Controversy in Canadian Theatre. No, Seriously.

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Near the beginning of last year a big ol’ Toronto theatre organization, The Canadian Stage Company (billed as Canada’s largest not-for-profit contemporary theatre co.) gave a “political” play called My Name is Rachel Corrie some no-such-thing-as-bad publicity by canceling its planned production in their 07/08 season. Artistic Producer Martin Bragg dropped it from the line-up for one of two possible reasons: a.) members of CanStage’s board indicated that they thought the play may offend people, specifically Jewish people, or b.) Mr. Bragg attended an off-Broadway staging of it that was so bad that he declared that he didn’t like it any more. “It didn’t seem as powerful on the stage as it did on the page” declared Mr. Bragg. Really? Charges of antisemitism have dogged the play, in addition to CanStage the original New York company and a Miami company canceled planned mountings. Meanwhile, Canadian theatre had a bona-fide controversy on its hands.

As if that in itself isn’t awesome enough, a Vancouver grassroots theatre company is mounting MNiRC at the Havana starting tonight and running to Feb. 9. Neworld Theatre, in a co-production with Montreal’s Teesri Duniya Theatre, isn’t shrinking from any potential backlash to this play here, neither is the Havana itself, despite negative reaction which included an email that read: “Too bad Havana restaurant and theatre has decided to get involved in a political play that has no artistic interests but the fact that it serves to expose pro-Palestinian propaganda.” The emailer further promised to boycott the theatre and the restaurant that it resides in. Oh, snap.

No artistic interests? It’s a play, weirdo. Yeesh. Rachel Corrie was a young American peace activist and writer who went to the Gaza Strip to support Palestinians whose homes were being demolished, and in 2003 at the age of 23 was crushed beneath an Israeli bulldozer that was advancing on the home of a Palestinian doctor. The play is a one-woman show adapted from her own writing in journals and emails home from Rafah by Alan Rickman (cooler they do not come) and Guardian journalist Katherine Viner. It is selections from the personal writings of this woman on her experience, so how can it be judged propagandist? Do these people really believe theatre-goers to be unable to anatomize art and formulate our own opinions? Isn’t that the very definition of art? Try and keep me from seeing this play.

Meanwhile, back over in the T-dot, Theatre Panik mounts the Toronto premier of My Name is Rachel Corrie in May. Some of those shows are already sold out.

3 thoughts on “Controversy in Canadian Theatre. No, Seriously.

  1. Yep. A bona fide controversy. The play is eventually getting a staging in Toronto from Theatre Panik in The Tarragon Theatre Extra Space this May. I find it hard to imagine that I won’t go see it. Maybe the best way to get people to the theatre is to tell them they can’t go?

    Just to throw fuel on the fire, here’s a link to a reposted version of the original interview in The Star where CanStage announces they will be staging the play 5 weeks before canceling it. Best quote:

    ““I think this is a really important piece of theatre,” said artistic producer Martin Bragg. “I was absolutely reduced to tears when I read the script.””

    http://www.jewish-theatre.com/visitor/article_display.aspx?articleID=2133

    Ross Manson, AD of Volcano is also interviewed in the article. Ross also runs the Wrecking Ball, which has a blog and some great coverage of the whole issue if you go back to Spring/Summer 07

  2. Thanks for the link to that article Mike, very edifying. “Reduced to tears” indeed. Reduced to something anyway. What is theatre if you remove the courage from it?

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