Review: Jordan Tannahill’s “Theatre of the Unimpressed”

Coach House Books 160 pp.  $14.95 CDN

Coach House Books
160 pp.
$14.95 CDN

 

Too late in Theatre of the Unimpressed does its author offer a defense of his thesis against the charge of hipsterism. By the time it arrives on page 123 of this 149-page essay in a chapter entitled “Beckett’s Children,” we’ve been treated to countless anecdotes of admittedly interesting-sounding performances few of its readers will have had the opportunity (to say nothing of the funds) to see, parties in obscure, Kensington Market bars, and even a few personal tales of sexual adventure. We’ve heard Mr. Tannahill (I’ve met Jordan once, but don’t really know him and doubt he’d recognize or remember me; having staged a show at Videofag, I know his ex-partner, William Ellis, a little better – anyway, I’d prefer in this space to distinguish between “Mr. Tannahill,” the author, and “Jordan,” the very talented and by-all-accounts lovely guy) effuse over the magic of actors who don’t know their lines, and devote several paragraphs to deconstructing what, exactly, makes Driving Miss Daisy a bad play – as if we needed to be told. His chosen title isn’t doing him any favors – “unimpressed” strikes me as definitional synecdoche for the affect of my (and Tannahill’s) generation. I found myself feeling throughout the book that it was not about a theatre of the unimpressed, but rather a theatre for it.

Mr. Tannahill’s protest against the charge is compelling:

I’m not interested in, nor am I articulating, a stylistic trend of the cynical or ironic, which   for me defines the hipster caricature. To the contrary, I find believe the Theatre of Failure is a profoundly optimistic and human proposal, one that reconstitutes failure as a hopeful iconoclasm. (p. 123)

There is a semantic issue to parse here – while “hispterism” as Tannahill chooses to define it does not at all map onto the idea of a “profoundly optimistic and human proposal,” certainly the neo-hipsterism (post-hipsterism?) of McSweeney’s or “New Sincerity” fits the bill. After all, the aesthetic of All Our Happy Days are Stupid had much in common with the light-as-air superficiality of, say, a Wes Anderson movie, complete with the earnest indie-pop songs by an artist too cool for you to have heard of.

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Petition: Get CBC’s Ontario Today to start a new conversation about theatre in Ontario and Canada

(In lieu of yesterday’s travesty on CBC Radio One’s Ontario Today, I’ve started a petition to induce Rita Celli and her producers to program a counterpoint show, one that will hopefully be a little more informed, and a tad more positive about the state of the theatre. Read below for the full details and SIGN HERE.)

On February 4th, 2014, CBC Radio One’s noon-hour call-in show Ontario Today aired a live episode whose leading-question title (“Why is Live Theatre Dead to You?”) slouched towards the morbid. Host Rita Celli and guest R.H. Thompson dutifully fielded calls from a number of listeners, whose mostly negative comments ranged from the uninformed (“Theatre is ten times more expensive than a movie”), to the ignorant (“Two-and-half-hour movies don’t have intermissions, why do plays?”), to the frankly bizarre (“I got bed bugs [from going to the theatre].”)

The complete show can be listened to here: http://www.cbc.ca/ontariotoday/2014/02/04/tuesday-why-is-live-theatre-dead-to-you/

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Draft chapter of Trans-Pacific Partnership bodes not well for you & me (but great for Disney!)

This morning, Wikileaks released a draft chapter of the ultra-secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty, an international politico-coporate policy agreement masquerading as trade partnership. Much like Canada’s other major ongoing “trade” negotiation, the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA),  the forces behind the text of TPP have undergone significant efforts to conceal from the public what, exactly, the thrust & force of the thing will be; it is largely thanks to whistleblower organizations like Wikileaks that we have any insight at all into what dark material our masters have wrought.

Today’s revelations pertain to one of TPP’s most controversial strains, intellectual property (IP) rights, particularly w/r/t the internet. Those who have been following IP news in recent years will remember the near-defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) & the breathlessly named Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, (PIPA) in the United States, so defeated because of largely grass-roots opposition led by the cyber communities galvanized by Anonymous, & Internet domain companies such as Tumblr, Mozilla, Techdirt & others.

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W(h)ither a National Theatre? (corrected below)

The impetus for this post comes from Michael Wheeler (Artistic Director of the politically minded Praxis Theatre Company), whose new project is called SpiderWebShow, described as “A theatrical space where Canada, the Internet and performance minds intersect” (the absent Oxford comma is, I assure you, thoroughly sic). Both Mr. Wheeler & Praxis are rare creatures of at least the Torontonian theatre scene that I know, in that they are interested not just in the creation of performances, but in seriously pursuing the “Why” of theatre in Canada. Practitioners too often leave these questions to academics – Holger Syme, for example – & adopt a sort of “See No Evil” attitude which ultimately manifests in the work. Not to say the work is bad, per se; merely that a lot of times it seems disconnected from a public discourse about theatrical teleology. Even in the way plays are marketed (& reviewed) they adopt the qualities of commercial products, of things which are bought & sold but not necessarily important, vital, or immediate.

