In many discussions, both on and offline, on Facebook and over the breakfast table, it takes a bit of time to get to the root of things. Or ask questions you think need asking and haven’t been, and usually it opens a whole new can of something.
So that happened. Yesterday David Ferry wrote an open letter on Facebook about who was standing up and vocalizing dismay about the way things were panning out at Factory Theatre these days.
And Chris Coculuzzi wrote an open letter response about why some were and some weren’t.
And Lisa Norton wrote a response to both of them.
UPDATED July 20 Response from Aislinn Rose – An Open Letter to Some of the Old Farts
An unoffical count shows 81 likes, 12 shares 174 comments from various pages and walls. So there’s a conversation that needs to be had here. If Facebook/social media is like the house party I liken it to, then this conversation was happening in the living room, kitchen, hallway and out on the balcony, all at the same time, not to mention the chats and private ones happening in the elevator.
The conversation, ostensibly about the firing of Ken Gass and the Board of Directors at Factory Theatre opened up a lot more anger, opinions and thoughts than you’d think.
Who gets money? Who doesn’t? Who has to do all of the work? Who doesn’t? Whose problem is it? It’s bigger picture! Who is passionately involved, who feels disaffected by it? What is establishment? Kids today! Old farts today! You shut me out, you didn’t involve me, I am busy, twas ever thus.
Did anything get solved during this? Doubtful. But wow, were a lot of questions and answers raised that I didn’t anticipate. David mentioned near the “end” – Imagine a town hall meeting where we all actually do that…talk WITH each other about all this. In my fantasy, ADs and admins would come and listen, so too the arts councils and yes the reps of boards. We need to take ownership. no surrender.
But my response to that is – Yup. I’d be interested to hear the answers to the question, “is there something here, one issue that we all agree on?”
I don’t know. Fine we can all agree there’s never enough money and never enough time. But how do you agree on things you need to move forward on? Many people used the word “family” and I agree, but think about the actuality of family. I mentioned it here a while back on the same topic.
Is it really a discussion if it’s online? Also a maybe. But at least when we do see each other next in person, there will be a shorthand, a ground work down so we can jump right in. And I hope that happens.
Stuff to think about. I know my mind’s been whirling a lot lately.
I have been following with interest the events and actions surrounding the recent firing of Ken Gass at Factory Theatre.
I have seen several letters from some extraordinary artists that offer actions or pathways forward in response to the Board of Factory actions, and have contributed my own modest thoughts to the debate.
One of the things that alarms me is the relative absence of voices from the younger generation of theatre artists…ADs of project centric companies, authors, actors, dramaturgs, designers,producers.
Not to generalize too much, but I have seen very few signatures on the various letters seeking either extreme, moderate or conciliatory activity…in fact very little commentary at all from the majority of Toronto theatre artists under the age of, say, 35. Perhaps many signed the initial petition that garnered 3000+ signatures, but where are the voices NOW?
I am not suggesting that the younger voices need to agree with Mr. Healey, Mr Walker, Mr. Moodie, Ms Stolk or Ms Gibson MacDonald and their various suggestions for action..but I am suggesting that perhaps more than any other group, you have a vital stake in what is happening and you need to express your opinions.
I ask myself a few questions here:
– Why is there such relative silence from your generations of theatre artists?
– How have I and my contemporaries failed in setting an example for you, so that you do not feel compelled to speak up in such a time?
– Why do we as a community of artists have so little to say politically about our own institutions in comparison to similar communities from other cultures..USA, Britain, France, Germany as well as the non-Eurocentric communities of theatre artists in the world?
Others of my generation of Canadian theatre artists have suggested that you are simply waiting, like Prince Charles for the old guard to slip away so you can take over the institutions that have been built.
Some have suggested that you live in fear of rocking the boat and so not getting hired by whoever does take over theatres such as Factory.
Some say you are just rigid with apathy about the issues that have challenged Canadian theatre artists from the beginning of our short professional theatre history. We are after-all, for all practical purposes, just 70 years old as a theatre culture.
But I have worked with many of you, and I have sensed a fierce intelligence and passion inside you. So your silence I know is not simply due to the above.
Is it that you don’t feel these issues are YOUR issues?
Because, I believe they are. The real issues at hand here are the issues of artist voice and artists’ moral rights to have a say in how the theatres that live or die by our work as artists are run. The issue of Board control over artists and their institutions has been a challenge to our Theatre since the first professional regional theatres were born out of the ashes of amateur theatre and throughout the evolution of large regionals, the alternative movements of the 70s and early 80s and the new wave theatres of the 90s and beyond. The issue is far larger than the firing of one AD (one, I might add, that has had a major impact on many of your careers…it was not after all the board of Factory that gave you a break when you needed it was it?) The issue is one of ownership of voice through the determination of how our institutions are run. If you do not speak out on this issue (and again, I care not what side you may come from, I ask only that you speak) you are in danger of backing yourselves into a corner of irrelevance.
