Saturday, 25 June 2016

Just Say No to Kate Taylor

Invective can be like a drug; addictive and appealing in a demented way. For years Kate Taylor spewed her vile bile as the Globe and Mail theatre critic. Her work was like a car accident, difficult to see but hard to turn away from. I thought we were done with her — but it seems she’s back with a vengeance.
In the Globe and Mail recently, Kate joined the gang of supporters for The James Plays at Luminato, bemoaning the sad state of Canadian theatre. She whines that we have no Canadian National Theatre, saying “our closest thing would be the National Arts Centre,” going on to say that even if we did have a ‘national theatre’ there would be only one playwright (Michel Tremblay) good enough to fill it. Sorry Kate, but what about Judith Thompson, Linda Griffiths, Djanet Sears, John Mighton, Michel Marc Bouchard, or Daniel MacIvor and Daniel Brooks, or Leah Cherniak and Martha Ross? You see, there are so many brilliant Canadian playwrights, that I run the risk of offending someone by not mentioning all of them. 
What is going on here? I’ll tell you: Taylor has joined the pack of Canadian culture naysayers. The king of Canadian- Culture-Haters is without a doubt, Jorn Weisbrodt, who (in case you haven’t heard) has just built a monumental arts centre (apparently with his bare hands!) called The Hearn which, some say, will be his legacy.
Well I certainly hope so. The place is in the middle of nowhere, and you can’t get too it or from it unless you are rich enough to own a car, and you can’t get into or out of it on foot unless you are young and able bodied. I can see the lawsuits coming; they sell booze at The Hearn and the floors are rocky with rubble. But apparently since Europe is filled with giant old factories that they have turned into pretentious ‘culture centres’ for the affluent middle class, Toronto must have one too.
I know I am behind the times on this. The new culture critics tell us that Canada is a backwater with no history of an indigenous culture (which of course includes our Aboriginal work). Jorn, who is member of the worlds cultural elite, an international arts entrepreneur, came to Toronto to tell us what culture is — and it’s certainly not us. To the suggestion that Toronto might be a world class city, Jorn responded with a sneer: “If you are world-class, it means that the world talks about you. Certain criteria go with that. Toronto may be on the cusp of breaking through to be a world-class city?” 
May be on the cusp
Sorry Jorn, but I don’t give a flying you-know-what whether you or anyone else thinks Toronto is a world class city. We spent years wresting ourself from the colonialism of British plays; now we must bow to this colonialism yet again?
I think it’s a crime the way our cultural institutions,  arts councils and most of all Canadian producers themselves, have dialled the enthusiasm down for indigenous Canadian talent, to the point of ignoring Canadian work and offering full support to non-Canadian work instead.

And please, please tell me Kate Taylor is not going to start critiquing theatre once more — we just can’t have her hurling venomous brickbats at us all again!

Monday, 13 June 2016

It was the kiss

On Sunday June 12, 2016 Mateen Omar shot killed 49 people at the gay nightclub Pulse, in Orlando, Florida, U.S.A. 

There will be the usual discussion. Was he a Muslim extremist? Was it a terrorist attack? A racist attack? Was he mentally ill? Is it time for sensible U.S. gun regulation once and for all?

Matten’s father had this to say:

“We were in downtown Miami, Bayside, people were playing music. And [Omar] saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid, and he got very angry. They were kissing each other and touching each other, and he said ‘Look at that. In front of my son, they are doing that.’”

We are eager to find a reason for the massacre. That’s only natural. So we look outside ourselves — for something that is not in us, something that is not like us, something that is the ‘other.’  Omar Mateen is a foreign name. So perhaps Omar was not really an American at all. He claimed allegiance with ISIL. And on top of that, he was probably very different from us; he was probably insane.

Don’t you see what’s happening here?

Can you not understand that it in the rush to make this horrid act into something alien, something from outside ourselves, we have ignored the obvious? How many straight men do you know who would find the sight of two men kissing — or (worse yet!) making love — disgusting? And how many straight men might even get angry about it?

You see, the fault is not out there somewhere; it’s in ourselves.

