What this blog is about

It's an art blog.
Mostly about theatre... but also a healthy dose of pop culture, politics and shameless self-promotion.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Everything old is new again?

Shades of December 2008 - Harper prorogues Parliament again!

Conventional wisdom today is that PM Harper has prorogued Parliament for the second time since the 2008 Federal election because he's worried that the committee investigating the Afghan detainee/torture issue is costing the Conservatives too much political capital. That the issue will disappear once the afterglow of the Vancouver Olympics erases it from our collective consciousness like a MiB Neuralyzer.

However, Dimitri Soudas, the PMO's press secretary, doesn't think so. It's "old news" he noted in a conference call to reporters, according to the G&M's John Ibbitson. And, I tend to believe him.

Not with Soudas' statement, but rather that this is an accurate reflection of the government's attitude towards the detainee issue: they don't think they'll lose an election over it, and, as uncomfortable as the issue has become, it will eventually go away.

Besides, defence has never been this government's preference for action. They like aggressiveness. They like to squash the enemy.

They like to consolidate power.

The second piece of conventional wisdom circulating among the pundits is that prorogation is doubly advantageous to the Conservatives because it allows Harper to further stack Senate vacancies with partisan loyalists, effectively giving him a governing minority in the Upper House. This seems to be a little bit more in character...

But then, Harper didn't need to lock up the HoC and kill 37 pieces of legislation just to fill Senate vacancies. He could fill them while the House sits. Yes, prorogation effectively resets the make-up of Senate committees: without it, the Liberals could keep a majority in each committee until each one had finished its business, regardless of the overall make up of the Senate. But, again, going through with prorogation just to obtain a "governing minority" in a legislative wing of government that the Conservatives are (supposedly) ideologically opposed seems like overkill for much too little in return. Even for this government.

Last year at this time (more or less a couple of weeks), Harper was forced to prorogue Parliament to save his government's skin. As you may recall, the government had just won another minority in a Federal election that broke the government's own law regarding fixed election dates, on a platform of economic stability and no deficits. It's first act of business: to introduce a fiercely partisan economic update that virtually ignored the world-wide economic crisis in favour of financially crippling the opposition parties. The opposition parties reacted, and Harper found himself in a long discussion with the Governor General over the merits of using an obscure parliamentary procedure to avoid losing the confidence of the House.

Fast forward to now, after the largest deficit in Canadian history (by far), a couple of lily-livered attempts by the Opposition to knock the Conservatives out of power, and a relatively stable year of polling showing that Canadians are not comfortable with anything more than a minority of blue on the government's side of the aisle, and Mr. Harper decides to give the GG a ring. "One more time," he asks, "after all, everything worked out for the best last time round, eh?"

This is a strategic move, yes, but I believe it's only the first step and not the endgame.

See, if the government learned anything from its last year in power, it understands that it does indeed have a lot of power. None more than when the House isn't sitting. Mr. Harper is never so popular than when he's not defending his government and its policies (or lack thereof) in the House. Rather, he looks better when he's on trade missions, or announcing money for projects via stimulus funds, or even (strangely enough) singing.

Through prorogation, the government effectively buys 2 months of time in which they can set the publicity agenda through vehicles like "Canada's Economic Action Plan" in which taxpayer's money is used to promote the government, while the opposition parties must use their own money to get any airtime. And if (and when) they do, this conveniently allows for the PMO to send out one if its infamous "Alerte-Info-Alert" emails to Tory MPs and supporters which outlines talking points to defend/dismiss any criticism. And, of course, to fundraise for more money into the Conservative's election war chest.

Ibbitson, in the article linked to above, refers to a statement made by an anonymous government official, who notes:
"... the government wanted to give itself time and breathing room to think through how to manage the economy as it emerges from recession and to put in place a long-term strategy for balancing the budget."
I believe him/her.

But only because I've seen this before. In essence, s/he is saying:
"The government has learned its lesson from last year: the 2008 economic update was much too hasty a policy-cum-political document to be (at all) effective. We had just barely recovered from fighting an election campaign and we didn't realize how seriously the economic crisis was going to affect Canada. We were rash; we didn't think things through.

This time will be different.

This time we can design a budget that much more discretely aligns our political motives with one more year of stimulus spending, while beginning to cut programs under a facade of fiscal responsibility. This time we can create a document that much more effectively traps the opposition parties into either supporting us or being woefully embarrassed. This time, if they don't support us, it will be they who loses the public support, they who cause a $300 million election, and ultimately they who provide us with the means to finally win a majority government. And they won't have that pesky coalition option to fall back on.

This time, we can take the time to get it right."
Whoa. Cynical much?

Maybe. But yet I keep seeing in the media that the government intends to continue spending stimulus funds through 2011, and yet introduce a leaner budget in 2010. That the government has no intention of increasing taxes but rather intends to freeze or cut spending in order to get the deficit under control.

Something has got to give.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Equity weighs in on BC

Arden R. Ryshpan

Ms. Ryshpan penned a letter

CAEA Executive Director Arden R. Ryshpan wrote a letter to BC's Premier Gordon Campbell about those stinking cuts to Arts & Culture. She writes:
"The budget update delivered by Minister Colin Hansenearlier this month makes no particular reference to arts and culture and certainly doesn’t explain why you see the need to cut funding by over 90%. This is a completely disproportionate share of the burden. When times are tough, we all recognize the need for restraint, but the cuts you propose are far more severe than mere fiscal prudence. Furthermore, Minister Hansen suggests that while it is expected that the B.C. economy will shrink by 2.9% in 2009, he is anticipating 1.9% growth in the next year (...) so it is unclear to us why such draconian cuts are necessary in our sector."
Indeed. Although I didn't realize that the government had acutally forcast growth in 2010. Brutal.

Now, even if the government's economic prediction pans out (which is not certain), it doesn't necessarily follow that the government's revenues will increase along with the economy. This is because corporations can wait up to five years to write off losses in their tax returns. This is why governments still must budget deficits even after the economy grows after a recession.

Nevertheless, the point is moot because these cuts were not about the money. The relatively small amount of money the government saves by virtually eliminating its Arts & Culture budget barely makes a dent in its projected deficits. It's just too little money to make a difference.

And, Ms. Ryshpan recognizes this:
"Every other government in Canada is looking at the Creative Economy as a way to revive dying industrial and resource-based economies, and the arts are a driving force in that new landscape. At a time when your government is investing tens of millions of dollars in other industries, the cuts in arts funding represents a tiny percentage of your overall expenditures and yet means so very much to our industry. (emphasis mine) I would ask that your government explain to the thousands and thousands of artists in the province why their jobs are not important but other people’s are."
More to the point: how can the BC government justify gutting an entire industry for the sake of political image?

You can read Ms. Ryshpan's letter in full here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Impact and Change

What's the best way to get the public on your side?

Kim Catrall
Over at the Next Stage, there's a video link to a news item on Global BC about the recent cuts to funding for Arts & Culture in BC's provincial budget. Check it out.

Three questions should immediately pop up for all artists concerned about BC after viewing this item:
  1. Why did this story air?
  2. How effective was it?
  3. How do we get more stories like this on air?
After watching the story, you realize that the reason why Global took an interest is because Kim Catrall got on board and criticized the BC government for its excessive cuts to Arts & Culture.

Some would be annoyed that the only reason that this issue has made it to air on a major network was because a celebrity mentioned it. Not me. I think this is great news.

