“Stephen, the arts is the economy, stupid…”

So says Karl Pruner, president of ACTRA Toronto to PM Stephen Harper. Well said, Karl.

In the midst of Harper’s sniper fire at Canadian Arts and Culture, it is easy to forget that arts and the economy are greatly intertwined. See what I mean here and here and here. And especially here. Or maybe if you want a clear visual of the inseparable ties between the arts and the economy, just whip out your wallet. Find a twenty dollar bill and take a look at the back of it…

Harper and the Conservatives have created a black and white scenario where it’s arts and culture vs. the economy. This is typical conservative polarizing at its worst. But let’s pretend just for a moment that this is actually how life works… The Arts vs. The Economy… What would you choose? Actress Leah Pinsent, has this to say:

“We don’t visit Rome, Japan or Africa to learn about their economies. We go to experience their culture… It is culture, not economics, that truly makes a nation. If we as Canadians are left only with other people’s stories .. then what can we be proud of? There will be nothing left to be proud of…”

The only thing that Pinsent misses is that the arts are part and parcel of the Canadian economy. And yes, the economy should clearly be of paramount importance. But arts and culture – like every other industry – are entitled to be supported by the very government and country that they themselves support. Canadian music and theatre are no more part of a niche industry than the Ford auto plant in Windsor is. Pruner bluntly evokes the question that I’ve been pondering:

“Why is it we talk about investing in the auto sector, investing in the energy sector, and handouts to the arts? Are we tired of this? I think so.”

So while Harper would like you to believe that “ordinary folks don’t care about arts,” (his words) let’s stop pretending that arts and culture aren’t intermingled in the genetic makeup of Canada’s economic infrastructure. Let’s stop pretending that this is a black and white issue and that Harper’s already made the right choice for us. And while we’re at it, let’s stop pretending that there’s such thing as an “ordinary” Canadian. Because there isn’t, anymore than there’s such a definable thing as “Canadian arts” or “the Canadian economy.”

Mr. Harper: Canadian arts, the economy, and Canadians themselves are complex things, not reducible to single lines in a budget as you would have the electorate believe. Try expanding your mind a little.

Penniless for the Arts

An addendum to my previous post on Arts funding in Canada. Lest you think I’m just a raving “artsy” lunatic upset that government “handouts” are being scaled back due to “budget” constraints… look at this August 2008 report from the Conference Board of Canada. The Conference Board is an economic and corporate research organization. They are not a government organization. They are not a lobby group of any sort. They are objective and non-partisan. This is what they have to say:

The Conference Board estimates that the economic footprint of Canada’s culture sector was $84.6 billion in 2007, or 7.4 per cent of Canada’s total real GDP, including direct, indirect, and induced contributions. Culture sector employment exceeded 1.1 million jobs in 2007.

I’m not a numbers guy (remember I failed math), but this is pretty compelling. Arts and culture industries play a vital role in attracting people, business, and investment, and in distinguishing Canada as a dynamic and exciting place to live and work. Apparently these just aren’t issues the Conservative party seem to be concerned about.

Faceless for the Arts

Normally, I’m not one to jump on social cause bandwagons. I find that wristbands, ribbons, buttons, stickers, car magnets, and the such are often really more about making individuals feel good about themselves than enacting real change. If people really wanted to make a difference, they would get out of their cars and use their feet. But today, I joined a group on Facebook called “Faceless.” Along with that, I replaced my profile picture to an icon which states “Faceless for the Arts.” This is all a part of a campaign to protest the rapidly declining support of Canadian arts and culture by the federal government.

Before clicking on the “Join Group” button, I hesitated for a moment, but then realized that Facebook is actually the exact place where this type of protest should take place. It is an ironic paradox that our world has become increasingly interconnected, yet at the expense of actual face-time. One of the greatest realms that has been affected by this paradox is arts and culture. In Canada, our current government has decided that if artists want to connect with people, they should do so without any of the support they have traditionally enjoyed from the government. Arts and culture has become an increasingly isolated enterprise in Canada on the federal level, with a lack of recognition of its importance and centrality in our otherwise banal national identity.

The Conservative Party of Canada has shown a blatant contempt for the vitality of Canadian arts and culture. In two and a half years, the Conservative Government has eliminated over $34 Million in funding from Cultural and Heritage Granting Programs. The programs affected were designed to assist artists, arts institutions and not for profit charitable organizations in the creation, development, promotion and dissemination of Canadian art both nationally and internationally. And more cuts are anticipated in the coming weeks as part of Harper’s campaign.

So I joined a Facebook group and changed my picture. Sure, on its own, this measure is not going to make a concrete difference, it’s a symbol. But coupled with a thoughtful vote against the Conservatives in the upcoming elections, it’s more than just a symbol.

I hope and pray that people realize how serious these cuts are, and how they are part of a greater negative ideology on the part of the Conservatives. Things are changing in Canada, and the worst part is it’s not just about how we see ourselves. Just read what Slate has to say about us, in an article titled “What’s the Matter with Canada?”:

…Canada’s political system is in turmoil. Since 2004, a succession of unstable minority governments has led to a constant campaign frenzy, brutalizing Canada’s once-broad political consensus and producing a series of policies at odds with the country’s socially liberal, fiscally conservative identity. Canada is quietly becoming a political basket case, and this latest election may make things even worse.