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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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News round-up for 07.09.2013,

1. Surveillance

  • Latest revelations from Glenn Greenwald (using documents leaked by Edward Snowden) show that the NSA spends millions of taxpayer cash to fund programs designed to hack into the encryption software of “the big Four” – Hotmail, Google, Facebook, & Yahoo.
  • In response, legislation is being proposed by Rep. Rush D. Holt Jr.
  • New documents show the NSA’s targeting of Mexican & Brazilian presidents.

2. Egypt

  • Hours ago, the Egyptian military government attacked what they described as “Islamic militants” in the Sinai.
  • In an eerie echo of Morsi’s government, the military regime has decided to “dissolve” the opposition Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Egyptian Minister of the Interior survives assassination attempt.

3. Syria

  • Tony Burman on why bomibng Syria is a bad idea (& what can be done instead).
  • EU urges the US to reconsider its position on Syria; Catherine Ashton correctly observes that an attack would be a “violation of international law.”
  • Stephen Harper, ever the US’s obedient dog, makes the case for military attacks in Syria.

4. GITMO

  • A powerful new documentary, “Life After Gitmo” remains unavailable to viewers in the United States:

 5. Quebec values Charter

  • Good piece on the PQ’s proto-facistic new legislation.
  • Apparently, according to Frau Marois, people “in England…throw bombs at each other because of multiculturalism.”

6. Keystone XL Pipeline

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper sends Obama a personal letter offering joint action to reduce greenhouse emissions, in an effort to “win” the pipeline.

News round-up for 05.09.2013.

1. Syria

  • Obama wins support of the House Foreign Relations Committee for a strike on Syria.
  • UN warns that a US military strike without UN approval would be illegal under international law.
  • John Kerry misrepresents the number of dead in chemical weapons attack.
  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper is, apparently, a “reluctant convert” of military intervention.
  • From DemocracyNow, as superb interview with Rep. Alan Grayson:

2. Chelsea Manning

3. Domestic surveillance

  • A primer in what Canadians need to know about CSEC spying.
  • Despite protest, the government is still strying to keep its spying program in the dark.
  • Fantastic overview from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

4. Mining

  • The international community condemns Barrick Gold’s attempt to prevent rape victims from seeking justice

 

 

News round-up for 30.08.2013.

1. David Miranda

  • The partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald (who is the primary reporter on Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks) will go forward with an injunction against the UK government in response to his 9-hour interrogation at Heathrow airport.

2. Legal aid

  • The Canadian Bar Association releases a report criticizing the current legal aid system as being “too costly,” “too inaccessible for most Canadians,” “and too reliant on pro bono work.” (N.B.: these are not direct quotes.)

3. Syria

  • The BBC has a horrific report on an incendiary bomb whichh was dropped on a school playground.
  • In the wake of a “No” vote on military intervention in British Parliament, other countries scramble to form coherent strategies.
  • French President Francoise Hollande is determined to intervene in Syria, with or without British/US support.
  • In the lead up to a possible military strike, the US Secretary of State John Kerry tried to actually call off the UN probe into the putative use of sarin gas in Syria.

4. Chelsea Manning

  • The New Yorker has a great piece  on what prison would mean for the transgender whistleblower.

5. Toronto Police

  • The head of the Toronto Police Department’s SIU harshly criticized chief Bill Blair for ignoring reports that officers were obstructing investigations.

 

News round-up for 22.08.2013. (update)

1. Civil Liberties

  • The Parti Quebecois are set to unveil (so to speak) new legislation which would ban religious symbols in all public institutions, including hospitals, government buildings, & courts.
  • CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada), the Canadian equivalent of the US’s NSA, is accused by watchdog Robert Decary of illegally spying on Canadian citizens.
  • The US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) accuses the NSA of illegally collecting tens of thousands of emails.

2. Egypt

  • A Canadian lawyer is set to meet with detained Canadian citizens John Greyson & Tarek Loubani.

3. Syria

  • Interesting piece in the New Yorker concerning chemcial weapons viz. the Assad regime.
  • Hundreds feared dead in recent chemical weapon attack; see here.

4. Bradley Manning

(update – 10:32 PM)

  • There are, in today’s news, three stories about the shameful & grossly under-reported activites of Canada’s powerful mining industry. In the first, here, three aboriginal tribes (the Lutsel K’e Dene, the Yellow Knife Dene, & the Tlicho) have come out to publicly oppose a newly proposed diamond mine 300 kilometres east of Yellowknife, citing environmental conerns. The second, here, summarizes commens of UBC Professor John Stockner at the public hearings for the New Prosperity open-pit mine in British Columbia. Finally, Mexican journalists the account the role the Canadian embassy played in the deaths & abuses against miners & local activists committed by Canadian mining giant Blackfire.

“Fairly soon, the impact will roughly destroy 40 to 50 per cent of the wetlands that drain into the system, and its productivity is completely based upon on what happens in its drainage.” – UBC Professor John Stockner