Photo: Playwright and actress Michaela Di Cesare
Italian Version >>> Drammaturghi: provato talento in cerca di riconoscimento… per gli altri
TORONTO - Are you a scriptwriter, stage manager, director, researcher, actor, filmmaker, dramatist, stand-up comedian, a creative artist? I am not. Thanks to Professor Anna Migliarisi, from U of T’s Department of Italian Studies, I met some darned good ones at a seminar on October 26.
She moderated a Roundtable Discussion on the challenges faced by “non-mainstream” stage and film/video artists in the creative sector to access resources and audiences. It could have been about any “ethnic group” of Canadians, or indeed Canadian artists pre-Canada Council for the Arts, the Canada Media Fund or the plethora of Federal/Provincial/local arts-granting councils. This was about Italian Canadian Playwrights.
There are plenty of them to go around, as they say. Prof. Migliarisi cited at least 90 such individuals who have produced more than 300 works worthy of publication and presentation, but, virtually non-existent in the history books chronicling or anthologizing Canadian theatre or stage presentations.
It is almost as if they - we - didn’t exist. Or were not a part of the narrative that defines Canada as a country or a culture. It is almost as if the Cultural Duopoly that oversees the “nutrition of the heart and soul of the “Canadian Condition” were deliberately suffocating or smothering the flames of creativity that contribute to its definition.
And yet they exist, no, thrive - resisting pressures brought upon by lack of resources (benefactors, advocates, risk-taking entrepreneurs) and access to “stages” where production can be delivered with consistency and frequency that rewards merit.
Regrettably, too often reduced to a mere “footnote”, to paraphrase Montreal playwright and actress, Michaela Di Cesare, author of the acclaimed play: “Women as a Footnote”. Or relegated to “role playing” the “stereotype image people have of you”, commented actor Bobby Del Rio, or projecting an “exoticized version of oneself”.
But I’m not “ethnic”, stage manager, Frank Canino offered as a counterpoint, “I’ve written over 20 plays, many of them produced, some successfully”, but our perspective on the “human condition” is not well represented in the Canadian narrative. There is virtually no money for available for production.
It is expensive to stage, tour and access facilities to build up a track record of “success”. Without it, artists come up against a “reluctance” [of] support even from their natural constituency among the Italian-Canadian entrepreneurial or philanthropic class, observed playwright Toni Ellwand.
It is an observation echoed by another Montrealer, documentary filmmaker, scholar, researcher and commentator, Anita Aloisio, author of the acclaimed “Children of Bill 101”. Artists are compelled to spend more time begging than creating, informing and entertaining, she noted; moreover, like Toni Ellwand, they still have to feed themselves and their families.
Even the “atypical” performance genre of stand-up comedy has difficulty accessing the necessary funds to prepare, practice, fine tune and deliver audience-ready material.
There are no provisions or criteria in funding formulae that apply to my trade, especially not among the “benefactor” category, said Comedian Sandra Battaglini of Sault Ste Marie.
The critique turned into downright criticism of “the culprits”, either by commission or omission, identified by veterans Nick Mancuso and Tony Nardi.
For Mancuso, whose international acting successes afford him a “more independent perspective”, governmental funding agencies approach sham lip-service status to the creative arts - they function primarily as government advertising agencies.
Nardi, a successful dramatist and actor in his own right, slightly more diplomatic but no less direct, expressed regret that the “creative sector” is constantly faced with parsimonious responses from those who have more money than they can burn.
Unfortunately, he remarked, rather matter-of-factly, there does not exist a “go to” organization in the community either for funding or to lobby for it on behalf of their sons and daughters. They are orphans, if they immerse themselves in the art of recounting or shaping the narrative that is becoming Canada.
The panel mentioned only two Organizations by name -The National Congress of Italian Canadians and Villa Charities. Their absence, and the devotion of their Executives to erstwhile political-economic projects and personal goals, suggest that they are either moribund or mummified.
Professors Anna Migliarisi and Domenico Pietropaolo were bang-on in their summation: the Roundtable is but an initial thrust into the field. First one needs to admit there is a problem/vacuum. Secondly, assess the challenges and the options for solutions. Thirdly, explore how to promote creativity and seek out allies to deliver its outcomes.
Corriere Canadese will await the next call.