JAMIE: THIS WILL TAKE exactly 46 minutes and 25 seconds.
Turn on iPods.
JAMIE: A number of things go through the mind upon being asked to prepare a manifesto.
There is certainly a pride in being considered. So we do thank Norman and Sherrie for offering this opportunity. Thanks.
But as pressing is a series of other concerns. That we have very little to offer as a manifesto; a concern that we have no defined process, no defined or inspired aesthetic, and certainly no cohesive singular vision to articulate.
We are two individuals who have spent the last 13 years chasing ideas and supporting each other as often as we could. We have done this tirelessly, often sacrificing elements of the rest of our lives to do it. But we don’t think the same, we don’t act the same, we don’t write the same, or move the same. Often its hard to get us in the same quiet room to sort out what we do think or believe.
It is these differences that hopefully strengthen our work, but these differences also provide a challenge in creating a manifesto that shouts out a big fat singular vision.
So, over the last month or so we have been emailing, text messaging and online chatting each other questions. Questions about ourselves, questions about our work and questions about our community. It has been very nice to chat.
JAMIE: Maiko you there?
MAIKO: I’m here.
JAMIE: Ready for a question?
MAIKO: It’s late and my child is going feral.
JAMIE: There’s no rush. We still have a bit of time.
JAMIE: I’ll leave it on your email. I want you to put yourself two thousand years in the future. I want you to imagine Vancouver. A number of quakes have hit over the last 2000 years, most of downtown is now underwater, Archeologists have just come across the collected archives of the last 10 years of Vancouver Theatre. The years 1998-2008. What will the collection tell them about our people at the turn of the millennium?
MAIKO: That’s an intriguing question for me Jamie, because as you know I was but a few credits short of obtaining a degree in archaeology before I impulsively decided to switch my major to theatre.
JAMIE: Any regrets?
MAIKO: Since we only have 46 minutes and 25 seconds I think we should stick to the exercise.
JAMIE: I don’t regret leaving journalism, even though I could have been the next Peter Mansbridge.
MAIKO: Your eyes are a bit too close together.
JAMIE: Screw you!
MAIKO: It looks good on you.
MAIKO: Okay, I’m going to approach your question as though we are in a state of emergency right now.
JAMIE: A state of emergency? That’s pretty self-congratulatory.
MAIKO: Well sometimes I feel this way. Anyway, based on our present situation, emergency or not, and using a trusted archaeological method called speculation I believe that we are at the beginning of a great shift. Far far in the future, this time will be remembered as an era of real progress in the Vancouver theatre scene. But in order for us to properly address your question Jamie, we’ll first have to spend a little time setting up the context: A quick speculation game on what the world be like in the year 4000.
So for sure, flying cars.
MAIKO: Time travel?
JAMES: Maybe. But there will probably be some serious policies around screwing with the space/time continuum.
MAIKO: Right. Okay, well, robots.
JAMES: Certainly. To our eyes, the technology will look like magic. And monkeys will be able to talk by then. Or at least play musical instruments.
MAIKO: People will live longer. Maybe to 400. Because we’ll have genetically enhanced bodies. Medicine at that time will seem like magic too.
JAMES: The world will be organized much differently, on a larger scale. No more cities, but megalapoles, or mega cities. But the idea of the country will still exist.
MAIKO: Countries are good.
JAMES: Yes they are.
MAIKO: Okay, so you want an overview of what the year 4000 archaeologists findings would reveal about the last 10 years of Vancouver theatre?
JAMES: That’s sounds too confusing.
MAIKO: It was your question.
JAMES: It would be better if you spoke from the POV of the archaeologists.
MAIKO: Defining characteristics of the cultural practice called “theatre” in the period between 1998 and 2008AD in the geographic area known as VANCOUVER.
JAMES: Better. Make sure you wear your glasses. You’ll look the part.
Maiko puts on her glasses.
MAIKO: Significant expansion of organized companies which led to both cultural and social development. AND A marked shift to creation based companies and the rise of site-specific theatre. The late 90’s early 2000’s was known as the… Neoprene era in Vancouver theatre.
JAMIE: How west coast.
