Normally, this newsletter highlights new digital performances and online theatre to watch online each week.
But shut-down performing arts companies are more focused on expressing messages of solidarity with those protesting anti-black racism and police brutality worldwide than on promoting their digital performance and other streamable alternatives right now.
Indeed, many arts and entertainment industry groups are observing an online moment of silence today by taking a break from their streaming and social-media activities as part of a campaign associated with the hashtags #BlackoutTuesday and #TheShowMustBePaused.
Earlier this week, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and the Arts Club in Vancouver were among the major Canadian arts organizations that released statements responding to last week’s disturbing video of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis involving local police. (One police officer has been since charged with murder.)
Some organizations made reference to the role of the performing arts in perpetuating systemic racism in their messages. The National Ballet of Canada, for instance, noted: “We are committed to examining our art form, acknowledging its history of inequity and taking action to ensure that our future is one of diversity, equity and inclusion through the extraordinary beauty of dance.”
The Stratford Festival, Canada’s largest not-for-profit theatre company, released an even more strongly worded statement from artistic director Antoni Cimolino and executive director Anita Gaffney, asking its community to make a donation to a local chapter of #BlackLivesMatter or the Black Legal Action Centre. “As a company we have upheld white supremacy in the past," they wrote. "It must be dismantled. We are committed to using this time to evolve our understanding of equity, inclusion and anti-racism and to prepare to celebrate and give platform to a more diverse array of voices when we return.”
While large arts institutions have been struggling during the pandemic, they also have had the resources to prominently ask for help from their donors and government – and show expensively recorded work online to keep themselves in the public conversation.
We can now see what work has had the resources dedicated to it to be preserved and be disseminated – and how marginalized artists risk becoming marginalized once more. (Not to single out Stratford, but, as an example, all the films it has shown as part of its free streaming festival thus far have been of productions of Shakespeare that were directed by white men.)
Smaller arts organizations – including many that have been taking action, to paraphrase the National Ballet, to ensure that the future of the performing arts is one of diversity, equity and inclusion for decades – have not been as much of a part of the conversation.
If you’re looking to donate money to the arts in this tumultuous time and don’t know where to put it, I’d suggest Canada’s two biggest black theatre companies: Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop, which is getting set to celebrate its 50th anniversary season, and Toronto’s Obsidian Theatre, which has one of the highest standards of excellence of any theatre company in Canada and will, I suspect, feature strongly in the coming Toronto Theatre Critics Awards and Dora Mavor Moore Awards. (This year, our theatre critics raved about its productions or co-productions of Actually, Pass Over and Caroline, or Change.)
Obsidian’s outgoing artistic director Philip Akin released a statement this week on systemic racism as well. I invite you to read the whole thing.
Speaking of theatre awards season, the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts, which was set to announce this year’s Dora nominations on Wednesday, has decided to postpone its news conference to next week. “Let us give the movement the voice and space it needs to fully express the outrage and exasperation we are feeling right now,” Régine Cadet, chair of the TAPA board, said in a statement on Monday.
The Toronto Theatre Critics Awards, meanwhile, which were originally set to be announced Tuesday, will now be announced on Wednesday.
Nominees for the Calgary Theatre Critics Awards, a.k.a. the Critters, were announced last week – and among the interesting showdowns there will be the head-to-head Canadian competition between Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story (reviewed here) and The Louder We Get (reviewed here) for best production of a musical. Winners will be announced June 15 at 7 p.m MT in an online ceremony.
If you’re looking for something to watch online this week, I recommend Black Theatre: The Making of a Movement, the classic 1978 documentary about "the birth of a new [American] theatre out of the Civil Rights activism of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s” that includes excerpts of many classic African-American plays such A Raisin in the Sun and for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. It is available on Kanopy, a streaming service that is free with many Canadian public library memberships.
Keep up to date with the weekly Nestruck on Theatre newsletter. Sign up today.