Make no mistake, these policy changes and funding cuts are radically changing Canadian society.

People don’t come with bar codes

Since I started blogging regularly (let’s say about five years ago), there have been a few gaps in my writing schedule, mostly due to stage productions I’ve been in. Usually, following those absences, I post a half-assed apology and just get back to writing. So my most recent absence (hiatus?) from writing shouldn’t really come as a surprise to others or myself. It certainly hasn’t been my longest hiatus. It is, however, the longest I’ve gone without writing during a period of great personal upheaval. Much has changed since I left Canada for the grassy fields of Warwick, NY.

These have been an incredibly introspective few months. Normally, I like to share almost everything that’s going on in my life with those around me. I talk a lot. These past few months… not so much. I’ve really only spoken with a few people to get some insight into various life altering changes. To those people… thank you.

I am – according to Mr. Jung,and the folks at Meyers Briggs – an extrovert. an “E.” For those not familiar with the MBTI personality test, it is essentially a psychological tool used to asses how one interacts with and processes events and information. As an “extrovert,” I recharge my proverbial internal battery by interacting with others. While others need personal time to reflect and recharge, my “down” time is usually spent with others. I’ve always been that way; save for some rare occasions, I’ve always felt lonely and anxious when I’m alone for extended periods of time.

So as an “E,” I find it extremely odd that I’ve withdrawn from blogging and talking to people – even some of my best friends – over the past few months. At a time when I’ve required the greatest amount of recharging and reenergizing, I’ve drawn into myself and spent a great deal of time on my own. I stopped blogging. I haven’t spoken with my family as much. I haven’t spoken with my best friends. It has been a strange few months.

And yet, this sudden, seemingly strange change in my behaviour is also extremely comforting for me. Over the past few months (really years), I have been engaged in a great internal debate. If I hadn’t noticed a change in my normal behaviour, I fear my choices might have wound up being a little too callous or arbitrary. So while I am growing increasingly tired of people hiding behind their MBTI “bar code,” claiming that “oh, I’m an ‘F’ you’ll have to excuse me while I go hug someone…”, I am also quite relieved to have been acquainted with it, as it has been of great assistance to me.

Over the course of these months, I have reached the culmination of one of the greatest personal challenges I have ever faced. It has been an ongoing struggle – one that has lasted for many years. Three weeks ago, I woke up at camp and was pleased to realize that I had finally made a decision that I had been pondering for years. I made what is likely going to be one the most important decisions of my life. Three weeks ago, I called my directors at school and withdrew from my studies at the National Theatre School of Canada.

And I feel good. Great, really. To get a sense of how long it took me to come to this decision, look at this post of mine from two years ago. Or this one, from three and a half years ago. The internal debate has been raging for quite some time now, and thankfully, it is over.

Over the course of the year at theatre school, I had felt as though I’ve been sacrificing a little too much of myself for the sake of theatre. For someone who has lived and breathed theatre for as long as I can remember, this was a very painful revelation. So while theatre will remain close to my heart (and body), I will be returning to Jewish youth work, where the sacrifices will be more rewarding and hopefully a little less painful.

And that’s the story of the past few months.

Outside of my personal developments, I am pleased to note that this has been the greatest summer at camp I have ever had. I will write more on that later.

The Basis of all Theatre

Is Food.

The most important thing for theatre is… food.
Food celebrates life.
Life revolves around food.
And thus, theatre is created out of good food.

This is the philosophy of a new director who I have the pleasure of working with on Hamlet.
I’m sure there will be plenty of more insight coming from him, so stay tuned.

Money and Gunpowder

There are two people in a debate about what are the most pressing factors concerning a stable society. One of the pair, a military industrialist, is driven by money and might. He believes security, fiscal responsibility, and military might to be the most important pillars upon which a country functions healthily.

The other debater, a Christian man, is driven by his religious values. He believes that getting a liberal arts education, teaching ethics and morals, and supporting the poor are the most important pillars upon which a country functions healthily.

The two men spar words, arguing over what religion exactly entails, how it should influence leaders, how it should influence romantic relationships, and what to do with your religion when you’re in a position of power.

These two people are not Stephen Harper and Jack Layton. Nor are they Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama. They are Andrew Undershaft and Adolphus Cusins.

Who are Andew Undershaft and Adolphus Cusins?

They are characters in George Bernard Shaw’s play Major Barbara. It’s one of the plays I’m working on right now. And it was written in 1905. For those of you who can’t do math, that’s one hundred and three years ago.

It appears that either Shaw was a great prophet – a possibility which I’m not entirely willing to rule out – or there are certain historical/philosophical constants which govern the cosmos. And one of those constants is the divisiveness in opinion as to who is responsible for caring for the constituents of a country. Shaw’s characters might as well have been ripped from this morning’s newspaper headlines. And I’m willing to bet that they will ring as true and imminent a year from now, and then some.

