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First Friday Night Fight at the GCTC was a bit of a fizzle   (original title)

This is a piece I sent to the Hill Times after attending the first Fight Night Debate at the GCTC after Proud. It was published as an “opinion” on the Hill Times blog. Monday, September 23, 2013.

These new Friday Night Fight debates organized by GCTC Artistic director Eric Coates in the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre after each of this season’s plays, are an excellent idea. Inviting guests who are not necessarily involved with theatre but who have reputations in other fields, could be a good way to attract a non-theatre going public, and even incite the more passive of us to speak up.

That first Friday evening, moderated by a wise, thoughtful and thoroughly engaging Jim Creskey, editor of the Hill Times, generated an excitement I have rarely seen in a theatre. The place was packed, the atmosphere was relaxed…free beer helped of course…the audience was of all ages which is very important. It seemed the perfect event to satisfy all the expectations generated by the poster add showing a man and a woman snarling at each other. This evening we saw David Akin (Sun Media, journalist and TV personality) and Michael de Adder (Hill Times editorial cartoonist) facing off and there was a promise of blood on the floor!

In fact this turned into an evening of promotion and voyeurism: promotion for the play, promotion for Sun News, the Hill times and a slightly voyeuristic trip through the world of the journalist on the hill.

Both guests began by praising the play and assuring us that Healey caught Harper on stage.

Michael de Adder the editorial cartoonist for the Hill Times spoke about his vision of Harper. His books on display showed us how his sense of humour explodes in his cartoons. As a visual artist who does not deal with words, it seems fair to say that his best arguments are no doubt visual rather than verbal and his contribution to the discussion was therefore the odd very funny statement that had us all in stitches. However, he did not express himself quite as glibly as his opponent.

David Akin, on the other hand told us all the books about Harper that writer/actor Michael Healey had to read in order to get into his character. He recognized how closely the play represented the Prime Minister because he, Akin, spends his professional life as a Journalist on the hill, dealing with the PMO and Harper’s entourage as well as the man himself. So how could we doubt such excellent credentials? And then he moved over to his own journalistic experiences which were interesting because how often do we get off the cuff and intimate chatter by a professional who sees what we do not see? Thus, the play quickly disappeared and we listened to personal stories about Akin, who dominated the evening, as any hope of debate evaporated!

Surprisingly, it never occurred to Akin (a former theatre critic) to say that theatre is essentially fiction. Of course the play is inspired by Harper but it is not necessarily supposed to be a precise imitation of the man. Why do people get caught in that trap of looking for reality? But this speaker went further; he insisted that journalists don’t always get it right either because they accuse Harper of cutting budgets in such and such a sector, but in fact he cut certain budgets a lot less than one might think. Why, the Prime Minister has even increased the number of people in the PMO when journalists accuse him of cutting personnel (of course the slashing of Civil Servants is never mentioned) . Suddenly, some journalists are compared to “bad” playwrights when they don’t get the character right. This became a promotional speech not for the play but for Harper himself.

By now, the evening had nothing more to do with theatre but it did show that Harper is a hot commodity and he attracts people because we know very little about him. In fact Harper, not the play, was the centre of attention and it was all positive attention for our Prime Minister, the best he could ever hope for, especially coming from the arts community!

Thus, it is a shame that the two guests were not able to extract things from the play that could have engendered controversy and thus created some real debate…about the play, and perhaps even about the man. Is Healey’s portrait too positive, not critical enough? What kind of parody is this really? Is it possible to make serious fun of a leading political figure in Canada? What about censorship? Of course the play is well written and beautifully performed but there are a lot of questions that could have sparked a stimulating discussion. Some timid voice in the audience dared to ask about journalists not doing enough in depth research into Conservative budget miscalculations. That was the sole suggestion of controversy all evening, but it did put our guests on the spot and it was dismissed rapidly. Makes you think doesn’t it?

Alvina Ruprecht

www.capitalcriticscircle.com