The Alliance for Arts and Culture addresses our premier issue

An open letter to Gordon Campbell

Reprinted from The Alliance for Arts and Culture blog, May 13, 2009:

Dear Mr. Campbell,

Congratulations on your victory last night. You must be honoured to [be] among a select group of Premiers who have been elected for a third term.

As you have reminded us throughout the election, you have been a friend and ally of the cultural sector. Last year’s $150-million endowment to the BC Arts Council and the new funding for the Vancouver Arts Gallery and the Vancouver East Cultural Centre were wise and prudent investments. However, the 40-50% cut to arts and a culture laid out in your three-year service plan is a serious blow that will have a devastating effect on the creative industries. We have spent the last few months trying to gauge that effect. Here are just a few examples:

“For the Arts Club, a cut of up to 40% in our BC Arts Council grant will force our Board to consider diminishing or possibly cancelling some of our core activities. One area that could be adversely is our provincial touring program that has been successfully produced for almost 30 years. Our touring program has little financial benefit to our organization but serves every corner of our Province with the highest quality professional theatre generating to communities small and large.” – Howard Jang, Executive Director, Arts Club Theatre

“Many of our member arts councils (and other small arts organizations) depend on BC Arts Council funding, not just for projects, but for the core funding that allows them to offer the level of programming that they offer their communities. As an example, an arts council may receive 30% of its annual budget from the BC Arts Council, and offer a wide selection of programs with a part time employee. Reduced funding would impact the number of hours this employee is able to work, or in some cases, the employee may even be laid off, requiring a corresponding decrease in services provided to the community. This would reduce access to the arts, or require municipal arts and recreation programs, where they exist, to fill the gaps.” – Junko Sakamoto, Executive Director, Assembly of BC Arts Councils

“The repercussions of the cuts will be very hard on artists outside the Lower Mainland, where there isn’t a concentration of major cultural institutions like the VAG or massive spending like the Olympics. It’s also where economies have already been struggling due to the mountain pine beetle, the softwood lumber dispute, mill closures, etc.” – Bill Horne, Visual Artist, Wells, BC

“The stability of our Arts infrastructure will be threatened in communities large and small, and the province’s creative potential will not be realized.” – David Shefsiek, President of ProArt Alliance

“In the case of the Victoria Fringe, the Islands largest theatre event, we would have to shrink the Festival by two venues, having been able in the last few years to expand from 4 to 7 venues. This would impact the number of technicians and support staff hired by the festival. This would also dramatically reduce the number of artists that would be able to participate in the Fringe as well as dramatically reduce the festivals impact on the local community both economically and socially. Festival spending on outfitting and promoting would be reduced as would public participation as a result of the reduced programming.” – Ian Case, General Manager, Intrepid Theatre

Consensus seems to be that you were elected because the voters deemed you to be the best steward for our economy during this time of hardship and upheaval. Well, the arts are good for the economy. We won’t quote you the figures – the massive return on investment, the direct and indirect benefits to the economy, the community and health benefits – because you know them already. You’ve used them in speeches and printed them on your website. We only ask that you work with your Finance Minister to find a way to reverse the cuts for the good of the entire Province and the wellbeing of British Columbians everywhere.

Please let us know if there is a way we can help. On June 25th and 26th, we will be hosting a Vancouver Arts Summit in partnership with 2010 Legacies Now at the Vancouver Public Library. The theme of the summit is: “Shifting Ground: New Realities, New Ideas, New Opportunities”. The goal is to discuss the health and sustainability of our industry, and chart new paths to success. We hope will come and join in the discussion.

The Real Thing: Stoppard’s cricket bat incites to write

cricket-bat1It’s amazing to me how few still-composing A-list playwrights there are out there with work in heavy rotation. The Big Guns – the few that we waggish theatre-types gush about to each other about over the good glassware – seem to move in trend cycles through the Canadian stages and kind of define the period; Mamet segues into LaBute back into Mamet who gives way to a flutter of Shanley…we seem to be coming into a Stoppard right now, CanStage has announced the inclusion of the dense and lovely Rock ‘n Roll in their upcoming season, The Invention of Love is impending at Jericho and The Real Thing is impressing its eager audience right now on the Granville Island Stage. I’m just waiting on the announcement of another mounting of Dogg’s Hamlett/Cahoot’s Macbeth, surely not far behind.

I’m just thinking out loud here, but does theatre have a kind of collective consciousness when it comes to established works? Do we adhere to the cache of a particular playwright at certain periods the way that hem lines and Federal Government approval ratings rise and fall? There was a gush of Sarah Kane productions awhile back from points all over the continent after years of shying away from the complexities (and rawness) of In Yer Face, perhaps there’s some connective undercurrent in the gestalt that gurgles up a particularly masterful voice that resonates at a particular time.

If this is the theatre community’s version of cycling through CDs in the car stereo, I’m pretty happy with the current playlist. Seeing The Real Thing at the Arts Club last week reminded me of how much I like my theatre with some loquacity, Stoppard is a giant word-nerd and proud of it. This ain’t theatre for the uninitiated, the dialogue unspools relentlessly, and it takes solid actors to keep it rolling throughout. (Which the Arts Club certainly had, especially in leads Jennifer Lines and Vincent Gale who made it look easy, and in young Julie McIsaac, looking in her short time on stage like she was having the time of her life.) This work wears its brains on its sleeve, and is obviously autobiographical. (‘Auto-something’, in Stoppard’s own words.) It was written in 1982 as a reaction to critics who panned the playwright for being unable to write about love, and for not providing good roles for women. Whether or not he was successful in that reach is something you’ll have to judge for yourself, but he certainly succeeded in writing a love letter to the power of the written word. His avatar in the play, Henry, beautifully snobs out about a bad piece of writing by metaphorically comparing a cricket bat to a plain plank of wood:

real-thing-078sThis [cricket bat] here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. It’s for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you’ve done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly. What we’re trying to do is write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock it might travel… [He clucks his tongue and picks up Brodie’s script.] Now, what we’ve got here is a lump of wood of roughly the same shape trying to be a cricket bat, and if you hit a ball with it, the ball will travel about ten feet and you will drop the bat and dance about shouting ‘Ouch!’ with your hands stuck into your armpits. [indicating the cricket bat] This isn’t better because someone says it’s better, or because there’s a conspiracy by the MCC to keep cudgels out of Lords. It’s better because it’s better. You don’t believe me, so I suggest you go out to bat with this and see how you get on. [he reads] ‘You’re a strange boy, Billy, how old are you?’ ‘Twenty, but I’ve lived more than you’ll ever live.’ Ooh, ouch! [He drops the script and hops about with his hands in his armpits.]

This play was a marvelous reminder to me – written as it was for the theatre set, playwrights in particular – that we need to aim at writing cricket bats, then taking to the field with them. If for no other reason than there is lots of room out there in the field for playwrighting that we, the keepers of the collective consciousness, will deem the next big thing.

‘Cricket Bat’ courtesy of Flikr user No Sex, Bone Dragon