A few months ago I did a drawing (above) of Michael Healey for THE PRAXIS BLOG declaring him a Culture Hero after he spoke out against the so-called Heritage Department’s canceling of The SummerWorks Festival’s funding. They did so, evidently, because the previous year SummerWorks included in its line-up a play about a terrorist that depicted said terrorist as a human being instead of a blood-dripping-from-the-mouth, bomb-suit-wearing psychopath. He suggested that theatres all across the country mount readings of the play on a single day to show solidarity, and theatres all across the country heeded his call, and Homegrown was read and read and read, and though by most accounts it’s not a very good play the reading of it was the point and the point was made. Money was raised and SummerWorks went on.
He’s at it again.
Mr. Healey has written a play about Stephen Harper that, while critical, attempts to portray him in a fair light; which is to say that, while Healey clearly does not agree with Harper’s views, he strives to present them sincerely. (It should be noted here that I haven’t read the play, which is called Proud, so I have no idea if Mr. Healey is successful in his mission, though I imagine he is; he’s pretty good.)
Said Healey to the Globe & Mail, “I’m not interested in polemic, in running down a laundry list of his short-comings or his government’s. I want it to be a Shavian event [as in George Bernard Shaw] where one guy stops talking, and you say, ‘That guy is absolutely right’ until another guy starts talking and you say, ‘No that guy’s absolutely right.’”
Reasonable, I think.
But when Healey brought the play to the powers-that-be at Tarragon Theatre, where he’s been a playwright-in-residence for ten or so years and for whom he’s won a few Dora Awards, the play was rejected on the grounds that it could be seen as libelous against the Prime Minister; this despite the fact that it had already been run past a lawyer who said that was unlikely.
I have two questions:
1. Isn’t it pretty much impossible for the PM to sue for libel? I mean, as long as you’re speaking politically and not implying that he’s an asshat you should be pretty safe, shouldn’t you? You’re unlikely to come up with anything worse than what his opponents have said about him during elections, or on the floor in The House of Commons. If this wasn’t the case wouldn’t Rob Ford be suing everyone everywhere all the time for everything? Because that guy’s a giant asshat.
2. Michael Healey’s been at Tarragon for a long time; he’s won Dora Awards for them, he’s brought them massive box office. He’s among the most successful Canadian playwrights in history -if not the single most successful- thanks to his play The Drawer Boy. He’s smart, he’s a nice guy, and –most imortantly– he’s probably right in what he says about Harper.
I realize there was no question there, but here it is:
Isn’t this whole thing part of what theatre is all about? Sure, it’s great to put on a show and play dress up and -God forbid- sing some songs, but when it gets right down to it, shouldn’t theatre at least fight back when it’s under attack? Isn’t it a sign of courage to speak truth to power? Underneath all of the remounts of Shakespeare’s comedies, and shows that adapt pop culture phenomenons for the stage, and the musicals about ostensibly nothing at all, does theatre not have any courage left?
It has to, I think. Because last summer a whole buttload of people got up and performed a bad play for a cause, and because the man who orchestrated that whole thing is now saying “Mr. Prime Minister? With respect: You’re doing a poor job.”
I’ve always had a problem with the granting system. I think it makes us too dependent on the government, and if we’re dependent on the government than we can’t necessarily say what we want. I think we’re looking at two instances that illustrate that, with the SummerWorks fiasco, and now the Proud debacle.
It seems pretty clear that the government’s attack on SummerWorks has at least Tarragon thinking If we put this play up, what will happen to our funding next year? Which sucks, obviously, because A) Who wants Stephen Harper to win? and B) It kind of paints theatre as a beggar. (“Thank you, Prime Minister Harper, can we have some more, please?”)
Michael Healey is, apparently, shopping the play around to some other theatres. I’d love to see it get picked up, but if it doesn’t he suggests that he’ll produce it himself; THE POP GROUP is new, and we have, well, no resources to speak of –save for our Can-Do attitude!– but if it comes to that we’d like Mr. Healey to know that we’re here to help with whatever he needs.
(The accompanying picture is Michael Healey on the set of the BravoFACT film Counselling, in 2011.)
Read the Globe & Mail article HERE.
Update: Read NOW Magazine’s commentary HERE.