- Views and Reviews
The first episode of the first season of Slings and Arrows begins with a distance shot of a decrepit building. In close up, we see the sign on the side of the building that names the theatre company in residence here: Théâtre Sans Argent ("Theatre Without Money" — the subtitles repeat). Cut to the interior of the theatre where Artistic Director Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross) is trying to unblock a toilet while his General Manager Cheryl (Caroline Gillis) enumerates their mounting bills: "Hydro 284.63," she announces. "Yeah, we have to pay that," he replies. "Rent, of course," she continues. "After we open." "Bell telephone." "No, not Bell," he insists. "They'll disconnect our phones again," she warns. "Good, all they do is ring anyway, you pick them up it's people wanting money." Then having triumphantly fixed the toilet, Geoffrey returns to rehearsal and calls for the opening storm scene from The Tempest. With lights flashing and the sounds of the whipping wind, he conjures the scene: "Now Cheryl seems to believe that a theatre needs phones; I disagree … a theatre is an empty space …" The rain pelts down, the ship splits, the crew calls out. Abruptly, the scene ends when the lights short out in a shower of sparks, leaving Geoffrey and his cast in darkness. The episode then cuts to the jaunty musical opening credits.
This parody neatly mocks the naïveté that believes that money is not necessary, or it is something too mundane, too practical, to worry about in the idealist cause of creating great art. In this issue of the Views and Reviews section, we have three Views pieces—each of which considers diverse ways that theatre artists are taking informed responsibility for, and control of, the means of producing theatre. Those who are usually 'creative' workers are seeing the necessity, indeed the desirability, of making decisions about funding, about real estate, about contracts, about cultural policy. Knowledge is, as they say, power. And with this power, artists of all stripes are better able to exert control over the material circumstances in which they produce their art.
First up: the May 2009 sentencing of theatre impresario Garth Drabinsky to seven years in jail for fraud and forgery in the manipulation of the financial statements of his production company Livent draws Robin Breon to consider Drabinsky's legacy. As the first North American musical theatre company to be publicly traded and with real estate holdings in Toronto, New York, and Chicago, Livent established what appeared on all accounts to be an extremely successful model for producing theatre. Drabinsky seemed to have grabbed the gold ring—producing critically lauded work (to the tune of nineteen Tony awards) while at the same time raking in a profit. Sifting through the rubble from the collapse of [End Page 87] Livent, Breon examines the role that money—be it private or public—plays in the creation and promotion of theatrical art. On this sixtieth anniversary of the Massey Report, we are still working through methods of reconciling the popular commercial success with the more fiscally modest (more "Canadian"?) success of a "critical" hit.
Money and its distribution as salaries and profits is likewise a concern for some of Canada's smallest theatre companies. Independent producing groups have increasingly found themselves caught in a bind when dealing with the established agreements with Canadian Actors' Equity Association. Having once produced under the Independent Artists Projects Policy, the "indie" companies are not permitted to "move down the ladder" and use either the Fringe Waiver or Co-op application. However, these companies often encounter situations where a short run and restricted resources limit their profit potential and make the use of these less expensive and more relaxed agreements necessary. In her report, Alison Broverman documents the campaign by Equity's own members to be recognized as "member-creators" who are also self-producing. And having shifted from "labour" to taking on the roles and responsibilities of "management," these artists are aggressively lobbying their own organization that protects them as workers to allow them greater freedom as producers.
Continuing this theme of grabbing the reins of the means of...