This page will function as a space where we will post all written feedback about theory / theatre: an introduction. Please continue to respond. You can do this by commenting on this page, or by emailing us at email@example.com. We appreciate all responses. Other than the following general comments, we only plan on responding to direct questions about the project, as we would like to engage only with the ideas. We welcome all responses, and would love to dialogue about the project in person (for those of you in Edmonton).
Saying this, we would like to acknowledge a few of the questions and criticisms raised in the responses thus far:
IdeaAssassins believes the cultural economy, efficacy, and authenticity of an art form is not measured by its content alone, but the ways in which the form itself reflects the world in which we live. Far from being dead, we believe that theatre as a notion is the way in which these reflections can manifest. However, IdeaAssassins believes that the way theatre functions at the University of Alberta does not support an active engagement with the world or the ways in which communication and interaction have changed radically. The culture of fear regarding critical dialogue, which we argue, helps to define Canadian theatre, inhibits the establishment and growth of a critical perspective on performance and cultural production that is not only positive, but a necessary component of creation, dissemination, and dialogue.
While our poster project was meant to provoke, it was not intended to be negative or even aggressive. On the contrary, using techniques installed by the original avant-garde, the piece relied on the technique of shock to activate the transmission of ideas. Questioning the institutions we help to make-up, participate within, and yes, fight against, is not a radical notion, and is a quality we believe any artist should not only have inherently, but support in others. We believe artists have a responsibility to shake systems, as our space within the in-between allows these interrogations to be possible.
While we acknowledge that personal biases may easily lead to the interpretation that IdeaAssassins has a negative opinion of the MFA at the University of Alberta, the posters never attempted to argue this. On the contrary, our intention was to interrogate the language used regarding the graduate programs as we do believe that fundamentally, it is problematic to discuss the MFA and PhD as if they are at all similar. Having two very different and distinct foci and objectives, the comparison of the two is a useless discussion which only facilitates ignorance.
Regarding the Idea Intervention (with the provocation seminar), we acknowledge that the use of yes/no response cards did demand a choice be made by those who chose to participate. A dialogue is hardly possible unless individuals share their beliefs and contextualize their opinions. We intended the yes/no responses to illicit a response from which we we could have further dialogue. Further, we did not plan to “force” the cards or the performance on anyone. Kim’s attempt to force the cards on one student was an in-the-moment response to unexpected verbal and physical aggression. We did make a conscious decision to focus on particular groupings of posters, while intentionally passing others by.
We hope this clarifies our intentions, and again, we welcome any additional responses.
RESPONSES (in the order we have received them):
I must say I loved the papering. It felt as if you were inhabiting the space for us. For once the walls weren’t just closing in.
IdeaAssassins’s email response to poster mimics/response:
We (Cortney Lohnes and Kim McLeod) would like to thank you for your poster response to theory / theatre: an introduction. Although the project has generated lots of interest, you have been the only person to engage critically. We appreciate this very much as one of our goals was to illicit a dialogue via the form.
Our response to you would be the following questions:
1. What is your definition of art?
2. Why is it destructive to engage critically with the ideas, opinions, beliefs, and passions of others? Isn’t this exactly what art, and more specifically, perfomance is supposed to do?
If you are interested in continuing this dialogue let us know. We would be particularly interested in extending the performance of this response- perhaps on YouTube. Of course, however you would like to respond, and if you would at all, is completely up to you. And thanks again,
Cortney Lohnes and Kim McLeod
Response from creator of poster mimics:
Dear Cortney and Kim,
First of all, I am afraid you have severely misread my intentions and response to your project, so please do not thank me yet. I along with every other student I talked to regarding the matter found it morbid, negative, offensive, and pointless. Do not construe my meaning of that word however, to indicate futility, as ‘futility’ implies a fruitless means to a specific end. You had no end, not one of circumstance anyway. I meant pointless. I am disgusted that you, two apparently well learned students in the art of theatre, view the art as such a senseless waste of time. Theatre is not dead. In fact, there are few things more alive. You speak of television, and internet publications holding more relevance, power, and life than that of a live show. Now, you are both candidates for a Masters degree in Drama Theory, surely you can see and giggle at the irony and hypocrisy in that previous statement. Of course I understand your ‘theatre is dead’ claims to mean something a little less literal. After all, if you two artists worked only with literality, it would make it pretty hard to be as vague and pretentious as you managed to be. You argue that theatre is an “outdated” and thus dying method of performance. After all, let the numbers speak for themselves right? How many people have gone to your website and watched your vlog videos? A few hundred? That’s pretty good. Now, how many people pile in to watch young potential and professional actors, designers, and directors showcase their abilities in an MFA Media Room show? A few hundred per night. Theatre is not dead, but it is being threatened by people like you.
Secondly, the reason you thanked me in your email was for participating in a dialogue with your project, which you also mentioned was one of your intentions. That, I cannot believe. How can a dialogue occur when the project was executed with such opinionated, flagrant anonymity? This was my reasoning for putting my name and email on my posters, to show that a wild opinion deserves to be owned. It’s not only etiquette but also a responsibility. I could not find you, so I had to publicly react.