If you recall during the last Federal election, Arts & Culture became an issue (and made it to the national debates for the first time in history) only after prominient Québec artists criticized the PM for $45M in funding cuts, made months earlier. The PM responded, and the rest is history.

What local arts groups need to do now is try to figure out how to get more celebrities on board. With the 2010 Olympics only months away, and Vancouver (and BC) becoming increasingly in the spotlight, this may be just the opportunity we've been waiting for... I'll get back to this in a minute.

The other detail about the story that I noticed is that Global also spent extra time, energy and money to profile how local groups (like Carousel Theatre) will be impacted by the funding cuts. This is significant when you consider how much easier it would have been to broadcast a 15-second bit featuring Catrall's comments and then move on. The question is: why did they bother? Was it just good reporting? Does Global have a proclivity for focusing on the "human" angle? Or, is it something else entirely...

Well, maybe. Global TV (along with fellow broadcasters CBC, CTV and A-Channel) is embroiled in a major public relations battle with cable providers Rogers, Bell and Telus. At issue is whether the broadcasters should be able to charge the cable providers for access to their programming. You may have seen 'Save Local TV' commercials or clicked on their website. What's important to note about this conflict is that the broadcasters (especially Global, which needs the extra income most desperately) are furiously branding themselves as the champions of local television, and by extension, local communities.

I see the possibility for a mutually beneficial relationship...

What's happening in BC right now is an underground movement to build momentum and help get the public on the side of artists and cultural workers. As more events are planned and executed in support of culture -- like last week's Art Strike -- two publicity objectives need to pursued and met.

First, there needs to be celebrity voices, or the voices of prominent members of the community, on side and (if possible) on sight. This makes the event sexy to the broadcasters.

Second, any and all press releases, backgrounders, etc., need to start angling the story so that it's not just about the government cutting funding.
Our story needs to be about protecting local culture and local communities. Our story needs to mirror the messaging and the language that the broadcasters themselves are using to demonize the cable providers. Our story needs to give the broadcasters a reason to move the story up to near the top of the news, or a reason to do an "in-depth" feature.

See... whether we artists realize this or not, this issue is more important than just the state of culture in BC. This is about how important culture is to Canadian politicians. If this issue gets legs -- if national outrage can start to mimic the same momentum that was seen in the 2007 Federal election -- then maybe we can stop this brutal political habit of unfair cuts to the Arts to sustain an image of fiscal responsibility. I've written before that the only reason why Arts & Culture suffer the deepest budget cuts is because it appeals to a certain constituency. It only serves to create an image of "toughness" and "hard choices" but it really doesn't affect the bottom line.

The situation in BC is dire, but there is real opportunity to get some traction and support for this issue. There are the Olympics in only a few short months, and the eyes of the world will be upon us. There are major broadcasters that could could be sympathetic to our cause. There are prominent (read: famous) voices that could sing out on our behalf.

If politicians lose more capital by cutting the arts instead of defending them, then there's no further reason to see those cuts happen in the future. Simple as that.

Now go make some noise.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The War on Culture


Artists must find a way to avoid being collateral damage of deficit budgets

Praxis Theatre's recent post concerning the insane funding cuts to BC's Arts Sector got me thinking about the newest fad in Canadian politics: the war on culture.

Was it only last year that arts funding actually became an issue in a national election? And didn't the artists all rally together (under the lead of Québec) to make enough noise so that the Conservatives were once again hamstrung with another minority government? Did we not see the birth of the Department of Culture and the phoenix-like resurgence of The Wrecking Ball onto the national scene?

And yet, here we are again, not even a year later and arts funding has become a major casualty in a political marketing campaign.

Er... you mean "casualty due to a recession budget," don't you Aaron?

No, I don't. Look at the numbers. At the very worst (and there always are, and will continue to be, many different and contradictory numbers tossed around where arts funding is concerned), there will $17.25 million cut in core arts funding this year. In the face of $2.8 billion projected deficit, what's $17M?

It's nothing. It's a drop in the bucket. It doesn't make any financial sense. In other words, it's political.

Where other industries in BC are looking at an average of 7% cuts in funding, the arts sector is looking at reductions of 80-90%. And this is an industry that continually makes the most with the least in terms of dollars. Why are we always the punching bag?

Charles Campbell, of The Tyee, makes a compelling argument for fighting back. But, other than a couple of posts, all is quiet on the Western (blog) Front. Why are we content to continue to be the punching bag?

... Mind you, I don't follow a lot of BC based theatre blogs, so please point me in the right direction if you know of some hot-headed responses to BC's September Budget update. Thx.

The point is, however, until we can figure out why politicians find it more expedient to obliterate arts funding rather than defend it, we're going to continue to be casualties on this new war on culture.

Answering my own question, the Alliance for Arts and Culture seems pretty righteous to me.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Oh, office FWD'd email... you make my day

Some lighter fare for the Labour Day long weekend

This email, subject name "Brilliant" is pretty self-explanatory. I hope this makes your long weekend folks. Happy BBQ'ing!
I was going to share this with a line like, "It's crazy how many of these thoughts I've had." But after doing a Google search to find out who wrote it, it's evident that hundreds of bloggers have already shared it and said the exact same thing and that perhaps it's universality is what makes it brilliant.

Anyway, it's funny. Enjoy.

Random thoughts from 25-35 year olds:

- I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Ghetto" routing option.

-More often than not, when someone is telling me a story all I can think about is that I can't wait for them to finish so that I can tell my own story that's not only better, but also more directly involves me.

-Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.

-I don't understand the purpose of the line, "I don't need to drink to have fun." Great, no one does. But why start a fire with flint and sticks when they've invented the lighter?

-Have you ever been walking down the street and realized that you're going in the complete opposite direction of where you are supposed to be going? But instead of just turning a 180 and walking back in the direction from which you came, you have to first do something like check your watch or phone or make a grand arm gesture and mutter to yourself to ensure that no one in the surrounding area thinks you're crazy by randomly switching directions on the sidewalk.

-That's enough, Nickelback.

-I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.

-Is it just me, or are 80% of the people in the "people you may know"
feature on Facebook people that I do know, but I deliberately choose not to be friends with?

-Do you remember when you were a kid, playing Nintendo and it wouldn't work? You take the cartridge out, blow in it and that would magically fix the problem. Every kid in America did that, but how did we all know how to fix the problem? There was no internet or message boards or FAQ's. We just figured it out. Today's kids are soft.

-There is a great need for sarcasm font.

-Sometimes, I'll watch a movie that I watched when I was younger and suddenly realize I had no idea what the f was going on when I first saw it.

-I think everyone has a movie that they love so much, it actually becomes stressful to watch it with other people. I'll end up wasting 90 minutes shiftily glancing around to confirm that everyone's laughing at the right parts, then making sure I laugh just a little bit harder (and a millisecond earlier) to prove that I'm still the only one who really, really gets it.

-How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

-I would rather try to carry 10 plastic grocery bags in each hand than take 2 trips to bring my groceries in.

- I think part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.

-The only time I look forward to a red light is when I’m trying to finish a text.

- A recent study has shown that playing beer pong contributes to the spread of mono and the flu. Yeah, if you suck at it.

- LOL has gone from meaning, "laugh out loud" to "I have nothing else to say".

