“In a time when diplomacy and politics have such terribly short and feeble arms, the delicate but sometimes lengthy reach of art must bear the burden of holding together the human community.
The bizarre fact is that today, as the world appears to be most definitely split politically, art and especially theatre, quite clearly demonstrate that this deeper identity is universal. More and more, the plays that succeed in one country find their mark abroad. The cultures of the world were always parts of one another, but they are growing together in most obvious ways. Yet in critical matters of life and death we face one another like creatures from separate planets. The theatre, unwittingly, and certainly without conscious intention, has proved in our time that the human race, for all its variety of cultures and traditions, is profoundly one. I do not think that at any previous time contemporaneous plays were so quickly understandable in the world. An opening of importance in New-York is quickly repeated in Berlin, Tokyo, London, Athens. And if my own experience is any guide, the reception is not very different from one place to another. In this sense too the metaphor has become fact-all the world is a stage now, and all of it at the same moment.”
Arthur Miller – World Theatre Day Message – 1963
There’s an election in Alberta on Tuesday, April 16th, and I encourage you to research the party platforms, check out the candidates, and then vote for the party that best represents the type of world you want yourself and your children and your children’s children to live in. I voted on Friday in the advance polls along with 545,000 other Albertans and it’s never been easier to cast your vote because this year, regardless of your riding, you can cast your vote at any advance polling station – that is until April 13th. Which is today, so get out and vote – have your voice counted. And if you can’t vote in the advance polls then vote on election day – however, on election day you will have to vote at the polling station assigned to your riding. All this information can easily be found at the Elections Alberta Website.
So, I wrote a play a couple of years ago called QUOTA which is a satire about political oppression. As Kathie, the Civic Census taker, tells Dave Dixon, after he gets flagged for corrective action, “All societies are based on codes of behaviour and when someone deviates from that code there has to be a way to handle the situation otherwise chaos would reign supreme, and we don’t want that now, do we? We want everything nice and tidy. All the socks in the sock drawer and all the undies in the undie drawer.”
In short, QUOTA is the story of Dave Dixon who – while looking for a job online – is interrupted by the Metro City Census Taker. This is unlike any census Dixon has ever taken and when he’s asked whether or not he was spanked as a child he refuses to answer. That causes the Census taker to call for police back up and so Dixon finds himself being targeted for corrective action because of his unemployment and the fact that he’s left-handed. When a 2-kilo bag of white sugar is found on the premises and Dixon is facing jail time for trafficking he has to make a moral choice between naming names and protecting himself.
I wrote QUOTA while I was doing a little research for another play about the internment camps that the Canadian government ran during World War One and World War Two.* It’s always bothered me that we were fighting dictatorships that put people in camps while we were doing the same thing. Of course, our camps weren’t concentration camps but once you have a different set of laws and rules applied to one group in your society – how do you keep it from going to the extreme? Maybe you keep it from going to the extreme by making sure the rule of law applies to everyone equally regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.
Of course, that’s only if you believe that everyone is equal. Not everyone believes this. And if you’ve seen Avenue Q you know that we’re all a little bit racist. We’re all human and we make assumptions and have distorted beliefs about people and sometimes we’re not even aware of our own prejudice. But that’s a lot different than laws being enforced by a government that are intended to limit the rights and freedoms of a particular group simply because of that group’s differences.
But governments are not composed of robots. Governments and Prime Ministers and Presidents and Kings and Dictators are all people. And so I have to wonder what kind of people are they? Are they good leaders? I think not if they allow such laws to be passed and enforced.
But what makes a good leader? I think good leaders don’t seek power for themselves but instead seek to empower others, and while I know there are lots of different definitions of leadership I think great leaders enlarge the world – they don’t limit it.
You know, one of the purposes of theatre and story is to provoke discussion. Discussion about politics, morality, relationships, love, religion, and power and comedy allows us to shine a light on attitudes and behaviours in a way that drama doesn’t. That’s why I wrote QUOTA. I wanted to take a look at how individuals go from being a member of society to becoming an identified minority and having their rights violated.
