WRECKING BALL 11: NOW WHAT? by Judith Thompson, Jovanni Sy, Anthony Furey, Darren O'Donnell and the Torontonians, Edwige Jean-Pierre and Yvette Nolan (Wrecking Ball). Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). Monday (December 6) at 8 pm, doors 7 pm. Pwyc; proceeds to Actors' Fund of Canada. thewreckingball.ca. See listing.
For those who like their theatre spiced with politics, The Wrecking Ball has been an up-to-the-minute treat.
Since 2004, a group of sharp-minded Toronto-based artists have been assembling occasional evenings of new works by some of our top playwrights, all focused on current affairs. Local contributors have included Michael Healey, Judith Thompson, Karen Hines, Andrew Moodie, Alex Poch-Goldin and a score of others.
During 2008's federal election, the Wrecking Ball went national, with other groups across the country taking aim at local and national issues.
With Toronto's recent municipal election, organizers feel it's time for another local chapter. So they've concocted Wrecking Ball 11: Now What? to look what might happen in our city during the next four years.
"We had a flurry of emails asking that theatre artists respond to the election," says Michael Wheeler, whose fellow Wrecking Ball crew are Ross Manson (who's been around since the first event), Ruth Madoc-Jones, Ravi Jain, Weyni Mengesha and new members Julie Tepperman, Aaron Willis, Nina Lee Aquino and Alan Dilworth.
"The election results will change the way politics operates in Toronto, and we thought that a Wrecking Ball on the night before the first official council meeting would be appropriate."
Typically, those invited are asked to choose a current event and write a 10-minute play. They have a week to write and rehearse their script before its single presentation.
For this event, the six participants were steered toward local politics, but the crew "was reticent to put too much framing on what the writers could deal with. The title Now What? offered, we thought, a broad canvas on which to create.
"Even before I joined the Wrecking Ball I was impressed by the calibre of those who contributed," continues Wheeler, who's also co-artistic director at Praxis Theatre.
Writing a piece of political theatre for the Ball has become a kind of coming of age for many local playwrights, he says.
"And these people have a history of making compelling work, expressing themselves politically not just in Wrecking Ball scripts but elsewhere."
Wheeler stresses that the scripts feature a variety of viewpoints.
"It's important that when a group of people are writing within a political frame, they're not scripting propaganda but offering a breadth of opinion. Propaganda is neither fun to watch nor very effective."
He won't give away too much about each show, but offers a little thought about each of the six works.
"Judith Thompson's only told me that she won't be writing about Rob Ford," Wheeler begins. "We rarely invite playwrights twice to take part in a Wrecking Ball, but Judith's script for the first event, My Pyramids, grew into the award-winning Palace Of The End.
"In Outsourced Anger, Jovanni Sy looks at the tide of anger media we've seen in the past few months, asking who the angry people are, why they're so mad, and exactly who is taking away their city/province/country. Anthony Furey's Citizen Michael is about a recently defeated career politician who desperately vies to influence the incoming crop of councillors."
There's an air of youth to the piece by Darren O'Donnell and the Torontonians, 10 14-year-olds from Parkdale, whose show is called Chairs. Yvette Nolan's Perfect Storm deals with the dichotomy of abundance and scarcity, while Edwige Jean-Pierre's SOS/MS/ASAP looks at liberation therapy for MS sufferers, especially those who return to Canada after having received therapy abroad.
Will there be potshots at the new crop of politicians and some stalwart right-of-centres?
That's not the point of the evening, says Wheeler, who notes that mayor-elect Rob Ford has been invited to attend.
"This new council offers a lot more opportunity for discussion than people initially thought possible," says Wheeler. "We've seen a wave of populism bring people into office, but I see that as a neutral value. There's a chance of individual citizen engagement, a chance for us to come up with our own solutions without having city council solve our problems.
"Maybe we can start to have a conversation about public arts, not using the Richard Florida model of increased property values, but asking how the arts can improve people's lives and what service the government can provide to its citizens.
"I see this new council as a chance to reset the conversation. Asking ‘now what?' can allow us to start afresh, to make culture appealing to the whole city, not just the downtown core but also to people west of Kipling, east of Victoria Park and north of Eglinton.
"It's not about circling the wagons, but rather using theatre to address problems that affect everyone."