Saturday, 19 January 2013

Six Things Very Wrong With Toronto Theatre

1. The Audience
            This is the real problem. There was a time when the downtown was a cool place, it was comprised of a variety of communities, ethnicities and classes. Nowadays the cultural divide between the core and suburbs in Toronto is huge (it’s almost apartheid and no one is talking about it). Downtown is full of rich white people and the suburbs are filled with working class immigrants (in the old days it used to be the other way around!). Anyway, the people who come to see plays in downtown Toronto are rich -- either old and established, or young and feverishly working their way up. The last time I went to the theatre (yesterday) the woman sitting behind me was talking much too loudly about how she made $90,000 a year but she couldn’t afford her apartment. People like that (oh dear) want to be entertained and have their worldview confirmed -- they want escapist fun. They like to think they are cultured and intellectual (Soulpepper doing a ‘new take on an old classic,' anyone?) but ultimately, they aren’t interested in anything that challenges their ideas, their sexuality, or their way of life (i.e. making money and spending it). How does one create theatre for these people? Why bother?

2. The Big Apple
            Toronto theatre professionals seem obsessed with New York City. Especially the youngsters. Their goal in life is to write a hit that gets produced on Broadway. There was a time when Broadway was considered the enemy of Canadian theatre. We didn’t want our plays on the Great White Way -- we wanted to create our own idea of a good play might be and play it in Canada, for Canadians. Nowadays people are starting new theatre companies and doing plays that have just been hits in New York, or they are writing their own plays (usually with titles like ‘Drek -– The Musical) and hoping they will get picked up by Harold Prince.

3. David Mirvish
            I don’t wanna be hard on the guy. I mean, I think he’s a reasonably nice person, a capitalist with a soft spot for the arts. He means well. But he has bad taste. I mean -- Andrew Lloyd Webber’s re-visioning of The Wizard of Oz? What a surprise, Webber’s songs didn’t turn out to be as good as ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’  -- who wudda thunk it? The biggest problem with Mirvish (I have said it a thousand times and I will say it again) is that he has changed everyone’s idea of what theatre is. It doesn’t have a helicopter?  What, no horses operated by real live humans? Well it wasn’t such a good play then, was it?

4. No Intermissions
            Okay, I’ve really had it with this. It used to be that you were only expected to sit in one place for an hour at the most. But now if you put an intermission in a play, it’s some sort of crime. (I know from whence I speak -- I still put intermissions in my plays and the critics always say: “I somewhat enjoyed the actor’s performances -- despite Gilbert’s writing and directing -- but the play was much too lightweight to deserve an intermission.”) No, please. The program for the last play I saw warned us that it would be one hour and 45 minutes without an intermission. I was frightened. The play was two hours long, no break. TWO HOURS!!!!! It’s gotten to the point now where they don’t dare tell you how long the play actually is, for fear you’ll bolt. Human beings were not made to sit in a theatre for more than an hour and fifteen minutes without an intermission. Period.
I don’t care what kind of genius you are.

5. Richard Ouzounian
            There was a time when I would have been afraid to criticize Richard Ouzounian, the Star theatre critic. I mean what if he started hating me and stopped coming to see my plays? Hey, no problem. Richard Ouzounian will never come to one of my plays again, because as far as I can tell, he’s stopped going to ‘small’ theatre. It used to be that if a show was paid Equity fees, the Star felt obligated to review it. No more. Used to be that the Toronto Star -- in the good old days of Henry Mitkiewicz and Robert Crew (gee, I never thought I’d say that) -- would do puff pieces about independent Canadian theatre, not just about the search for the lead in The Sound of Music, or the fabulous lighting for Lord of the Rings. I’d even love to get a bad review from the guy -- anything.

6. The Seats
            The last time I went to the big Berkeley Street theatre at Canstage it was like being packed into a cheap charter flight. I’m old and I have arthritis and I’m cranky, but Jesus! My arms (which I’ll have to admit are rather burley and well muscled) were bumping people on both sides, and my knees were scrunched up against the seat ahead. I couldn’t move! Hamilton’s civic theatre is a run by a horrible man named Ron Ulrich (he tried to censor one of my plays and eventually pushed it out of his season!) but there is a lesson to be learned from Theatre Aquarius – they give you a yard of foot room in front of every seat. And these things matter, you know.
They do.

And that’s all I have to say for now.

Four Mid-January Quickie Reviews:

Any movie in which a character who is on the waiting list for a new hip asks -- “Would you like to go for a walk?" – has no relationship whatsoever to the real world.

On The Road
The critics are saying this moving is ‘missing something,’ that it’s ‘not quite right.’ Let me sort this out. It’s fucking gay man. It’s a fucking gay movie. That’s the only problem anybody could possibly have with it.

