“The unfed mind devours itself.” – Gore Vidal
My inspiration starts here: I spent my first St. Patrick’s Day as a 19-year-old University student at the local museum, sitting in on a lecture by award-winning Newfoundland director Jillian Keiley entitled How to Make the Performing Arts Thrive Locally, Regionally, and Nationally as a part of the “Public Matters” series (Museum London). Keiley has reached national audiences for years by bringing pieces of Newfoundland into every show she directs; right now, she is in the midst of producing a piece (reworked to be set in her homeland) for the Stratford festival. She spoke of LePage and Tremblay, and the importance of setting in art — to be universal, in the words of Tremblay, we must be local.
This hit home for me — enough, it seems, to take time out of my hectic finals schedule to write an extended blog post about it. First of all, I’d been interested in Tremblay ever since appearing in a production of Albertine in Five Times as a part of the Sears Ontario Drama Festival (we went to Provincials!) in 2014. I began thinking of all the renowned Canadian works that were set or inspired by a specific town or landscape… Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches…, Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall On Your Knees… Tremblay’s La Maison Suspendue… the list is infinite. Even the most celebrated of plays are set in a very specific atmosphere and location — think A Streetcar Named Desire. This got me thinking about my local environment, and the artistic communities thriving around it…
Keiley spoke a lot about popular arts, and how difficult it is to promote Canadian theatre to the masses in the shadow of “Ed-Mirvish-Toronto/New-York-City-Broadway-Musical” culture. This reminds me of a discussion I had back in February with Top Girls director Vikki Anderson after attending a lecture on campus about the play’s adaptation for the Shaw Festival. People go to the theatre to feel cultured — more or less promoting an illusion of being cultured — not necessarily to contribute to the ever-growing theatre scene in Canada. We come to the theatre for the experience — for the grand period costumes and intricate period sets, more like it — but we leave dispirited, with ignorant criticism and expressive distaste for the modernizing of Shakespeare and Wilde. As Canadian (and/or global) theatre-goers, we are constantly exposed to modernized adaptations of Shakespearean classics — just look at elements of the Benedict Cumberbatch Hamlet. The Stratford Festival takes especially creative liberties with its productions — I have heard many things about its past production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. I remember hearing about these modernizations — liberties with costumes, time periods, and gender-bending — and questioning the authority of the directors and producers to make such bold changes. Why? Easy — I wanted to think myself cultured and feel it in my blood and guts. It’s all part of the (I hate this word, but I’m going to use it) pretentious “know-it-all-because-I’ve-read-A-Doll’s-House” attitude surrounding popular theatre culture. I myself was included in this for a long while. Shame on me.
I also remember being in tenth grade and hating Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) which, despite its mixed reviews, is quite obviously a “fan favourite.” I looked down on all of these adaptations, as did most of the people I surrounded myself with at the time, and now here I am at University, writing and directing my own material for the first time, expecting artistic perfection and fearing anything but.
We so often think that “modern” adaptations of classics (or just modern works in general!) are not intellectual, or that they are not legitimate; we so often undermine the work in our community for New York City and travelling-musical-theatre-companies-coming-to-Toronto. But how can we ever expect the arts to thrive in our communities if we are not in constant support of them? I have come to realize, from all my years dabbing in arts communities, that creative competition is one of the largest threats to the ingenuity of local artists. If we do not dare to create in our home cities or use our immediate environments as inspiration, then how are we ever to achieve this universality in our art? Community support is something I strongly admire about the new and developing Theatre Studies program at my University (in which I will major along with an Honours Specialization in English Language and Literature). I look forward to learning more with each passing year, and sharing it here with an anonymous sea of internet-stalkers and blog surfers.
As artistic entrepreneurs in our schools, cities, and communities, it can become habitual to succumb to jealousy (or, in some cases, crazy Darwinian “survival-of-the-fittest” attitudes when it comes to competing for roles — I’ve seen it all, trust me) when there is so much competition in the field. I feel that I was lucky to mature in a school environment rich in arts education and promotion, however I also feel that it fostered a sense of entitlement in me, and perhaps in others in my program. I was guilty of over-competitiveness at times and, in some ways, still am. Auditions were always about who was the best, who was the worst, who knew the most, and who was the most “educated” in theatre. Ridiculous, I know, for a band of high school students, but hey — I’m not exerting myself from this! It’s not until you come to University that you realize how little you know, and how little you’ll probably always know.
At the end of my twelfth grade year, as I’ve stated before, I made the decision to abandon a possible career in the arts to pursue political science; this, as we know from my Love Letter to the Muse, lasted about three months. Whereas many people that I know have gone on to study the dramatic arts at nationally renowned institutions, I have gone on to study English Literature and theatre in a city with a strong sense of community where so many new and exciting projects/endeavours are being cultivated. I am so fortunate to be where I am, and would not want it any other way. My now-local community has secured a real sense of home in me, something that I’ve never before experienced in an arts environment, where people are encouraged to grow — critiqued but not discouraged — and where there is a secure sense of belonging, of wanting to contribute to a bigger picture.
It is so easy to be ignorantly critical; this is something I am still working on in myself. Let’s be real — eighteen and nineteen-year-olds have limited experience to just about everything; at this stage, all we can do is put ourselves into our learning and hope for the best. This reminds me of 1960s pop art and just postmodernism in general, people going into art galleries and seeing modern paintings and saying, “I could do that!” Well… you didn’t. You didn’t do that. So why not reward those who did, abandon this sense of artistic entitlement, and reward yourself for learning something new about a work?
I look forward to devoting the next 3+ years of my life to learning, to expanding the environments that have given back to me so much over a period of just seven months, and to fuelling new projects and contributing to the arts on a wider scale. I only hope that others will continue to do the same because, together, our achievements can be limitless.