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    « ... Never Change | Main | Skiff of Snow »

    December 01, 2003



    I'm going to say I generally agree but when you get to the specifics of "celebrating" CanCon, don't you get the other problem of bureaucratized art approval. Example - I see the CBC as having played a big role in the early Canadian success of the Bare Naked Ladies and the relatively lack of similar success of the Skydiggers. This was in large part because Gzowsky liked the one, chose it as a CBC approved band and, voila, access to the air. Atwood has a similar gold key - when was the last time you heard an actual critical analysis. If the Festival chose to present challenging Canadian theatre, great, but that takes risk not just in the source but the subject - not good for the tourist trade. I have been to a couple of achingly bad plays at Blythe, which is all-Canuck, I think - but at least they risk the stinker. As it is, Charlottetown is largely a tourist related set of presentations not "high art" whatever that is. Are they really going to move from that?

    Nils Ling

    Interesting set (and sub-set) of questions. I agree that a tourist-driven festival will likely choose a more travelled, safer path (one only has to think back to the huge hue and cry over the season where, in one of the plays, one of the characters [well-known Canadian singer Elvis Presley] uttered the f-word. A future premier of the province resigned from the Board over that one).

    But just as there is a lot of achingly bad and/or brilliant-but-too-challenging Canadian theatre out there, it doesn't take a sleuth to find plenty of safe, entertaining, artistically-valid (whatever that means) CANADIAN theatre and present it well.

    And yes, there is the risk that some artists or writers will be preferred over others - both by theatre management and by audiences. It already happens - Artistic Directors routinely put their own plays into their seasons, and cosy relationships between ADs and playwrights are very common.

    But theatre, like the music business, has that wild card out in the seats (or NOT out in the seats). Gzowski may have loved BNL (can't fault him there), but he couldn't buy a million CDs or stuff teenagers into arena seats. Margaret Atwood (whose books I find utterly unreadable) doesn't just win approval from CBC - other really "smart" people think she's great, too.

    All I'm saying is, institutional approval might be helpful, but it is no guarantee of success, and if you don't believe me, come out with me to the Landmark Cafe in Mount Stewart and sit with me and 35 - 40 others to listen to the music of the amazing Laura Smith.


    That is a very good example. I think I used to listen to Laura Smith at the old Gingers on Barrington St. on open mike night in the 80's. [As I am 1500 km west of you, joining would be a problem.] There is lots of good art which happens to be by Canadians. If you have institutionalization as CanCon, something is lost. Problem then is how you get it to the forefront without the easy, good-taste-destroying powers of the mediocracy gatekeeping? I think you underestimate the power of communications institutions - I remember my wife saying her book and record shop was swamped within 15 minutes of a flagrant example of the mediocracy, a Gzowsky gold star interview, being awarded for a particular book or record.To counter, some of us have started awarding our own gold stars for music over at


    The fact that PEI is in 'how to attract tourists' mode practically 12 months of the year surely has had some impact on why The Festival chooses the plays they choose.
    It appears to me that this is the question the C.F. people are asking themselves every year:
    "After the tourists come and see Anne of Green Gables The Musical, how can we get them to buy another ticket to see something else?"
    I agree with you Nils that it would be better if the C.F. had a more CanCon approach to the whole thing, but until, the 'tourist related set of presentations' (you're dead on Alan) has proven not to work anymore, I don't think they'll change. It's too risky. And besides, tourists don't come to PEI for (dead on Alan) 'high-art'. Although I think when they see Anne Blah Blah The Musical, they are pleasantly surprised at how high the art can be.
    Maybe it's all part of a cycle we'll experience the golden days of Alan Lund again, and the Festival people will ask "What great Canadian musicals and plays can we produce that will make people from all around come to PEI and sit in our theatre?"


    The Confederation Centre has a mandate "to inspire Canadians to celebrate, through heritage and the arts, the creative vision of Confederation and of Canada as a nation." By extension, this applies to the Festival. A claim that "Patsy Cline" fits this mandate by virtue of the Canadian passport of its creator, Dean Regan, has always seemed slim reasoning to me.

    The Festival has sought for years to find a formula that would yield a second Mainstage show that would attract significant numbers. They haven't really had anything like that since the days of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" (circa 1987-88). Does anyone remember that the Festival used to have a third Mainstage show in repertory way-back-when? Those were the days...

    It is incredibly difficult to create a new, great musical (Canadian or not). I'm just disappointed that Anne Allen didn't have something in her back pocket better than what she's offered.


    Maybe the problem is sticking with musicals. Wouldn't new Canadian theatre be cheaper to produce with smaller casts? There would be the risk of plays having words like "bum" in them but, then again, dreary old Emily of New Moon would never arise again.




    And, by the way, seen Anne, been in Anne...why would anyone go see Anne more than a couple of times? In my usher past, I saw many plays over and over - but even the greatest musical of all time "West Side Story", even great Irish plays, even Shakespeare was not worth seeing over and over and over. Smacks of faith, as Davey said.

    Nils Ling

    I'm guessing the vast majority of Anne audiences, in addition to being 90% tourists, are also first-timers at the show. And at least one of the reasons for a large-cast musical as a second show is a large cast which (by Equity rules) are paid for eight shows and Anne only plays 5 or 6 times a week. So you've got an essentially free pool of talent (the main budget item in any show) who can sing and dance, just sitting around waiting to be used.

    And Davey's right (as always). It IS difficult to develop a new, great musical. The question is, do you stop trying? Or do you view the second show as developmental in its very nature and keep trying to stumble onto that elusive show that will "inspire Canadians to celebrate, through heritage and the arts, the creative vision of Confederation and of Canada as a nation."

    Seems to me, you follow your mandate. I can't see how audiences will be less receptive to something new and adventurous than they would be to re-hashed schlock.


    Fair enough. But the mandate is not about musicals and it would seem to me that there is not as much interest in them as a general art form as there was when the festival started. So you have this pool of paid talent and a bad track record for second big shows. Why not then run 2 or 3 smaller non-musical theater? I would imagine that there is a greater stock of quality Canadian plays than musicals to draw on and you would not have to reheat either Patsy or Elvis. Not variants of music hall like the Drill Queens or Barachois, however good, but real challenging plays. If you are going to lose money anyway - as apparently has been the record - why not put resources into something challenging with the hope of attracting a new crowd. Unless there is neither the aptitude or the appetite.

    Nils Ling

    Hey, Alan .. checked out ... some interesting views and news ... what's the story there?


    I posted a comment on ska on my site got interest from a guy in Halifax and Toronto and we decided to see if we can run a blog about music without meeting or knowing each other. Steve Garrrity and a heavy metal guy in New York were added as writers. It is an interesting project which has sucked me back into my earlier interest in music. I was briefly program manager at CKDU in the early 80's and was a regular album buyer

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