MAIKO: It was a time of great growth in the cultural practice and resulted in many significant changes to the art form, government and private systems of support as well as the landscape of the area. Generally, the shifts were recognized as the following: People started moving their bodies more and in strange ways while they spoke. This style was referred to in records as either “physical” or “devised” theatre. Although both these terms were used freely in funding applications, organizational profiles and for promotional purposes, it is noted that the artists themselves felt confused by them. In the latter part of the era, there was an influx of young theatre companies emerging. One document states an elder artist commenting that there seemed to be “a new company born every minute. Sometimes two.” This naturally impacted the entire community and resulted in a fear of hitting critical mass. A sense of friendly competitiveness emerged among both existing and new companies. Due to the growth in number of companies and the resultant expansion in artistic activity there was a lack of space in the area and this, as well as the mild weather systems, resulted in an increase of site-specific theatre. Companies were performing their shows in unconventional spaces, both indoors and outdoors. Theatre took place in the park or on the beach, or on an old industrial ground. One famous site worthy of mention originally served as a building centre for large scale construction machinery. This space was then passed on to the arts community and run by several prominent educational facilities. Artifacts show a dense amount of artistic activity on the site, including performances as well as building materials and tools for constructing sets and properties. It is also indicated that several celebrations took place, with evidence of alcoholic activity and recreational drug use.
JAMIE: I wonder if they every found my helmet.
MAIKO: It’s in the museum.
The inclusion of projection technology was a significant characteristic of this era. Projections became apparent in several, if not all shows during this time. Further research reveals that several industrious companies used some capital money to buy these projectors, which they then rented out to their friends and colleagues, making back what they paid for them and more. Along with projection technology, laptops began to appear in every show, and specifically the idea of “live operation,” which consisted of placing production personnel on stage in order to manipulate and organize video feeds in real time. Other technological elements such as the use of microphones to amplify the human voice or sounds increased as well during this time. This era also saw an important shift in the racial makeup of companies and their work. Referred to as “diversity,” a term that overtook “multiculturalism” in the late 90’s, this meant people of different cultural backgrounds then delineated by country were largely working together and equally influencing the work that emerged. This resulted in many shows reflecting the people and the world encountered on the streets of the area, on the buses and trains. Audiences saw less and less false representations of the world they lived in and the people around them.
JAMIE: What do people look like in the year 4000?
MAIKO: Think of the apocalyptic big dance party in Matrix 3.
JAMIE: Hot people. Shitty movie.
MAIKO: Hey Jamie, how do you truly feel about the label: Diverse Company?
MAIKO: Yes please.
JAMIE: That’s a complicated question for a guy like me.
JAMIE: Thanks. I was there to witness the beginnings of the Canada Council’s Capacity Program in the late 90’s. For those of you that do not know, it’s a 30,000 a year grant that helps companies of diversity build their administrative capacity. If i remember right it was only supposed to last three years but they haven’t been able to stop it because the capacity funds have become everyone’s capacity. We were still with our first company. You were all in production so I was the only one available to attend the multicultural (it was still multicultural at the time) conference in Toronto. I went and it quickly became clear that at that time, in 1998, the term multicutural did not apply to me. I wouldn’t say I was outwardly shunned, but there was a palpable lack of interest in what I had to offer to the discussion — And I was the last kid picked for everything. And it is possible I had nothing to offer, other than “the empowered perspective”. It’s possible that I didn’t really have a place in the discussion and this was a comeuppance for my history of privileged colonialist behavior. Its possible that we made quite an embarrassing mistake in sending me and its definitely possible I felt like a big ass. At that point the label “diverse company” made me just truly feel like going home. So now ten years later, I am still a member of a diverse company and much more so a member of what feels like a diverse community — a community that is more populated by diverse leaders and practitioners, a community that has probably benefited more from this capacity program than any other in Canada. But still, I am reminded that any questions pertaining to diversity must be forwarded on to you. The most recent example being that goofy person from Toronto looking for “Theatre Replacement” to give a workshop on how to start a company. It took a few rounds of emails before she was able make it clear that she was interested in helping the diverse community and thus wanted you not me — I could be of no help. I would have been chased out of the room. So how do I truly feel about the label Diverse Company? Without it I wonder if I would have ever had the opportunity to join you in directing a show exploring the Sexual Practices of The Japanese. I wonder if Sexual Practices of the Japanese would have traveled to Ottawa if diversity were not an issue of policy for our National Theatre Festival. Or Ali and Ali, Adrift on the Nile, Copper Thunderbird? I don’t think Sexual Practices would have went to Toronto’s Factory Theatre if not for their “diversity” focused festival. I wonder if BIOBOXES would have ever been born. A multilingual, multicultural verbatim work. Has the term diversity completely supplanted multicultural?
