Monday, March 19, 2012

Opinion: Michael Mitchell on The Healey Affair

Proud and Chilly
by Michael Mitchell

As many of you probably already know, not the least through previous posts right here, the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto declined to produce Michael Healey’s latest play, “Proud”, on the basis that it might possibly engender some kind of libel suit from Our Fearless Leader--whoever he or she may be. (The spectre of libel was raised by a member of Tarragon’s board; a retired lawyer who also happens to be Don McKellar’s father.)
According to reports, Healey went out to seek another legal opinion from a libel expert and was told that his play, being a satire, fell well within the realm of what constitutes reasonable public discourse.

What’s the difference between a state where it is illegal to question the government and one where everyone is afraid to question the government? 

In any case, Tarragon decided to pass on the play (apparently forever), which precipitated Healey’s resignation from the theatre and the severing of a decades-long working relationship.
The pervading perception seems to be that people are starting to be concerned about saying anything remotely close to anything Stephen “Chilly” Harper might potentially disagree with, as to do so might entail the permanent loss of any and all Federal Funding.
I see.
Well, that raises at least one question: What’s the difference between a state where it is illegal to question the government and one where everyone is afraid to question the government? 
Thankfully, unafraid that he might be living in the new Holy Republic of Canadistan, Healey is pressing ahead with his play and is now attempting to mount it himself. But, as not many people outside of the theatre world know, producing a play—a professional play—cost thousands and thousands of dollars. So, a step in the process will be a staged-reading presented at Theatre Passe Muraille on Monday, March 19 where the public can donate towards the costs of production. 
And this is what is important about the reading: this is where the public, especially an educated and tolerant one like the one that makes up Canada (not the Republic of Canadistan), can tell producers and funding bodies and boards that art is not made by timid people about the bland and benign. Art is about questioning and challenging and asking ourselves, and each other, where we are headed collectively at every moment. It can also show us where we may be headed without realizing it. Entertainment soothes and coddles and makes us forget that Big Brother is watching, but art reminds us. 
And when making art scares us, what is our society as a whole worth? 
And when the fear of losing potential free money is the biggest driving concern when we create, what is our art worth? 
What are we worth when money is what drives us? 
So I hope the reading at Passe Muraille catches on and others are in turn programmed across the country. 
And I hope it has larger ramifications down the road, like ripples in a pond. 
I hope it makes us all remember that it’s our government that serves us, not us them. 
And I’ll give a shiny new Loonie to anyone who can explain the difference between someone who isn’t allowed to say something and someone who is afraid of saying something.
Michael Mitchell is a Montreal playwright and director 

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