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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

After Dark, February 28, 2012

The Safe Haven of Fluff
Are theatres playing it too safe?
By Gaëtan L. Charlebois

In about three months I will be 55 years old. I remember the day John F. Kennedy was shot. I remember Nixon's resignation. I remember the end of the Vietnam war, the fall of the Berlin wall, 9-11, the deaths of Milosovic, Saddam and Ghadaffi.

I also remember lineups for gas at gas stations, taxes going up and down, the stock markets all over the place, cuts and cuts and cuts to social programs and the arts.

I remember marches and letters and people giving up the theatre because houses were closing for good, companies were going bankrupt and arts Councils had no money.

Been there, done that. Take a deep breath all - an Ativan if you got - and calm down. Simply, if I read one more editorial about how theatres around the world are playing it safe to weather the storm I shall scream.

It's space-filler journalism which tells you what you SHOULD already know.

Theatre playing it safe during a crisis is one of those tried-and-true stories like the senior citizen trampled to death at Walmart on Black Friday, the weather-man frying an egg on the sidewalk in August or NORAD giving Santa the okay to enter North American airspace. It's space-filler journalism which tells you what you SHOULD already know.

Hard times mean artistic directors have to make hard choices to keep their companies afloat in the storm. It's not a pleasant fact of life - especially for new and adventurous writers or the actors who counted on these ADs to hire a bunch of them year after year - but it is a fact.

However, what is also a fact is that the theatres which do not go under (and there will be some who drown, no doubt about it) will come out on the other side stronger and with an AD who has a revived spirit of exploration. Moreover, the companies who did drown will see their strengthened artists go off to other things, create new theatres, new works, and they, too, will revive the culture. It's theatrical Darwinism and it is why our beloved art has survived millennia. 

Fiscal chaos passes - censors are considerably harder to get rid of.

What we have to be careful of, of course, is that enemies of the arts use this period of weakness as a sign that we have been fatally striken and try to exploit our fatigue. We can't go back to the days of the Lord Chamberlain's office, the Catholic Church rulings on what is "right" in the arts, the various and sundry Morality Watchdog groups who seem to rise up - like Santorum (capital and small "s") - during economic crisis. Fiscal chaos passes - censors are considerably harder to get rid of.

So let us accept theatres playing it "safe" for a bit. It is not the end of the world.

...and, besides, there really is no such thing as "safe" in theatre.

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