Your remarks, and the subsequent discussion, has shone a very bright spotlight on a very big problem in the MELT community: namely, its continual fear of self-examination.
by joel fishbane
I was all set to write a brilliant column that would use the Academy Awards as a way of discussing the value of creating a hierarchy of merit for something which is inherently subjective, namely art. Then you wrote a certain article discussing the ten things you hate about theatre. Here, in case you’ve forgotten, you charged Tableau d’Hote’s recent production of Humans with the unthinkable crime of being bad.
I’m assuming you’re not surprised at the vehement response – you probably expected it. It has become routine for MELT artists to champion the independent theatres while simultaneously attacking the rest. The myth perpetuated over drinks at La Cabane is that Centaur and Segal produce generic theatre designed only to appeal to their subscription base while the independent productions are “edgy”. I won’t debunk this myth – today – but I would suggest that it is one of the reasons for the nature of the reaction to your article. I would also suggest that no one would have been too upset (or surprised) if you had said that you and your wife hated Stones in His Pockets.
What’s so shocking about the discussion provoked by your column is that the column itself was not particularly cruel
Your remarks, and the subsequent discussion, has shone a very bright spotlight on a very big problem in the MELT community: namely, its continual fear of self-examination. As I’m sure you know, our community has routinely applauded each another simply for the fact that we exist (and, presumably, for not having moved to Toronto). Part of this never-ending ovation is the fault of our critics, many of whom write “reviews” which are little more then plot summaries coupled with a brief description of the set. But the other problem is the artists themselves. We are not hard enough on each other or ourselves. Simply put, we have made a sport out of championing mediocrity.
What’s so shocking about the discussion provoked by your column is that the column itself was not particularly cruel (or insightful, although I suspect the insight is to come). All you said was that Humans had filled you with “hate and rage” as it represented the very sort of theatre you deplore. You then went on to list the things about the show you disapproved of, none of which were racist, sexist, homophobic or in any other way controversial. For this you were mocked! For this, your position as president of the Board of Directors of QDF was called into question!
As Anglophone artists in a Francophone province, we are proud of our independent, entrepreneurial spirit and celebrate all those who share it...
I would suggest that the anger directed at you was not because of your remarks but rather because you inadvertently attacked our community’s long-held belief that we have never produced a bad show. As Anglophone artists in a Francophone province, we are proud of our independent, entrepreneurial spirit and celebrate all those who share it, heaping laurels on every independent English language show without once entertaining the question as to whether it has any worth.
Of course, such a debate will never bring a definitive answer. But in daring to ask the question, we force our artists to defend their ideals and ourselves to defend our own.
MELT artists have come to embrace their tight-knit community, looking to each other for the support we cannot seem to find in grant agencies, the media or audiences themselves. Because of this, we may feel hesitant to criticize. But the very fact that our closest friend is also the artist next door is what should allows us the freedom to challenge his or her work.
Oh and you still owe me twenty bucks.
[Ed: For the record, the critic CharPo dispatched to Humans liked it.]