Something kinda like a manifesto

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Luther-posting-95-theses-560x366I was being a jerk and complaining to friends about the lack of a meaningful, sophisticated critical culture in Canadian theatre when, pretty much overnight, one appeared and smacked me in the face. Excited to see Conte d’Amour at World Stage and maybe post my own social media blurb about why it fucked me up or rocked my world or made me mad.

But here’s my question: why does it take an import from Europe to get the Toronto theatre community talking like this about what our work means, to make us demand that our art respond to our time in forceful ways?

Why can’t we call bullshit more often, not only at the bar but also in public, when our theatre doesn’t ask smart enough, urgent enough questions or do so in complex enough terms?

I’ll eat a sock if I see one more review that talks about how “moving” a show is, how “strong” its artists are, and says nothing specific about why it matters – here, now – to be “moved” about a particular subject or what’s the high value of artisanal “strength” if it’s in service of nothing but escapism.

I’ll smoke my shoe if I see one more show that uses race or class or gender as a prop and doesn’t interrogate any of them in a way that – here, now – might be naked or risky or revealing.

The explosion of interesting conversation around Conte D’Amour, both in the media and among artists, proves that it’s not for lack of capable minds that public critical discourse in our theatre hovers, on average, around the Grade 11 level. So what do we blame? Fear? Inertia? A culture of scarcity in which people would rather keep their heads down and compete for dwindling established rewards than have the conversations that might make them pariahs? I.e., again: fear?

The cultural nationalism that gave Canadian literary arts their engine is a dead end, but at least it once lent some dignity and scope to the conversation around why we make art in this country. And it produced several artists of the highest calibre, celebrated at home and admired abroad.

I’m the first to admit that my own work doesn’t always live up to the standard I’d want a critical dialogue to encourage, doesn’t always advance the cultural conversation in ways that are provocative and necessary and of our moment. Good art is fucking hard to make.

But I’m happy to withstand some BOOOOOs, from our paid critics and my peers, if it means I get to participate in a culture that compels my full investment in the work, demands that again and again and again and again I put myself and my convictions on the line.

This piece of belligerence first appeared on Facebook, in a slightly different form, on April 5, 2014.

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