It is gay bodies they hate — gay bodies that yearn for each other, that yearn to touch, that yearn to to have sex. We can pass gay marriage legislation, we can institute transgendered washrooms, LGBT people can fight for the right to adopt children or join the military, they can become the most respectable doctors, lawyers, ministers, policemen, politicians in the world. But don’t you see that none of that ultimately matters?

I’m gay. So I’m going to organize a kiss-in at a straight bar near you. In fact I think I’ll go down to The Fifth Social Club on Richmond Street West with my boyfriend — and sit at a table, and neck. Or maybe I’ll have sex with my latest trick in the washroom of Faces Nightclub. Or I’ll try to pick up some guy at Cabin Five.

Why would I want to do that?

I’ll tell you why. 

Because it was the kiss.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

What's Wrong with 'Reality Theatre'

'Reality theatre' is a fad that will fade — probably sooner than later. 
I am talking about plays like Brimful of Asha and Winners and Losers. I am not a theatre critic; so I'm not judging these productions (the first one I have not seen, and the second I saw and quite enjoyed). Here is my definition of reality theatre: theatre that takes place in real time and in which the actors:  a) play themselves, and b) if they do speak -- instead of speaking pre-scripted dialogue -- simply converse.
There are two pretty obvious objections to the notion that reality theatre is a radical new form. And there is one objection that may not have occurred to you.
First: reality theatre is not real. Even if the performers are not 'actors' but 'real people' they nevertheless are performing for us and are fully conscious of that. Just as documentary films are not necessarily truth, reality theatre involves certain choices about what will be presented and what will not. Significantly, reality theatre is not a new form or style; the history of theatre brings us countless examples of efforts to make writing, directing and acting more ‘true to life.’ Reality theatre is simply the latest and trendiest claim to authenticity. Those who promote it are the ‘New Stanislavskis.’
The second obvious objection to reality theatre is that people love stories and are not about to give them up any day soon. Fiction allows us enormous freedom to imagine possibilities for what we can do and who we can be.
Now to the less obvious objection.
The problem with reality theatre is that it tends to towards the contentless. Like abstract art, reality theatre — when for instance, it is about watching people stack boxes — often says nothing, or what it says is inscrutable or vaguely concerns the human condition. Purveyors of reality theatre like to go on about the idea that reality theatre accentuates the essence of theatre; its ‘liveness.’ I would argue that watching an old-fashioned story can be suddenly and stunningly ‘live’ if the content is controversial, offensive, or merely challenging to the average bourgeois consumer. Have you ever sat in a theatre where different members of the audience have violently opposing reactions to the content of a play? Where people laugh at the ‘wrong’ places? Where people walk out, or even speak back to the actors?
It is not plays with made-up plots that lack ‘liveness,’ it is mainstream plotted plays— like those approved for presentation by the Mirvish Real Estate Corporation — that are utterly devoid of it. Even the most experimental recent Broadway hit deemed suitable for the Panasonic Theatre has been judged clear of any discernible offence, or it would not be performed there.
Reality theatre is a lot of fun, and certainly has the potential to be a lot more than merely entertainment. 
But please don’t try and convince me it’s something I haven’t seen before.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

