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Some Thoughts on Praxis Theatre and The Original Norwegian’s production of “You Should Have Stayed Home” at the Summerworks Festival

Review

by Jonah Hundert

Promotional still from "You Should have stayed at Home" (Will O'Hare)
Promotional still from "You Should have stayed at Home" (Will O'Hare)
Tommy Taylor wrote and performed the piece. (Will O'Hare)
Tommy Taylor wrote and performed the piece. (Will O'Hare)

www.summerworks.ca
Aug. 4 - 14

Full disclosure: I should say right up front that I, like Tommy Taylor, the writer and performer of You Should Have Stayed Home (YSHSH), spent nearly 24 hours in the makeshift detention centre on Eastern Avenue during last summer’s G20. My experience inside was very similar to his. I can assure anyone that has doubts that nothing in Tommy’s retelling is exaggerated or fabricated. If anything, Tommy and I likely had a milder experience inside the detention centre than many others. 

 
I wanted to like (YSHSH). I wanted it to be the marriage of politics and theatre, ideas and art, that I struggle to create. I was expecting that Tommy, along with the amazing artists at Praxis Theatre and The Original Norwegian, would achieve something quite special. Yet I left sorely disappointed, a little angry, but most of all, confused. I was confused as to what this show was supposed to be, and why this group of intelligent, passionate and talented artists felt that this was a story that needed telling. 
 
Now, I don’t like the term “political theatre”. I think all theatre is political. By deciding what stories we tell we are making a political statement. What then, is the political statement being made with YSHSH? Well, what’s the story? It’s the story of a charming young man, in love with his girlfriend, who has a fairly traumatic experience during the G20 and ends up safe, healthy, and still in love with his girlfriend. There is no sense of political growth; there is nothing in the story that would suggest any understanding of the events that unfolded. In the show Tommy very proudly says that he returned to Queen’s Park a few days after the G20, for another protest, but this time a changed man; Whereas he had previously been a casual observer, a curious bystander, now he was an “activist”.... he was speaking to the crowd. I remember that speech. It was passionate, and articulate and enthusiastic, but it was about himself. It was about his experience. And that was fine. I totally understand the need that Tommy felt to tell his story. I felt it too! In fact, much of YSHSH sounds just like the conversation I had over drinks with most of my friends in the weeks and months after the G20; conversations with those who weren’t there, those who didn’t understand, and those who just saw the flaming cop cars on the news. 
 
But this is a year later. I expected there to be some semblance of growth in Tommy. I was expecting, or maybe just hoping, that there would be some recognition of the fact that what happened to Tommy and me and over a thousand others is the daily reality for people in our city. In my mind there is still an important reason to tell stories of the detention centre, but not simply because it happened. It is important because it took 1,000 mostly middle class white people getting arrested for the media to pay attention, while most of us are blind to the never ending violent and arbitrary detention of young men from Jane and Finch, those seeking refugee status, the homeless, and so on. But there is none of this in Tommy’s story. It is still just about him.
For me the most troubling thing about the play, and I realize I’ll find few allies on this one, is the lack of interest in understanding, in any way the actions of the black block on the Saturday of the conference. Tommy refers to them as “vandal assholes”, and refers to their actions as “the violence”. I think that if you talk about “the violence” on the weekend of the G20, and you’re referring to broken windows, you’re missing the point entirely. The violence that occurred that weekend was the rampant beatings and arbitrary detainment meted out by the police. The violence was the social violence of the austerity measures being put in place by the representatives of the G20 countries. In the play, Tommy describes the crowd that was waiting for him when he got out of the detention centre, those that cheered for him, those that fed him and gave him water. These people were likely some of the same “vandal assholes” he so callously derides earlier in the play. Now, it is likely Tommy didn’t know that, but I don’t believe that he made any attempt to find out.  The community organizers who worked tirelessly to make possible the outbursts of love and resistance and community that occurred during the G20 all agreed that there must be respect for a diversity of tactics. That means that even if someone chooses tactics that are different from yours, that you disagree with, you still support them. This is essential to movement building and solidarity, and Tommy has, wilfully or not, completely ignored it. Furthermore, in the program notes Praxis thanks the outstanding hip hop duo Test Their Logik. I imagine they would be disgusted to be associated in any way with a production that refers to the black bloc as “vandal assholes”. So much for solidarity.
 
One of the main criticisms of black bloc tactics is the fact that it somehow takes away from the so-called “legitimate” protestors. In truth, i think that, a year later, focusing on the detention centre, does more to drown out the message and the causes that people were fighting for than the black bloc ever could. While people continue to suffer with increasing intensity the effects of austerity measures, is this where our focus should be? While the police who arrested us, and kettled us continue to murder youth on our streets, are the actions during the G20 what we should still be angry about?
 
Maybe it’s a mistake for me to be looking for any kind of valid political message in YSHSH. Because in truth, at its heart, this is a purely personal story. This is Tommy telling Tommy’s story, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. And the production, although lacking much actual theatricality, is quite effective in its sparse, simplistic staging. I think there could be much more use of the cast of extras playing detainees (why use recorded voice-over when you have some of the most talented young actresses in the city on stage with you???), but when they are used it is striking. It would be nice if Tommy were fully off book, unless this is a workshop production, in which case that should be noted. Yet this show is being sold as a political, controversial piece of theatre. I think that is the mistake. As a simple, honest personal story, this is a fairly successful piece of theatre. As a relevant, social justice minded production it is wrought with problems, and possibly even offensive.
 

Still, I say, don’t stay home. Go see this play and join the conversation.

-originally posted at theatrebooks.blogspot.com-


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Comments

Politics Meets Art

Thank you Jonah Hundert for an incredibly articulate and thought provoking review.  You Should Have Just Stayed Home is a must see for me as I'm involved in a production right now that is thematically related and one that we're taking to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next week.  As the playwright, director (and teacher) of The Dreamcatchers I've been very senstive to the logistics of creating theatre born of political events (G2o riots and the OPP killing of Dudley George at Ipperwash).  I'm also very aware of the lessons I'm sharing with my students. 

I believe good theatre asks questions and allow the audience to come up with their own answers.  We have tried to show both sides, both points of view.  I'm very interested to hear wihat our reviewers will have to say about our play.

In the meantime I look forward to seeing the YSHJSH.  I've heard both postive and critical comments about the production and its importance in the larger scheme of things. 

 

 

 

 

  A few comments on the

 

A few comments on the review- while it was certainly middle-class white people that got the press regarding unfair arrests, many of the 1000 people arrested didn't fall into that demographic.  I remember people saying that street punks in particular were being targeted due to similarities between their normal dress and the black block (of course related to the punk subcultures historical relationship to anarchism), many other non-punk street youth were also arrested. I personally know of ghetto and semi-homeless youth being arrested, as well as young parents subsisting on welfare. These stories didn't get told of course, but it wasn't only the middle class arrested at the G20 protests, its just that the middle class doesn't normally get arrested.

I also think that the agreement on 'diversity of tactics' among activist organizers is overstated- while in some ways there appeared to consensus, there was also silencing of dissenting voices. I've had many people tell me in the months since the G20 that they were always critical of 'diversity of tactics' they didn't want to say anything and are still reluctant to.  And while the TCMN did a lot of the gruntwork, many of the critical organizers for that weekend came from labout, which brought out of the majority of the 20,000 protesters, and the 'labour movement' (which has many problems) certainly never agreed to diversity of tactics as a principle.  These were organizers too, even if some of us disagree with them.

It's also somewhat easier I think for us, who are connected to radical leftist culture, to deal with what happened during the G20. We have friends who understand, who went through the same or similar things during the weekend, to talk about these things over beers, to compare to Quebec City or Montebello or Seatle, to place our experience in a historical context. People that lack an understanding group of friends are left to process what happened alone, and of course this takes a longer, so its no surprise that Tommy is still dealing with what happened.

I'm glad you wrote this thought-provoking review, and its been interesting to watch the debate on this piece of theatre play out on the internet.

Amazing entry point

Finally saw this play. I thought it was amazingly powerful, I was expecting something devoid of truth, or condeming of activists based on what I read here. It wasn't at all! I found it to be a very layered piece and Taylor's observatios told the bigger stories.

Is this the play the activist community maybe wanted about G20, no. WE already know all this, and we know G20 exists daily (which I think Taylor touched on with stories of Aboriginal's not being surprised around him) and in the explanation at the end of what he's done over the past year. This is, however, EXACTLY the play we need everyone else to see. People who would avoid a hardline play yelling about how awful G20 and police institutions are. People need a place to start - and most amazingly I heard a lot of "I had no idea..." in the lobby and panel discussion hosted by CCLA afterwards (which was just a very, very basic 101 on police violence culture and (un)accoubtability). 

Based on the experinces my friends had with G20 police and the detention centre, I would imagine that this must be a very hard piece for Taylor to do. Kudos for not "getting over it" (as people often say about G20).

I think the artists in the activist community should create a piece that explores what we want to explore. After seeing this play, audiences might open their minds about it. And why, after a year, haven't we? Isn't the reviewer of this piece a theatre artist himself? Not a critque, just an observation.

In any case, keeping this story in disscussions and people's minds over a year later is important. Let's include this in diversity of tactics?

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