10 questions: The Wrecking Ball

L to R: Ross Manson, Andrew Soren, Lara Azzopardi, David Jansen.

1) What the fuck is going on?
That’s the crucial question – the question that as artists we have to ask ourselves every day. Marvin Gaye taught us to ask that question.

So in short: the glaciers are melting, the water is rising. The world is changing and staying the same all in the same moment. But right now, it’s very nice to enjoy a cup of tea and some coffee cake contemplating these 10 questions.

2) Why is it important for Toronto’s independent theatre artists to deal with current events in their work?
The question applies to all theatre artists in this city, the country, the world. Theatre is an art form of the present tense; audiences experience theatre in the continuous present. And as Hamlet says, theatre artists “are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time.” The onus is on us to be aware and react to what the fuck is going on. That includes current events, but goes beyond merely the ‘news’. It’s up to us to know the temperature of our time and report it to a world that’s afraid to go outside.

3) With current events, and the news cycle, moving so fast, how can theatre artists respond quickly enough to stay topical?
The question implies that we have to keep up with CNN. But that’s not the point. To stay topical isn’t about responding to the individual news item, it’s about inspiring our political imagination. It’s about an artistic and personal response, not regurgitating an issue. The Wrecking Ball is about encouraging us to look at the social and political events in our lives to see how they shape who we are.

For example, one piece that Morwyn Brebner wrote was called Natascha Kampusch Is Up From The Basement! She’s the Austrian girl who was kidnapped and locked in a cell in a basement for eight years, forced to be a domestic and sex slave. Horrific. But rather than looking at that experience in a documentary way, Morwyn used it as a springboard for other ideas. Natascha gives us a kind of classroom presentation of all the ways in which the world has changed while she has been away and she concludes that we are all fucked. She talks candidly about her imprisonment and her gradual acclimatizing to its awful circumstances, and subtly draws a parallel between how it’s just as easy, even inevitable, for us all to become oblivious to the horrors we live with daily. So while the piece was inspired by a news story, its relationship to it was more oblique.

4) Have you learned anything in the past three weeks that’s dramatically changed your world view?
Serious answer: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which issued its report in Paris a couple weeks ago, is deeply sobering and makes us anxious about just how many years into the future we will be able to blithely enjoy our tea and coffee cake.

Not as serious answer: Osama bin Laden’s favourite TV show as a kid was Bonanza. The only colouring books he allowed his own children were ones with horses in them. He loves horses. Who knew!?

5) Do you think Conservative, right-wing politics are somehow fundamentally at odds with the arts community?
It’s true that most of The Wrecking Ball writers to date have written left-leaning commentaries. That’s probably a good reflection of the arts community in the country and their opposition to current conservatism. But it’s more a symptom of our time and our culture in Canada than a fundamental truth about the arts and society. It happens that support for the arts comes from the left in Canada right now, but, you know, the Nazis were great supporters of the arts.

It’s funny you should ask that question because we have been considering a ‘right-wing’ Wrecking Ball for a while now. No, really! And no, we weren’t going to invite Ernst Zundel or David Irving to chip in, but we think it would be interesting to get writers like David Frum to write from a place of conservative authenticity. It would be something to provoke our community from the coziness of our own thinking, a whetstone to sharpen our own arguments or, at the very least, challenge the assumptions that make you ask this question.

6) What can Canadian theatre artists learn from theatre communities that are doing it well in other countries?
Bottom line, theatre artists in other places talk to one another. They know about each other’s work. They don’t produce in a bubble – a way of working in Canada we have become far too good at. At the Royal Court in London, for instance, there is an international program that brings artists together from around the world, commissions plays, puts on readings and produces some of them. There’s nothing like that here.

We are a relatively young theatre community, only a couple of generations old, so we shouldn’t get too self-flagellating. But we can look to Europe, the Middle East, South America or Africa to see how they investigate the form and try to find the best ways of telling stories for the here and now. There’s a lot we could learn from that way of thinking about theatre.

7) What are you optimistic about?
The boomer hegemony is ending. There’s a sea-change in Toronto theatre that we are very excited about. New generations of artists are starting to take over the reins of our institutions, or are starting their own institutions. We’re guessing that the next 10 years hold all sorts of promise and possibility. We’re optimistic about that!

