On Theatre

Responses to ‘Canadian Theatre Can Do Better’

A conversation has been started amongst theatre artists and this, in and of itself, is a sure sign of a step in the right direction towards the revitalization of the Canadian theatre industry.


For context, please read ‘CANADIAN THEATRE CAN DO BETTER’.

In one week, the blog post, ‘CANADIAN THEATRE CAN DO BETTER’ has been viewed 2,314 times and the number continues to climb as Canadian theatre practicioners share, retweet and comment on this very important discussion.

What this number means to me is that the views discussed in this blog are of extreme relevance to the Canadian theatre community. What it says is that theatre artists care about their industry and know in their heart of hearts that, together, we can do better. Because we can. And because we can, we should!

Now, I have received a heap load of comments on this blog (as you can well imagine) that both agree and disagree with my passionate (and dramatic) sentiments. A conversation has been started amongst theatre artists and this, in and of itself, is a sure sign of a step in the right direction towards the revitalization of the Canadian theatre industry.

Below I’ve summarized what I believe to be the most inspiring and thought provoking comments (both positive and negetive), and my replies. There are many good ideas that have arisen as a result of these discussions (exactly why these discussions must take place). I encourage you, the fearless theatre artist, to impliment and use any of the expressed ideas that you find here and build upon them for your own production purposes and for the betterment of Canadian Theatre.


COMMENT: “Yes Canadian theatre can do better! … I do wish that more theatre was able to give audiences that electrifying feeling of being drawn into the present that events of danger give us. I agree that it is our job as theatre artists to try our best to give audiences an experience out of the ordinary. If we aren’t going to have a lofty goal, we probably shouldn’t be making theatre at all.” Colette.

REPLY: “Colette, thank you for your comment. You are among thousands of Canadian theatre artists that feel there must be a way to get out of the stagnation and complacency that we seem to find ourselves in. We’re in a rut, aren’t we? We don’t seem to be doing enough to draw audiences in and retain them by offering that extraordinary experience that you speak of. We also seem to be having a hell of a time reaching a younger generation of theatre goers. Is it due to our archaic approach to marketing? Is it that the quality of Canadian theatre isn’t up to par with consumer expectations? What are your thoughts in this regard?” Caleb.

COMMENT: “This is a great article [and sentiment] that too many people have quietly at home. I think theatre should shake us and ignite conversation and a difference of opinions. It should lend us a new pair of eyes for an hour and it should definitely NOT be polite.
I would like to invite you to see our show, Laws of Motion. It opens March 1st @ a brand new event space: Jam Factory Co, located above the merchants of green coffee [in Toronto]. I look forward to hearing your honest, balls-out thoughts of our show. I’d love to talk ART with you.” Dani.

REPLY:“Dear Dani, if only more theatre artists could be as brave as you in the discussion of your own work in such an honest and fearless way. It requires taking yourself and your ego out of the equasion and looking at the art objectively. Very few of us can do that and I admit that I often struggle myself. I’m inspired by you and your request to have your work assessed truthfully and without apology.
We’re I in Toronto presently I would most definitely take you up on your offer and provide a very truthful response to your production. Sadly I am not, but if I may send someone in my stead to discuss with me their thoughts regarding your work, I would be happy to be the middle-man in their truthful reflection of your show. Think this can be arranged?
This is bravery and this bravery should be rewarded by our attention and participation in Dani’s art (and with you most truthful critics). If you are in the Toronto area, please support this artist’s work by attending a performance of Laws of Motion by Ashlin Halfnight (March 1st-5th).Caleb.

COMMENT: “This is how I feel time and time again in relation to the state of theatre in my home province, Newfoundland and Labrador. Not only our “summer stock” and tourism-bait theatre companies, but our mainstay theatre companies continually put out underwhelming theatre experiences in order to pander to what they think tourists and Newfoundlanders want. It’s sad and offensive. The Tourists want rubber boots, song and dance and “Newfie” Shenanigans only because that’s what we think they want, and that’s what we offer them. I think visitors of Newfoundland and Labrador would be pleasantly surprised that we could exceed their expectations and present them with innovative, challenging, socially scathing and emotionally paramount artistic experiences. We can. We have from time. There are great theatrical innovators here, but it pains me to see that their work is viewed by peers and peers alone until it fades or leaves us for the magically mainland. I think the attitude needs to shift from “let’s do shows for the sake of doing shows that will sell some seats.” to “let’s create something new.” Otherwise what’s the point of having a theatre company at all. I’m sorry for blathering but this point hit home and I wanted to express that even here in the cultural mecca that is Newfoundland, theatre is in hard shape, and we, as well, can do a lot better.” Michael.

