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Historical events inspire today’s audiences

Leiden circa 1630: Rembrandt Emerges features 33 works


The idea that art imitates life has been around for centuries and there’s a good reason for it.

Real life stories resonate with an audience, grabbing their emotions, whether it be a theatre production, musical performance, art piece or a photographic exhibition.

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“Those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it,” says Clyde Wagner, president and chief executive officer of TO Live, which is putting on the major exhibition Mandela.

“That’s critical at this time, particularly here in North America as I think we see value-based movements in your marketplace. When we were approached by the Canadian Human Rights Museum … it didn’t take us five seconds to say yeah we would like to do [the exhibition],” Wagner says.

“The reason we want to do it is because it’s germane to our mandate, which is to reflect the city on the stage but also to create public dialogue around important topics of the day, and the topic of equality, diversity and human rights is one that’s being questioned I find.”

A rich sensory experience of imagery, soundscape, digital media and objects, Mandela explores Nelson Mandela’s fight for justice and human dignity in South Africa. Among the exhibition’s many dramatic visual features and original artifacts is a replica of Mandela's eight-foot by seven-foot prison cell.

Previously known as Civic Theatres Toronto, TO Live is one of Canada’s largest multi-arts organizations, operating three iconic venues and presenting a full range of performing arts, theatrical and concert events in both downtown and uptown Toronto at Meridian Hall (formerly the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts), St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts and the Meridian Arts Centre (formerly the Toronto Centre for the Arts).

“Art or the creative arts in any format – visual arts, music, dance, theatre, architecture, design all of these things – have a way to inspire people and engage with the public that is both able to be accepted by a broad audience but also emotionally connected to a topic,” Wagner says.

“Great art can touch people whether it has a social message or not. If it has a social message like the exhibition … then it also falls into a category of things that we’re inspired to do.”

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Andrey Tarasiuk is artistic director at Pleiades Theatre, which is presenting Besbouss: An Autopsy of a Revolt, the English-language premiere of a story inspired by the headlines and running in November. It’s based on the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia that were triggered by the self-immolation of a street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi in 2010.

“For me, essential to this play is it really sort of sits in a place where it asks the question: ‘Can one person make a difference?’ … The play is the starting point for a conversation is how I view this production,” he says.

“The issues don’t escape us. I think it behooves artists to examine global events and the impact of those global events on all of us and to be fearless in posing questions. Why is this happening? And what are the consequences? How do these events impact on our lives? These are critical and imperative questions that need to be responded to by artists. I feel very strongly about that and artists are up to that task,” Tarasiuk adds.

Majdi Bou-Matar, director of Besbouss, says art tells stories by taking historical events and figures as source material but then making it more relevant way to audiences today.

“Real events in history is material out there that belongs to anyone. The main thing is how do we use those events as a tool to tell our stories in the here and now,” he says.

This content was produced by The Globe and Mail’s Globe Content Studio, in consultation with an advertiser. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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