Saturday 7 October 2023

For any of my Shakespeare students

 So a friend sent me a quote from -- Ron McLean! -- of all people (not that Hockey pundits are fundamentally stupid, I was just surprised to find that he had an opinion about this....):

"You can almost always pin down the artist in the art, but not Shakespeare, and I’d like to know what made him tic"

Well, respectfully, here's your answer, Ron.

This is so ridiculous, and merely to save the asses of those who believe that the 'man from Stratford' was Shakespeare. They have decided that since the tiny bio of the man from Stratford finds no reflection in Shakespeare's work -- that there is a general principle to be gleaned from this -- that we can learn nothing about a great writer's personal views from a great writer's work itself, and that 'hiding' in your work is what defines a great writer: i.e. a great writer is defined by his or her ability to disappear in their work!


All we must do is accept the fact that Shakespeare was a man who read classical literature -- as well as the literature of his time --  in, at least 7 languages, If we do (and of course there is evidence that he knew classics in the original, everywhere in his work) THEN we can be sure of certain PHILOSOPHICAL ATTITUDES:
  1. Shakespeare was a skeptic  -- he believed that there was no ultimate right or wrong, but that instead it was important to bring up both sides of every argument, and then to rest peacefully in the space of contradiction (this is the philosophy of skepticism)
  2. he was an aesthete, meaning he thought that the truth of the world was to be found in poetry, not in observation of the world, or science (this is the philosophy of Gorgias)
  3. he was NOT a puritan, he hated them, and was probably closer to a Catholic than a protestant. But remember though he was fond of Christian imagery -- and obviously raised  on the bible, his work is Christian only now and then; he was a pagan first and foremost....and a magician
  4. he was a feminist -- for his time -- meaning he thought that the beauty and literary brilliance of women (wit) was the ultimate value, and that men can and should learn from women how to be good and brilliant people
  5. he was the opposite of a stoic -- he did not think that people were ennobled by controlling their feelings, but rather ennobled by expressing them 
There are also several things about his PERSONAL LIFE that we know from the work
  1. He was an aristocrat. This means he did not really understand -- or have any interest -- in the affairs of working class people. We know this because he rarely wrote about poor or middle class people, most of the time he wrote about aristocrats (that is, HIS class). But this is not an attitude that is deliberate or dogmatic in his work. He just doesn't get working class or middle-class people. He was not one. (And he also believed in the divine right of kings.)
  2. 'Something terrible happened to Shakespeare.' His writing is filled not only with horrific incidents, but with deep and extended contemplation on how to deal with grief -- in fact, he goes on and on about it, in quite a batty way -- trying to figure out how we can possibly express grief, or even experience it. This is the subject of many extended monologues and soliloquies.

 c)  He was obsessed with the unjust hurt he personally had done to a woman -- by accusing her of infidelity that never occurred. In other words he ruined some  woman's life by accusing her of being a 'slut' and never recovered from the trauma of that incident. (This could be the 'something terrible.' Or that might be something else, i.e. something worse.)     

d) He was very sexual. As a skeptic, he is not going to tell us his final opinion on sex. But it is clear from his work that he KNEW sex WELL, and was no prude, and was pursued by the 'dogs of desire' --  which he often refers to in his work -- those 'dogs' may have had something to do with what destroyed him.

If you want proof for all of this you need only read Shakespeare's work, and/or  you can read my books: Shakespeare Beyond Science When Poetry was the World and the soon to be released Shakespeare Lied (both Guernica).

Saturday 2 September 2023

When Theatre Was Fun

(Apologies to Joe Brainard)

I remember when theatre was fun

I remember when we used to anticipate rehearsal with longing, not fear

I remember when directors were not perfect (no one was)

I remember when there were no rules about being together and rules about touching one another

I remember when actors wanted to be vulnerable

I remember when actors went into psychotherapy but they wanted to know how fucked up they were instead of being afraid of it

I remember Marylin Monroe

I remember James Dean

I remember when actors were brave and eager to confront startling issues and 'hot topics' and to play crazy characters (and you could say the word ‘crazy’) and it was all part of the fun

I remember when my friend David Roche used to call theatre 'four people being rude in a room' 

I remember ‘hump the hostess’ and ‘get the guests’ and ‘what a dump!’