- I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

- Answering the same letter three times or more in a row on a Scantron test is absolutely petrifying.

- Whenever someone says "I'm not book smart, but I'm street smart", all I hear is "I'm not real smart, but I'm imaginary smart".

- How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear what they said?

- I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars teams up to prevent a dick from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers!

- Every time I have to spell a word over the phone using 'as in'
examples, I will undoubtedly draw a blank and sound like a complete idiot. Today I had to spell my boss's last name to an attorney and said "Yes that's G as in...(10 second lapse)..ummm...Goonies"

-What would happen if I hired two private investigators to follow each other?

- While driving yesterday I saw a banana peel in the road and i instinctively swerved to avoid it...thanks Mario Kart.

- MapQuest really needs to start their directions on #5. Pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

- Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

- I find it hard to believe there are actually people who get in the shower first and THEN turn on the water.

-Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.

-I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired.

- Bad decisions make good stories

-Whenever I'm Facebook stalking someone and I find out that their profile is public I feel like a kid on Christmas morning who just got the Red Ryder BB gun that I always wanted. 546 pictures? Don't mind if I do!

- Is it just me or do high school girls get sluttier & sluttier every year?

-If Carmen San Diego and Waldo ever got together, their offspring would probably just be completely invisible.

-Why is it that during an ice-breaker, when the whole room has to go around and say their name and where they are from, I get so incredibly nervous? Like I know my name, I know where I'm from, this shouldn't be a problem....

-You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you've made up your mind that you just aren't doing anything productive for the rest of the day.

-Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after DVDs? I don't want to have to restart my collection.

-There's no worse feeling than that millisecond you're sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.

-I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten page research paper that I swear I did not make any changes to.

- "Do not machine wash or tumble dry" means I will never wash this ever.

-I hate being the one with the remote in a room full of people watching TV. There's so much pressure. 'I love this show, but will they judge me if I keep it on? I bet everyone is wishing we weren't watching this. It's only a matter of time before they all get up and leave the room. Will we still be friends after this?'

-I hate when I just miss a call by the last ring (Hello? Hello?
Dammit!), but when I immediately call back, it rings nine times and goes to voicemail. What'd you do after I didn't answer? Drop the phone and run away?

- I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste.

-When I meet a new girl, I'm terrified of mentioning something she hasn't already told me but that I have learned from some light internet stalking.

-I like all of the music in my iTunes, except when it's on shuffle, then I like about one in every fifteen songs in my iTunes.

-Why is a school zone 20 mph? That seems like the optimal cruising speed for pedophiles...

- As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers, but no matter what the mode of transportation, I always hate cyclists.

-Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

-It should probably be called Unplanned Parenthood.

-I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.

-Even if I knew your social security number, I wouldn't know what do to with it.

-Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, hitting the G-spot, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but I’d bet my ass everyone can find and push the Snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time every time...

-My 4-year old son asked me in the car the other day "Dad what would happen if you ran over a ninja?" How the hell do I respond to that?

-It really pisses me off when I want to read a story on CNN.com and the link takes me to a video instead of text.

-I wonder if cops ever get pissed off at the fact that everyone they drive behind obeys the speed limit.

-I think the freezer deserves a light as well.

-I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Lites than Kay

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Did I call it?... Maybe not

Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark

Spider-Man musical to resume production

According to MTV's Splash Page, Spider-Man will be hitting the Great White Way after all. From the report:
According to Variety, production on "Turn Off The Dark" could resume as early as this week or as late as next week.

No official comments have been made by the show's producers, who suspended the musical due to "a cash-flow problem" in August, but Variety's report cites rumors around the theater industry that "Spider-Man" will swing back into action shortly.
However, despite what I predicted in Monday's post, MTV goes on to say:
As for who saved "Spider-Man," the obvious guess is the Walt Disney Company, who recently acquired Marvel Entertainment in a $4 billion deal. But the musically-minded entity is apparently not responsible for "Turn off the Dark's" salvation, according to the report.
Then... who is responsible? According to a snarky report from the NY Post's Michael Reidl:
Bono's too smart to put his own money in the show, but word on the street is that he's tapped into his vast network of rich friends and business associates to restart production.

On the lighter side, here's some video from the musical's open casting auditions (courtesy MTV):

And here's G4 Tech TV's analysis of what Disney ownership might mean for Marvel:

More responses can be found on Hero Complex.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Disney owns Marvel Comics

Mickey just bought Spiderman for $4B

Marvel charactersFrom today's Globe and Mail:
The Walt Disney Co. (DIS-N) said Monday it is buying Marvel Entertainment Inc. (MVL-N) for $4-billion (U.S.) in cash and stock, bringing characters like Iron Man and Spider-Man into the family of Mickey Mouse and WALL-E.
Not sure what to make of this yet...

I'm thinking The Incredibles crossover with the Fantastic Four maybe?

Maybe not, but Broadway Spider-Man's cash-flow troubles may just have been solved.

Friday, August 28, 2009

I have great friends

All of a sudden my email was filled with Facebook notifications

I import this blog to my Facebook profile automatically. Generally, if I do an interesting post, I'll get more comments on FB than on my blog. But, in most cases, there's not too much activity on either format.

That is, until Wednesday's post was imported to my profile.

Below are some of the responses to that post. I feel like I need to share them with the wider blogosphere because 1) they reminded me that I'm not alone with these feelings, and 2) other artists feeling the same shit can benefit from my friends' wisdom.

I just wanted to thank you all for reading and responding, and how much it meant to me.


might need a good vacation somewhere new and something that will inspire - India maybe... become a yogi..:)

Dig a new well my friend.

Can I just say I relate? You're right, getting stuck in the past is not a good place to be. But recognizing how where you are is different than where you want to be is a good thing.

In my experience it all comes and goes in waves. Much like life. No sense stressing when the tide is going out, just trust that it will come in again.

I totally relate too... But one thing I've found helpful is to not give myself the option of waiting for creative inspiration (which frankly, for me, rarely comes) and to treat my passions like a job. I try to write something. Every day. Whether I want to or not.

check out http://www.dailyom.com/ You can subscribe and get a "daily om" emailed to you each day. They're freaky with their timing, things I'm feeling or thinking about (or stressing about) seem to be the next day's topic.

I can relate too... What I found familiar - besides being discontented with joe-jobs, that's what I always call them too! :) - was how I compare the present self/situation with past triumphs/failures - for me, it is not very helpful as it results in alot of "I should's", and takes me away from what is happening in the present.

There is a serious tendency in this profession to forget that we are humans first and performers second. It is impossible to give anything to your art or your job if you haven't anything left in you to give. ...It's hard to be a professional story teller if you don't take some time to generate a few stories of your own. Live your life. See other peoples' work from time to time to remind your self what you enjoy about theatre and what you'd like to change. But live your life. How else are you going learn what it is you have to say?
This one takes the cake:
I think you need one of these.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The well is dry

What the hell is up with me, lately?

I'm trying to own my current bout of creative malaise. I'm trying to investigate why I feel so tired and uninspired lately. Why I've stopped writing. Why I feel like I have nothing to offer.

It's weird. I don't know how to answer these questions.

I'm not depressed or sad or anything. In fact, outside of my creative life, things have been better than ever. I love my wife, our house, my family and, well, I've had worse joe-jobs.

