Tuesday, September 25, 2012

After Dark, September 25, 2012

Chronicle of a Death Foretold
We know it's coming, why aren't we prepared?
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

When I was 15 I was an apprentice critic at Quebec City's Chronicle Telegraph - North America's oldest newspaper. It was a weekly, then, when before it had been the daily of the not-so-tiny Quebec City anglo community. Things happened. One of the biggest employers of my school-mates' dads, Anglo Pulp and Paper (yes, that was its name), became less Anglo. High-schools and primary schools closed down. Our hospital, Jeffrey Hale, became more bilingual. When I left, one of the last bastions of anglophony, St. Brigid's Retirement Home, became quite, quite franco. (When I was a boy we would take little St. Patrick's Day shows into St. Brigid's.) The community died, moved away to bigger cities for opportunity or because of politics, or was assimilated. According to the Chronicle Telegraph's website, there are more places to buy it in Montreal, now, than in Quebec City. Some consider what happened to Quebec's anglo community a tragedy  - a death foretold. Others (myself included) think of this as an evolution. A transition. Adaptation.

People in theatre have been either protected or destroyed by what has happened with the new technologies. 

When I was at the Montreal Mirror, the (now defunct) weekly got us involved in an online bulletin board and, as theatre critic, I moderated a forum on theatre. From there, many of us at the Mirror went on to the web and I immediately started work on The Encyclopedia of Canadian Theatre. It was a mighty and exciting evolution in theatre coverage and discussion. I was thrilled by reaction to the Encyclopedia - from New Zealand, Great Britain and across the country. If you look at the people the present editor of the Encyclopedia - Anne Nothof - has assembled as her board, it is one terrific gang. One, Leonard Connelly (who worked with me when I was organizing the project) is editor of the Oxford Companion to Canadian Theatre. From the start, Leonard saw the huge potential of the internet and information sharing.

People in theatre have been either protected or destroyed by what has happened with the new technologies.

Which brings us to the activity, in the last year, in print media. The media that saw the train coming and got off the tracks enjoyed the breeze of the passing caboose. But there are so many papers who were smacked by the locomotive. Those in theatre who were paying the slightest attention, saw the train - saw its inevitability - saw that cuts in print were coming and print being what it is, also knew the knife would land on the neck of culture - dance, art, classical music and theatre.

All inevitable.

In a talk, last year, with Actor's Equity boss Arden Ryshpan, she reminded me that newspapers were in the business of getting eyes and TV, movie and modern music coverage is what gets the eyes. Papers first cut budgets to freelancers or page-space to the aforementioned arts. Now, in Montreal, the Gazette has cut even more - announcing it will only cover the big-two theatre houses: Segal Centre and Centaur.

What does this mean? It means the anglo daily will not cover the magnificent alternative companies: Scapegoat Carnivale, Talisman and the spiffy new Metachroma among those. However let me add this: those three companies have already nurtured relationships with alternative media - like the one you are reading now. Many other companies, which I will not be so uncavalier as to name, put all their eggs in the Gazette basket. Oh! they did a magnificent job of alienating alternative media (the defunct Mirror, the defunct Hour and the defunct Montreal English Critics Circle). Even while alt media was growing across Canada and being well received by all companies (from the small on up to The Canadian Opera Company and - yes! - Centaur and Segal) many small companies didn't get off the tracks.

How do I feel about the Gazette announcement? Not much. No pain nor pleasure. I worked at the Gaz for years, was laid off, went on, read the paper online (and what a sad thing that online edition is) and knew - as many did - this day was coming. It is baffling to me that theatres here and, too, their umbrella organizations did not see this coming and made no preparations for it.

It's all quite Darwinian, really.

Meanwhile, here's some free advice to companies across the country in like situations. If you're not active on Twitter and Facebook or your website looks like something from the days of Geocities (Google it) - the train is coming at you. If you are not familiar with sites like Mooney on Theatre, Rover Arts, Bloody Underrated (which the Gazette critic permitted herself to mock), Torontoist, Vue Weekly Online, Now Online, Georgia Straight Online, cult MTL and dozens of others across the country...well, in the words of Johnny Cash:

I hear the train a-comin'
It's rollin' 'round the bend,
And I ain't seen the sunshine,
Since I don't know when...

1 comment:

  1. There is also another "alternative" voice covering alternative culture / arts in Montreal -- POP TART, which you can read online at The Gazette website at http://blogs.montrealgazette.com/category/montreal/pop-tart/


Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.