A New Article … and some more thoughts.

As we count down the days till the opening of the festival, there seems to be a mounting interest in the conversation of this upcoming work–which, I add, still nobody has seen (but they will. oh they will.)  Another piece came out, this time from The Canadian Press–and it’s strong.  It is not littered with personal agenda, and is actually investigative.

The Toronto Sun has now turned this into a blatant attack on the Festival. (there has been THREE articles printed).

A dear friend said to me the other day that “any time a small piece of theatre can make people in big places sit up and take notice, it is a victory”.  I agree with her, though I think its important that we try to recognize what is actually happening versus what appears to be happening.

This is not a conversation about HOMEGROWN or THE SUMMERWORKS FESTIVAL.  Not a single person quoted in any of the SUN Articles knows anything about either.  They’ve not seen the play, nor been to the festival.  Period.  And, its a shame.  Its a shame that they did not take the time to actually contextualize what they’re “reporting” about.  And because they haven’t, this “controversy” feels only like an opportunity to deepen an agenda that is lobbying against funding for the arts.  We have become nothing more than ammo, built from a few soundbytes and stereotypes.  Whose ammo?  I’m not sure.  This is not just about Don Peat.  This is about an entire conservative culture that Mr. Peat seems to be trying to rally.  If you read the comments on the SUN website, you may or may not be surprised.

Personally, I feel indebted to Don Peat for reminding me of the IMMENSE VALUE of both the festival and art.  This experience has helped me strengthen the choice I have made in my life as an artist–as I find myself thinking and speaking consistently of the necessity of the theatre and the arts in Canada.

I’ve said it before.  Art is reflection.  It allows us the FREEDOM to investigate the human condition–the NECESSITY of viewing the world with as many possible perceptions so that we may know each other.  Really, truly know each other.   It is a tool for learning.  For exposing.  For sharing.  For showing.   It instigates passion, comapassion and empathy for our fellow man and woman.  It asks us to see the world and to see ourselves for what is true versus mirage–or at least ask us the question. (Inception anyone?)

And so I continue to encourage you to see this work and see as much work at the festival as you can.  It is an extraordinary year at the SummerWorks Festival.  Lets use this as an opportunity to reflect, rejoice and question (!).

Only 2 days till opening! Can you guess what the top selling show is?

Nope–Its The Hidden Cameras.

But Homegrown is a close second :)

See you at the Festival.


Michael Rubenfeld
Artistic Producer

New play takes inside look at Toronto 18

August 02, 2010 7:08 p.m.

MONTREAL – Catherine Frid wants to make it perfectly clear: she’s not expressing sympathy for terrorists in her new play.

The playwright does hope, however, that her story of a member of the infamous Toronto 18 stirs up a little dialogue about life in the post-Sept. 11 world.

“Homegrown,” which looks at her relationship with convicted terrorist Shareef Abdelhaleem over 18 months, premieres this week at Toronto’s SummerWorks indie arts festival.

Frid says Canada has a better track record than most other countries on the human-rights front — but that it still has a history of finding scapegoats.

She cited the Japanese-Canadians in the Second World War, gays in the 1950s and then the Sikhs. Now she says the country often rushes to judgment whenever Muslims are involved.

“It seems to me that it’s unfortunately sometimes human nature to want to cast someone as the enemy and now Muslims are being cast as the enemy,” Frid said, noting the Toronto 18 case had a significant impact on Toronto’s Muslims.

“I think we have to put a bit of reason behind it and not be so unthinking about what we’re doing.”

Abdelhaleem was convicted in January of participating in a terrorist group and intending to cause an explosion. A judge rejected his contentions that he was the victim of entrapment.

The group allegedly planned to bomb the Toronto CSIS office and stock exchange as well as an Ontario military base. It also threatened to behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Frid, who graduated from the prestigious Osgoode Hall law school but never practiced law, met Abdelhaleem through her ex-husband, who had taught him in high school.

She didn’t initially think about telling his story but was considering a prison tale and figured it would be a good chance to do some research.

Frid hadn’t paid much attention to his case when it first arose. She became more interested as she talked to him.

“Putting a human being in front of all the facts made the story much more compelling for me,” she said.

She says she remained cautious during the interview process, which took place over the phone and during several visits to the prison in Milton, Ont.

“I didn’t take what he told me at face value. That’s why I went home and looked it up.”

After everything, she doesn’t think he’s a terrorist as much as “a regular guy” who’s a big talker and “showed extremely bad judgment.”

“Basically, he’s a nice person, seems like a very respectful person. He’s always been a very pleasant person to deal with.”

The 75-minute production also looks at the sweeping reach of the Anti-Terrorism Act, the deals police cut with informants, lengthy pre-trial detention for the accused and state secrecy.

It has generated some controversy before it has even hit the stage.

One newspaper quoted people questioning government funding for the SummerWorks Festival, suggesting the play is “sympathetic” to terrorists. Others who posted comments on the paper’s website said the arts shouldn’t be funded by government at all.

Frid, who has worked for the Ontario government as a human rights policy analyst, said the tempest “shocked” her.

“I thought the play might be contentious but I didn’t think the existence of the play would be contentious. I don’t understand why there’s a knee-jerk reaction to even talking about what happened to a guy who’s in jail.”

She pointed out she is “pro-Canadian.”

“I’m not someone who likes to slam this country all the time. I think we get stronger when we actually talk about stuff rather than shying away from it or just saying that discussing an issue is unpatriotic.”

Michael Rubenfeld, the artistic producer of the SummerWorks Festival, said the play was picked for this year’s lineup because it was “compelling.”

“It was a voice that we hadn’t heard in a way that we hadn’t heard,” he said.

He found the controversy odd because no one has seen the play yet.

Rubenfeld noted there is a tradition of using theatre to understand complex people and issues. He recalled there have been portrayals of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler that were aimed at giving insight into him.

“The Last King of Scotland,” he added, was a personal look at brutal Ugandan strongman Idi Amin that won an Oscar.

“The play is just trying to offer people a stroke of grey into why and how this happened in our country — which is what I think good art should do.”

Rubenfeld said no one will walk away from the play feeling that Abdelhaleem or the rest of the Toronto 18 were justified but they might understand them a bit better, which is all the more reason projects like this should be funded.

“The piece is called ‘Homegrown’ because the reality is that it’s a terrorist threat that originated from within our country. Without understanding how that’s happening, what’s to stop it from happening again?

“That’s why work like this matters.”



3 thoughts on “A New Article … and some more thoughts.

  1. While I really think that people need to take responsibility for their own damn actions (the idea of a convicted terrorist being portrayed in a sympathetic light makes me very uncomfortable), I am intrigued to see if “Homegrown” can change my viewpoint.
    Yes, the comments on the Toronto Sun article were mostly of the “why-is-my-money-being-used-to-fund-this-crap” variety (and really, what else would one expect from Sun readers?), but the hullaballoo about this play, SummerWorks, and government funding is publicity you just can’t buy!

  2. Pingback: I believe… — Struts and Frets: Kris Joseph

  3. Kudos to you Michael Rubenfeld for being a calm voice of reason in this storm, for consistently bringing the issue back to freedom of expression and repeatedly pointing out that, because no one has seen the play yet, all parties are usig the topic-of-the-moment to reinforce a political agenda. But most especially thanks for making theatre front page news again – It’s been a while.

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