We also want to give a shout out to the National Arts Centre for installing two ADs, Peter Hinton and Wajdi Mouawad, who are committed to theatre of the present.

Also a shout out to Harbourfront and Tina Rasmussen for bringing back the World Stage Festival.

We’re optimistic that exposure to exciting theatre and artists from around the globe can only do good things for theatre in Canada and the artists who make it.

8) What’s with people being cynical about Bono?
We rather like Bono and aren’t terribly cynical about him. The sunglasses, the ringing anthems, the fine leather jackets: Mr. Hewson oozes cool. That said, did anyone else read that U2’s financial holdings are filtered through Dutch tax havens? Isn’t that what the Nazis did…?

9) How do we get more people out to see independent theatre in Toronto?
Rethink who our audience is. The fact is, there are many people in this city (the vast majority as it would have it) who don’t know that independent theatre even exists. Let’s say that based on current stats and optimistic guessing, 1% even knows that Toronto has a vibrant independent theatre scene. What have we really tried to do to speak to the other 99%? Have we really tried talking to them? Have we really tried making theatre for them? Telling their stories? Do we know what they need? What they want? What they crave? What’s missing from their lives? Do we even know who they are or where they’re hiding? Not really. If we want to expand the audience for independent theatre, we need to start answering these questions.

10) When can we look forward to another Wrecking Ball event?
Soon. Probably spring. Maybe summer. Definitely soon. Sign up for our mailing list to make sure you’re kept in the loop.

10 thoughts on “10 questions: The Wrecking Ball

  1. wow. i can’t think of anything i disagree with here and i’m a big fan of disagreeing. maybe bonanza, the horses aren’t all that interesting. i have like 14 follow up questions. we may have to do a part II.

  2. The idea of a Wrecking Ball event that’s framed from a conservative perspective is intriguing. It would give mainstream (i.e., lefty) independent theatre artists a chance to see what conservatism looks like when it takes a theatrical form – and tries to speak with a voice we may have come to think of as our own. A reverse paradigm (is there a better word for that idea?) where traditional right wing ideas have to fight for space and acceptance under a dominant liberal ideology.

  3. Many conservative commentators argue just that point; that their “traditional values” are under attack from a Liberal tyranny. Not sure how putting this into the theatre would affect the argument. But I’d like to see.

    Come to think of it, are there currently any popular right-wing theatre-makers in Canada or the US?

  4. Glad we’ve sparked some interest out there in the Right-Wing Wrecking Ball. Sorry to hear about the bonanza disappointment. We’ll just have to try harder.

    And I’m sure that we’d be up for answering a part two’s worth of questions. As long as someone supplies us with more coffee cake and tea. That really helped last time.

  5. We’ve definitely come away from this interview with a lot to think about.

    We’ll be in touch for a follow up. This time the coffee cake and tea will be on us.

    In the mean time, if anyone has any further questions for The Wrecking Ball, please pass them along.


  6. okay, i have been thinking about this and, well, screw the right wing wrecking ball. they already have CanWestGlobal and BellGlobeMedia why do they need our theatres on darkdays too?

  7. re: the response to question #6

    so, first of all, yes we absolutely need to talk to each other more. we now have that capacity through this here www thing. fancy. here’s one thing that unspun is doing about it


    c’est cool. everyone come on in, all are welcome!

    secondly, theatre in canada is new only when one disregards the highly theatrical ceremonies, rituals and social gatherings of the multitude of first nations people who have been here for about 12 thousand years, give or take a few. these existed in such a breadth of forms and were so powerful that they were outlawed repeatedly by a woefully distanced and ethnocentric government as recently as 100 years ago. the drive to continue these dances, ritualistic ceremonies and storytelling forms is so ingrained, and reaches SO FAR BACK IN TIME that the people who originated theatre on this land risked further loss of privileges (such as food provisions), imprisonment and death to continue the traditions. there is a big pow wow every year, right here in toronto, proof of the adaptability and proud survival of the first theatre of this land. alive and well, we are.


    c’est tres tres cool. everyone come on in, all are welcome!


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