JAMIE: What do they use in the year 4000?
MAIKO: They don’t need a word for it.
JAMIE: Of course. I wonder if I would have worked with the amount of diverse people I have worked with. Would I have specifically written an Asian woman into a recent work?
MAIKO: And then have her played by a dark haired white woman?
JAMIE: That wasn’t me, and she had to speak French.
MAIKO: At least they didn’t tape her eyes.
JAMIE: I wonder if we would be receiving operating money, if people would have paid attention to us for the last 5 years. I wonder about a bunch of things. And Maiko, while wondering is normally good for people like us, it is rife with problems for a guy like me because the wondering discounts the artistry, ideas and work of all the people involved. They no longer exist by themselves but remain attached to the idea of diversity. Or attach themselves to it as long as they need to. That’s policy. That’s what policy accomplishes. Policy is about accountability. I worry about accountability. I worry about policy. I worry about how good i am at bending to it. I worry that we walk around thinking we are changing the world when we really are just… policy. But who am I? My ancestry is never weighed against my artistry. I am without ancestry when it comes to this issue. I am just an artist riding my privilege.
MAIKO: British Mongrel–Canadian has a funny ring to it anyhow.
JAMIE: True that. So if I am allowed to answer this question Maiko… I’d say that except when it comes to another 30,000 dollars a year for another a couple of years…. another diverse initiatives artist grant or two so we can pay our friends to do their brilliant work…. I would prefer the title didn’t exist. We’re done with it. I’m not sure you ever needed the policy or funding. Others definitely have but I bet you personally would have survived without it. Anyway, I do believe we have escaped your chains and are now being judged on the basis of our work alone. And we better be ready to live without that extra money. I think the policy is shifting and will soon focus on class rather than race. Remember — it used to be gender. We may need to drop our dental plans.
MAIKO: So are you saying that we are hypocrites for accepting these capacity funds based on OUR diversity?
JAMIE: No. No. Opportunists. Hyocrites? I’m too tired to think about hypocrites right now. It’s late. I’m a bit drunk and any answer is bound to get a little distracted. Why don’t you tell me some plain old good news. But keep with the archeologists third-person thing? I think it’s a more liberating approach than burdening ourselves with the here and now.
MAIKO: Okay, but it IS late and I might not last long. I thought I’d try and keep going for another hour or so.
JAMIE: I don’t think I’m going to last another hour.
MAIKO: Just get some more booze.
Jamie brings out some booze and pours some drinks. For himself, Maiko and Mark Russell.
MAIKO: Ready now?
JAMIE: Just a sec. Pours more drink.
MAIKO: The elders encouraged the young ones to throw themselves into it, to dip themselves totally and completely into the stew that was the life of a theatre artist. They were told that if they really wanted to make it in the business, they would need to work as hard as they could and push past self-consciousness, discrimination, embarrassment, ignorance and fatigue. This weeded out the weak and sickly, and ensured that those who stuck to it had skin thick enough to persevere through the rollercoaster ride that was their chosen career. There were right of passage rituals such as “you don’t need to be equity to be a professional” and “how to start a theatre company with your husband/wife.” The young ones were taught to be a friendly, threatening force to all the companies that came before them and eventually, when the time was right and the chance arose, they were encouraged to devour them, to take their rightful place. The heads of the digested companies were removed and placed high up on wooden stakes for display, to be honoured. This ancestor veneration ensured that due respect was paid to these companies for their contribution to the work and for recognizing that it was time for them to be eaten. The young ones had to be careful, for they had many predators. They had many challenges and only one true defense: good work. If they could make good work their challenges — although still great — would seem a bit less Sisyphean. But good work was a hard lesson to learn, and it came with many responsibilities. They had to see lots of work, both good and bad, and they had to learn how to talk about it. They had to go to conferences and festivals and take workshops and meet people. They could never, ever forget to say thank you. They learned that loyalty is important. And the crucial skill of socializing in this context, which they referred to back then as “schmoozing.” They were taught — mostly through trial and error — that their reputations should be something they diligently protected. The young ones learned these lessons early on while they continued chewing their way through the stew. At some point, a fundamental change occurred in their evolution. It was a strange feeling, and for many it would take some time to recognize. Just as their bones grew and stretched and went through the great change, so did their minds, and the work they made, and their pocket books. Well, that one just a little, but it was enough to be recognized as a change. This mid-career feeling was both alarming and new. And it came hand in hand with a feeling of exhaustion. For even after the great change, they always had much work to do. They started to feel slightly to greatly dissatisfied with the lack of balance in their lives, which resulted in the desire to grow things outside their careers, that little sliver of a life they reserved for themselves when they weren’t building theatre. They took dance classes or gyrotonics and introduced more fibre to their diets. They started to take holidays, the norm being 5 days off at Christmas or a week to retreat to the lake in the summer. The sliver of a life outside of theatre grew and grew until the balance was no longer 90 work/10 sliver but more like 70/30, or for some lucky few, 60/40. And this resulted in another feeling: paranoia. They were no longer young ones. They weren’t quite elders. They were somewhere in between, where there was still a large price to pay for balance. They were told that they were losing their “edge.” They become afraid that the new young ones were rising up and leaving them behind. To compensate for this they thought about getting their masters, or moving out of the city. They planned very carefully what they would do if they won the lottery, an ancient sacred ritual where one was chosen to rise up financially while others were left behind. They kept these plans on folded pieces of paper in their pocket books at all times. Jamie? Jamie?