I remember when people with mental health issues didn’t have to apply for their own grants in a special category but worked with us — because a lot of real artists have mental health issues anyway -- and the whole theatre community understood that and welcomed people with mental health issues with open arms, as art itself was a mental health issue

I remember the imagination

I remember the subconscious

I remember dreams

I remember ‘madness’

I remember not policing language

I remember jokes

I remember real sensitivity, not when people broke the unspoken terrifying politically correct rules, but real people were sensitive to real human things in the moment

I remember when we didn’t lie except in the right way

I remember when we didn’t do lip service piously to all sorts of dogma that we didn’t really believe in -- but we now think that we must -- in order to continue our work

I remember when art was political, but you didn’t have to agree with the politics to do it

I remember when it was about your body and your soul and most of all your heart and not your social justice ideas

I remember when theatre was surprising and unsettling

I remember when actors and writers and directors didn’t hold artists up to impossible expectations that they.could never realize themselves

I remember when we had to learn how NOT to judge, instead of  HOW to judge

I remember when thought was free

I remember when no idea was a crime

I remember when everyone knew that a lot of artists have been criminals, and artists weren’t afraid to welcome the criminal element in their work which, after all, to quote Penny Arcade, is what separates art 'from academia’

I remember when theatre was yeah sexy and boozy and in your face

I remember when actors used to yell at the audience directly -- not religiously and passive aggressively lecture them about politically correct dogma

I remember the God DIonysus

I remember when there were awful bad people in the theatre and there were things like sexism and homophobia; but we tried to deal with it without demonizing everybody, and turning acting and directing into a terrifying nightmare in which we were all afraid to be honest with each other

I remember feeling things, as a group

I remember when theatre was a place where --  though we were often wearing a mask -- we could be ourselves

I remember hiding in theatre, in a very good way

I remember catharsis

I remember seeing horrible images in rehearsal and onstage, and not turning away or asking for sensitivity training or check-in days, or crayons to do colouring

I remember laughing from the gut and not feeling guilty 

I remember when theatre was fun

Do you?

