While returning home from observing his first-ever protest at the G20 in Toronto in 2010, actor Tommy Taylor was one of more than 1,000 people swept up in indiscriminate mass arrests, then was detained in a makeshift jail without water until he passed out. Upon release, Mr. Taylor detailed the shocking and surreal experience in a epic Facebook note that went viral.
You Should Have Stayed Home: A G20 Romp, Mr. Taylor's Spalding Gray-style monologue adapted from the online note with the help of Toronto's Praxis Theatre, had an impressive premiere at the 2011 SummerWorks Festival and is now back in Toronto as part of a national tour that will end in Ottawa. Director Michael Wheeler talked about how the story moved from status update to the stage.
How did you first make contact with Tommy Taylor?
I went to the protest that day, but nothing happened to me. I saw some of the cars being burned and I was out of there pretty quickly. Two days later, I saw Tommy's Facebook note – and then six months later, he e-mailed us because he'd read some of the writing that we'd done on the G20 on our Praxis Theatre blog and asked if we wanted to work on the show.
Was the plan always to adapt the Facebook note – or did you consider telling his story in another dramatized form?
One of the very first comments left on the Facebook note is: This would make a great play. We did the first third of it at Buzz [Festival] at Theatre Passe Muraille and at that point we were thinking, it's a Facebook note, so we should pimp it out with Facebook streams – let the design be social media-esque in nature. But all of our feedback forms [said]: Don't ruin this play by over-designing it; the power of it is in the story and Tommy's charisma.
There is that one theatrical moment in the show when Tommy is put in the tiny holding cell with 40 other prisoners and you fill the same space on stage with actors we haven't seen before. Why did you choose to illustrate that moment?
Every day we have different casts for that scene, so we have a rehearsal before every show and Tommy says: "As good a storyteller as I am, there are just some things that cannot be communicated with words – and one of those things is what it is like when 40 people scream for water at the same time because they think they're not going to get it."
It was fairly astonishing moment for me, since there were no pictures from inside the now-notorious detention centre that the police created for the G20.
There's also a volleyball-esque game [the prisoners] play with an inflated condom, so it's not all dark what they do in there. The other thing about that scene is it gives people who are upset about the G20 or want to stand up for civil rights a way to support the Charter where they're not going to get thrown into an actual jail cell.
How do Torontonians who want to be imprisoned for a show get to jail?
Very simple – they e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
A lot of the initial reaction to the mass arrests was like the title of the piece: You should have stayed home. I remember the Maclean's cover that week: Lock Them Up. Do you think perceptions are shifting?
I do think it's shifted in intervening years. Immediately after G20, the consensus opinion was: Well that's what happens when you burn cop cars. People didn't really know that those who burnt the cop cars, most of them got away, and most of the people who got arrested were people who were obeying the law and being peaceful.
We've had Ontario Ombudsman André Marin call the mass arrests "the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history," while the police board chair apologized to innocent people like Taylor who got swept up that day. What else do you want?
This is really shooting for the stars: If no one is contesting the fact that this the largest violation of civil liberties in Canadian history – and no one is – certainly, it's something deserving of a federal inquiry. It seems like that's a legitimate topic.