I Hate Pride

I started hating Pride back in the early 90s when they told us we couldn’t do S/M on our float. I got all dressed up in a sailor outfit — and practically killed myself on a diet of white wine and salads so I'd look sexy in it. And my job was to go down on this dyke’s giant dildo. It was going to be so much fun. And then some Prissy Little Pride Monitor came up to us before the parade and said  'S/M is no longer allowed on floats!' and we were like — why? And The Prissy Little Pride Monitor said it was because of the kids, because Pride was a family thing now. We went ahead and did our S/M float, but after that it was just never the same.
And then one year I was on the roof of Glad Day watching the parade and I realized it was all just so boring — a lot of middle aged people with ugly knees in their bermuda shorts. You call that a parade?
And then of course there’s the commercialism that everybody complains about. Back in the day —  in the 70s, the queers — like the hippies — hated capitalism, the military industrial complex, and organized religion. Nowadays we’re supposed to be so enthralled that The Toronto Dominion Bank hires a bunch of boys in green shorts to dance on their floats. But those boys won’t have sex with you. Even if they’re gay they don’t have time for sex; it’s all about their goddamn careers.
And then there’s all the sympathetic straight people. So happy to support they gays — as long as we are entertaining, don’t talk about our sex lives in detail, still appear as hosts on designer TV shows, and are still afraid of AIDS.
And I hate the way my neighbourhood is suddenly filled with people I don’t know. And lunch is suddenly hugely expensive and you can’t get a blow job because everybody is either too cute for their own faces or the place is too crowded.
Because the truth is I’m a PF. (Professional Faggot) The rest of them are just a bunch of AHs. (You know — Amateur Homosexuals.)
It’s just like alcoholism. As well as being a Professional Faggot, I am also a Professional Alcoholic. So when I go out on St. Patrick’s Day or New Years, I have to put up with a bunch of AAs — Amateur Alcoholics. They don’t know how to drink. They make a big show of it — you know, waving their arms around and yelling and interrupting conversations. But me, I’m a Professional Alcoholic and I know how to do the job, quietly, efficiently, and with style. I’m getting drunk, with a studied persistence. They’re just fooling around.
It’s really all about how much time you spend at it. I’ve got nothing against Amateur Homosexuals. After all, ‘amateur’ means ‘lover.’ But they just don’t spend the time on it I do. I’m a fully qualified, Professional Faggot. I spend a significant amount of time cruising, worrying about he way my pants fit, yelling about gay rights, and dying my beard. And I like to be around other faggots, even though I want to kill them half the time. But I need to be around them. 
A lot.
Not just once a year.
Sorry guys, I wish this blog could be a more inspiring. I wish there was a rainbow or
But the fact is:
I HATE Pride.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Lessons from Trump U

I’ve fallen a little in love with Kayleigh McEnany. She is by far my favourite Donald Trump surrogate — a cute little gal who is often trotted out to express Donald Trump’s innermost thoughts on CNN. She is both pretty and perky. And now and then she even smiles in a way that suggests she is human.
To those who dismiss Donald Trump, listening to a Trump surrogate might seem like a giant waste of time. 
Well, it’ not. 
True, Trump admits he gets most of his ‘facts’ from the web. And Trump surrogates like McEnany — when asked for proof of their assertions, often reply — ‘just google it!’
But you find this new, slaphappy, internet-dependent attitude to knowledge everywhere. Nobody bothers to prove anything with a reasoned argument anymore. They just throw websites at each other: ’I read on the web that….’ ‘Well I read on the web something else….’
What I find so fascinating about Donald Trump is that he has admitted to trolling right-wing websites and podcasts to inform his policies. That’s because he’s less concerned with the truth than the most popular opinion. And his surrogates — the ‘Kayleigh McEnanies’ of the world — just parrot what right-wing dumbbells are saying online. 
In this context, McEnany’s defence of “Trump U’ is fascinating. Trump University — as you’ve most likely heard — was a very-much-for-profit education company guaranteeing instruction in real estate success. The company is now defunct and under investigation for fraud. The whole thing seems pretty clearly to have been a con job. But McEnany’s defence of ‘Trump U’ really tells us what America thinks about the state of higher education (I will paraphrase it here):
‘Donald Trump is just doing what any university does. He’s offering a product; so he sells that product. And he’s doing it a lot better than those left-wing universities that promise you a job by teaching you something useless called ‘philosophy.’ 
The terrifying news is that what Kayleigh McEnany is saying is not that crazy.
As North American universities bow to pressure to become career factories, they gradually lose their ability to articulate what higher education should be. Professors are being required to come up with ‘learning outcomes’ for their courses that guarantee students are getting a bang for their buck. 
I find the notion of ‘learning outcomes’ repellant — not just because I’m a left-wing professor who often teaches ‘philosophy’  — but because I’m appalled that higher education has become less and less committed to teaching critical analysis, fostering originality, and encouraging students to think outside the usual cultural paradigms.
In a steadily shrinking job market teaching students how to fit into the world is robbing them of the ability to think outside the box and create a new world and a new place for themselves in it.
And is it ultimately wise for universities to start saying their purpose is to prepare students for jobs in the real world, when a trade school or community college can do that much better? 
If universities continue to describe themselves as prime movers of the economy rather than centres of intellectual thought, they will get what they deserve — in other words, they may very well be sued for fraud by their students (or should I say customers?).

And not even Kayleigh McEnany will be cute enough to defend them.