Saturday 12 August 2023

The Ubiquitous Man-purse

One sees them everywhere, and I am reminded of precisely how old I am. It was only a few years ago that I finally realized my ancientness, because when one ventures out into what we fondly imagine is the real world, one is inevitably besieged by the latest trends, which are often frightening in their strangeness. I remember long ago when ‘turn-around caps’ appeared —  there was one summer when everyone starting turning their caps around — not just tough guys and baby dykes — it was simply the thing to do. So how exactly did that happen? Is that what Facebook is for — rattling out the latest fashion headline? Well I embarked on a trip to The Eagle last night. Now this is something I only occasionally do, and of course I don’t go to the darkroom, I’m just there for the fabulous dance music. (Do you like that lie? Hopefully better ones are forthcoming!) Well to my surprise, chagrin — well disgust actually — countless fellows out for a ‘night-on-the-town’ were supporting man-purses. If you don’t know what a man-purse is — well they come in many forms — and each  says a lot about the mantot who totes it. (By the way, the man-purse is necessarily carried over one shoulder — though sometimes it evidently protrudes from the back like a hump, and at other times hides discreetly tucked under the arm or near it…) SO man-purses can look like small gym bags, that is like little black sacs (to mention a loaded phrase, at least for me) or they can resemble — or indeed are — sparkly girl purses that signal ‘femme-fatale.’ The style of the man-purse is directly related to what the man who wears the purse wants to project. Most wish to be discreet, but there are some who go the 'sparkly, girly' route — which is actually the key to the man-purse phenomenon. Now the elephant in the room is this — of course — what is actually in them? I would love to say poppers, but I fear this is not the case, as I have never seen poppers come out of one. I asked my-friend- Pat-who-works-at-The-Eagle what she thought these manly men might be carrying in their man-purses and she said: ‘I have absolutely no idea, honey,’ subtly indicating that the question had given her, too, some sleepless nights. Well I have the answer. Well, these men are certainly not carrying anything in their man-purse that they might not easily carry anywhere else. Perhaps they don’t want ‘pocket bulge’? But this would be an excuse for something much harder to admit — that is, that the man-purse carries their femininity. For a purse is a girly thing. It, in fact, means ‘girl,’ and during the Early Modern period (which is what pretentious scholars call The Renaissance these days) a ’purse’ was a euphemism for a ‘cunt’ (Moll Cutpurse — based on a real woman, Mary Frith — was the heroine of an infamous Elizabethan play of the same name, about a woman who dressed as a man). So it would be more accurate to say that it is not merely their femininity that these men carry in their purses, but their own portable cunts. Why? Because carrying around a dick (which all of them do, much to their horror) has become a sign of toxic masculinity in our culture. Now, although dick has not been completely outlawed  yet, and yes people were always afraid of it (except in those cultures that erected shrines to erections, although sadly western culture has no such shrines, though of course it could easily be argued that we lived, for many years in a phallocentric culture, the only problem with this being of course, female breasts are everywhere and yes I will admit, I get tired of them being thrust in our faces all the time, as if we were all lecherous heterosexuals or lesbians) balls — there I said the word — you knew I would at some point, I’ve already said ‘cunt’ — are not to be seen or touched or discussed in polite company, and you can’t have a dick without balls, or at least you shouldn’t. (Unless you are a castrato. But let’s not get into that now.) How do I know that the dick — which was often heard of, but never seen, in our culture, is now essentially being erased to such a degree that men are instead walking around advertising that they have cunts? Well I went to the Sex, Desire and Data immersive exhibition at the Phi Centre in Montreal and there was not a dick in sight. There was however a giant vagina (or asshole I’m not sure) that you could explore with one hand (it was not wet; which was a disappointment) but tragically no dick to caress — force to ejaculate — or sit upon (sigh!). In fact from the moment I entered and was ordered to go digital and pick up people online, I found I was flirting with women, and there was no opportunity to make it clear to The Phi Centre that I am a homosexual and ergo not the least bit interested in boobs or cunts or any gently curved surface but (alas) I do long for a plump protruding ass, or more often the straight (as in hard) -- and not narrow -- but aspirationally thick, male member. Alas, again, dicks are out, cunts are in. And some of you might say -- ‘it’s about time.’ Yes, perhaps my longing for the 'days of the dick’ — which I look upon nostalgically I admit — is sick, or toxic, or just  plain sad. But it’s me. But you have to put up with it. At least until this end of this blog. 

Which is finally here.

Thank Christ.

Friday 28 July 2023

Expect More Suicides

"I know that fate is harsh, but I am loathe to accept this." - Hillar Liitoja

Please do understand, that if you are an older artist; the time is ripe for suicide. 

For, what do we have to live for? 

It has been made clear to us countless times, through social media — never mind the exclamations of arts councils and younger artists — that not only are we no longer necessary — but what we have viewed as our ‘contributions’ must not only be ignored, but erased.

You may think you know what is like to be told, in your ‘declining years’ that you are responsible— not only for your own decline — but for the present decline of the world. What about being told that you are not merely to blame for climate change, economic decline, and the rise of dictatorships, but also for what is perceived as a present day all-pervasive and toxic moral decadence? 

We are told now that everything we stood for (i.e.’beauty’ and ‘aesthetic excellence’) are not values, but corrupt and inhumane signifiers of evil. 

Older creators are told that the scandalous ideas and images that were (at one time!) debated, in our plays, poems and novels, in our dances, paintings, videos, music, have been the cause of pain and hurt on the part of the young.