What would you do with 30 million dollars?
JAMIE: Oh sorry I was brushing my teeth.
13 of the 30 million in a hole somewhere where I can’t touch it. It can gain interest and pay me dividends. If I average a 4% return, I’ll take 2% as a salary of about 250,000 a year and the other 250 would go back into the initial investment. This salary would go to everyday living costs, family costs etc. Seems like a lot but I am confident I would spend it wisely. Nothing extravagant, just well. 500,000 to spend immediately wherever I want. First class travel. Big dinners with friends. Booze. Wine. Maybe take my grandparents to Scotland for my granddad’s 90th bday.
MAIKO: That’s nice.
JAMIE: 2 million for homes. One in the city, probably a bungalow with a yard, and then a farm near a lake in the country. Maybe 15 to 20 acres. I would spend the first three months at this farm building an English-style, rock-walled garden. I would plant 100 oak trees. The trees would have been brought in from Italy already infected with a truffle virus. It will take about 10 years for the first truffles to come up on the roots. But in thirty years, the roots will be coated with fist sized fungi and I will retire to the country to dig them up. I’d get some goats. Try to make some cheese. Maybe try to raise a pig, but I’m not sure if I could kill it. So maybe ducks. I think I could kill them. I would make sure I walked from Vancouver to this farm at least once every 2 years or so. It would take me a week to ten days. The remainder of the money would go to charitable causes, maybe an endowment, a space for my comrades. And then of course my friends and family. Million each to immediate family members. I’m sorry Maiko, but as a sister, but from another mister you would only be eligible to receive 500,000. But I am willing to negotiate.
MAIKO: Just tell me who I have to devour to get a million. There must be somebody, an in law or something. What about Mark?
JAMIE: He’s just about to have a 3rd kid.
MAIKO: Right. And he’s on our Board. I can live with 500 grand. Thanks Jamie.
JAMIE: No problem. Other than that I don’t think anything else would change. And this idea of lots of money ruining people is bullshit. And I would be happy to prove it.
MAIKO: I hope you win.
The no-longer-young ones and not-quite elders believed that winning the lottery might be the answer. They floated around in this state of longing for some time, and then suddenly, in a flash of epiphany while making a sandwich or brushing their teeth, they came to understand something crucial to their evolution. They understood that it was the great balance between work and the sliver that made their lives richer, which in turn made their work richer. They lifted the gloom from their eyes and they stopped fighting. This was followed by a time of great creativity. No longer bogged down by such inner conflict they could focus their efforts more successfully. They became acutely aware of when the work began and when it ended. That dark cloud, procrastination, went the way of the polar bear. There was good news indeed: There was more to life than theatre.
JAMIE: Which is troubling news to some.
MAIKO: I guess it depends on who you are.
JAMIE: And what your life consists of.
MAIKO: Yeah, and for some of us we just have to go through it and find out. I have a dear friend, who is a theatre artist in Toronto. He is, by all accounts a successful, influential and accomplished artist. Every two years, for 3 months straight he diligently and carefully researches another career. He finds out everything he needs to know about said career. He learns about schools and institutions and possible places where he would move to start his new life. He makes applications. He collects testimonials. He budgets. He tells me he will be happier if he leaves the theatre. But he doesn’t leave. In fact, every time he comes back from this spell of doubt he comes back a bit stronger. Those 3 months of searching for something — anything else to do — serves to build up the curiosity and the desire to keep going and become the art star he is destined to be. Hey, how do you fuck a star?