Zero Dark Thirty
I could take or leave the Osama rescue stuff but this movie was a bit feminist and sometimes Jessica Chastain reminded me of Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect which I so totally adored.

Don’t go if you are feeling remotely depressed, or if you are in any way near, or approaching, old age (I fit in both categories and I went to see it and I’m still in recovery). But, that said, it’s a pretty fucking good movie.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Texas Chain Saw 3D and Newtown

      There’s been a lot of foolishness talked about violence lately; I would like to sort it out. In my view, most human beings (especially males, but not always) are born with violent tendencies. Most are able to express these violent tendencies in socially acceptable ways – i.e. through sporting events, war, minor scuffles etc. There are, however, instances in which people commit acts of extreme and random violence – murder, or mass murder, for no apparent reason.  At least there seems to be no reason, until the pundits come along and link the violence to some social ill.
      A perfect example is the alleged rape of a girl in Steubenville Ohio in 2012. It recently received extensive media attention because the boys accused of victimizing her apparently joked about the rape in a video that has gone viral. The discussion after the incident was much like the one that followed the 2011 Tucson shooting (involving Congresswoman Gabby Gifford and 18 others). In both of these cases -- as in the case of the Montreal massacre -- extreme, senseless violence was related to social ills. In the case of the alleged Steubenville rape (and the Montreal massacre) a connection was made to societal misogyny -- and in the case of the Tucson shootings, a link was made to right-wing extremism. To some degree, these links are alluring simply because we crave an explanation.
      Unfortunately, most random acts of violence simply have no reason; a sociopathic or psychotic personality has committed them. But the ‘expert’ explanations for such incidents are deeply compelling because they drive us to ponder the nature of modern society. As the boys and men from Steubenville continue to disavow responsibility for abuse, piously mouthing phrases like ‘That’s disgusting,’ and ‘I would never do that to a woman’ the paradoxical power of the boys’ words on the viral video rings all too true. One of the boys says, in effect  -- ‘if it was my sister I would still think it was okay if she was raped.’ In other words, though men in our culture may pretend to respect women, misogyny is here to stay. Hatred of women and right wing extremism are both rampant in North America. However, they are not the cause of violent acts. But when extreme violence occurs we feel guilty about repellant cultural attitudes that may never change.
      Since the tragic murders of the children in Newtown, there have been calls to regulate the sale of automatic assault weapons (which I support) and to censor violence in Hollywood movies (which I would not). Many have pointed out that only a month after Newtown, the biggest grossing movie of post-holiday weekend was Texas Chainsaw 3D.
      What’s the big surprise? The hypocrisy of our modern, decadent culture is quite literally beyond belief.  Texas Chain Saw 3D is endlessly seductive, featuring big boobs (both male and female) and a campy, immoral tone that implies its violence need not be taken seriously. But most important -- and most attractively for  young people terrified of being ‘different’ or having an outrageous thought -- this movie says nothing, means nothing, and does not threaten the vacuous ‘twitterverse’ they live in. The movie is bereft of ideas. We are raising our children in a world where capitalism has taught us only these values: survival (in a recession) or luxury (in a boom). Instead of wondering ‘Why am I here?” “What is right and what is wrong?” “What is real and what is an illusion?” or even “What is love?” young people are trained to unquestioningly consume the banal content that comes to them from itunes, google and eBay. They are told they will find salvation in consumerism, marriage, and God.
      As we continue to mouth impotent platitudes our culture ceases to be about anything, and (as Adorno predicted) the Hollywood films we watch are basically the movies that movie executives want us to see. Decadence is not the decline of religion, or morality, or chastity, it is about a culture that no longer thinks, questions, explores, or creates.
      Modern decadence does not cause random violence.  But the ‘social ills’ so many people find shocking these days -- well I find them to be – if you closely examine our values -- not much of a surprise.

Post-Holiday Movie Reviews

Les Miserables
‘I love you more than the stars and the moon and my own bum! You are a special little blonde boy who gets shot in a revolutionary cause! You are the world. No, sorry, I got that wrong…we are the world!' Not since Rent has there been SUCH a FILM! It’s just so goddamn inspiring I could like, shit in my pants and then eat it.

Anna Karenina
It’s kinda interestingly directed and Raphaël Personnazrprise (Vronsky) looks fucking fabulous naked on a bed.

Django Unchained
Well at least it wasn’t boring like Planet Terror.

Parental Guidance / Guilt Trip
Please. Enough already. If all Hollywood can think of to do with Bette and Barbra is to put them in shit like this now we might as well all just pack up our dildoes and die.

Central Park Five