I'm a little frustrated about my lack of progress in my creative/producing endeavors as of late. And more than a little nostalgic for days of yore. By end of August in 2006, I had completed 2 acting gigs, 2 directing gigs, received 2 grants, a reading for my play and had the rest of the year and my next season already mapped out. In 2009, I've done one acting gig and received one grant... and very little sits on the horizon.

Eeyuck. I don't want to be that guy. I don't want to be stuck in the past. I hate thinking about that shit, and I'm sorry that I wrote it down.

But I'm trying to own it. So there it sits in my post.

My biggest concern right now is that I feel locked in by a number of factors. Yes, my joe-job is not terrible--but it's not good either. It pays well, it's stupid easy, but it has nothing to do with what I want to be doing with my life and will not lead me there. At the same time, I have more responsibilities than I did in my twenties (family, mortgage, etc.), and I can't just quit and hope that something better comes along. I'm not sure if there is something better: we all know that artists need supplementary income. Do I want to go back to waiting tables? Hell no. Do I want to teach? No -- that's not a secondary job, that's another career entirely. I don't know what I want to do.

I also feel locked in by my artistic choices. I feel like whenever things get rocky, I drop everything and move on to something new. Which is irresponsible and wasteful. I want to follow through. But at the same time, I'm spinning my wheels on this current thing. WTF am I supposed to do? I'm afraid if I try break my bad habit, I'm going stay stuck in the same creative void for even longer. Another year? Two?


Before starting this post, I checked out my very first post on this blog, and two things caught my eye. I wrote,
Another word about this blog. About 2 or 3 years ago, my good buddy Shaun told me that all he wants to do is wander the earth and spread righteousness. I'm gonna try to emulate that here.
And then I quoted from my superhero play:
"There are two kinds of people in this world: those who might imagine a whole other, fantastic reality from the world we know… and those who participate in that reality."
-- Shady Character (Episode 2)
What happened to that guy?

Monday, August 24, 2009

In defence of Canadian Heathcare

GDP Spending on Healthcare

Interesting math concerning our socialist... I mean, 'single-payer' system...

Please forgive this post, for I make a lot of big assumptions and generalizations below.

If you're like me, you might feel somewhat divided about President Obama's efforts to reform the American Healthcare system. Yes... you want him to succeed, you believe that he's doing the right thing... for Americans. But at the same time, what he's really advocating is a two-tiered system, something that I'm profoundly against, here in Canada.

But I think that a person can be both pro-AmericanHealthCareReform and pro-CanadianUniversalHealthCare at the same time, because their system is so much shittier than ours.

Forget the GDP arguement. It's often repeated that Americans spend a higher percentage of their country's GDP on healthcare than any other industrialized nation. But that doesn't really mean anything to anyone. The real questions are how much do I spend on healthcare, am I getting value for my money, and are others getting better value for less?

It's suprisingly complicated to try to get answers for any of these questions. Trying to figure out how much an average Canadian spends on healthcare is difficult because spending is based on taxation, and taxation in Canada is progressive (meaning that your income tax percentages differ based on how much you make -- American taxation is also progressive BTW.) We also have sales taxes and corporate taxes, which means that there are pools of money going towards healthcare that aren't coming directly from your wages (some may argue this point, though). Finally, because healthcare is administered provincially rather than federally, there's no real national percentage of how much of a Canadian taxpayer's dollar is invested into health.

As such, if you're not a professional statistician and you're only armed with Google and some basic math skills, any answers you'll find will be way over-simplified. I'm not a professional statistician, and my math skills are a little suspect, but apparently I had some time on my hands, so I did a little digging.

Wikipedia has nice little compartive chart in its Taxation in Canada page that lists average Income Tax rates in different countries. The below info is from that chart --

In 2005, a Canadian who was:
Single with no children, paid 31.6%
Married with 2 children, paid 21.5%

In 2005, an American who was:
Single with no children, paid 29.1%
Married with 2 children, paid 11.9% (wow, no wonder they have deficit problems)

Now, this doesn't mean much unless you know how much income you're paying tax on. According to Statistics Canada, the average household income in Canada in 2006 was $53,634. Meanwhile, the median US household income in 2005 was approximately $46,000, at least according to WikiAnswers.

Okay... some of these sources are legit, and some are less so. I reference two different years when comparing annual household incomes. There's no accounting for the difference in currencies. But, for brevity's sake, let's call it even.

Using the above numbers, simple math tells me that --

In 2005, a Canadian who was:
Single with no children, paid about $16,948 in personal income taxes
Married with 2 children, paid about $11,531 in personal income taxes

Now... how much of that went towards healthcare? Because I live in Ontario, I'm going to use this jurisdiction as a base. In 2009, Ontario is projected to spend 43 cents of every tax dollar on healthcare. In 2008, it was 46 cents.

If we round this to about 45% of the provincial budget, and we pretend that sales/corporate/miscellaneous taxes don't exist, we can see that this equals about:
$7,627 for single persons, spent on healthcare annually
$5,189 for families with 2 kids, spent on healthcare annually

How does this compare to America?

Well, I found this tidbit on About.com:
The federal government tracks average spending on health insurance for people with job-based coverage. The most recent figures are from 2005, and indicate that the average individual's job-based premiums were $3,991 that year, while families spent an average of $10,728.
Something's off here... the American tax system seems to be geared towards giving families a break on taxes. But, compared to my numbers above, American families pay way more on health care coverage than do Canadians.

Futhermore, as far as I'm concerned, if you're paying job-based premiums, that's really no different from a payroll tax. It's a benefit, sure, but if that money wasn't going towards health insurance, then it would be going into that employee's wallet. Thus, I think it's only fair to add this to the Americans' average income taxes... how much was that again?

According to our numbers, in 2005, an American who was:
Single with no children, paid about $13,386 in personal income taxes, for a total of $17,377 with healthcare costs added in.
Married with 2 children, paid about $5,474 in personal income taxes, for a total of $16,202 with healthcare costs added in.

And these people are considered lucky because they have insurance through their employers.

However, these numbers (inaccurate as they are) are even more damning when you consider:
-How much I inflated the Canadian costs by not including sales or corporate tax revenue in my equations... I just assumed that healthcare is paid for entirely by Income Tax, and that's not the case at all.
-That the Canadian's tax dollars cover everyone, not just those who can afford premiums, and even those who fall upon hard times and are in most need of healthcare will still be covered.
-That the Canadian system cannot disqualify a taxpayer for "pre-existing conditions" or any other kind of nonsense.
-That all of the revenue generated for healthcare goes towards healthcare, rather than lining the pockets of insurance company execs or stockholders.

Our system is not perfect. But it's a helluva lot better than theirs.

I know this is supposed to be an arts blog. But, what more can I say when this post on Parabasis sums up this issue so much better than I ever will.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wow, did you see that storm last night???

Toronado hits GTA

Check out crazy pics and vids over at Blog TO

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The next step...

Interesting first release choice for MarvelMotionComics.com

This is pretty cool.

If I'm not able to get a proper staged version of my Superhero LIVE! play produced, pursuing something like this might be my next option.

Or... maybe pursuing something like this might lead to a proper staged version of SHL!...


Monday, August 17, 2009

A little something cool; a little something inspiring...

Back from vacation, here are some neat links

Hey kids;
Sorry I haven't blogged in a while: was on a little vacation and just got back. I never know what the protocol is for vacation non-blogging ...

