script or working on a show about Nova Scotia or not getting to go to Halifax to see the end result...)?
AO: This depends on what is meant by "challenges." I try to excise difficulty from my creative process by working with people more talented than I. Yes, there were serious cuts made to the script; yes, there are always sticky points in rehearsal, but in truth, the biggest challenge in working with Wes & Renee is resisting the temptation to dick around too much. 
That being said, the venue itelf is causing me a certain amount of psychic pain, but to an extent that's the nature of Fringe. My kingdom for @#$%ing gobo... 
What's the best and worst thing about working in Fringe?
 AO: I have a whole rant I could do about this but I don't know of how much interest it would be to your readers. My only experiences thus far have been with the Toronto Fringe, so I can really only speak to that. I guess I would say that conceptually the Fringe is possibly the most important theatre festival in the country, in that it provides basically the only venue for emerging artists to not only a) produce their work on a budget, but b) actually get people to see the stuff. The Canadian theatre scene is so hellaciously underfunded that there is a real hostility to young artists from a lot (though not all) of the establishment. Fringe to certain extent obviates some of this restriction. 
The worst thing about Fringe really doesn't come from either its patrons or staff/volunteers, but from the reviewers. A sad reality is that far too many people decide to see shows based solely on the arbitrary tastes of a particular journalist. Which, whatever, critics are just doing their job & everyone has to eat & live. But the notion that the worth or existential merit of a work can be reduced to how many fucking "N's" it gets is pretty dispiriting. 
What's something you learned from your first relationship?
AO: That all grievances, no matter how small, must be aired. Fighting, or at least bickering, is very healthy in a relationship.
If you could ask a past girlfriend one thing, what would it be
AO: I have nothing whatsoever to say to any past girlfriend. Which should tell you a great deal. 
Why should people see MYA over other options in the Fringe?
AO: Because in ten years when Wesley's Artistic Director of the Tarragon Theatre, and Renee's been forced to hire servants just for the task of polishing her Doras, you'll want to be able to say that you saw them act in a shitty art gallery in Halifax for ten bucks. If you remember my name at all, it'll most likely be in some formulation of, "Oh yes, I saw his production of 'Aladdin' at the Norfolk County Theatre. It was a little slow, I thought.'"

 

 

Undergrad Franco

My friend Luke Kuplowksy has started a new website called “Undergrad Franco.” The premise is great because of its simplicity – take James Franco’s characteristically feeble Vice essays & grade them as if they were the essays of an undergraduate film student. (N.B.: Luke, in addition to being a professional musician, is also getting his Master’s in film studies from U of T.)

For the full shebang, go to undergradfranco.tumblr.com. Here’s a little taster:

gatsb

Necessary Angel Theatre Company recommends “The Hystericon”

In act of almost unbelievable kindness & grace, the Necessary Angel Theatre Company (who are easily one of the best companies in the country, & certainly the only meaningful one doing work that might be called avant-garde) has recommended The Hystericon as a show-to-see this year at the Fringe.

From their Facebook page:

Here’s an interesting-looking piece at the Fringe Festival. Love the name of the company. Nice shout out to DFW. Very important themes being explored in what looks to be a highly theatrical production. Break legs!

NATC is headed by Jennifer Tarver (Artistic Director), who directed what’s now become the benchmark Canadian production of Waiting for Godot. Alumni include Daniel Brooks & Richard Rose, previous productions include Howard Barker’s The Europeans. ’nuff said.

Moving into the theatre to light the thing tomorrow. Then opening.  Gulp. Gimme a drink, quick…