Monday, November 29, 2010

Push My Boundaries: I Agree

After my last post there was a bit of conversation around the topic of “pushing boundaries” and “crossing lines” and then a theatre colleague and friend posted a response to my blog post called “Go Ahead, Push My Boundaries”. The thing is I completely agree with what she says. So, I just want to take a moment to clarify some things from my last post because I think that it is important that people who read my blog (and hers) understand what my actual concern is here.

I’m all for exploring tough topics and dark materials. In fact, those are often my favourite plays to see. So, I agree. Go ahead, push my boundaries. Make me think. Discuss pedophilia, euthanasia, sexual violence, murder, WWII, nazi’s, etc. One of my favourite plays of all-time is How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel and it is about pedophilia and incest. And, even better, do what these companies that Lois worked with did, bring in people who have experience with these issues to discuss them with the audience. I think that is fantastic.

What I don’t agree with is sensationalizing sensitive issues just to shock people. And, that is exactly what I saw happen on stage in New York. Ghosts in the Cottonwoods wasn’t a play that was discussing/exploring the issue of sexual violence against women. If that was the case maybe I would’ve been more understanding of what was being portrayed on stage.

But in this case the play was about a mother and son waiting for another son to return home from prison. Then in the last 15 minutes of the play a completely arbitrary character – not the returning son but a random prison inmate who I presume follows the son home – and who doesn’t speak one word but just emerges from the ground covered in dirt and runs around the stage like a savage. After which he proceeds to physically assault the mother. Next he throws her over his shoulder and slams her down on the kitchen table her head hanging off the table and staring out at the audience. Under full lights, and front and center on stage, this character proceeds to rip off her clothing. Literally. He rips off her underwear and throws it across the stage. Next he begins to grunt and thrust for approx 2-3 minutes. Then he comes and leaves her in a heap only to escape out of the door. And, the play ends.

Now, I would love it if someone could tell me that particular graphic piece of stage business was in any way necessary. But it wasn’t. It not only had no point its only purpose was to shock. Its intent was not to discuss an important issue. This was not about having a conversation with the audience. No, this was for shock value only. This I am not okay with.

And, frankly, it really bothers me that anyone involved in the show or who went to see this play would find what they saw on stage okay because sexual assault is a very real issue experienced by women everyday across the country and in the US.

Here in Canada a 1993 survey found that one half of all Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of sexual or physical violence. Almost 60% of these women were the targets of more than one of these incidents (Statistics Canada, "The Violence Against Women Survey," The Daily, November 18, 1993). Statistics also show that one in four Canadian women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. In BC this number is almost double (47%) (J. Brickman and J. Briere, "Incidence of Rape and Sexual Assault in an Urban Canadian Population," The International Journal of Women's Studies, Vol. 7, no. 3, 1984) [Statistics taken from Women Against Violence Against Women, a rape crises centre in Vancouver, that works for the interests of women who have been victimized by sexual assault.]

This is the reality. So, yes, do a play that engages the audience about this topic. Talk about it from all sides. Discuss it from the side of the victims. Discuss it from the perspective of the perpetrators. Delve into all kinds of grey areas. Push boundaries. Bring in organizations and professionals in the field to engage the audience. I would love that. Seriously.

But don’t trivialize this subject. Don’t sensationalize this subject. Don’t throw in a 10 minute-long highly graphic sexually violent scene just because you want to shock people. Because, looking at the the stastics above, in a theatre of an audience of 160 people half the audience or more are going to be women and very likely at least half of those women have been victims of sexual assault in one way or another. That is at the very least 40 women. Forty women who don’t need to see the violence they have suffered being trivialized on stage and used as a shock tactic.

So, the next time a writer/director/theatre company, thinks about arbitrarily throwing sexual violence into a play for no other purpose than to shock, I would suggest they think about those facts.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How Far Is Too Far?

Last night I decided to venture off the beaten path. I had been to most of the major Broadway/Off-Broadway shows that I wanted to check out and so decided it was time to venture into Indie/Off-Off-Broadway territory. Through a variety of links and connections I decided on Ghosts in the Cottonwoods written and directed by Adam Rapp and produced by the company The Amoralists.

I wish I could tell you the risk paid off but unfortunately that is not the case. Not the case at all. I left the theatre – for the first time in my life - so angry that I almost demanded they give my $40 dollars back. I almost didn’t even clap. But then I realized what the actors just went through on stage and thought better of it. It wasn’t their fault that the writer/director chose to put, in my opinion, highly objectionable content stage. And, so I clapped. A bit. What, might you ask, made me so angry?

Well, let me first start with a small story. Before I left for Toronto I was having a conversation with a friend and colleague and I don’t know how or why – it might even be because we were discussing Red Light Winter (another Rapp play) – but we were discussing the question: How Far is Too Far? In Red Light Winter two characters practically have sex on stage. I’ve never seen a production so I’ve no idea how it would be done on stage and I’m guessing the explicitness of the act would depend on the production and director.