... erm... that's not entirely true. This is the appropriate post while on vacation. But I worry about announcing to the world that my pad is empty whenever I take off for a few days.

But maybe that's a pre-historic attitude for a blogger in this here 21st century, digital/information age. After all when you look at somebody like Jeff Jarvis, a news-media critic and social media analyst who recently decided to blog to the world about his prostate cancer, you kind of feel like a luddite when refusing to share about your little trip to NYC. (We had a great time BTW.)

I'm totally inspired by Jeff's transparency, moreover because I don't think I could do it if I were in his shoes. I hope he has a speedy recovery... and since he lives in America, I hope like hell he's got good insurance.

On to something a little lighter...

There's quite a bit of interest bubbling about James Cameron's newest movie since Titanic: Avatar. I hadn't heard very much about it, until my film buddy started excitingly telling me about over sushi last week. Then I come across a cool interview on the L.A. Times' Hero Complex blog. Here's part 1 and here's part 2.

My favourite portion of the whole interview is right off the top when it notes that Mr. Cameron is indeed a "Canadian" filmmaker.

... Except, when's the last time he did a Canadian film?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Big Buzz about Apple's new iTouch Tablet

Apple logo

Apparently Apps will eventually replace websites

Before now, I had never heard of Apple's iTouch Tablet, but Jason Schwartz has. He's an investment strategist with a pretty good record on predicting trends in the tech world.

According to Jason, the soon-to-be-released iTouch Tablet -- basically an iPhone that has devoured an Amazon Kindle -- is going to start (yet) another revolution in how we utitilize the World Wide Web.

To wit:
The iTouch Tablet is about to change society as we know it. The demand for this product is going to overwhelm Apple.
(Sigh... and I haven't even started a Twitter account yet...)

Jason provides 4 reasons for his hyperbolic conclusion. The one that interested me most was his prediction that people will start to prefer Web Apps over websites to access the Internet. He says:
We are witnessing a transition in the way the Internet is used. Mobile content requires a tailor made user experience that is not efficiently delivered by the traditional website model. Although we have grown accustomed to navigating the Web by browsing websites on our PC, consumers are showing an affinity for the App Store model...

The trend is in place that shows consumers will desire an app rather than visit a website. Perhaps we will one day see that apps are more popular than actual websites.
You can read Jason's full blog post here.

I have no idea whether he's right or wrong... I can't afford an iPhone, and I'm pretty sure the iTouch Tablet will be waaaayyy out of my league.

Before Apple ignites the Web 3.0 revolution, maybe it can start by addressing issues of affordability first.

Happy Harbour Comics EdmontonIn a totally unrelated story, a big congratulations over to Jay Bardyla and Happy Harbour Comics in Edmonton for being nominated for the 2009 Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award at the San Diego Comic Con. This is a world wide competition, and Happy Harbour has been nominated for this prestigious award twice!

Happy Harbour produced the 2007 production of Superhero LIVE! at the Edmonton Fringe festival, and is a huge community organizer. It's not question of why such a fantastic company has been nominated, but rather of when they're finally going to bring the hardware home.

Congrats guys!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Even though we've seen this before... WTF!!!

So blatant, so appalling, so... typical

I haven't really been inspired with righteous political anger on this blog since parliament was prorogued last winter. Time to fire it up again.

Montreal's Divers/Cité festival was denied a $155,000 grant from the federal government's Marquee Tourism Events Program (MTEP), part of the economic stimulus plan.

Divers/Cité features international performers that are homosexual. This year, the festival is scheduled to run July 26 - August 2. Festival organizers found out about losing out on the stimulus money on Tuesday. Yeah... this Tuesday.

This, after festival organizers were assured by federal civil servants at Industry Canada that the Divers/Cité application had met all the MTEP criteria, and was only waiting for final approval from Industry Minister Tony Clement's office.

Clement, who just recently took over the reigns of this program from Tourism Minister Diane Ablonczy, claims that issues of "regional fairness" were the reason why the festival lost out. Since approximately $42M has already been awarded to festivals based in Quebec, he felt he needed to spread the money around.

Couple of things:

1) MTEP is a $100 Million program. The 150K that Divers/Cité requested was just a drop in the bucket. Even if nearly half of the kitty had already been spent in Quebec (about the same amount that has been allocated in Ontario, BTW), would funding Divers/Cité really have made all that much of a difference? But, like I've written before, insignificant amounts of money seem to make no difference to this government when comes to matters of ideology.

2) Clement took over the MTEP file in a flurry of controversy when it was suggested by a Conservative backbencher that the PMO wanted to punish Ablonczy for allocating $400K to Toronto's Pride Week. Conservative MPs vehemently denied it. Even Suzanne Girard, director of Divers/Cité, sprung to the defense of the PMO, saying that right wing elements of the Conservative Party were trying to undermine the government. She said, “It could do exactly what the right wing does, which is block the whole thing and it stops.” Then, Clement confirms everyone's worst fears by yanking funding 4 days before the festival is set to begin.

3) Regional allocation for funding is nowhere to be found in the eligibility criteria for the MTEP. Criteria outlines that only events or festivals that can prove that they attract large numbers of tourists could apply for funding. By the government's own regulations, most of that funding would be streamlined to Ontario and Quebec... which shouldn't be an issue since the demise of these provinces' manufacturing sectors are at the core of the recession, they need the most help.

To me, Clement's claims for trying to check stimulus funds earmarked for Quebec under the guise of "regional fairness" reads like CPC code for "we're just trying to avoid another sponsorship scandal." Which is a sad cover for a blatant appeasement of the Conservative base. Not only does it financially slewfoot an openly homosexual festival, it also addresses other key CPC base points: less public funds for the arts and less money for Quebec.

But really, $150K is nothing. It's really hardly anything to the government's stimulus budget. The stimulus program for infrastructure alone is $12 Billion. GM's Canadian division got a $10.5 Billion bailout.

To me, this is just another sad attempt to appease those in the CPC who have been alienated by the government's... well, governance. But pulling $150K away from one gay festival, when a much larger, more prolific gay festival in Toronto got nearly triple that amount just a few weeks before... seems to me a pretty weak gesture.

That... and a totally disgusting and shameful way to conduct business.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Great Expectations

What does Josh Bell on a street corner teach us?

Recently I got a chain email about taking the time to appreciate art. The email referred to a social experiment that the Washington Post conducted in 2007.

In a nutshell, the Post commissioned violinist Josh Bell to play classical classics on his $3.5 million Stradivarius in the middle of a subway station for change. The question was: would anybody notice?

You can read about how the experiment played out here.

The email got me thinking about theatre producers and our choices of venues when we want to make new work. It made wonder about taking audience types into account.

For example, whenever the Fringe comes into town, I invariably see a Chekov or a Moliere in the program. But is this the right venue for this kind of show? A typical Fringe audience is looking for a specific type of experience. But the same goes for a Soulpepper audience, or a Stratford audience, or a Tarragon audience. Each is particular, and each is looking for something different.

(The wonderful thing about the Fringe is that you can produce anything you want -- I get that. I'm only using it as an example because it's current.)

In Washington, no one stopped to appreciate Bell's music precisely because of the choice of venue. That doesn't make his playing any less brilliant, but I believe the experience of the art is an integral part of the art itself. The audience's expectations are a huge part of that equation.

It's the paradox of community or "amatuer" theatre. Some of the most wonderful theatre can be created in this setting because both the company AND the audience wills it to be brilliant.

