Playwrights Speak Out
PGC recently polled our membership for comments concerning two recent issues swirling around the theatre world – that of Michael Healey's recent departure from the Tarragon Theatre; and, Anne-France Goldwater’s comments during the CBC’s Canada Reads debate that member Carmen Aguirre is a “bloody terrorist”.
Both of these incidents have critics warning of a general chill to freedom of expression in Canada today. Below are some of the responses we’ve received (so far).
On Freedom of Expression:
“The role of the writer is to hold up a mirror to society. Not a mirror such as would be used in fairy tales to disguise for us and others the inner demons of our nature. A mirror of truth. If our writers cannot show us the truth as they and we see it, there is no point in calling Canada a free country.” - Jane Gilchrist
"Freedom of expression is essential to the health of democracy and of individual freedom. It is more important than ever in Canada now, when we have a government that wants to stifle dissent and ignore facts in pursuit of ideology. In other countries people are fighting and dying for the right to dissent. We must not let that right be suffocated here." - C. Douglas Abel
"The possibility for everyone to express an opinion (especially a political opinion) freely and openly, no matter how controversial, is fundamental to democracy. A society in which unpopular political opinions are suppressed is not democratic." - Moira Law
"I am dumbstruck! This reminds me of the worst authoritarian states! When I left South Africa during the Apartheid years I felt I left the polecat country of the world only to find myself landed in another." - Flora Danziger
"Freedom of speech is one of the last vestiges of equality in our 'democratic' society. Listening to another opinion might--just MIGHT make you re-examine your own and even, if you let it, open your mind and your heart." - Marcia Kash
"I am thankful for Canada and our freedom of expression and speech. This means I have to put up listening to some crap on the radio I think is appallingly small minded, watch some plays that offend me with their lack of sensitivity, listen to some music that is too crass for my daughter's ears. It also means people in Canada are exposed to my "bleeding heart liberal" feminist pro-gay cosmic Jesus sexually liberated Mama New Age non GMO Westcoastness. Thank God. Writers like Carmen Aguirre have a right in this country to write. And you can like it or not, but for damn sure, like our freedom." - Lucia Frangione
"Arm's length funding must remain arm's length - once a political entity tries to maintain or control art, by labelling it unCanadian or contrary to various values - art will, by necessity, take on the values of those in power. While various governments may not see this as a bad thing on its face, one need only to look at Stalinism to see what this actually looks like.
Our arts funding originated out of a need to define ourselves outside of our two largest cultural influences - those being the UK and the US. We are still threatened in part by foreign cultural and commercial hegemonies. Governments need to realise that while arbitrarily holding back funding in the name of ideology leaves a vaccuum where foreign ideas may rush in, that this can backfire. While some of our present governments may seem to be ideologically in line with foreign interests, their positions can change overnight. Our ideologies are best defined by our art, and cannot, and never will be authentically defined by a political power. Allowing political entities to define a people's ideals is basically, by definition, fascism." -T. Berto (University of Guelph)
"It saddens me that at this time in Canada when we are renowned for welcoming people from many different countries, sharing other customs, beliefs and opinions, this conversation is even necessary. Playwrights Guild asks us to speak? Haven't we always done so? In the most turbulent times, Art and Literature have always been the forum for new ideas and discussion, a different way of seeing the world. In countries not blessed with a democracy such as we know it, artists have been imprisoned, even died for their vision of the truth. I have lived in a place where books were burned yet somehow, though often clandestinely, the works were not stilled.
We must be allowed to freely write, act, dance paint, because if we are not, how will generations reflect on our and their roles in society, on who we are. Shame on those who want to deny us the freedom to speak out! We will become artistically and morally the poorer." - Irene N. Watts
On the Carmen Aguirre Issue:
"Terrorism exists when fear controls movement. If it was only fear of legal consequences that led to a decision not to produce another Healey play, that would be a concern. But maybe they didn't like the play. Freedom also means theatres being allowed to make their own decisions about what to produce without being held hostage by a playwright wanting their work produced on their own schedule." - Lynda Martens
"Having just finished reading Carmen Aguerra's book, I am moved by her experiences and by her courage in working towards a better future for poor native South Americans. I applaud her and am proud that she is a Canadian. Her book has broadened my understanding of events that took place when I was too young to really understand, and strengthened my appreciation of my own country. It will be easier for me to stand against injustice when I remember her example. Even if we disagree with people's ideas, we must respect their freedom to express them using words, not weapons." - Suzanne Brooks, Gulliver's Bookstore, North Bay, ON
"Without having read the books on the program, it is impossible for me to comment. However, I find it amazing that such a program even exists. Only in Canada! Only on the CBC in Canada! On the one hand, it's bloody incredible. On the other hand, it is in danger of devolving into a license to kill or, at the very least, some kind of ratings game. Are there ratings involved? There must be ratings involved. Of course, it pales in comparison to the debates recently in the US among the Republican participants, where people just open their mouths and say whatever comes into their heads, false statistics, lies, you name it. Those debates are a poor role model for any program." - Mary Humphrey Baldridge
"This isn't really a question of free speech. After all, part of free speech is people being free to say idiotic things. The kind of person who calls the resistors to a military dictatorship "terrorists" cannot, I think, have any real understanding or respect for democracy. To call Carmen Aguirre and Nelson Mandela "bloody terrorists", is essentially to say you believe the Pinochet regime was a legitimate government and South African Apartheid was a legitimate policy." - Jordan Hall
On the Michael Healey Issue:
"As a playwright, I support Michael Healey and Carmen Aguirre's right to write whatever they wish... just as I support Anne-France Goldwater's right to exercise free speech on public radio and Richard Rose's right, as an artistic director, to program whatever season of plays he wishes." - Jordan Tannahill
"It's a bad idea to comment on material one has not read; because it's not possible to make a properly informed decision. Having said that, I find the situation at the Tarragon a kind of opposite to the CBC program's; because I have to wonder if what happened is really the result of the kerfuffle over the "Harper" play. Surely, something more must have happened. Mr. Healey has been associated with the Tarragon for a long time. Was there no possibility of compromise or something?" - Mary Humphrey Baldridge
"If we're going to silence ourselves before we've even spoken, what work are we leaving for the censors?" - Jordan Hall
Thanks to all who contributed. Please feel free to send us your feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org