JAMIE: 1. Find out who is looking good right now. Use the internet if you have to. See who’s up at the big festivals. 2. Locate the star. Find a reason to be near the star. Be prepared to hang outside with the smokers. Stars smoke. And get a good coat. You’ll look nice while you are sitting outside in the haze. 3. Observe STAR and get to know their routine. What they drink, what they eat, what time they show up. 4. Find someone who can get you close to STAR. Festival staff, bartender, custodian. Use this connection to meet STAR, and when the time is right…. 5. Approach quickly, confidently, don’t hang out on the fringe waiting for an opportunity to interrupt. You will be noticed but targeted as someone to avoid. Speak fast. 6. Tell them you love what they do. Ask them about their process. Think about one really clever, challenging thing to say about their work. It shouldn’t be too praising or something they’d take offense to. Quick Maiko — practice, I’ll be your star. Say something clever, challenging about my work, something that makes me feel good.
JAMIE: 7. If they leave or move away from you don’t be hurt. 8. Remember it is as pleasant to fuck from a far as it is from up close. These people are hot. Distance isn’t such a bad idea. 9. And remember, you are still fucking every time you say their name. You are fucking every time you read their name or see their face. Every time you think of them… or remember them…. you are fucking them. 10. And do not be hurt when the fucking becomes embarrassing. It will. Eventually they will get thrown out of your bed and you to will have to say good bye. Just be happy you lasted as long as you did. Maiko? Maiko? Maiko?
MAIKO: Oh yeah, I’m here I just was changing into my pajamas.
JAMIE: Do you wanna wait until tomorrow for the next question.
MAIKO: Maybe, I’m feeling a little randy and Kev’s going to bed.
MAIKO: Kevin. My Husband.
JAMES: Maiko, as the senior member of this company, could you tell me where this pain in my burgeoning mid-career is coming from. Is it complacency? Has privilege made me redundant?
MAIKO: Well Jamie, as your Elder, I’d like to give you some personal perspectives on approaching your mid career. Just some thoughts and reflections that I’ve gathered over the last little while to help lubricate your entry into such an auspicious time in your life. Congratulations. When you are an emerging artist you are prone to being a little wishy washy. Maybe you haven’t yet formed all your opinions yet. Your like jello just before it’s set. There’s a jiggly battle going on inside you between what you want and what you believe. Some may even call it hypocrisy. Although this word has such negative connotations, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Hypocrite comes from the Greek hypokrites, meaning “I act the part.” So perhaps it goes hand in hand with the career we’ve chosen for ourselves. For my part, I can say that when it comes to theatre, I’m a total hypocrite. I love the idea of live performance, but I find sitting in the theatre an often painful experience. I would say that the classics are important and valuable, but you would have to drag me kicking and screaming to see them. I often find myself frustrated and disheartened by the theatre I see, offering some dated picture of what the world looks like. At the same time, I long to be part of that world. That’s why I got into it in the first place. Because back then I wanted to be Ophelia, or Saint Joan, or one of those Cats. I would say that theatre can change people, but I’m not sure if it’s going to change the world. I would also say that training is fundamental to being a good performer, but lately I’m also fascinated with watching people on stage who have never performed before. I am searching for the ultimate real experience in performance, but I still get lured in by the sets, and the lights, and the pretty costumes. GAWD, I am a hypocrite.
JAMIE: Don’t get down on yourself, you’re just being honest.
MAIKO: Are you a hypocrite too?
JAMIE: Absolutely. Maiko. I bike, walk or bus almost everywhere I go in the city. I am vocally disgusted by SUV culture. A determined composter. An infrequent waterer, a dedicated recycler, but will never hesitate to jump on a plane for a job. I take real issues with the tradition of openings and free tickets but will accept them and know the exact cocktail of inebriants necessary to have a great time at one of those events. I desperately doubt my life’s plan. I will spout this to those close to me as quickly and easily as I spin our company’s suitable policy and suitable plans to funders or co-producers. I doubt the form yet teach it to students. And I fall asleep at the theatre. I often don’t go to the theatre. I miss shows I should have seen. I’ve said good work to someone’s face and shit on it behind their back. I don’t pay attention. And I then I damn other people as lazy or uncommitted when they can’t talk about my or others work. So yes I am a hypocrite, though I would prefer to call it conflicted, or maybe complicated — sounds a little more interesting. And I hope I can run with not being a liar. I don’t think I’m a liar. I’m doing my best not to become one.