Choose your venue; choose your tribe. Knowing your audience means knowing what its expectations are predisposed to be.

If you can connect with your audience, you can both mould those expections and you can exceed them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Update on "throttling" hearings

Key points of the CRTC Hearings thus far

Check out this great summary on Michael Geist's blog about six key revelations to come out of the CRTC hearings that I mentioned in my last post.

This one surprised me:
The rate of network traffic growth is slowing.
This one enraged me:
Each day brought new and surprising revelations about how little ISPs tell their customers about their traffic management practices. By far the most egregious was Rogers, which admitted that it charges tiered pricing for faster upload speeds but that all tiers were throttled to the same speed when using P2P. In other words, the Extreme subscriber who pays $59.99 per month and is promised fast upload speeds (1 Mbps) actually gets the same upload speed as the Express subscriber who pays $46.99 per month and is promised upload speeds of 512 kbps.
And this one made me laugh:
The ISPs seemed surprised that the Commission regularly asked about the privacy impact of throttling and deep-packet inspection.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Making Money on the Web

Indie artists, new-media journalism and DPI

Yes, the Internet is changing everything.

Following up on last week's post, my buddy Adrian emailed me to discuss some of the ideas in the post in more depth. He writes:
I think things are also in transition, and the piece speaks to that in a way - the 'answers' have not yet come out... the problems and opportunities in the democratization of the arts via the web. It's kind of exciting to be working at such a turning point; it's tough, but exciting to see the conversations happening, people inventing and creating ... like that indie singer/songwriter who managed to make 19k in 11 hours using Twitter, and basically just being creative. But she ended up making the money on merchandise - shirts mostly. Not selling her music. This seems to be the bottom line - the art is a promotional tool - you have to sell something which is not in endless supply (ie: an mp3). But, these can still be creative products which are an extension of your art.
Is this new arts business model? Selling items that are associated with your art while giving your art away for free? Then, magically, Trent Reznor weighed in on the same topic, in entirely different conversation elsewhere in the blogosphere:
The point is this: music IS free whether you want to believe that or not. Every piece of music you can think of is available free right now a click away. This is a fact - it sucks as the musician BUT THAT'S THE WAY IT IS (for now). So... have the public get what they want FROM YOU instead of a torrent site and garner good will in the process...
What's interesting to me is how everyone is trying to rethink traditional models of monetizing their practice in the age of the Internet... and I'm not just talking about the culture sector.

Case in point: journalism. Rebecca over at The Art of the Business points out an insightful article about the future of arts journalism today by András Szántó. He notes:
Amid the doom and gloom about arts journalism [...] innovations offer a glimmer of hope. There is no going back to the cultural and advertising dominance that newspapers once enjoyed. We should be mindful that the emerging landscape offers asymmetrical odds for art criticism (which can survive by the labour of individual writers) and arts reporting (which requires institutional firepower and protections). Writers will struggle to reclaim the access and influence they achieved with the backing of prestigious journalism brands. Even so, the faint outlines of a new system are starting to emerge.

This is a great article about the future of one sector of journalism. Everyone knows that this industry is under tremendous pressure, and a "new model" needs to be created. Although, nobody is quite sure what that model needs to be. There are various theories -- Jeff Jarvis recently wrote a book about basing all new economic models on Google's business model. In short: focus on networks rather than traditional distribution models and shift to an economy of abundance rather than one of scarcity.

An economy of abundance assumes that you can charge the least amount for a product or service by making it available to a nearly unlimited source of buyers (or users) via the World Wide Web. Very interesting theory. But... what if the access to the Web itself becomes limited?

This brings me to Deep Packet Inspection or DPI, an Internet issue garnering so much attention that the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has dedicated an entire website to it.

What is it? Essentially it's technology that allows Internet Service Providers' (ISPs), or anyone else I suppose, to examine web transmissions to figure out what kind of content is being sent. Today the Big 3 Canadian ISPs (Bell, Rogers & Telus) are defending their positions to the CRTC to use DPI technology. From what I understand, they want to disuade peer-to-peer file sharing. Their arguement is that it allows a small share of users to eat up a disproportionate amount of bandwidth.

Now, privacy issues aside, why would this affect artists', or anybody else's, attempts to monetize their practice on the Web? Well, DPI technology basically allows ISPs to "throttle" users at their own discretion. In other words, if your ISP believes you are using too much Internet, they can and will slow down your connection. And, apparently they can do this even if you bought a package marketed as "unlimited" or if you are using a small indie ISP, like TekSavvy or Execulink. If you want to know more about why and other politics surrounding this issue, check out this cool, informative post on Technology, Thoughts and Trinkets.

And, if you were planning on producing a play that, say, required you to upload a large amount of data to the Web in order for a variety of users to stream the production live... well, you'd be concerned about ISPs limiting users' access to the Internet too.

On the other hand, there are ways around everything, it seems. For you hackers out there, this is a link you might find interesting...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Looking for a designer

Plus a couple of other cool things to check out

Hey kids;
If you're a cool designer and looking for something challenging and new to work on, contact me.

Seriously: I'm shifting into heavy grant writing mode, and am hoping to produce a workshop of my play REALITY. I'm looking for someone who likes to play with lights, set, and costumes (all at the same time, please) and is based in Toronto. I've always had heavy design elements in my previous work, and I like to give designers lots of creative freedom. Plus, I really like meeting and working with new people.

That being said, I'm already working with a web designer and a video content designer, so as we develop our design concept, we all need to work together. Oh, and remember, all my big plans are contingent on funding etc. etc. (you know the drill).

Speaking of my web guy, he just updated his website: new design, new sections, new extention demos, and an interactive "style chooser". Check it out.

On the other side of the country, one of my favourite bloggers has just released a new e-book on social marketing for arts. Less than 20 bones, and worth every penny. But don't take my word for it: check out this glowing endorsement from Simon over at the Next Stage.

Back here in TO, the Fringe is almost here. You can find all of the play listings on their website, and other info (like getting tix, etc.) However, if you're looking for a extensive list of previews, check out Mooney on Theatre's ever-growing Coming to Fringe 2009 section on her blog.

Oh, and yes this maybe old news but... have y'all checked out The Room yet?


Friday, June 19, 2009

Is there any comparison? Part II

Mr. Ellis weighs in

A little background: Adrian Ellis and I go way back to High School, but have only reconnected in the past couple of years when I moved out to T.O. He's a wicked cool artist that composes for film but also composes and does sound design for theatre, most recently Staged & Confused's successful production of The Crackwalker.

Those of you that are interested in the nitty-gritty of the film composer's creative process should definitely check out his blog The Music Creative. I think its fascinating, and I totally dug his latest post on Music for Theatre. Oh, and you can also follow him on Twitter, you know, if you're into that sort of thing.

Aside from the fact that I think he's a righteous dude (and that we're planning to do some collaboration on the next incarnation of Superhero Live! as soon as I get this REALITY itch out of my system), I bring all this up because he wrote me an email the other day about my recent post that I wanted to share with y'all.

Check it out:
Hey Aaron,

You should open up your blog for non-Blogger users to comment!! ;)

(Aaron says: this is now fixed, by the by. Anybody who wants to post comments is now free to do so. Thx for the heads up, dude.)

I actually think this is a fascinating topic. Here are my thoughts:

Slimy producers vs. greedy wanna-be's

'If you build it, they will come'.