And, god knows, I’m no prude when it comes to the stage. From “sexually explicit” to “nudity” we’ve done it on the Twenty-Something stage. I’m all for provocative.

To a point.

So, how far IS too far?

Well, if I recall this conversation correctly I think me and my friend were sort-of joking around and I think I might have said something like “people actually having sex on stage. Oh wait, that already has a name. Porn.” and then there were a few more jokes and laughs and then she paused and said quite seriously something along the lines of “any kind of simulated rape/violent sex act would probably not be cool". To which I certainly agreed.

Well, ladies and gentleman, that was exactly what I saw on stage last night. In full view, and under full lights, a gratuitous violent simulated rape scene took place on stage that could have only been made worse had the actor actually penetrated the woman.

That my friends, in no uncertain terms is WAY TOO FUCKING FAR.

Pardon my French but I’m way beyond angry to a point where I don’t even have the proper words and only F—K seems to really convey how I am feeling in this moment.

In the words of another controversial playwright:

(This is not a comment on the actor. This is purely for text only as I'm in New York and had no access to the actual text and couldn't find it online but I did find this video)

I don’t care what kind of point you are trying to make or what kind of “artistic statement” you might be trying make, what happened on that stage last night was NOT okay. It would not be okay for someone to put any kind of “simulated” violent sex act perpetrated against a child on stage. So, what in God’s green earth, makes it okay to put any kind of “simulated” violent sex act against a woman on stage?!

And to make it even worse, I’m not even sure there was a point or an “artistic statement” because the mandate of the company is as follows: “a theatre company that produces work of no moral judgement”.


The Amoralists. Amoral: 1a) being neither moral nor immoral: lying outside the sphere to which moral judgements apply 1b) lacking moral sensibilities 2) being outside or beyond the moral order or a particular code of morals.

This just pisses me off even more. So basically, if I am correct, the argument here is that because this company places no moral judgements on human beaviour they are basically absolved of any responsibility for putting on stage gratuitous violent rape scenes.

Not in my books.

So, I was curious to see if anyone else had even blinked an eye at the sexual violence on stage so I looked up a few reviews. And...some people mention it, some people don’t and most are not in the least shocked by it or care.

Slant Magazine referred to it as “a very violent and grotesteque 10 minutes or so of wordless action” but overall gave it a rave review. A review from Backstage Magazine actually refers to the act itself stating that “suddenly a second filthy man emerges from the floor…and proceeds to rape Bean on the kitchen table” and calling the whole thing ‘funny’. WHAT THE F—K? A comment on another blog review thankfully acknowledged this fact by saying “The Backstage reviewer saw Ghosts in the Cottonwoods as a black comedy. I find it creepy that someone could ‘have a blast’ watching a show with an on-stage rape”. Thank you. I think Charles Isherwood from the New York Times puts it best when he says “Ghosts in the Cottonwoods feels like a series of lurid set pieces stitched together, a hoedown of misbehaviour that strains so hard to shock that it leaves you numb.” And I would add appalled.

Maybe it is me. Maybe I’m not New-York-gritty-shocking-and-perverse enough. Which is just fine by me. I like my morals just the way they are, thank you.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Theatrical Quote of the Day

As I was flying 40,000 feet in the air reading my "American Theatre" magazine (November issue) I came across an interesting quote from an article on Michael John Garces, Artistic Director of Cornerstone Theatre Company, where he says:

"Any theatre that has a result in mind is not having a conversation. The future of the form in these changing times is really about plunging into the unknown and new contexts. We're at a point where those risks are going to have to be taken. The future doesn't lie in the status quo"

Interesting, huh?! It immediately made me stop and want to talk about it; however, on my flight from Toronto to New York City there was no one in the seat next to me, not that they would want to discuss the topic anyway, so I pose it to you, my friends. What do you think (particularly about the results vs converstion aspect)?

Let's chat.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Read the full article here

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How Do I Do It?

Today I’ve been in Toronto for one week and I have to tell you I have seen some amazing theatre since I’ve been here. Maybe I’m here at the right time and it’s just a coincidence? Maybe the grass is always greener? Who knows, right?!

Part of my job as an Artistic Producer/Director is to know what is happening. And, not just in my own city but across the country and internationally. Someone asked me recently “How do you do it? How do you seem to have your finger right on the pulse of things?” In that moment I didn’t really know what to say because I never really thought of it that way before. I just have a curious mind. I always have. I’m always looking to see what other people are doing. I’ve said this before but I see myself as a giant sponge just soaking up influences and inspiration from all around me. I love to travel. I am intrigued by different cultures and cities and how other people around the world live. It’s just a part of who I am. So, even though I don’t see myself in that way (at all), I guess that would be my answer. This is what makes that part of my job so easy. To me it is not work at all. It’s just who I am.

