Collectivity: The quality or condition of being collective. Collaborate: To work together especially in a joint intellectual effort or to cooperate treasonably, as with an enemy occupation force in one’s country.
A 16-year girl knows how to wrench her father’s heart.
Too young to vote, while growing up in Montréal, I placed my fervour in the hands of the Parti Québécois and the cigarettes, women, and hair of René Levesque; a man who refused to be cowed by what my young mind understood to be “the establishment”. My first twist was for the promise of a split Canada. But the real wrench overshadowed this with a cool, even calculated cruelty when I told my fiercely devoted-to-Canada father, that I wanted to move to the United States. Both of my claims remained words on the wind, and ruptures on my dad’s heart, as I did not follow through on either.
I was reminded of this when reading Alexander Offord’s extremely erudite (thank god for online dictionaries), oft-witty and intermittently accurate response to our opening essay for our first edition of #CdnCult Times
“Look, I think we are in very divided times…” says Alain de Botton and I agree. Allow me this unexamined de Botton digression, as he is an interesting guy, worth getting to know.
One of the most compelling things in Offord’s response was the knee-jerk reaction to the use of the word “collectivity”. Internal wiring led my brain to Margaret Thatcher: “There is no such thing as society.” I don’t actually know what she intended with this but together with a series of actions, there is no doubt that her supporters helped to shape a generation suspicious of disparate peoples, from disparate nations (both within and without the geo-politicized borders of Canada) being interested in anything together. This suspicion can’t help but apply to the wish for a National Theatre that might reflect Canada’s uniqueness.
My desire for “collectivity” has been with me for as long as my adolescent drives towards divisiveness. Theatre can –at its greatest – teach us of connection in ways subtle and transformative that few other things can. Its ephemera has us always reaching, always striving, yet its blood, sweat and poverty has us ever clawing, ever clutching to grab hold. It is why I included the second definition for collaboration in this post. There is an underbelly to words and while collectivity is under the microscope, I return to the second definition of collaboration, as a “principles check-up” for the decisions I take. Collaboration is, for me, one of the highest states of creativity, but one must be wary of the shadow. It is why, I trust, in a functioning society, the question of the value of a National Theatre will forever be asked.
I believe in a National Theatre. I use: “believe” with the disclaimer that my conception is not static but contains forward moving action, and that “believe” is essentially neutral: it does not presuppose an agenda as to how things will manifest.
Offord states: “The issue of a National Theatre of Canada (hereafter referred to as NTC), is a perennial one in this country.” This feels true, but I don’t think it diminishes the presence of the question.
He goes on to say: “The fact of the matter is, we Canadians are deeply insecure about most things, & our theatre scene (I’m being hugely Toronto-centric in this, note; Toronto’s all I know, really), … has an inferiority complex for which “Napoleonic” is putting it mildly.
The use of the word “fact” is incredible here and so too is the use of a “we”, or “our”, all of which leads to paradox of the “us”. How interesting.
Who the hell are we? Why can’t a Canadian National Theatre help us better understand ourselves?
The world may be a lot smaller than we thought, but if “Cultured Canada” continues to exclude the vast majority of citizens on this planet, than this small-minded sensibility will both literally and figuratively crush us all. It was suggested to me that a National Theatre of Canada keeps getting seen as an unmoving lump of bricks and mortar. Why not, instead, visualize a swath of metal shards blanketing the land: each shard representing some awesome creative practice. While a magnet could pull it all under one roof, the strength exists by allowing this possibility to linger without ever exercising the right to call in the magnetic chips.
To my mind, the SpiderWebShow is an attempt to connect the invisible lines between these metal shards and to illuminate conduits between these pieces so that creative energy can flow through our collective space and bolster the whole damn thing. In this sense my belief in a National Theatre does manifest here in the action of revealing the breadth of Canadian theatre.
Since leaving Toronto, I have come to think of all of Canada as home. My “home” includes Toronto, but it also includes Peterborough, Guysborough, Whitehorse, Cow Head, Edmonton, Armstrong, Sackville, Meacham, Summerside, Yellowknife, Victoriaville, Iqaluit, Norway House, and on and on and on. And my hope is that, with the SpiderWebShow we can reflect a collection of theatrical selves back to ourselves, and create a renewed sensibility as to what our National Theatre looks, sounds, and feels like.
The question and the idea of a National Theatre must reflect the diversity of peoples and their individual expressions and practice, instead of attempting to discern one unifying principle. I am intrigued to discover that France’s governmental system is built on territorial collectivity and am encouraged to further think on Offord’s suggestion of disparate theatrical needs. Evidently I don’t believe that local needs and a National Theatre are mutually exclusive. Our nation is a collection of many nations. As Thomas Mulcair recently said on the House: “We need to speak nation to nation”. And I take this to mean that the government of Canada’s responsibility is to represent many nations within its borders. A National Theatre must reach to do the same.