When Sara Kane’s play “Blasted” was first produced in England, it received some pretty vicious press. The major artists of various ages in England were quick to respond through a very vocal and activist series of letters to editors, op-ed articles and broadcast debates. Many of the senior “established” artists such as Carol Churchill, Harold Pinter and many more went to the barricades to fight for creative voice. This has happened in England, the US, France, Germany (as I mentioned earlier) again and again when artists and their institutions are attacked.
Why are we so complacent here?
Why are you being so silent?
The blogs and papers and theatre lobbies should be abuzz with thoughts, opinions, letters from YOU (DOB 1977 and beyond)..yet I sense in sad recognition that the issue is slipping so quickly to just another Facebook entry-du-jour.
Please do not let that happen. Please do not be silent. Theatres like Factory were built with the blood, sweat and tears (and physical/mental/spiritual currency) of your predecessors in our community. They were not built to be passed on to board membership after board membership for patriarchal stewardship. They were built to be passed on to you! And when I see with wonder the explosion of new babies in your circles, it bears remarking that what you inherit, you will too pass on to them.
But Goddamn it, you have to stand up to be counted first. You have to get off the fence. You have to speak. All silence is the silence of complicity in your own future being determined by others.
With respect, solidarity and hope.
Dear Mr. Ferry,
I wanted to respond to your open letter because I think there are issues that you may be either unaware of or unwilling to identify. And just to let you know, I am an Indie artist over the age of 40, so this is not an angered response by a “youth” that you identify in your letter, but rather some critical feedback as an opportunity for sober reflection.
Commercial theatre in Canada is elitist. If you can’t recognize that, then you will have a difficult time understanding the “silence” of the younger generation. I can’t think of a better example of the 99% versus the 1% than Canadian Theatre. Canadian Actors’ Equity has a lot to do with that (but that is for a different discussion), but it also has to do with our limited options for commercial theatre. And although theatres like Tarragon, Factory, TPM and CanStage may have once been about “the little guy,” the firing of Mr. Gass has demonstrated how commercial and corporate those institutions have become.
The vast majority of artists today (including myself) have nothing to do with commercial theatre, because for the most part it is a closed system with the occasional opportunity for an actor, writer, director, dramaturg, or designer. It may be the world you inhabit, but for the rest of us—especially the young—we are not JUST an actor, a designer, a director, a producer, a writer…we are ALL of those things. We are entrepreneurs…mostly because we are forced to be. We are also graphic designers, publicists, box office managers, marketers, fundraisers, and janitors if need be. We do not have the luxury of being ONE thing. We are busy being indie producers and doing EVERYTHING. So that explains probably the biggest reason for the “silence”…they/we are too busy doing EVERYTHING to get outraged over the firing of one commercial AD.
So you are totally off the mark if you think that young artists are “waiting in the wings” to take over. The youth have no access to those institutions. The youth are creating their own opportunities. For over 15 years I have been renting theatres—many of which have closed their doors (Poor Alex, The Lab, Alchemy Theatre)—and ALL of them were cheaper than Factory, Tarragon, TPM, or CanStage. When those run-down and cheaper theatres close, like rats or cockroaches, we find other run-down spaces because we can’t afford your institutions, because we don’t receive any grants, and we don’t receive any large corporate sponsorships. We are busy pounding the pavement to see if a local restaurant will place an ad in our program.
The youth are not worried about “rocking the boat” so that they might get hired—for the 99% they never will get hired in those institutions, so they are busy creating their own opportunities. Far from being apathetic, they are busy busting their ass for little to no money—often putting their own money in their own productions—and contribute to Canadian theatre. Many of us also work full-time and have families.
So I suppose you are right—Mr. Gass’s issue is not their (my) issue. For the 99%, they are like Mr. Gass 40 years ago but not Mr. Gass (and Factory) today. And for the 99%, they will never have the opportunity to build their companies into a Factory—in the face of “austerity” measures those days are long gone.
And before you ask the youth to “stand up” and be counted…to break their “silence”…tell me again how many of the 1% stood up at the DORA awards to demonstrate their outrage? How many boycotted? How many protested?
What’s that…? Oh, right…SILENCE.
