Why I am Boycotting Factory Theatre
When Ken Gass was dismissed, it would make sense for someone like me to say “Aha! Nowʼs our chance! Down with the old guard! Letʼs fill in that position with someone younger and more relevant who will revolutionize this town and bring new art to a new era for Factory.” But I know that wonʼt happen...
by Matthew MacFadzean
I am a grumbler. I donʼt like a lot of shows, donʼt understand why most people are in charge of the theatres theyʼre in charge of, heck itʼs hard to even get me out to see stuff anymore. I think theatre in this town needs an enema. It needs new leadership. It needs change. It needs to return to what theatre once was: an evolving artform, rather than a stale ʻwayʼ of constructing a play: fill out the form, check the right boxes, and give it a nice one word title, hopefully an aspect of the human personality like “Shame” or “Dignity.” People will come. And then they can say they stood up and clapped at a play this season, and the theatres will pat themselves on the back because they “appealed to their subscriber base once again” and the cycle continues. This is Toronto theatre. See? Grumbler. So, following this, when Ken Gass was dismissed, it would make sense for someone like me to say “Aha! Nowʼs our chance! Down with the old guard! Letʼs fill in that position with someone younger and more relevant who will revolutionize this town and bring new art to a new era for Factory.” But I know that wonʼt happen, and realize that Boards think financially, not artistically. Hereʼs what the Board of Factory theatre WILL do. They will hire someone safe and secure (and stupid, given how much the community will demonize them following this mess) who will guarantee a larger subscription base and turn Factory into something “more like Tarragon, if you could please.” But I digress. I did not join this boycott because of my opinion of Toronto theatre.
Ken Gass hired me as a young artist. He gave me a chance. Iʼve heard a lot of people saying that. Iʼve also heard that he no longer hires young people. Iʼve read the arguments from Ferry to Praxis to everyone in between about what kind of person Ken is and none of it really floats my boat. Truth is, I havenʼt had a lot of dealings with Ken in recent years and so Iʼm no expert on who he is today. I was with him on 9/11. I was walking up the stairs in Factory when Rebecca Picherack approached: “Did you hear what happened?” I learned of the planes and the buildings as we arrived in the rehearsal room. Kenʼs reaction to all this was to keep rehearsing. Years later it seems almost sentimental, but I admired Ken for his determination in the face of disaster, his stance of making art in the face of horror. As far as I know about Ken, heʼs an absolute top notch guy who takes casting risks and adores theatre: a real trailblazer who founded an important theatre in Toronto. He is, undoubtably, an artist. You canʼt get much better than that. Does he function nepotistically? I really donʼt know. I do know that the theatre community is inherently a nepotistic community, and any company Iʼve been a part of from the Fringe to Stratford, is always about who you know. But I canʼt blame Ken Gass for this.
As to the young versus old splinter argument here, I feel itʼs a lot of unfortunate bullshit. Yes, if I were younger I might side with them, yes if I were part of the ʻold guardʼ I might side with them. But Iʼm not either so I donʼt really agree with either side. In fact, I view the ʻage splinteringʼ thing as missing the point. It reminds me of the days when all of us wanted the Conservatives to go down because of their stance on art. Instead of rallying behind a single party in order to defeat them, we voted for the opposition that we most agreed with. The Conservatives won because we werenʼt strategic in our voting. Young and old, all artists wanted the Conservatives to lose. But we divided our votes, and made nothing happen. Similarly here, I think in-fighting is defeating the purpose of defeating our shared enemy.
This whole situation, for me, smacks of another place where the right has just steamrolled the left, refusing to explain its actions and expecting the rest of us to just take it. Rob Ford is doing it (or attempting it). Stephen Harper is expert in it. The right slides further right, and Canada is a world leader in this silent slide. This scares me. It means a lot of things, but one of these is the death of theatre and the relegation of art to low priority. For me, whatever my age has been, art has remained a top priority.
Here, for the first time in my career, the eensy weensy theatre community is standing up against dangerous behaviour. For the first time I can remember, artists are saying “no.” This is extremely important. So when artists start bickering about age, theyʼre missing the point: this is about all of us. This is about the future of all of us. Itʼs not about Ken, or Factory, itʼs about what weʼll put up with. Does Factory need change or a new leader? I donʼt know. But I do know that focusing on that diminishes the importance of the moment. This is an important moment.
I joined the boycott because art is in trouble. If I donʼt take part, I support the idea that artists are not powerful members of society. They must be. Whatever my opinion, grumbler or not, these are my people, and they are standing up for something that means something big. Will my boycott make a difference? Probably not. But then again, neither will Martha Henryʼs or Atom Egoyanʼs. But it will make a difference to me, and to the artistic community, which grows stronger by our coming together on something. We need this strength for what promise to be larger battles looming on the horizon. I say again: art is in trouble. Theatres are dying. I will not bow to government pressure to be quiet. I will instead fight the current pressure to shut up and do what Iʼm told. And more than anything, I donʼt want to live in a world where art is dictated to me by lawyers and politicians. Iʼm already up to my neck in propaganda, thank you very much. I mean, if you think the theatreʼs situation is bad now, can you imagine what kind of art lawyers and politicians would create? I mean Wagnerʼs cool nʼ everything but...