This Sunday, Spur brings together playwrights Michael Healey (The Drawer Boy, Plan B), Hannah Moscovitch (East of Berlin, This is War) and Guillermo Verdecchia (Fronteras Americanas, A Line in the Sand, co-written with Marcus Youssef), for a conversation on “The Theatre of Politics,” moderated by Sandra Martin of The Globe and Mail.
All these authors have created politically incisive work, and Healey’s writing put him at the centre of a public controversy last year, when he wrote a play called Proud while playwright-in-residence at the Tarragon Theatre. It imagined what might have taken place in the Prime Minister’s Office in the wake of the 2011 elections if the majority of Quebec seats had gone to Conservative rather than NDP candidates. Proud was Healey’s final play in a trilogy on Canadian values.
Although it did not give an official reason why, Tarragon chose not to mount the play. While some suggested it may simply have been a matter of artistic differences, many speculated the theatre’s decision arose from fear of a potential political backlash. Ironically, once the play was actually produced, many reviewers observed that far from being vitriolic, Proud’s portrayal of the Prime Minister was respectful, and even sympathetic. In The Globe and Mail, J. Kelly Nestruck wrote that Healey’s play “resurrect[s] the unfashionable notion that we should try to understand those we politically disagree with—and that the prerogative of a playwright is to get inside and humanize.”
The controversy around Proud highlights the undeniable power of art and storytelling to provoke. When is a piece of work “too political,” particularly in a country where artists receive public funding? What topics are dangerous—or is everything fair game? And can politically provocative theatre achieve something that other art forms can’t?
We hope you’ll join these acclaimed playwrights, to discuss such questions about the challenges and rewards of crafting political—and often very controversial—work!