Acting collective creates theatre from politics

By Britt Harvey

"The Mayor's Head" Performed and written by Pierre Brault. Performed by Kate Smith. Mayor Larry O'Brien is portrayed as a swaggering lout who cares nothing for the arts. Photo: Chantaie Allick

It’s not every evening that you get to see an elegy for John Baird’s cat, a (fake) Mayor Larry O’Brien sporting a cursed pumpkin head, or a riveting spoken word poem depicting the bloody aftermath of domestic violence. These were just three of the 15 short pieces performed during Le Wrecking Ball, a theatre collective composed of Ottawa artists, at St. Brigid’s Church.

Le Wrecking Ball was created by a group of Toronto artists who wanted “less theatre in our politics, and more politics in our theatre,” said event organizer and producer Judi Pearl. Writers, performers and directors are given two weeks to create and rehearse their pieces, the only stipulation: it has to be strictly political in its theme.

”It can cover the very local, the provincial, the federal, or the international,” said Pearl. “The point is to get performers and the public creating a dialogue on political issues that concern them.”

Monday’s performances included, “Days after Thatcher,” by Glenn Nutio, a satirical musical ode to the life and death of John Baird’s cat, “Lansdowne Fantasy,” by Eleanor Crowder which poked fun at plans for the Lansdowne stadium, and “Machete Smile,” a poem by Greg Frankson, a powerful performance that dealt with the death of a family friend.

"Machete Smile" Poet Greg Frankson presents a piece about the death of a family friend who was murdered by an ex-boyfriend. Photo: Chantaie Allick

The variety and strength of these performances are indicative of Ottawa’s strong arts scene said Pearl, yet the lack of support by the federal government means most of these artists struggle to have their work reach a larger audience.

“Canada should be ashamed at the lack of support they give Canadian artists. There are so many who are more than qualified to receive grants but don’t. This is not a question of having artistic merit, this is a case of not respecting what the arts can give back to a community.”

The need for funding illuminates another goal of Le Wrecking Ball events, which it to foster and develop relationships among members of Ottawa’s artistic community, both Francophone and Anglophone. Many of the pieces were critical of the government and its policies. As a collective of artists, the performances had a progressive slant to their interpretations of events.

“This event is a great way to get all kinds of people together to show their work,” said artist Greg Frankson, co-founder of Capital Slam: Ottawa’s Spoken Word Society. “It can help build connections in the arts community, it’s a way of supporting one another’s work, and it is essential to keeping a small arts scene like Ottawa’s alive.”

Le Wrecking Ball is also a forum to address pressing social issues. Frankson noted that the recent fires at Ottawa’s Cornerstone women’s shelter, and a suspicious fire at an apartment with all female residents, had him thinking about his own brush with domestic violence.

“We had a woman who lived with my family when she had recently immigrated to Canada from Jamaica,” said Frankson. “She was like family to me, and she was killed by a man who couldn’t accept the word no. This is a deeply painful issue for me, and is something that I think we need to address.”

"Bail" Written by Sonja Mills. Photo: Chantaie Allick

Pearl noted that events like the Wrecking Ball allow artists and citizens to engage with social and political problems on a personal level. A line of communication is opened between audience and performers, stripped of spin and partisan posturing.

“Without these events it is harder to create this dialogue,” said Pearl. “We need to be more engaged, the arts allow people to connect on a more intimate level. They are important to our understanding of who we are as a society, and the Canadian government needs to recognize this.”

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