The Language of Disrespect
Things have actually gotten worse
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Last week I wrote about how politics should be teaching us, in theatre, lessons about respect and civility. You just had to look at political campaigns in Quebec and the United States to understand that when we have grievances in the arts, we clearly should not be as rancorous. Firstly, because our community is too small to contain feuds and, secondly, because somewhere - down the line - most of us will have to work together. Grudges must die (or at least be set aside and painted over with a smile).
After I wrote that editorial two things happened:
- There was an assassination attempt on our premier-elect, allegedly by some guy spouting stupidity about how "The English are awakening!" What made the event more chilling and tragic was that there was an actual death during the attempt, a stage techie named Denis Blanchette.
- I received an open letter (email) about the crisis at Factory Theatre that I suspect I was meant to publish but where the content of the letter was so angry and uncivil I decided I would not put it up on the site. I stated that I would no longer publish pieces that did not advance dialogue that might resolve the situation.
On Facebook and Twitter the appointment seemed to go some way towards appeasing a lot of people who were angry at Factory's board.
But it actually got worse. The email was cc'ed to dozens of people including several of my colleagues in the theatre media. It was not bcc'ed which meant those it was sent to included me in their replies by pressing the reply-all button.
Now you may be aware that the Factory board has appointed an artistic team as interim leaders of the company, even as they continue mediation efforts with the ousted artistic director, Ken Gass. The artistic team includes well-known artists in the community, Nina Lee Aquino and Nigel Shawn Williams. On Facebook and Twitter the appointment seemed to go some way towards appeasing a lot of people who were angry at Factory's board. But - by God! - the participants in that email roundelay were not appeased.
From the start the appointees were referred to as "sadly tone-deaf and immediatley [sic] compromised". With each subsequent reply, the hostility expressed for all (including myself) to read was mind-blowing! "Usurpers" they were called and "Dishonourable opportunists".
I do not live in Toronto but I know or have had contact with many who work there. But there is no doubt I am not of the community. (One of the reasons I let our Toronto edition of CharPo be run by those who are.) So as I read this vituperation I wondered if I was feeling the same way those outside Quebec felt when Pauline Marois's night of triumph turned into a nightmare: a nauseating sensation that even though we are not as close to the event, our humanity is nevertheless touched by it - wounded, even.
It's a sense that something very important has suffered; a sense that what makes us feel proud of ourselves has gone away; a sense of innocence lost as kindness is trampled; a sense that makes us want to shout, "This is not who we are!"
And once again, this must be said: this has to stop. The Factory shambles has become an embarrassing, wrong-headed, school-yard pissing contest that shames all of us. Worse, it casts a shadow on the new season, pulling attention from artists who are actually working instead of spending their energies on feuds which cannot be resolved easily. Indeed, they will not be resolved at all as long as the discussion is tainted by the contemptible language evident in the examples I've presented.
Both parties, Gass and Board Chairman Ron Struys, have to accept a mediator (surely there is ONE fucking person left they both respect). Then Struys and Gass have to move away from their clans, sit down at a table, resolve this one way or another, and let the rest of the city - indeed, the rest of the country - get on with the business of theatre.
Because, quite simply, if the sniping continues everyone who persists brands themselves as something other than artists - they become pathetic soi-disant martyrs to a cause which, increasingly, can be summed up in one word: self.
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