JAMIE: You’re right. Honesty gets you down.
MAIKO: All this is happening because we’ve hit a certain age. We’ve been in the game long enough to be properly tainted and somewhat stubborn. We are searching for the next level. We want to kick it up a notch. We need to. We need the transformation. Something’s gotta change for us to feel like we’re continuing to grow. As artists and as people. You have a pain in your burgeoning mid career, Jamie. You kind of knew if was coming. If you’re not careful, the pain can make you apathetic. Just like all other pain, your brain can shut it off, resulting in a kind of numbness. You know you should get in there, into the fray, but you’re having trouble feeling motivated, there’s just too much work to do. The last 13 years have paid off and you don’t need to really push yourself anymore. You’ve worked yourself into the funders hearts and people still pick up the phone to call you. You’re still on inviation lists and people still come to your parties. So yes, you are complacent. You’re so, so Canadian.
JAMIE: Thanks now I’m really depressed. How do you get rid of it the pain?
MAIKO: Well Jamie, it’s simple and obvious. The remedy to the pain in your burgeoning mid career is to keep working. Working is the undeniable response to all the questions that will come up for you during this transition. Regardless of success or failure, if you can say that you worked our ass off, there’s accomplishment in that. And more good work will come out of really working hard, then hesitant or half-assed attempts. Keep working Jamie. If you keep working you will get through the pain. Soon you will find that you are doing more of the work you like to do and less of the work you wish you didn’t have to do. You will be happier and as a result you will be nicer to your coworkers and colleagues and people will like you. The pain will be easier to manage. Be careful though. A lot of things feed the pain and make it stronger. Like blame or complaining. Think of how much time we spend on a daily basis, on the phone or email or when we come together in groups, complaining about things. We love to express how hard we have it and to be affirmed that we’re not alone in our misery. But we all know it’s hard. We all know and yet we are still here. We are still privileged enough to be doing this. Try not to compare yourself too much to other people. Don’t let jealousy rear it’s ugly head. Be happy for other people’s successes. Celebrate them. The EC made a movie out of one of their shows. Great. Maybe that means one day we’ll get to make a movie too. Pi got a huge private donation last year. And that’s fantastic. Support each other, talk each other up, promote others before you promote yourself. Take all opportunities to be glue for the community rather than the opposite of glue. This will help to shrink the pain until it’s hardly detectable. This and the knowledge that you are now eligible for some substantial individual awards. Maybe not as substantial as the lottery, but you can scale it down, you’re adaptable. When all else fails, think about all the great times we’ve had lately that make it all worth it. Like The Greatest Cities in the World workshop and that last pulled pork dinner. Or when we went to Regina, and we missed that pow wow but we found that small café that served Tortiere made by that French Canadian woman. Sunset in the Quappelle Valley. Or being in Oldenburg, Germany, and seeing great work and meeting nice people. These experiences cannot be diminished by the pain. I ran out of time, but I did also want to address your sciatica and the state of your body. We’ll have to save it for another time.
JAMIE: Thanks. I am trying to take a few off.
MAIKO: So, do you agree we’re in a state of emergency?
JAMIE: Yesterday I would have said no, the day before yes. The day before that no. I think when we started this it was a no. It shifts.
MAIKO: What is it today?
JAMIE: Today it’s a yes, if I can call it a slow burning emergency. Can an emergency be called slow?
MAIKO: Like a bog fire?
MAIKO: Go for it.
JAMIE: Good because it is. I’m going to attempt a potentially clunky metaphor if that’s ok.
Waits for answer — none.
There’s an article written by a Canadian theatre fellow. He compares Neanderthals to contemporary theatre artists. Suggesting that just like the Neanderthals, we are successful because we huddle together and form gangs.
MAIKO: Make sure you say Neanderthal correctly. No th sound.
JAMIE: Thanks. NeanderTAL. I knew that already. I would like to point out that this huddling together, this insularism, while a very comforting notion, is what left the Neanderthal extinct.