So, back when people were announcing seasons and so on and so forth. I was online doing some research into the Toronto theatre scene. Seeing what they were doing at Canadian Stage, Factory, Passe Muraille, Tarragon, etc. And, I came across the blurb for Wide Awake Hearts which just seemed right up my alley. Young, contemporary, etc and at the time I had no idea I would end up in Toronto during its run. I just thought “Hmmm…cool, that they are doing work like this”. Fast forward a couple months I’m now on my way to Toronto and I see a tweet from someone I follow saying they had seen this show and loved it. Now, I really want to go, and so I look it up online to discover it’s pretty much sold-out for the first week and they are still in previews. Now, I really, REALLY, want to go. So I call to get myself put on a waitlist and lo and behold someone calls to cancel and viola! I find myself with a ticket to Wide Awake Hearts.

And, I was not disappointed. At all. What a brilliant production! I often get really irritated by the constant misuse of video & projections in theatre. Yes, it’s innovative. But that doesn’t mean that everyone and their dog needs to go out and insert video and projections into their next play just because it is the thing to do. Plunking a screen on stage and showing a projection to identify locale does not make you innovative. It makes you lazy. I mean c’mon can’t you be more creative than that?! However, if video and projections are integrated well into the story and the design of the show it can be brilliant. And, in this case it is. AND, the story/narrative, doesn’t suffer (in my humble opinion) to serve the video and projections (which is another reason I am often irritated by video/projection).

The playwright, Brendan Gall, has written a great piece of theatre. If you like Closer by Patrick Marber (which I do) then you will like this play. It has a similar vibe. It’s the story of a young married couple: a film producer and actor. They are making a film and the film producer casts his best friend who he believes had (or is having) an affair with his wife. Next enters the film’s editor and the best friend’s on-again-off-again girlfriend. So, just by this description you can probably guess that all this might make for an interesting situation. Which, of course, it does. And, oh, does it also make for great drama!

There have only been a couple productions in the past couple of years where I have gone to see a production more than once because I liked it so much (Nevermore and Fat Pig being the other two). Wide Awake Hearts will be the third. A bunch of us are going to do rush tickets on Sunday and hopefully get in for $10 (How awesome is that?!). So, if you are reading this, and are in Toronto, I suggest you go see this play.

Because that is the other thing that blows my mind. The amount of theatre artists that don’t actually go to the theatre. How do you expect to know what is happening or “have your finger on the pulse of it” if you never actually go to the theatre? Or read plays? If I had one piece of advice for any aspiring theatre artist it would be this: GO SEE THEATRE!!! And, if you can’t afford to go to the theatre then READ PLAYS.

Because that is “how I do it”. I go to see as much theatre as I possibly can. And, I read plays. All the time. I also read newspapers, magazines, blogs. I go to art galleries and museums. I go to concerts. I listen to music. I know what is happening because I live it. Everyday. I don’t just sit around and talk about it or whine or complain about it. I’m a “doer”. You want to know what is happening? Then get out there and “do” things.

And, you can start by checking out Wide Awake Hearts at Tarragon Theatre.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fall Hiatus

In 3 days I’m officially on fall hiatus.

5 years ago, it used to be that we did one show which I maybe starting planning for 6-8 months before with really the last 2 months being a lot of work. Then I added another smaller show which was a little more work but nothing that took over my life. Next I started applying for grants which meant over a year’s worth of planning going into our summer production.

Then came Prodigals which by the time we have our official World Premiere in May next year I will have spent almost 2 and half years developing and producing since I first took script submission back in February 2009. Awesome! But, whoa.

Now with season planning and grants coming out the ying-yang plus long range planning it feels like a never ending workload which to a workaholic like myself is not helpful. It feels like since last November when I wrote the post “In The Slow Times” like I’m never going to have another “slow time” ever again in my life which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just...whoa.

So, I’m taking a hiatus and I’m going to force myself to do as little work as possible. The grants are done and sent in. Now we just wait. The things that absolutely need to be done are done. The rest can wait a month. No one will die.

So, I’m off to Toronto (and then to NYC for a week) in 3 days and I can’t believe how excited I am. It’s not even exotic or in a different country (well except New York for a week) or on a different continent or anything. It’s Toronto. And, trust me (sorry all you Torontonians that might be reading this) it’s not anything special. It’s just that I get a break. For a whole month! I could be going to Timbucktoo and I’d be excited.

And, mostly I’m super excited about all the awesome theatre I’m going to see. I’ve already got a list a mile long for New York. I think that’s pretty much all I’m going to do with the exception of eat and go to Century 21. Oh, and maybe the MoMA.

So, if you’re in TO or NYC and you follow me on twitter or read this blog, drop me a line I’d love to meet up and chat. I could talk theatre until I’m blue in the face (just ask Simon or Lois). Wait a second...

Didn’t I just say I was going to do as little theatre work as possible?

Well, you can’t win ‘em all. As long as I’m not writing grants, drafting letters, crunching numbers or obsessively checking my email then it’s all good. Watching and talking is okay. Oh, and I promise to blog a little if I see an awesome show that I want to share with you guys.

So, sayonara, adios & arrivederci Vancouver, I will see you in a month’s time.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer