The Year That Was
The Five Stories of the Year
By Gaëtan L. Charlebois
When the year comes to an end, arts writers like to make lists. Yes, part of it is laziness, but I assure you there was nothing easy about making this list of the five most important theatre stories of the year. For one thing, you know someone is going to chime in with THE story you missed seconds after the posting goes up (feel free in the comments section at the end of this article). For another, because of the huge hole in theatre coverage in this country (or all arts coverage, actually), regional stories which would have national importance if they were reported become invisible until their impact begins to crack the foundations of our national culture.
So, brace yourself. It's personal, it's national, it's global. And it's in no particular order...
The Théâtre du Nouveau Monde's epic PR fail
The most important French-language theatre country hit 60 this year and they announced this season with much pomp and circumstance. Plopped at the end of the season was an adaptation of a bunch o' Greek plays by Wajdi Mouawad. Niiiiiiice. Except... Featured in the cast/chorus was one Bertrand Cantat. The province, nation, world went apeshit. Cantat, it should be mentioned, was sent to prison in France for a beating murder - that of his companion, noted actor Marie Trintignant. He served a tiny sentence and people expected the man to remove himself from the public eye for a bit. Rather, he restarted his rock-star career and was about to pursue it on a subsidized stage here. Mouawad and TNM AD Lorraine Pintal scrambled. It turned into the worst PR fiasco since the Gang of Four at Stratford. Mouawad defended his decision with a variety of pious statements about forgiveness, Pintal denounced the reaction by the press and everyone was throwing the c-word around: Censorship. Finally Cantat withdrew (he probably wouldn't have gotten a visa anyway), the play will go on, but on it's first outing in France, some critics called it interminably dull. My editorial here.
TNM and Mouawad could scream about censorship, but they, and indeed no one in Quebec, seemed to be particularly concerned about institutionalized censorship as none in the province joined a national protest in July. The backstory: last year SummerWorks presented Catherine Frid's play Homegrown which examined the writer's own relationship with an accused terrorist. The Harper government was displeased. Our pinhead PM, through his office, once again talked about things he knows nothing about, saying the play, "glorifies terrorism." By all reports it doesn't. But SummerWorks lost its fed funding for 2011. Readings of the play were set up across the country by some 70 companies (all outside Quebec) as protests and, ostensibly, fundraisers for SummerWorks. It was an important moment - telling the Harper government artists across the country - except in Quebec - were watching them. My editorial here.
Conservatives win majority
And what about that Conservative government? Well, it got its majority in May. Be afraid. Be very afraid. My editorial here.
The recession begins to hit (and the Shaw story that wasn't)
The one-two punch of the recession and the anti-art government began to hit this year. Opera Lyra in Ottawa cancelled the rest of the season. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet cancelled a planned tour. Ottawa's Third Wall Theatre cancelled its entire season. There are more, and there will be, sadly, many more stories like these. However! Despite dire predictions and hand-wringing about how badly the plays of Shaw were doing at his eponymous festival, the company actually did quite well, thank you, with a 5% increase in attendance and even an increase for the old grouch's works.
Des McAnuff announces departure
Yes, the hero of the decade is leaving Stratford at the end of 2012. Yay-yo! Yay-yo! But it has set off the best party game in a while: who can do this hellish job? Whoever it is, at least s/he'll have the master juggler Antoni Cimolino to ease the way.
Now make an arse of me. Ready, set, go!