JAMES: Undeniably, they were great huddlers. There are all sorts of Neanderthal bones that show the wear and tear of old age, arthritis and healed broken bones which proves a complex society of caring for the injured and elderly and a cognizance of clan responsibilities. They were good to their kin groups, which is very nice. Kind of like I’m good to you and your good to me. They definitely could see other clans’ caves glowing all along the valleys but for the most part stayed in their own groups and didn’t talk. At all. They probably did a lot of hugging, grunted, slept with each other but no talking. Never any real talking. Because they couldn’t talk. There was no language. They spent about 100,000 years wandering Europe with zero language. And when Cro-Magnon, a lither, taller, quicker version of themselves showed up, they were wiped out. Or they just died, or Cro-Mag ate all the animals — they could kill them faster because they could talk about where they were hiding or grazing. But most likely it was a very slow genocide at the hands of our ancestors Cro-Magnon, which is a scary notion since it suggests genocide is hard wired into our minutely evolved brains.
MAIKO: Some people say we interbred with them and that there are Neanderthals living among us.
JAMIE: Redheads. It’s been suggested that Neanderthals were red haired and the gene responsible for red hair is one of the remaining Neanderthal traits.
MAIKO: Some could be offended by that.
JAMIE: I have red heads in my family, do you? I’ll speak for them thank you. Besides neanderthals had bigger brains — just couldn’t talk. Anyway this is my my metaphor, so back off.
MAIKO: Well you might consider cleaning it up or at least driving towards a point. This is supposed to be a manifesto. It should have a point or be remotely inspiring or at least damning.
JAMIE: I’m damning the Neanderthal. And I’m linking. Basically the Neanderthal may have recognized their slow burning emergency, but like we theatre people, they either ignored it, couldn’t talk about it or focused their efforts and blame in the wrong directions. They failed to adapt. They failed to step out of their comfortable little groups. They failed to make the changes necessary to survive…. so they died. I’m going keep running with this third person archeological perspective thing you did earlier if that’s all right. I think it’ll be easier to hit some of the points referring to our current condition if I distance myself a bit. Let me be a little sci-fi. It’ll help counter the hypocrite thing.
MAIKO: Whatever works.
JAMIE: The theatre practitioners of 2008 blamed their state of emergency on the audience. A favourite being that there were too many pleasant outdoor activities to do around Vancouver, or that the audience was short on appreciation for the work they were doing, or that they didn’t see themselves on stage so they wouldn’t go, or that television had softened their brains and attention span or they attended films that were cheaper, it went on and on. They spoke of educating their audience, of trying to shape them or entice them with group sales or free theatre. All futile except for the free bit. Free theatre seemed to work. Problem is free theatre looks free and makes paying for it at a later that much harder to do. The practitioners blamed a lack of funding, they blamed a lack of venues, they blamed a lack of rehearsal space, they blamed the Olympics whenever the people giving out the money left the room. They blamed their critics, and they would always, always blame each other. Sometimes they kept this blame to themselves, most often they whispered this blame to other people. Unfortunately they never spoke the blame to the person they were blaming. They blamed a conservative government for taking away 48 million dollars in money. They threw up big events. They put wealthy film actors on the radio to talk about the loss of culture. Wealthy directors and artistic directors sent letters back from abroad where they were living for half the year. It was troubling and hurtful this idea of democracy. This notion of their fellow country people electing leaders who would represent the wishes of a larger population. That the people of Fort McMurray did not care about a band called Holy Fuck, or a play about the Rwanda. They didn’t care because — they didn’t care. And its not because they had to be educated but because they didn’t. They had better things to worry about. Like closing mines, missing doctors, pine beetles and snowmobile trails. The poor practitioners felt beaten, embarrassed and hard done by. They were really suffering for their art but no one cared So they kept blaming a disintegrating culture instead of assessing their own culture and trying to make changes there.
MAIKO: What about some good news.
