Deborah Pearson leads inFORMING CONTENT, a workshop exploring innovative methods of play-creation and the relationship between art and ethics June 19-20, 2010.
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by Deborah Pearson
When Ross Manson asked me six months ago to run a workshop in partnership with The Africa Trilogy and the U of T Centre for Ethics, I absolutely jumped at the opportunity. There were several reasons behind my enthusiasm: The first was that Ross’s passion for The Africa Trilogy was contagious. It was obvious that there was something pressing and important that he and the others involved wanted to say, and I felt honoured to be a part of that.
But my other reasons were entirely selfish – because as it turned out there was also something pressing, and possibly important, that I wanted to say, or more specifically, to try. And this workshop would be the perfect place to try it.
There is a lot of talk about theatre being inaccessible – self sustaining by virtue of the community who makes it – that this living, breathing art form often preaches to its own choir, performs to its own colleagues, and many see this as a problem. It’s an interesting question, and it brings up a lot of arguments, one being the importance of a community. Why should a theatre community feel any less important as a place to inspire, to introduce new ideas, and to instigate change? The next argument could go like this: Where does this “theatre” community come from? How does it start, and where do the new members come in? Could it be that watching theatre makes people want to make theatre, which makes them part of this “self sustaining” community? I’m sure we’ve all had that feeling of watching a performer, and wanting to jump to our feet and deliver their lines, to get involved?
So where does this sit in relation to a workshop on experimental theatre and ethics? Well, if theatre is the first part of the inaccessible equation, I’d argue that Politics are just as culpable, and in many cases far less proven in terms of making political activists out of political observers. There’s often a sense that we aren’t well informed enough, that our opinions won’t make enough of an impact, that our actions could be meaningless, or that the issue is too complicated.
In some cases this may be true. But I also can’t help but be moved by the Martin Luther King quote: “Even if I knew the world were going to end tomorrow, I would plant an apple tree today.” There is something to be said for getting out of the observers seat and for taking a risk. For jumping to your feet and doing something. This is why I felt that a workshop that combines ethical lectures with experimental challenges for Toronto theatre makers and audiences was such an important compliment to the Africa Trilogy. I want to live in a world where politics is about regular people feeling informed and empowered to join the discussion, to take action, to do something, to take a risk.
The pieces that will be created over the two days are based on experimental theatre models that are very familiar to European audiences, and that often ask the audience to be more active, to make more choices, to be more involved and adventurous than they are when they watch a film. The audience is dealing with real people, with the present, and if this isn’t politically charged, I don’t know what is. Combine this ask with a team of extremely talented young Toronto theatre makers working with an exciting pool of drama students, and what you end up with may be a little rough around the edges, but it will take risks, it will surprise you, and it will get you involved. It will be present, and it will make sure that everyone is on their feet and a vocal part of the community it creates. There won’t be stories that tie up neatly, that resolve themselves in a three act structure – there won’t be comfortable seats – but there will be questions – and there will be action. And if anything, that plants something. That’s a start.