Poster for last year’s production of Homegrown, a one-act play at the SummerWorks Festival that proved very controversial. Photo courtesy of the Homegrown Project.
Ten days ago SummerWorks, one of Toronto’s major annual theatre festivals, learned it wasn’t going to get government funding as it usually does, allegedly because it included a controversial play called Homegrown that didn’t sit well with Stephen Harper last year. Canada’s theatre community is responding: by staging simultaneous readings of said play across the country, as a fundraiser for SummerWorks.
Since the announcement that Heritage Canada had cut all federal funding to SummerWorks mere weeks before the festival was to open, private and company donations have been pouring in, already surpassing 70 per cent of the $50,000 that SummerWorks had expected to receive from the federal government. Now, prompted by an open letter written by actor/playwright Michael Healey and the Wrecking Ball collective, fundraisers have been scheduled in Halifax, Toronto, Hamilton, Blyth, Kitchener, Halifax, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Nanaimo, with more cities being added daily. In Toronto, nearly a dozen theatre companies are collaborating on an event taking place on July 15 at the Canadian Stage Berkeley Theatre, which will be PWYC.
All this public and financial support is great news for not-for-profit SummerWorks, and could mean that all of its initial programming for the 2011 festival, which was in danger of being scaled back, could be restored in time for the August 4–14 festival dates.
Looking beyond this year’s festival, though, many in the theatre community are drawing clear links between the Harper government’s ideological positions and its funding of the arts. At the same time that the SummerWorks funding announcement came out, another bit of news came: that Canada’s Walk of Fame had been granted $500,000, ten times the amount of support SummerWorks had applied for. (This was met with considerable disdain from arts critics.)
As the Globe pointed out this week, SummerWorks has successfully given the Victoria-based Atomic Vaudeville company and their show Ride The Cyclone (one of our favourite shows at last year’s SummerWorks festival) the exposure that’s led to productions planned in three countries and a possible run off-Broadway—just one of many examples that show its contribution to our country’s artists. There’s a strong case to be made that SummerWorks has amply fulfilled its mandate of promoting new Canadian plays, using tax dollars in an effective manner to produce the “tangible results” that the Heritage Canada letter implied were lacking in their decision to stop all funding of the festival.
If the intention of whoever instigated the funding cuts (besides Sun Media’s columnists) was to ensure that plays like Homegrown would be denied an audience, this series of readings across Canada will allow that many more people to experience the play for themselves, and judge whether or not all the furor raised about the play (which started even before its official opening) was justified—a delightful irony, indeed.