JAMIE: I’m getting there…. They made some changes. No one knows why exactly. It could have been that the changes just occurred naturally, that it was time. It could have been pushed through by a collective of interested parties. There is no record of a specific policy shift, they just happened and maybe that’s why they stuck. ONE: This one’s was simple. They stopped with the blame. They made a concerted effort to respect each other. Gossip finally became passe. They stopped acting like vampires. TWO: They started paying attention. When going to shows they began to split their brains into a smart side and dumb one. The smart would deconstruct, dissect and critique. The dumb would watch the work from the perspective of a kind alien from another planet who has never encountered this thing they called theatre. It looked at the lights for the first time. It concentrated on the language. It considered the space they were in. The fact there was an audience of real human beings sitting in the darkness. The two brains started having conversations with the work and each other. THREE: People started having conversations with each other about whatever they wanted. Independently, each of them became lay experts in something obscure, space travel, ocean life, Tahitian Politics, garden whatever so they would have something other than theatre, themselves and each other to talk about. This material found its way into the work. FOUR: They looked at this notion of the opening night. They wondered who it was that established the tradition of professionals gathering together to watch, consider and discuss the weakest performance of a run. They wondered why they had spent a professional career watching worse shows than the general public who came later on. They stopped asking the people they wanted to inspire and be inspired by to come to openings. As a group they decided to start attending each others shows on the fourth night or the second week. They even dared to go alone at times or just in pairs. There was less hugging but the work began to make more sense and have more resonance. Things that worked shone and the moments that did not were obvious and available to be considered. They even bought tickets when they had the money. They asked for them when they didn’t. FIVE: They thought about how they acknowledged success. People began taking a year off from their awards ceremonies. Not everybody at once. They didn’t want it to read as a boycott. It wasn’t, people just forgot to register for the competition. They realized no one was really paying attention to who won or lost but themselves. They did admittedly miss the prizes and party and so established the children’s choice awards an annual event. Kids are more fun to bribe and the prizes are prettier. SIX: This sixth change made was likely the most important and likely the result of the changes that preceded it. It’s the one we hold on to. The one that carried us from the Neoporene period into our current Plasticene era. Unlike our Neanderthals, they began talking to each other about what they were trying to accomplish with the work they were doing. Up until this point the only consistent critical discussion regarding their field of expertise was with 4 or five people who found themselves in the positions of being their “theatre critics”. Yes they were the local experts in criticism, they had practiced, they were paid for it, but they were also constrained by word limits, poor salaries, the expectation to entertain and a responsibility to an editor and a readership who was an audience. And of course, they were also almost always stuck with the task of seeing the first and worst show of the run with everybody else. The theatre artists of 2009 met each other and spoke. Occasionally this would be difficult, embarrassing, hurtful but after a while conversations began that would last years and continue over productions. The productions themselves would speak to each other. The phrase “it was boring” disappeared from these conversations. The hideous phrase “ I just lost an hour of my life that I will never get back” was dropped from the vernacular and returned to where it belonged — to line–ups and being on hold. Aesthetics emerged that could be defined and discussed. People stopped being lucky or unlucky in their shows. They tried to see ideas through. They did this in the studio but they also did it while falling asleep or walking to work or changing a diaper or drinking with friends. They knocked people over with what they made. They made ridiculous mistakes. AND they left. They would get up and leave a performance rather than suffer through something that they should have never witnessed in the first place. Mistakes are made. They are still made today. Buying a ticket does not mean you must sit through it. JUST LEAVE. JUST LEAVE. Please JUST LEAVE. And they occasionally stopped working. Less than half of conversations started with, “so what are you working on”. People would go for a walk or sit in a park. Watch some shitty TV or an action movie with everybody else. It stopped being as exhausting — this underdog, underfunded position of being the theatre artist. It became interesting again. And the efforts the theatre practitioners put into their conversations grew into conversations with visual artists, film-makers dancers and musicians. And at some point near 2015 a mass realization was made by the people left in this community. And there were less. People had quit. Some had even been asked to leave. Evolution was stepping in and decreasing the surplus population of creators. Privilege had filled the pot too full. Those remaining remembered no one was forcing them to follow this path of being the artist. They remembered no one had even asked them to do it. These people were not making performance because they were deemed to be culturally necessary or represented 4.1% of the GDP, or generated hotel and restaurant revenues, these sad rationalizations had disappeared from the cultural discussion. They were doing it for only two reasons. ONE — they were good at it and TWO — because it made sense to how they lived rest of their lives. And if either of those things were not the case they stopped complaining and found something else to do. So yes Maiko we are in a state of emergency, but we all knew what we were walking into. We have no guaranteed right to do what we do. Doctors get guarantees because we die without them. Garbage men are guaranteed because the city will go to hell without them. We are all riding a publicly funded privilege and it could evaporate at any moment. So in the face of this emergency we have no time to complain or rationalize our existence. We have to work, we have to be better, we have to be smarter, kinder, crueler. Our responsibility is to make sure that one: our privilege doesn’t utterly devalue and collapse on our watch, and two: that our actions and behaviour increase the quality of survival for the next generation when we are done, done, done. Any more questions?
MAIKO: Not at the moment. You?
JAMIE: I’m good.
MAIKO: See you tomorrow.