Take The Damn Money!

May 20, 2013 — 2 Comments

There’s an article in the Globe today by Marsha Lederman, that begins, “Don’t stop here. Go unlimited.” Oops, I’ve hit the paywall, I can’t even link to it. Never mind.

Instead, watch this detail from Philippe Caubère playing Molière preparing for his final performance on the night he died. It’s relevant (albeit elliptically) to the essay I would have written. Something about playing for keeps.

Okay, break’s over, I’ve started again in a new browser.

So there’s an article in today’s Globe and Mail about Caleb McMullen, Artistic Director of Vancouver’s Mnemonic Theatre Productions, and his super-size idea, first explored in a brilliant blogpost success story called Canadian Theatre Can Do Better, wherein he proposed strategies for all-too-passive audience-members to express contempt for the fakery of their fellow theatre-goers and the mediocrity of the performance in front of them.

The original blog post was coy about the vapid musical performance that had inspired the director to issue his j’accuseI remember snooping around at the time to ensure for myself that it wasn’t Ride the Cyclone, a show dear to my heart that had just opened in Vancouver.

But I was assured, admonished even, by many of the post’s fans, that the identity of McMullen’s sick muse was completely beside the point, the real point being more something along the lines of how we shouldn’t—as Canadian theatre-goers and artists—allow this shit to stand. Generally speaking of course. We shouldn’t allow the general state of this shit to stand. Or the state of this general shit. 

I distinctly recall laying my anxieties aside only when I checked out McMullen’s public Facebook profile. It featured a post about how Atomic Vaudeville was an “artistic inspiration” and the show itself “a brilliant fringe success story.”


But today’s Globe article relates that the vapid musical in question was indeed Ride the Cyclone—a fact which, as far as I can tell, has not been revealed before.

Forked tongue, no? No wonder he seeks strategies for letting out the bad feelings.

Still, I guess when your show is offered a profile in the Globe and Mail, you have to give something back.

Either that or these gumshoe reporters really know how to muscle a scoop.

I don’t know why I cared so much, except that I loved Ride the Cyclone when I saw it at Toronto’s Summerworks Festival a couple of years ago. It was risky and weird and featured a cast full of dead children who each got the chance to relate their young life’s aspiration before being sucked up into the ether.

It had been conceived as a humble song cycle but the collection somehow achieved a cumulative, narrative effect that was very moving. At least to me. As far as allowing the general state of this shit to stand, I would stand for this shit, and did. No general word about it.

You’ve got every right not to like it, of course, but it’s one of those shows that betray compulsive, indefensible passions. If do you like it (or, rather, if you love it), chances are I’m going to feel a little bit sorry for every angry email and sarcastic tweet I’ve ever lobbed at you.

But if you don’t like it, chances are I’m going to see you as something other than an ally. Chances are, I’m going to question your taste, however passionately presented.

So imagine my dearth of surprise when I learned, from this very same Globe exposé, that the play Mnemonic is mounting to launch their latest strategy to encourage audience contempt—the money-back guarantee—is none other than ‘Proof’… 

(subtitled here, for the sake of this post, “Canadian Theatre Can Do Better with mediocre American scripts that rely on the cliché of the untidy math genius so offensive to my not-so-tidy math-genius father-in-law.”


All that passion, and they’re mounting ‘Proof’?

So Mnemonic is mounting CTCDBWMASMUMGFIL, and (the Globe has also revealed) they’re offering a money-back-guarantee. Wow. If I were in Vancouver right now I would get up and… go see something that takes a risk with untried material: a new play, I mean—like Ride the Cyclone was when I saw it, and, I suppose, like Proof was, back in 2000, despite the woeful clichés that make that story so offensive to my untidy math-genius father-in-law (and, by proxy, I suppose, to me), and before they made it into a movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow as the daughter who manages to be both genius and tidy.

i wouldn’t go sit through the first act of a play I really don’t want to see just so I could give myself the unnecessary drama and emotional release of getting my money back at intermission.

Anyway, whatever happened to the idea that you might think you didn’t like something and then realize a week later, a month later, a year later, that maybe you actually did?

In that case, would you go back to the theatre and knock on the boarded-up front door, trying to return the admission money that was returned to you?

Samuel Beckett directed the first production of Happy Days himself, with his favourite actor Billie Whitelaw playing the woman’s part. She looked at all those monologues and feared that the audience would demand their money back:

“Oh Sam,” she said, “I’m so afraid I’m going to bore them.”

And Sam replied, “Bore them, Billie, bore them.”

Just don’t give them their money back, if you can possibly help it. We’re playing for keeps here.


2 responses to Take The Damn Money!


    I feel like Canadian Stage did something similar years ago when Marty Bragg was there – if you indeed wanted your money back, you went for coffee or to have a chat with him about why. And after the conversation about the play, you could choose whether or not you wanted your money back. Apparently only a very small handful still did.


    I am sad I never got to see Ride the Cyclone, but if it shares a brain and a heart with that company’s Legoland, I imagine I’d feel the same way about it that you do.

    I am torn about the money back thing. I mean I don’t think that should be mandatory or anything, and I remember at the time thinking it was maybe like a big statement of confidence in your output to slap that on there, but then to attach it to a total bet-hedging show like Proof (which I don’t HATE, for local values of what it is, but…c’mon it’s 2013) to that statement…I dunno.

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