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Guest post: Michael Healey on why artists should be worked up about SummerWorks

Last week, playwright Michael Healey called on artistic directors across Canada to join the Western Edge Theatre in Nanaimo, B.C., in staging a reading of Catherine Frid's Homegrown in support of the SummerWorks festival. "[I]f you find yourself anxious about the potential ramifications for your own company's federal funding as a consequence of taking part in this demonstration, I can think of no better reason for participating in it," he wrote in a letter he posted on Facebook and spread online.

Over 70 theatre companies answered Healey's call and there will be readings in nine different Canadian cities on Friday night. You can find details about the reading nearest you at Here is the message Healey has sent to organizers across the country along with the option of reading it to their audiences. - JKN

We can't ever know if Heritage cut Summerworks' funding because of the play you're about to hear. The Minister denies it.

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But the fact that this government is obsessed with optics, with strategy and, most critically, with campaigning full-time, makes it hard to believe that a festival that's achieved five straight years of growth would suddenly see its federal subsidy eliminated innocently. Tom Flanagan, who was Stephen Harper's campaign manager in every election but the last, in his book Harper's Team, calls this kind of action "a red meat moment, designed to keep the base happy".

He also, at the end of the same book, advises Prime Minister Harper to cut back on the comments about artists going to rich galas and then crying poor. That famous statement, Flanagan figures, cost the Prime Minister a majority when Quebec artists banded together in 2008. The PM took that advice, kept his mouth off us in the last election, and here's his majority.

Flanagan says something else in the book. He says that because artists are telegenic, well-spoken, organized and have access to media, inflaming them should be avoided. There's no upside in pissing us off. But my guess (and yes, it's just a guess) is Prime Minister Harper just couldn't help himself, here at the outset of five years of clear majority, with the opposition in historic disarray. Here's one for the base, he said. There's surely no downside to this. Surely artists will look at what I've done to this small Toronto theatre festival, say "There but for the grace of God go I," and get back to work.

In theatres across the country tonight comes our answer. The very play that frightened everyone from Sun journalists to radio hacks to members of the PMO is getting an airing. We are showing our Prime Minister and his government there is an immense downside to throwing red meat to the base at our expense. Asking for his respect is probably too much, but showing him he's better off leaving us alone is a message he can hopefully ingest.

All the best,

Michael Healey

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