So, back in 2017 Sky Blue Theatre produced my play as part of The British Theatre Challenge – Act II. The British Theatre Challenge is an annual international playwriting contest run by Sky Blue Theatre and in addition to my play, five other plays were produced. They did a fantastic job and their production is up on YouTube and I’ve linked to it at the top of this post. Check it out if you enjoy satire and if you want to watch some terrific political satires then I’d recommend any of these very funny and thought-provoking films: Duck Soup by the Marx Brothers, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb by Stanley Kubrick, and Being There directed by Hal Ashby and starring Peter Sellers who deserved the Oscar – sorry Dustin.
So, I began this – please vote blog – by quoting Arthur Miller’s World Theatre Day message from 1963 which seemed to resonate deeply I thought with some aspects of our current world political situation. His entire message can be found by scrolling to the bottom of my blog or following this link: World Theatre Day Message: Arthur Miller, 1963
And all of this rambling is simply to say again – stay informed – research the party platforms – check out the candidates – and then vote for the party and the candidate that best represents you and your vision of the world because one vote does make a difference.
International Theatre Institute ITI
World Organization for the Performing Arts
UNESCO, 1 Rue Miollis, FR-75732 Paris Cedex 15
firstname.lastname@example.org / www.iti-worldwide.org
Arthur Miller 1963
Unlike some other attempts to celebrate an institution internationally, this recognition of the theatre in so many countries at the same time has a reality about it. The fact, of course, is that the theatre has almost always been international. So that a special occasion of this sort registers an already existing truth rather than a mere aspiration. The only new significance, it seems to me, is that whereas in former time a Russian play performed, let us say, in America would not echo very far beyond the doors of its theatre, today, as in almost everything we do, the question of man’s annihilation is somehow touched upon. In a time when diplomacy and politics have such terribly short and feeble arms, the delicate but sometimes lenghty reach of art must bear the burden of holding together the human community. Whatever can show us that we are still of the same species, is a humanly valuable thing. It is valuable that at this moment tens of thousand of people, perhaps millions, are pausing in their pursuit of entertainment or, hopefully, of a deeper experience, to recognize that on this planetary stage the largest cast in history must find a true catharsis, a release from terror by a saving insight-or the catastrophe is upon us. The anonymous playwright who has dealt us our parts, that great ironist, that incredible humorist, has turned the stage into our world. The thrust of scientific knowledge has turned us all into actors; there is no longer any audience for the great silence that threatens will leave none of us outside its deadly path.
I am speaking, of course, of the contemporary problem of war, but implicit in all the plays that ever mattered is the fate of man. The only difference now, and it is sizeable, is that we rather than an isolated hero who must find the resolution or die. The ultimate irony is that as we feel ourselves in the grip of remorselessly destructive forces we cannot find what we have always demanded of our tragic heroes-a point of reconciliation, a moment of acceptance if not resignation, a split second when we recognize that the cause was not in our stars but in ourselves. How many of us in these years, even faced from time to time with the real fear of destruction, have been able to repeat Shakespeare’s insight, and to say with him that the fault is not in our stars but in ourselves?
That is why we must have a theatre: for above all, the theatre places man in the centre of the world. We must have a point of adventurous stillness, the quiet eye of the storm, from which to witness the age-old revelation of a man challenging God, in the working out of his fate. The living stage is singularly fitted to do just that. It needs but a man and a candle to make a play. The motion picture and television, it is now clear, must strive to attain the nakedness and simplicity native from the beginning to the dramatic form. For like all machines, like science itself, the version these media give of a man amplifies his material nature, his environment, the very pores of his skin, and as they magnify his most perishable elements they move away from his essence which is unseeable. Indeed, it is precisely the gradual revelation of the unseen and unseeable that is the hidden matrix of dramatic form itself. A play is fine not for what it shows but for its underlying revelation, and the race has always honored exactly those plays which reveal the universal in man, those elements in his nature which in fact are international.
