Tuesday, October 18, 2011

After Dark, October 18, 2011

How long are theatre artists going to tolerate an underclass in the underclass
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

My old leftist heart has been beating a little faster, these last weeks, from the joy at seeing that the Occupy Wallstreet movement is holding on. I have learned through other movements (notably the anti-war movement of the 60s and 70s) that it is all about time: the longer it goes, the stronger it grows, with more people rallying to the cause. Yes, right now, that cause seems vague but at its source is this very clear message: there is an underclass which is being crushed by poverty, debt and unemployment and the mega-rich are profiting from this with the utter complicity of governments.
Now let's make this a wee bit more personal.

So there you go: we're poor. Worse, many of us are very poor. 

Most theatre artists in this country are in that underclass. ACTRA has claimed that the average income for Canada's actors is $15,000. Our own government has set the poverty line at about $22,000 for a single person. In passing, the Quebec government has established an average payment of less than $7200 for welfare recipients (the only safety net many theatre people have to fall back on when things are bad).

So there you go: we're poor. Worse, many of us are very poor.

Now I'm going to make this even more personal.

The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre is spending a cool million to mount a production of Grumpy Old Men: The Musical. The three stars are all d-list American. It doesn't matter that the show is receiving unpleasant reviews. It only matters that some subsidized companies in the country are spending a million on one show when companies who are presenting work far more adventurous and evolutionary are recieving sweet FA.

WTF is that funding organizations in this country are broken.

But let's go back to my initial point: virtually all theatre people in this country are in the underclass. That includes most who work at the Royal MTC. So WTF? WTF is that funding organizations in this country are broken. Moreover, they are making decisions about who will rule our companies, hire actors (including those three Americans), what plays will be presented and almost all those decisions are based on a monetary system that is at the source of the entire Occupy Wallstreet movement: if you make money you get money and it has nothing to do with art.

Now, please, before we pull out the guillotines and load the bosses of Stratford, the COC or the Royal MTC into the tumbrils, let us remind ourselves that these companies also create magnificent art, generate work for our underclass, and sustain the econmies of their surrounding communities.

Now what do we do?

But let's at least admit that something is quite, quite wrong. Again: the cause is vague, vaguer still because we do not really have a mega-rich artist class here. (I don't consider the Cirque du Soleil art in any which way.)

But there is the beauty of the Occupy Wallstreet movement: let's at least accept - at every level (producer, funders, philantropists, artist) - something is amiss. Now what do we do? I suggest we start by saying - out loud - "our arts funding system is broken."

Let me finish with a quote for all the Occupy Wallstreet nay-sayers. It's from HARDSELL by Rick Miller, (in passing a subsidized artist playing in a subsidized house), "Cynicism is easy. It distracts you from real action." 

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