Monday, May 20, 2013

Canadian Artists Matter –- Someplace Else

God is a gangster

Over the last couple of years, this blog has followed the progress of “Slaughter Nick For President”, the terrific Canadian documentary that continues to win awards and thoroughly entertain film festival and art house audiences around the world.

“Slaughter Nick” tells the remarkable story of how a trashy Canadian TV series played a central role in the overthrow of a murderous dictator and the only bloodless revolution of the 20th Century.

Despite such historical significance and a tale told with great humor and trademark Canadian humility, the filmmakers got very little support from either the powers that be in Canadian film and television or information media.

As an example, the Toronto Star wrote a feature article raving about the movie –- published the day AFTER it had completed its run in a Toronto cinema.

I guess everybody at the Star was concentrated on a mobile phone video of the mayor which may or may not be authentic and the paper will have to pay $200,000 to drug dealers to obtain and confirm.

But that’s the way artists are regularly given short shrift in Canada. As a friend of mine, rocker Bob Segarini said sometime in the 1980’s –- “How come it takes the Toronto Star one line to say ‘Bob Segarini plays boring music’ but a full page with a picture to say ‘The Eagles play boring music’”?

And now, “Slaughter Nick” has company on the world stage.

Another buddy of mine (trust me I know everybody) actor Nick Mancuso has evolved into an accomplished playwright. And like a lot of accomplished Canadian playwrights, he’s found it difficult to get Canadian theatres to mount his work.

So he has had to go it alone to bring plays like “Hotel Praha”, “The Death of Socrates” and “God is a Gangster” to Canadian audiences.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing all three of those works as well as filming “Socrates”. They’re all thoughtful and challenging pieces. Apparently the kind Canadian theatres trumpet in their press releases and grant applications as the work they see as essential.

But when’s the last time you saw protestors marching on a Canadian theatre because a play had ignited a national debate or police protecting a theatre company from death threats and retribution for their artistic expression?

And yet that’s what’s happening at the National Theatre of Timisoara in Romania over its production of “God is a Gangster” (pictured above).

It’s long been my belief that there’s a wide chasm between the Art our government funded institutions insist Canadians want to see and what might actually connect with local audiences. There is, in essence, a barrier that prevents us from hearing the stories about ourselves that Canadian artists want to tell.

One wonders if its because those in charge of the Arts here are aware of the talent and skill of our artists and don’t want to risk people flooding the streets after their passions have been awakened like they did in Serbia (“Slaughter Nick”) and are now doing in Romania (“God is a Gangster”).

Suddenly, we’re bad-ass heavy dudes on the world stage while having fewer stages on which to strut our stuff here at home.

Let’s hope that reality takes another hit this week in Regina, where “Slaughter Nick” opens for a two day run. Turn up and make that run last THREE DAYS, Regina! It won’t be the first time you’ve launched movements that have changed the country.

And if you speak Romanian, you can hear a little more about “God is a Gangster” here.

1 comment:

Tony Nardi said...

This is not the only answer to your question, of course, but an answer nonetheless. Those in Rumania defending the National Theatre of Timisoara’s right to present Nick’s play, like Tolkien with his Lord of the Rings, are reacting to and protesting the dangers, havoc and devastation wreaked by political, social and religious “univision” and speak from relatively firsthand experience. They’ve been there, recently. Ceausescu's regime was toppled in 1989 on Christmas day, one year before the failure of the Meech Lake Accord in Canada. Rumanians, and many Europeans, are very much aware of fear-driven fanaticism, religious or political, and the attraction to the Lidless Eye. WW II is only yesterday to many.The more progressive seek to destroy that singular-vision Eye before it destroys them. In Canada, our regional theatres, especially the bigger ones, function like prep schools, where uniformity is de rigeur. They pride themselves in becoming the Lidless Eye, culturally – in setting a “proper” example for all, reflecting a societal ethos, because, for the most part, many in Canada have never been (directly) victims of the Lidless Eye but have inflicted it on others. Only their ancestors, but, on the other side of the Atlantic. As for THIS side of the Atlantic, only Aboriginals, African North Americans and relatively recent immigrants (the last 50 years) are slightly more sensitive to the dangers of the Lidless Eye. But immigrants have also consistently shown that they too have short memories once they acquire wealth and surround their homes and memories with a white picket fence and a “no trespassing” sign.