The result is that in Canada we have seen the suicide of artists like R.M. Vaughan and Brent Carver (to name only two). Recently the world has seen the death of Sinead O’Connor — as yet unexplained — who described herself, after the recent tragedy of her son's suicide, as a kind of ‘undead night creature.’

Of course they may have have been victims of a mental illness.

But what of the reasons they were able to stay alive for so long was that they had thought that their creative lives meant something!

We, as older artists have (of necessity!) spent years wrapping ourselves around inspiration, fighting  to understand the strange, often repellant machinations of our own inner selves.

We have confronted our demons, and others have — as a kind of side effect —  had the opportunity to glimpse their own personal darkness through us.

For many artists, taking a fearful look ‘inside’ is the only way for us to deal with our own propensity to spiral. And those personal explorations have lead to some kind of relief — or at least a kind of level of psychological subsistence that allowed us to ‘keep on going.’

No more.

Today the suicides of elder artists will be welcomed by some (if not many!) of the young.

It is a harsh fact.

For many years, young artists have been yelling at us: "Your time is up!" And, If elder artists  commit the crime of continuing to create, it is seen as an obstacle to the young.

"How can we move ahead?" they say"‘with you ancient, privileged ‘keepers of the keys' guarding the gates?"

Younger artists want us dead. They secretly (and now publicly) rejoice at our demise; it is not only death of the old order (many say, the old ‘fascistic order’) but the possibility of new doors opening for the young, and a new life too.

Who could resist?

Perhaps it is our fate; it is after all, an acknowledged truism that  the old must move aside for the young.

And if so, we are fulfilling the destiny of art by taking our own lives.

If only we were sure that the young still know what art is.

And remember; in the past, when we moved aside, there was talk of learning from history, of  artistic legacy, respect, and of lives well lived.

No more. 

I would love to take this opportunity to appeal to older artists to stop taking their lives.

But hopefully you can understand the lack of success — at this point — that such an appeal might have.

The damage has been done.

I know from a conversation I had with an older artist of my acquaintance who recently committed a kind of ‘slow suicide,’ that it was more than just neglect (I decline to reveal his name because I think some have not yet come to terms with his suicide) — it was the abolishment of all the values he held dear as a creator (moral ambiguity, exploration of his own subconscious, and generous confession of his own most spiritually frightening impulses through his work ) that led to him finally admit to me — one overcast, post-Covid — late spring day “I have no more reason to live.”

As long as we continue to attack art and artists, and to be suspicious of those who question ideology, but instead worship beauty — our elder artists will continue to lose their will to live.

So, sadly:

Expect more suicides.

Sunday 16 July 2023

Second Interview with Sky Gilbert

INT. Do you still go to theatre, Sky? I know you’re retired now —

SKY.  Oh I hate that word. And yes I do go to theatre, all the time. Even though most of the theatre I see is absolutely appalling.

INT. What exactly do you mean by appalling

SKY. Not excellent.

INT. And what does that mean?

SKY. Well I’ll tell you about a recent experience I had at Coal Mine Theatre. I cried.

INT. What production was it?

SKY. The Effect, by Lucy Prebble.

INT. So. The play was so deeply moving, that it made you —

SKY. The play did not make me cry. I LOVED it though. Act two was actually scary and brought up a paradox — and I love paradoxes (they are the essence of life!) the idea that depression is toxic, but taking anti-depressive drugs is perhaps a denial of the reality of the experience of living. Fascinating. Then the two leading characters got into a freaky fight that was again actually scary — and very upsetting, as it was a man and woman physically fighting. Wow. 

The only thing I didn’t like was that what was advertised was (i.e. a warning — but we all know theatre warnings are really advertisements) nudity — but all the actors were wearing spanks for the sex scenes. Spanks!  There was no nudity whatsoever! Would you ever have sex in a pair of spanks? I mean spanks are tragically misnamed because you can’t spank anyone in them, that is, properly. That is, make their butt red —

INT. We seem to have strayed off-topic Sky — and again are mired in sex and sexuality.

