Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/4/2010 (2609 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Contrast makes just about anything more interesting. Imagine the photography of Yousuf Karsh without the masterful differentiation of light and shadow. Think of our universities and colleges without the freedom to explore the depths and heights of human understanding.
Recent articles in the Winnipeg Free Press reminded me about the value of contrast in our artistic community, as well. Kevin Prokosh's article March 11 announced an exciting 2010-11 season for the Manitoba Theatre Centre, and Morley Walker's March 16 article spoke about Canada Council vice-chairman and National Theatre School CEO Simon Brault's presentation in Winnipeg. Brault contends that in order to flourish, the artistic community needs to encourage popular support, rather than rely on the largesse of government, to sustain itself.
It's a good point, and the bigger players on the Winnipeg arts scene get it. Within the past year, the Winnipeg Art Gallery offered a wildly popular Marilyn Monroe photo exhibit and is currently running a retrospective of Warner Bros. animation. The Manitoba Opera brings us Carmen this spring, while Christmas wouldn't be the same without the RWB's presentation of The Nutcracker. And the Manitoba Theatre Centre's upcoming season boasts well-known, well-loved titles sure to pack the house.
In Prokosh's piece, artistic director Steven Schipper contends that MTC's plays have to be "marketable" and he's right. The above examples illustrate that the broader arts community appreciates the need to offer accessible material. Walker's article about Brault and the economic impact of groundswell support underscores this.
The question is, is "marketable" art enough?
One of the most important functions of art is to challenge norms, invite debate and inspire critical thought. As wonderful as Noel Coward's Brief Encounter is, it's not going to ruffle any feathers. And that's OK, to a point; there's nothing wrong with an evening of great entertainment brilliantly staged. Shakespeare himself understood the upside of creating plays with mass appeal.
We need only be concerned if marketable romps and known commodities were all we got. Fortunately, in Winnipeg we are blessed with a dynamic, diverse artistic community.
Still, from a theatre perspective, there are precious few opportunities to mount original, made-in-Manitoba productions, written, produced, directed, performed and staged by Manitobans -- just the kinds of opportunities Brault asserts are essential to the future of the arts. In its nascent form, it's not the most marketable stuff. It's risky. It's untried. And it's important.
Theatre Projects Manitoba is closing its 20th anniversary season with North Main Gothic. North Main Gothic is no romp. A dark and unsettling tale, it challenges us to face an ugly and inconvenient truth: Gambling addiction isn't confined to individuals. Societies and their governments fall victim, too.
Without North Main Gothic, and endeavours like it, we lose that valuable contrast and with it the opportunity to experience not only the entertainment value of the arts, but their unmatched power to wrestle us from our benign comfort to confront who we really are.
Throughout its two decades, TPM has staged the work of many once unknown and now very marketable playwrights and actors, such as Daniel MacIvor, Vern Thiessen, Rick Chafe, and now, Carolyn Gray. Gratifying work, indeed. After all, where would popular and enduring art come from if no one ever took a risk, if no one got a chance?
I look forward to MTC's coming season and to those of all the other organizations that make up our dynamic cultural landscape. I commend Brault, too, and wholeheartedly agree that we should celebrate and support Winnipeg's vibrant arts scene. It's a significant economic driver, yes, but also a means of social reflection.
So let us preserve the contrast in our artistic community. Yes, we need the WAG, but we need Plug In Gallery, too. We need The Royal Winnipeg Ballet and we need Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers. We need the Manitoba Theatre Centre and we need Theatre Projects Manitoba.
This powerful crucible will yield not only the kinds of artistic opportunities that generate popular support, but also opportunities for emerging artists to pursue their dreams, realize their vision and contribute to economic growth. We must ensure that our province's young people have a reason to stay and dance, and write, and sculpt and perform.
So, take a chance -- go out and buy a ticket to something "unmarketable" today. Noel Coward wasn't born a sure thing.
Hart Mallin is chairman of Theatre Projects Manitoba.