I’m not going to preach as to which of the two I believe is in the right. Or… in the “left” as I would have it. I’m going to share one of the characters’ dialogues, just to shed a little light on the state of the world today. Anybody who thinks we’re at the lowest of lows, living in a time when our governments are riddled with corruption, our leaders incapable of leading, and trillions of dollars being spent on death and destruction should take a look at Shaw.

Things haven’t changed that much:

“There are two things necessary to Salvation… Money and gunpowder. That is the general opinion of our governing classes. The novelty is in hearing any man confess it.”

“Is there any place in your religion for honour, justice, truth, love, mercy, and so forth?”

“Yes: they are the graces and luxuries of a rich, strong, and safe life.”

“Suppose one is forced to choose between them and money or gunpowder?

“Choose money and gunpowder; for without enough of both you cannot afford the others.”

“That is your religion?”


Of hearts and minds…

There’s brotherhood here. Even if it is through killing.

Writing a play about Iraq is no easy task. Writing a play in protest of the war in Iraq is almost impossible to do successfully. Already you’re fighting a losing battle. The clichés and stereotypes already abound. Bombshells have been dropped on Bush over and over and over again. And littering a text with half-assed military references and war-speak has been tried, tested, and most of the time proven useless. We get it. The war sucks. People died. People are dying. Dying is bad, and fighting is bad, and killing is bad, and destroying a nation in the name of who knows what is bad.

The war in Iraq is bad.

The play I saw tonight is good. Quite good. Really good.

Now, I need to qualify good, because apparently “good” is not good enough. Unfortunately, I still need to absorb much of what I saw this evening, and it wouldn’t be fair to review the play without doing some deep thinking about it.

In the meantime, it is comforting to know that someone has actually been able to bypass all the bullshit and write a contemporary commentary on war and Iraq that is imminently relevant and appropriate. It is instantly both heart-wrenching and heady, and I encourage you to see it if you can.

The play is called Gas and is written by NTS graduate Jason Maghanoy. Directed by Guy Spring, it is presented by infinitheatre and is playing at Bain St-Michel here in Montreal. Check out their website.

Please, go see it.

living the simultaneous life

My life, or whatever it can be called right now, has entered an unusual new phase. Moving to a new city and studying at a new school (indeed, an entirely new type of school) will of course entail a few hectic weeks of moving, unpacking, and settling in. And of course, that’s what I’m stuck in the middle of. But my life, or whatever it may be called right now, (I’m thinking… “Property of the National Theatre School of Canada”?) seems to be stuck in an entirely new mode of existence.

I’m simultaneously on standby and overdrive.

I had classes from 9 to 7 today. And it’s only the second day of school. Truth be told, we actually haven’t even really started the school year yet, this is just a chance for our programme to work before everyone gets here. It’s overdrive. And I love it. But it’s overdrive.

But I’m on standby, too. I have no internet, phone service, or tv. The outside world would cease to exist, were it not for the wonderful free internet at the cafe around the corner from me. I still have yet to respond to Rabbi Yoffie regarding the dialogue he initiated with me over my previous infamous blog post, and I have yet to catch up on a lot of correspondence from the summer.

So here I am, standing by and waiting, while at the same time revving my internal engines.

My message to the rest of the world: give me a week, and I’ll resurface.

I hope.

If a Jew falls in the Woods…

While teaching my elective at the kibbutz today, one of my students brought up a delightful bit of insight. You might even call it a quintessential Jewish paradox. Or perhaps just a cultural pondering.

My elective is entitled Yid vs. Goy: Secular, Jewish, and Israeli Culture. We’ve been covering a motley crew of topics, from traditional religious observance to modern musical expressionism. Today, we were talking about the prevalence of Jewish culture in secular society, with a specific focus on the arts. Today was a highlight.

On a hot, sticky day, on which half of the class decided to skip to pursue other (illicit?) pursuits, one statement (a la “if a tree falls in the forest…”) resounded against the ambient noise.

If an audience with no Jews in it went to see Spamalot, would there still be people to laugh at the Jewish jokes?”

This was a reference to the song “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway if You Don’t Have the Jews,” which itself is an off beat satire of the very thing which we were discussing today, namely, how is it that less than one percent of the world’s population seems to exert so much cultural influence.

A Jewish Conspiracy?

The discussion took an incredibly interesting turn when we began to discuss who has ownership of the various Jewish cultural influences on non-Jewish society. Do we get to decide who gets to laugh at our jokes if we don’t tell them? Do we get to decide who eats our food if we don’t cook it? Do we get to decide who listens to our songs if we don’t sing them? And are they all still Jewish if we don’t?

I know my answer. What’s yours?

Better be worth my while…

I just got into a car accident while returning from the post-office. I was dropping off my application to the National Theatre School, when the three-car pileup occured. Unfortunately, I was the third car, and as such the blame will be pinned on me, even though all the drivers admit it was none of our fault.

This leads me to say that I better get accepted to NTS. Yes, getting in will make the car accident worthwile. It will make the insurance rates worthwhile. If anyone from NTS happens to be reading this, please take this into consideration when you are auditioning me. Thank you.