I’m sure that even you cannot disagree that theatre itself is a dialogue between performer and audience. The performer acts, the audience reacts, and the performer reacts to the reaction; this doesn’t necessarily happen directly, but there is an active relationship. Your project was not the dialogue you claimed it to be. It was forced on the audience. It was a performance of rape. The audience was not given a choice but to watch. Some tried to claim that choice however, and thus tore down your posters resulting in them being criticized publicly on your website.
Now, from your email:
1. What is your definition of art?
2. Why is it destructive to engage critically with the ideas, opinions, beliefs, and passions of others? Isn’t this exactly what art, and more specifically, performance is supposed to do?
Finally, I think that it was an extremely cowardly and disrespectful hit and run attack to my courage and integrity for you to respond to my protest with a series of personal questions, which, by the way, if I were to answer honestly I’m sure would be twisted and vandalized by your opinionated, closed-minded quotes and blabber. For that reason, I refuse to answer either of these questions as they are unfair. You answered my disdain with personal questions about my opinion. This is the main problem with your project. You are using tunnel-visioned narrow minded terms, quotes, and definitions to classify and constrain an indefinable concept, or rather, something that is entirely personal and unique for each individual person. Whatever I answer, no matter what it is, you will argue because you believe that you have the right answer and that everyone else should think the way you do. This is the danger of definition you face and the hole in your theories that will lead to your failure.
In closing, let me pose a situation to you. I spray paint in big, green, capital letters on a public brick wall, in plain view: “BLACK PEOPLE SUCK.” Now, whether I believe that to be true or not isn’t important, but just because I say it’s a theatre of provocation, that doesn’t make the shit on the wall right.
This “dialogue” is over.
Response re: Provocation Class, Ideas Intervention
As a student in the provocation seminar that formed the audience for the performance of this project, I offer a few observations and questions. Most importantly, the project provoked me. I admit that my response came from more than the performance alone. Rather, it was partially based on my two year relationship with the ideas and strategies consistently put forth by the project’s creators. I, therefore, did not view the posters as simply general statements. I viewed them as a public display of the creators’ bitterness towards the practices of the University of Alberta’s drama faculty, and as a criticism of the terminal degree status of the Master of Fine Arts. As an adjunct faculty member and MFA candidate, I was provoked by the strategy.
In terms of the performance, I have a question. If, according to your manifesto, you are demanding that we move beyond binaries, why would you offer the audience only opposing answer choices, “Yes” and “No”? And why would you tease the professor when he frequently chose to answer outside of the binary with the spoken answer of “Maybe” or “Sometimes?”
My final observation concerns the creators’ concept of hierarchy. During the performance, the creators were clearly in charge. When I refused to take a Yes or No card, Kim McLeod twice attempted to force it into my hand with the command, “You have to!” The creators led the questioning, chose which posters to discuss, and, more tellingly, chose which posters to avoid. In fact, had I not intervened in the questioning, the creators would have avoided a grouping of three posters that featured quotes taken directly from the drama department website and graduate studies brochures. When they did address the poster series, they asked a yes or no question (“Do you agree with this statement?”) about two of the posters, and avoided the third: “The MFA is a terminal degree, considered THE senior degree in the field of theatrical practice, and used as the hiring standard in North American colleges and universities” (the emphasis was added by creators on the poster, and did not appear on the brochure).
At the end of the performance, we were told to hold the poster which had most provoked us. To draw attention to the above mentioned poster had been avoided during the performance, I chose to display it. The creators then took our picture, without any indication that the photograph would be posted online. When I was informed that my image had been used on this blogsite, I requested that it be removed.
“Way to go! Loved it!”
1) Both are terminal degrees. Perhaps an important debate could be had about whether or not Art programs based in practice should be allowed inside of the hallowed halls of the university. Perhaps all Fine Arts programs should be ghettoized into colleges, institutes and specialty schools. Perhaps we should go back to the apprenticeship tradition of the past. However, since, currently, Fine Arts programs exist, they need people who are qualified to teach there.
2) Inarguably, a few letters after your name may not indicate any ability to carry on interesting research, whether academic or practice-based, but it does indicate that you have been exposed to university-level teaching and writing in a way that indicates on at least some level your willingness to continue the basic structures of the institution, whether or not that includes futile railings against it.
3) Both series of letters indicate a level of membership in the university club. Both give to the bearer specific advantages and few responsibilities. The responsibilities of the bearer, whether in scholarship or training, are varied and are based on tendencies that the bearer very likely had before being bequeathed the extra letters.
4) Neither group is particularly provoked by this argument, cuz they’ve already got theirs.
5) Both groups are under attack. Mostly not by each other.
A professor of mine once said that his experience as a theatre practitioner was the equivalent of a (number varies according to reports) number of PhDs. Although a bit of a silly proclamation on the surface, it’s actually a gross understatement. An infinite number of PhDs would not bestow upon the bearer the ability or qualification needed to teach practical application of artistic techniques.
If you want a career in Art Practice, get out of school and start practicing. Canada needs more theatre that revels in boldness and experimentation. Until we have this, it’s questionable whether we need more academics to tell us that we don’t have it.