The producers see a need, and a cheap way to create programming that the public consumes like fresh baked double chocolate frosted cupcakes. As with most things that people lament about our consumerist, hyper-capitalist world, it is the public's acceptance, nay, requirement and hunger for entertainment in the form of sadism. They love to see people persevere and overcome, but even more, they love to see someone fail. This is what I find truly disturbing, not one opportunistic producer or fame-hungry stars in waiting, but the fact that people desire this highly negative, judgmental form of entertainment.

Why do they do it

Very very very very few artists have even the faintest clue about the music or film industry. There is an incredible deficit of proper and realistic education about the ins and outs, pitfalls of 'The Biz', and resources and strategies for success. Instead, people are transfixed by the myths and false promises of the industry - the big bucks and fame, that somehow, magically and by their (supposed) talent, they will be found, recognized, and in every way shepherded (bum patted) to success. Beyond this, even if an artist is somewhat educated about these things, they are not in any way prepared for what to do when 'it' does happen (you've won the lottery, now what?). A career is an incredibly difficult thing to manage, and even if you 'make it' a lot can happen. To make it you have to have a plan, and a sustained career has to have a plan.

So to answer your questions:

I'm trying to figure out what drives people to Reality-TV, despite the overwhelming odds and risks associated with it. Is it the money? Is it the lure of fame? Is it something else?

What drive artists into our profession, despite the overwhelming odds and risks associated with it? Is just passion? Is it the lure of fame? Or is it something else...

I think it's ignorance of the realities of the industry, and moreover, of the nature of reality tv. Recently, filmmaker friends of mine wanted to join the 'On The Lot' program, where filmmakers 'compete' against one another in order to have a film produced by Spielberg (or something, can't remember). I said, forget it guys. They really thought it was a shot at fame.
1. It's a lottery,
2. The best do not always win
3. The producers aren't interested in making stars, they are interested in making dramatic television that retains a high viewership. They will put you in positions that will make you look terrible (by design or post-production), and at worst will cost you your integrity and any real credibility you might have. Do you think the 'winner' of this show will have real clout in Hollywood? Never. It's a joke. They really had no clue what it was really about.

People have stars in their eyes. Everyone believes they have a special talent that is unique and will be recognized. The truth is, no one cares. You have to fight tooth and nail (just like any other entreprenuer!!!) to make your art heard/seen/cared about. Go online and check out some unknown indie-bands on myspace or whatever. There are tens of THOUSANDS - and many are good, if not great! Why are they not famous? Well, they can't ALL be famous, even though they 'deserve' it.

As far as the non-reality star chasing artists are concerned? Man, it takes all types. Let's assume they know the odds of the industry. Well, you gotta still somehow believe that you are going to have a go at it and make it because of god knows what reason. Faith, I guess? Yea, some are in it for the money, some the fame... more are starting to get it that those days are probably over, but there are real ways (hello, Internet distribution/marketing) to make a living - but it's hard and will take tons of work. Me? I do it because I absolutely LOVE what I do, and I want to spend as much time as possible being creative with the BEST creative people - and that means, doing it professionally. I no longer chase fame/fortune - I know the chances are miniscule, and mostly dependent on luck. But, I do know if I bust my ass and do the best work I can, I have an ok chance of at least making a decent living doing what I love.



Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cool debate

one big umbrella

On the merits of a "Luminato Fringe"

Me and MK are chatting about the pros and cons (and the likelihood) of Luminato starting up a 'Fringe' festival.

I'm pretty sure I'm talking about issues that are way above my head, but it's still been a cool chat thus far. Anybondy else that has an opinion on the matter should weigh in. I'm a little tired of my own opinions and would love to read what other people think...

Check it out.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Is there any comparison?

Susan Boyle

Is it wrong to feel kinship with Reality stars?

While surfing, I stumbled upon this article on Yahoo! about the darker side of Reality TV.

The second line is what caught my attention:
But who is to blame when an everyday person becomes an overnight TV sensation and can't cope -- when Susan Boyle falls ill after failing to win "Britain's Got Talent" or when "American Idol" fan Paula Goodspeed, who was teased after a poor tryout, commits suicide outside the home of a judge?

It's a good question. Since most of the Reality-TV analysis I've come across in recent weeks has been framed negatively, I'll pose it this way...

Do you blame the heartless and slimy networks/producers that create the shows or do you blame those attention-starved celebrity wannabes that audition for them?

Alot of people will answer, who cares?

But when I thought about it, I couldn't help but compare these folks to regular artists - like you and me. Not in terms of talent, but rather in terms of the disdain a good portion of our society has for us (while, at the same time, they keep sampling our wares).

I mean, when you publish a report that highlights a 37% wage gap between artists and the average Canadian worker, and that nearly half of us make less that $10K per year, the ensuing public response can range from apathy to outright hostility.

I'm trying to figure out what drives people to Reality-TV, despite the overwhelming odds and risks associated with it. Is it the money? Is it the lure of fame? Is it something else?

What drive artists into our profession, despite the overwhelming odds and risks associated with it? Is just passion? Is it the lure of fame? Or is it something else...

And are the two urges related?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Back from the dead?

Hey kids;

Been a while since my last post.


I've been writing. Lots.
... and I'm kinda superstitious, and somehow got it into my head that blogging would somehow stem my creative flow.

But a couple of things that I wanted to let you know about:

1) I'm participating in a workshop this afternoon at CanStage, part of their Festival of Ideas and Creation. It's a Master Class called Projection Design, Language and Collaboration with Ben Chaisson and Beth Kates. Pretty friggin cool. Should be very useful.

2) Check out this show about Reality TV that's premiering at the Toronto Fringe this year. I'm going to check it out... I sure hope it's good.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Twitter's Rotten Day

Facebook-esque problems plagues social network

No, I'm not tweeting yet. But I know that many other bloggers do... so I thought you'd all be interested in reading about this.

Did any of you notice the problem? What did you think?

Is Twitter getting too big or "corporate" now? Is going to start to decline in popularity like Facebook?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Gig for Christie Digital Inc.

Christie Digital: Unsilent Night 2008

Wanna come check it out?

So this weekend I'm doing a few days of rehearsals and a video shoot for that gig I told you about a while back.

I could tell you more details about the new technology that Christie is developing... but then I'd have to kill you.

Well, actually, I don't know much about it yet (I find out more tomorrow). Basically it's a new video display technology, and the piece involves combining canned video and live performance. I will have to sign a "non-disclosure" agreement tomorrow morning to protect Christie's product until they start showing it off in July. But I can tell you a bit more about who's involved in the project:

The show will be directed by George Brown, Head of the Theatre Arts Department at Bradley University, Peoria, IL., and the video assets used in the show will be shot by James Ferolo, Head of the Multimedia Department at Bradley University. We have two producers from the University of Waterloo: Professor Jill Tomasson-Goodwin is the Principal Investigator (research team leader)and Gerd Hauck, who I believe is the liason between the University and Christie. It stars me and Stephanie Breton (who I will meet tomorrow).

Assuming all goes well over the next four days, there will be 1 day of 4-6 fifteen-minute performances on July 6 at the Lower Ossington Theatre. The initial set of performances on July 6 will be presented to groups of invited theatre entrepreneurs, technicians, and investors. (Christie has expressed an interest in hiring the actors on an ongoing basis for 6-8 trade shows across North America starting September 2009, for dates yet to be determined.)

