On March 30, the Theatre Centre released a weird document written by one Charles C. Smith, in which the poet/essayist rendered a kind of meta-commentary on the reviews of the Theatre Centre’s November production of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s We Are Proud to Present…, to the effect that Toronto’s establishment theatre critics had been “limited by a ‘gaze’ that left them short-sighted when it came to Black and White bodies on stage.” The doc’s weird for a number of reasons, not least of which being that it was released three months since the production closed and the reviews themselves vanished from public memory (perceptive readers will observe that this essay is itself several months late; well, I write for free and make a living serving food to rich people for marginally above the minimum wage. This will stand as an excuse). That in itself is a shame, because anyone who’s ever taken pains to read the output of Toronto’s critical elite knows that it only occasionally rises above the level of the average term paper, and certainly warrants a good old-fashioned meta-ing (I myself have never encountered a meta-anything I haven’t liked).
If critical analyses of mainstream theatre reviews are wanted and needed, then you can perhaps understand my bitter disappointment that we didn’t get a better one than the one we got. Which isn’t to say that there’s exactly nothing redeeming or worthwhile about Mr. Smith’s essay – just that there’s also a great deal wrong and confusing and also just dumb about it. I’m referring mostly to Mr. Smith’s neurotic obsession with authors and their specific (and, apparently, knowable) intentions with respect to their plays’ meanings, and his totally unfounded implicit assumption that there exists some causal link between those intentions and those meanings. In the parlance, this is called the “Intentional Fallacy,” which phrase was coined in a 1946 essay co-authored by the aesthetic philosopher Monroe C. Beardsley and someone named William K. Wimsatt who’s remembered somewhat less.
All of which is to say that, despite the machinations of history, the Cult of the Author is evidently alive and well in the Torontonian theatre scene, our stages awash in the blood of sacrificial ungulates like so many gleaming ziggurats. Like the Mormonism, it’s a relatively recent phenomenon; like Scientology, it’s extremely silly. Like the superstitions of certain other reactionary monotheisms whose names I won’t mention, its arguments have been shown to be patently fallacious, repeatedly, yet still it won’t go away.
Last month at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a group of 50 or so prominent Scottish cultural figures signed an open letter demanding that one of the Festival’s venues – the Underbelly – cancel a programmed run of an Israeli play. Their reasons were admirably explicit:
The current, brutal assault by Israel upon the people of Gaza, which is an appalling collective punishment, underlines the seriousness of this error in co-operating with a company which is funded by the Ministry of Culture of the State of Israel.
The state of Israel uses the international ventures of its artists to attempt to lend itself a sense of cultural legitimacy and to distract attention from the brutality of its illegal occupation. Some brave and principled Israeli artists oppose the Israeli state’s cynical attempts to use them for propaganda purposes.
The show was shut down soon thereafter (though, the influence of the letter per se is somewhat dubious).
There are many lines of argumentation at play here, some more sound than others, & all of which deserve rich consideration. I will say without further ado that I disagree entirely with the “Cultural Boycott”’s intent, though not necessarily its spirit – that, I promise you, is as discursive I’m willing to be with my own opinion w/r/t to the current situation in Israel & Gaza. This is a blog about theatre; anyone interested in my half-baked opinions on world affairs is welcome to buy me a drink at their leisure – around the third martini or so, my eloquence is unmatched.
Apropos of my post yesterday & my frustrations with Toronto Star editor Michael Cooke’s staunch (not to say callous) refusal to answer any questions that weren’t totally unctuous & self-serving (no fewer than six – six - questions on whether Robyn Doolittle & Kevin Donovan were eligible for Pulitzers), I’ve decided to post something of a parable today. I’ve been avoiding writing/talking about Rob Ford’s meteoric decline for various reasons; mostly because it’s been all anyone else has been able to talk about, & I didn’t think there was much for me to add.
But yesterday, after I sifted through the twelve (!) pages of Star coverage on our mayor & endured the secretions of Michael Cooke’s Q & A, I’m relenting. You get one post – one & that’s it. So here it goes.
“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.