SKY. Mired, but why —

INT. I’m just trying to keep you on track.

SKY. Okay. What was the track. I’m old, I’m retired, I forgot.

INT. What made you cry at Coal Mine Theatre, if it was not the play.

SKY. Ted Dykstra. Ted Dykstra made me cry, when he talked about the end of Coal Mine Theatre. 

INT. And why did you cry?

SKY. I can’t stand to see it go. It’s my favourite theatre in Toronto. Everything I see there is fascinating and complex, and controversial, and dangerous and upsetting and fraught and doesn’t make me comfortable. I love that.

INT. What did Ted Dykstra say?

SKY. Well you know when Coal Mine started up I was kind of perturbed by their 'anti-government funding' stance. They seemed to be proudly saying — we don’t get government funding. I didn’t realize at the time what government funding would turn into.

INT. Fascinating. What has it turned into? That is — in your opinion —

SKY. In my humble opinion. But it’s not humble (I think it’s quite a brilliant opinion, because it’s mine!) you see I was a part of this mess. I'm ashamed now. I was a part of the mechanism which has become present day aesthetic political correctness. But I was bullied into by the arts councils. I figured out at some point that if I said on grant applications that my plays were about human beings, or the massive paradoxes of life or — God forgive me — about how awful people are, generally, I wouldn’t get an arts council grant. I had to say that the plays were ‘gay’ plays and advanced the ‘Gay Agenda’ (by the way, run do not walk to see the new Blake and Clay -- their second show is also fabbie-do — and it's shocking to me that Buddies in Bad Times won’t produce it!). But after seeing my supposedly gay plays, audience members would come up to me and ask me why I hated gay men so much -- because the gay men in my plays were such horrible, vile creatures. And I would say — 'well everyone is horrible and vile, including me, and that’s what makes a good play!' Anyway, I lied in the grant applications and pretended my plays were ‘political’ in the sense of being  evidently gay positive. They certainly weren’t political in that way. So now Ted Dykstra says Coal Mine can’t get grants, even if they want them, because some dumb arts council executive (getting paid far more than Ted Dykstra, I’m sure) told him that ‘excellence is not a mandate.’ To counter the idiot arts council executive I would say art is not longer excellent, that present day art has become a preachy, boring ideological tract — and this repulsive fact is going to destroy art.

INT. I’ve always wondered — dare I ask you — why do you have so many strong opinions Sky?

SKY. I’m an American. I was born a gay American. It’s caused me lots of trouble.

INT. Are all Americans innately…argumentative?

SKY. All Americans are loud, fat, stupid, pigheaded. and fundamentally puritan. This is one of those stereotypes that just happens to be true. The problem with America is that it was settled by puritans. They also came up here and settled in Ontario, which is why we have Doug Ford, and no strip clubs in Toronto anymore (or maybe, five, not counting FLASH) and why we have the very anal Ontario Arts Council and all these horrible rich people running in and out of their condos while the poor defecate on the streets.

INT. Aren't you being a little hard on Americans?

SKY. No. Puritans were the outcasts of British society in the 1500s -- yes they ran the place for a while and got rid of theatre (puritans are running Toronto theatre again now) -- that's why so many of them took their hair shirts with them and escaped to the future states of Virginia and Massachusetts. Americans are certifiably nuts. Have you watched what’s going on down there? It’s the fall. It’s the end of America. Which is probably a good thing.

INT. Well Sky we don’t have time to talk about the fall of America. I’m afraid your time is up.

SKY. Oh, are you my therapist?  Or are you, perhaps, an Ontario Arts council grants advisor in disguise?

INT. I hope not.

SKY. I hope not too. I have a therapist, and contrary to what my partner thinks, she’s doing a great job.

INT. I think we’ll leave it there for now. Thanks Sky.

SKY. You are eternally welcome!