Mister Ferry and (especially) Mister Cocoluzzi,
As a slightly younger fart than either of you, and one who does feel heavily invested in the recent happenings at Factory Theatre, allow me to throw in a few cents of my own.
David, I think you make a valid plea. And you acknowledge that young people in our community are smart and passionate, so their relative silence on this issue baffles you. But simply put, some of this is a numbers game. We’ve been around longer; we’ve had a chance to work at Factory over the years.
As for me, I worked front of house at Factory when I was starting out, and personally saw Ken Gass painting the stairs and mopping the floor at the end of the day; later I was lucky enough to act in a few shows there and see his dedication to the art and not just the peeling paint. A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of taking part in a workshop process Ken spearheaded, looking at Canadian plays with a focus on cross-cultural/colour-blind casting – a workshop that ultimately lead to the recent ethnically diverse production of the Rez Sisters – and heard Ken speak passionately about the need for more diversity in our theatres, and his desire to do better on that front. (And if anyone reading this wonders, as you naturally might, whether this is a kiss-ass move to stay in the favours of a director who hires me all the time, I can also tell you that I’ve auditioned for Ken tons of times and NOT been hired and may never be again for all I know. I’ve come out so vocally on this issue he’ll probably never hire me now for fear it’ll look like my brown-nosing worked.)
All that to say that you and I, David, have had a chance to get to know Ken, among many other of those Mister Coculuzzi describes as the old guard “elite” ADs in town. So naturally, we feel more immediately and directly connected to the issue. Would you or I have been so easily, instantly outraged about the firing of a stranger?
Mister Coculuzzi, you make the point that things have changed. Many Toronto theatre artists, young and old, are looking (by neccessity, or by choice) outside the mainstream theatres, and beyond one discipline, in order to cobble together a living. (You may not realize that Mister Ferry himself is among that number, as am I.) But along the way, those people, in their varied journeys, may make a stop at the Factory Theatre now and then. Some people just haven’t done so because they merely haven’t had the chance yet. If Ken’s fight is lost, and they later work there, they may find themselves working at a very different Factory than has existed in the past. They may find a place run by corporate interests (which I can assure you it hasn’t been before now); a place where the artists, from the top down, are beholden to a board of directors which doesn’t necessarily include any artists whatsoever; a place which perhaps can no longer lay claim to the name “Home of the Canadian Playwright”, and has become, as some have suggested, “Home of the Board of Directors”.
Or perhaps, Mister Coculuzzi, you’re right. Maybe these young people you speak of will never work at Factory. Obviously not all of them will. Many of them won’t want to. But I’ve firmly believed from the beginning that, my personal/professional bias aside, this issue is bigger than Ken Gass, and bigger than the Factory Theatre. And that even if you don’t care for Ken as an artist – hell, even if you hate the guy – this is a dangerous precedent that cannot afford to stand.
You want to talk 99%, Mister Coculuzzi? How about the fact that a Board of Directors comprised of nine people has dug in and ignored 3596 (and counting) signatures on a petition asking them to step down and reinstate Ken Gass? Almost 3600 voices of theatre artists, supporters and patrons: the very community which it is their mandate to serve. How about the fact that they shut out the one artist on the board, designer Shawn Kerwin, from the decision-making and firing, telling her she “wasn’t needed” at key board meetings? How about the fact that this was a power play over renovations, and that the board admits – even brags – that the theatre is in great artistic and financial shape (as if little gnomes ran around in the night making things run smoothly last season and it had nothing to do with the leadership of Ken Gass)? Or that the firing itself took place in the callous manner of the most sudden and disrespectful corporate layoff (“Clear out your desk by the end of the day”)?
You can know Ken or not, you can feel a connection to Factory or not, you can see yourself working there in future or not….but this decision – and the sudden disrespectful way it was carried out – is indefensible and wrong and, I believe, should matter to all of us. And no, this isn’t the only example of this attitude lately in this country (not just the disregard/lack of understanding of art and artists but the lack of respect): for one stark example among many, look to Alberta’s Keyano College, where reportedly, this past May, the entire arts department was laid off and walked out by security within fifteen minutes.
If you believe in the spirit of the Occupy movement, as it sounds you do, I urge you not to use it to divide the theatre community, but to help us stand strong together and make a statement that theatres are a home for artists, and that if there’s ONE place left in this country where we should have a little bit of power, it’s in our own institutions. Trust me, Ken Gass is not the one percent. He’s part of the big, fat, beautiful, artsy-fartsy ninety-nine. I stand with him.
*An addition: For what it’s worth, if anyone reading this hasn’t signed the petition and gets the urge to do so, here’s where you’ll find it:
Where does a family go to have this big a discussion?