The bizarre fact is that today, as the world appears to be most definitely split politically, art and especially theatre, quite clearly demonstrate that his deeper identity is universal. More and more, the plays that succeed in one country find their mark abroad. The cultures of the world were always parts of one another, but they are growing together in most obvious ways. Yet in critical matters of life and death we face one another like creatures from separate planets. The theatre, unwittingly, and certainly without conscious intention, has proved in our time that the human race, for all its variety of cultures and traditions, is profoundly one. I do not think that at any previous time contemporaneous plays were so quickly understandable in the world. An opening of importance in New-York is quickly repeated in Berlin, Tokyo, London, Athens. And if my own experience is any guide, the reception is not very different from one place to another. In this sense too the metaphor has become fact-all the world is a stage now, and all of it at the same moment.
And it is a good thing that drama, perhaps above all other forms of communication through art, should be the chosen instrument. For on the stage man must act, and against a background of human values. In our time, when futility has overwhelmed the spirit, when a deathly inaction threatens the heart, it is good that we possess a form whose very existence demands action. And if in these past years the so-called anti-drama, as well as the drama of the absurd, would seem to contradict the fundamental role of dramatic form, this is no contradiction but only a paradox. The drama, which eschews purposeful action, reflects the international cul-de-sac, a widespread disbelief in the power of men to affect their own situation, the rejection of all meaning but irony. It looks at man entirely from the tip of the grave, the only inevitability it sees is self-defeat; it reflects man disoriented, knocked silly by the explosion of one cherished system of beliefs after another. These plays are most convincing if performed the day before the world ends. Better still, the day after. But thus far they have had long runs, which means they give people pleasure, the pleasure, perhaps, of acting out vicariously the widespread that nothing we know is really very true.
So that even here the stage betrays inaction and the end of purpose, for if these plays refuse to act their very refusal is a challenge to some of us at least, a challenge to discover an interior order deeper than paralysis which will reflect not only the death in life and the irony of action, but the life even in death; an order-indeed, a new kind of play which will give the human animal no less a hope for freedom and identity than contemporary physics allows matter. The scientist now knows that there is no such thing as an observer; that by observing a phenomenon he changes it. The playwright observing despair has likewise changed it, if only by raising it to our common consciousness. And if the sight of it has not always changed the playwright it must change his audience. For when we witness despair on the stage, and the theatre form it has engendered in our time, we have a right, indeed it is now a scientifically well-founded right, to say, “Yes, but as one of the atoms you the playwright has observed, measured, and weighed, I have to tell now that the curtain of your eye has fallen-I am just a little different than when you saw me last. I am, even as the other atoms, ever so slightly free.”
Which is to say that perhaps the time is near for the theatre of will, the drama whose root is that ever so slight freedom which has nevertheless set man’s wonders on the earth, placed his hand upon the stars, and called us together in this and so many other cities to share a hope for man.
* Internment in Canada – World War I & World War II
At the beginning of World War I the Government of Canada enacted the War Measures Act which gave it the power to suspend and limit civil liberties as well as the right to incarcerate “enemy aliens”. Enemy Aliens were citizens of states at war with Canada and who were living in Canada during the war. The camps were operated from 1914 to 1920. Twenty-four camps housed 8,579 men which included 5,000 Ukrainians and 2009 Germans. The camps provided forced labour which was used to build infrastructure as well as some of Canada’s best-known landmarks such as Banff National Park.
During the Second World War 40 camps held an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 prisoners. This included Germans and Italians and after Pearl Harbor approximately 20,000 Japanese Canadians were taken from their homes on Canada’s West Coast without any charge or due process and placed in remote areas of eastern British Columbia. The Canadian Government stripped them of their property and pressured them to accept mass deportation after the war ended. Most of the Japanese Canadians that were placed in camps were Canadian Citizens.
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