REPLY: “Michael, your comment reminds me that this isn’t an Ontario problem, it isn’t a Vancouver, Montreal or Calgary problem. It’s a Canadian problem. We often pander to our audiences because we think that’s what they want to see… and quite often, it is. So what happens is our pandering is rewarded and we carry on our merry way creating theatre that sells rather than theatre that provokes. Now that being said, money does rule the world and it certainly matters to the business that is a theatre company. However, there must be a way for Canadian theatre professionals to ingite, provoke and enliven our audiences through exceptional and innovative story-telling. I sympathize with your sentiments and I’d encourage you to remain and active part of this discussion. Through discussion, ideas are formed and eventually one of them will work.” Caleb.


COMMENT: “I’m sorry to say you’re probably not going to get the “Michael-Bay-esque” theatre your looking for, nor should you. Stop whining and if you’re so unhappy with the theatre you’re seeing then learn to make better theatre. At least before you produce something next, because I would like to say that “Closer” did anything BUT the desired effect you mentioned above, rather the opposite, and there was definitely no standing ovation to make me question my reaction, as it should have done yours. So who are you to say any of this any how?” Kerry.

REPLY: “Kerry, you suggested that instead of complaining like a child, that I learn to do something that makes theatre better. You couldn’t be more right. But you fail to see that by expressing, most truthfully, how I feel and sharing it in this public forum, that I am, in fact, doing something to make theatre better. We cannot change and grow if we do not take the time to analyze the problem and find a sense of community in order to change, grow and develop as theatre artists. Collaboration and communication are our greatest life-lines in this industry.
As for who I am to be saying such things: I am an actor, director and producer with a passion for the dying industry I am in and am willing to take the time to say the things that often go unsaid. I am an artist with a voice and a forum for using my voice to be able to start a discussion that could change our industry into the thriving community it once was. I will not apologize for my candidness, and I encouage you never to apologize for yours. It is through this discussion that I believe we, as theatre creators can be gathered with a mutual goal to share inspired stories, with inspired intentions to inspire our audiences and leave them stronger than they were before. I believe I am entitled to share my voice with my community, just as you are entitled to share your voice in return.” Caleb.

COMMENT: “Your article is arrogant and self-indulgent… You suggest that [the audience] has somehow been duped into liking the show enough to warrant a standing ovation. That if only they had your brilliance and taste they’d see through the charade, demand their money back, stalk the streets in search of desperate hobos in dark alleyways, and roll a couple fatties when they finally stumble home. Not only do you discount the audience’s experience as invalid, you discount the production and all those involved… Next time you decide to stroke your ego at the expense of hardworking artists, why don’t you take a minute to ponder your hyperbolic drivel before hitting enter. Or better yet, don’t.” Zach.

REPLY: “Dear Zach, there has been a conversation happening amoung Toronto Theatre critics, instigated by this blog post. Interestingly what they took from this post was not a reflection about the audacity of an individual to discredit the hardworking merits of very brave theatre practitioners who have received incredible praise for their artistic accheivements, but rather a look at the nature of the audience and their collective response during curtain call. Several critics sympathized with my views of the ‘mob-mentality’ standing ovation. They are asking the question “Why is everyone standing when the art presented was less than deserving of the response”. If every actor who came out for his/her curtain call received a standing-O, then what does that really mean about the credibility of the response? Perhaps it means that the audience feels obliged to respond in the manner expected. Perhaps as theatre creaters, we have conditioned our audiences to praise work through standing and clapping despite their true reactions to the art. Perhaps.
I’m trying to come up with a way to be able to help the audience provide rational and reasoned responses, which could actually be useful and beneficial to the theatre creator. Would it not be interesting to have a page in the programme explaining how their responces will be received? “We at yadda-yadda Theatre Company value our audiences’ true responses to our work, because it allows us to critic our work from your truthful and objective point of view. To allow us to better understand your level of satisfaction of our presentation, please give us a standing ovation if you are incrediblely satisfied, a seated applause if you are satisfied and complete silence if you are rather indifferent… and (dare I say…) a vocal ‘boo’ if you were unsatisfied.” How brave and exciting would that be?” Caleb.

COMMENT: “I knew right away this was about my show and I knew right away why you felt that way. There are a lot of people coming in wanting to discredit the hype. Wanting to be the only ingress to hate it. Its really sad. I’m sorry you didn’t get to see it before all the love. Hopefully you can see it again with out jealousy clouding your judgment… We all have pretty thick skins but this was nasty. There are actual humans creating this work please don’t forget that. Thanks for hurting the fuck out of my feelings and suck my Dick.” Kelly.

REPLY: “Kelly, I am sorry your feelings are hurt. What I neglected to do in my post was commend all the hard work, dedication and sacrifice that went into your production from the incredible artists involved. However, do you expect audience members to enter the theatre and reward you for that hard work and sacrifice, despite the quality of the work? I don’t remember the last time I talked myself out of disliking a production because there was a lot of hard work and sacrifice put forward by the theatre creators. I can admire that sacrifice and I can thank you for it, but that does not reinterpret how I felt about the production itself. And I don’t think we should be making those expectations of our audiences.”Caleb.

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Caleb McMullen

Written by Caleb McMullen

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheatreisforSuckers.com

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