When I first mentioned this gig, MK left a comment about how to get in on checking out the performance. I asked Gerd about it, and he said: "I suggest you just invite your theatre artist friends to show up at the Lower Ossington on July 6th. I’ll make sure they get in."

So, if you're interested, send me an e-mail and I'll let Gerd know.


PS. The photo above is from one of Christie's more recent projects: Unsilent Night.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Thank you Praxis Theatre!

Praxis Theatre
Several days ago, I saw this post over at Praxis' blog.

As a result, this afternoon I'll be playing with some really cool Brits and some likeminded TO artists.

I've said before, and I'll say it again: Gawd, I love the webbernet.

Thanks again guys.

Monday, May 4, 2009

What to look at?

An example of video projection in a theatrical setting

Well, in a dance setting, to be more specific.

Over the weekend, my wife and I went to check out Danceworks at Harbourfront, to see a double bill: Accidents for Every Occasion and Mischance and Fair Fortune, choreographed by Jenn Goodwin and Susie Burpee (respectively).

It was a lovely evening, and we both really enjoyed two very strong pieces of indie dance.

What was particularly interesting to me was the contrast between the two works: Accidents was a multimedia piece that incorporated projections of pre-recorded video content, while Mischance incorporated more "back-to-basics" theatrical elements (like scrims and fake blood).

Accidents used different techniques to unify the film elements with the rest of the piece: abstract images, slow motion, projections of text that timed perfectly with moments of dialogue, etc. I felt that Goodwin was successful in marrying the different elements in the production. That being said, the video in Accidents still generated the same kind of anxiety that I've felt in every other multimedia theatre piece I've seen: that I'm going to miss something cool.

It's the anxiety of "where to look" that only video-in-theatre can produce. I believe that this is due to a combination of two elements: 1) the projections are usually placed above the performers so that they don't block the pictures, and 2) video/film projections capture your attention more easily than live performance.

This second element can be problematic in a forum where the live performances should be the audience's primary focus. Well... maybe "problematic" isn't quite the right word, but it definately has an alienation effect on the audience. It's hard to get lost in the action when you're constantly wondering where you should look.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. It's a choice. And that choice was really highlighted for me when watching two different shows that explore similar themes, but use vastly different staging techniques.

And, of course, it brought be back to my project in which I've been planning to incorporate live-feed video projections... but now I'm wondering whether it's necessary.

See, I know I want to broadcast the performance on the internet (via streaming), and I want to have cameras incorporated into each and every scene - as part of the whole spectacle of "lives lived on Reality TV." But... I wonder: if that is the primary spectacle, then does having the added element of video projections add or detract from the experience?

Just because I can let the audience see the cameras' POVs, would they want to? What is the stronger choice?

I realize I'm jumping ahead of myself on this (thinking as a director/producer instead of a writer), but this does have an effect on the writing. If I want to leave myself the choice of whether or not to keep the projections, then I have to make sure that they are not integrated into the story. That the piece could be performed without projections and keep its integrity...

If anyone has any thoughts on this, I'd love to read them.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Day 5

Less creative, more administrative

And... good evening,

I would have blogged earlier, but I got caught up in the big press conference.

Today was about setting a schedule. Planning for the next stage of this bad boy. Grant deadlines and resources. And a chat with my web-dude. We had a chat about whether my idea was feasible (it is!), whether it would cost an arm and a leg (it won't... at least on the web side - the video side is another story), and whether it's really "interactive" (jury's still out on that one).

So on the last day before I go back to my joe-job, I feel good. Prez. Obama had it exactly right: "I'm happy with the progress so far, but I am not content."

More needs to be done. And it's up to me to keep working, evenings and weekends, until my next week off. End of May.

I'll keep you updated, but more on big ticket items rather than day-to-day stuff, as i go.

Good night!

Day 4

Good morning;

Sorry this post is late. I had a little back spasm last night and had to lay off of the computer for a bit. (My desk at home is NOT ergonomically sound.)

Had a pretty good day of working on my scaffold yesterday, although at about 2pm I went through a crushing wave of doubt and self-defeatism. The technical requirements of this project all of sudden felt overwhelming, and I lost my confidence.

And then my back spasmed out.

However, I chilled out for a little bit and then came back at it later in the evening, and got some good work done. My focus right now is character and story. Tech headaches can come later.

Tonight, actually. I'm meeting with my web guy tonight (postponed from last night cause of my back - thx 4 yer patience, dude), and we're going to get into it.

But not painful, woe-is-me-this-is-too-fuckin-hard details. More of an exploration of possibilities. And it's going to be fun.

I mean, seriously: if it's not fun, it's not worth doing. This is theatre for god's sake. I can be miserable at my joe-job.

More later...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Day 3

Two different stories for two different audiences

No, I didn't work on my REALITY project over the weekend. Why not? Well, 5 of the 6 boys from my BFA class were in town for a wedding. So we had a mini-reunion, some good food, and way too much to drink.

Plus, my wife and I had to finish our taxes. (We did - YAY!)

Plus, I went to go see the Subway Series, presented by Ghost Jail Theatre and The Sketchersons. And it was fucking awesome.

I realized this weekend, however, that I'm not going to be finished the next draft of my script by the time the first week of my creation process is done. There's just too much that needs to be done. However, I believe that the work that I'm doing now is accomplishing three very important things:

1) I'm creating a detailed enough scaffold to be able to finish a really strong draft in the next couple of weeks.
2) I'm writing with production in mind, so that I can bring my collaborators some really solid material to work with.
3) I'm building momentum which will push me to continue the work when I go back to my 9-5 gig.

The third thing is the most important because, to tell you the honest truth, I've been creatively dry for months now. As tough as the process is, I'm relieved.

Er, yes, "scaffold". It's a term my former AD used to use, for our ETC creative process. Here is a quote:
"Sometimes the work begins from nothing more than an idea, sometimes a rough script (or as we call it, a scaffold) is brought into rehearsals, or existing material is sometimes adapted. From there, exploration, de-construction and general mayhem ensues."
Barbra French – ETC Artistic Director

I guess, in my personal process, it's more of an outline. This is what I'm using for each scene:

Location: I describe the setting here
Date: The year the scene takes place
Media: My ideas for camera feed, projection and online streaming
Description: Plot description
Background: What happens before and after

At this point, I've cut about 1/3 of my existing material, have re-ordered my scenes and am using the above format to help me figure out how much I want to keep and how much needs to be re-written in the next draft.

I'm also considering having two versions of the play for an online audience and an in-person audience. The idea is currently this: the online audience sees what the camera sees via a live-feed stream. The in-person audience can also see the camera feed via projections. However, there are three scenes that take place off-camera. I was thinking before of just videoing the action offstage and nixing the projections. Now I'm wondering if I should shoot some pre-recorded content, and stream alternate scenes for the online audience while the in-person audience watches entirely different material.

Ignoring the technical headaches that this entails, the play is all about perception vs. identity, so I like the idea of having different versions of the story that exist. Especially if the "real" version is more difficult to access - you have go in-person to see the show to access it. Although "real" is not the right word: both versions are "real". Just one reality would be more packaged than the other. (Which imitates the subject matter quite nicely.)

But maybe people would be turned off if they felt like they were missing out on something. I don't know, what do you think?