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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The Left, the Theatre, and the Myths We Need to Stop Perpetuating

Given the massive and probably somewhat brand-destroying lacuna between my last blog post and this one, and given the fact that I’ve spent some of the past hour washing my dishes and sort of muttering softly under my breath about god only knows, I’ve decided to take this occasion as an excuse to get back to blogging.

One of the realities of writing about theatre in the blogosphere is that generally speaking, most of the people doing it have political affinities which are remarkably similar to my own, and while this experience can at times be veritably cockle-warming and sort of affirming, emotionally, it doesn’t always yield the most exciting or useful debates when it comes to politics and theatre. One of the characterizing features of theatre-thinking in this country is that it is dishearteningly echo-chamber-like, especially online. Yeah, we get the odd Twitter conversation about Factory Theatre’s decision to delay the invite to critics, or Kelly Nestruck’s recent (and interesting) article about Equity – but these are concerns about particularities; what’s missing (or at least marginalized), it seems to me, is any kind of fundamental disagreement about what, how, or why theatre is, or ought to be.

I don’t pretend to offer a total paradigm-shift here. But I’ve been thinking a lot about, specifically, the influence of the Internet and the proliferation of a post-New Left vocabulary on theatre artists (at least in Canada), and how these otherwise mostly positive forces might be having a negative effect on not only our artistic practice, but on our ability to talk sensibly about systemic and cultural deficiencies in Canadian theatre.

A warning: this is going to be long, and circuitous. I’m nothing if not verbose. Bear with me – I promise I’m going somewhere with this.

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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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“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:

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& 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.