The Ugly Canadian

They say Canadians make great comedians, as we have a keen sense of irony.  They also say that we are unfailingly polite.  Last night, I saw irony and politeness meet in absurdly Canadian fashion.

rsz_proud_image-website1I’m sitting third row centre, watching some colleagues in a great production of Michael Healey’s play “Proud” at the Firehall Arts Centre in Vancouver.  The play is a clever satire on our current PM Stephen Harper and a meditation on our national identity as a whole.  Check this piece out if you’re in the city, it’s fantastic.

It’s about halfway in when I notice an older woman’s head in the front row starting to slowly timber to one side.  It’s commonplace in theatre for seniors to nod off or to ask their companion in full voice, “WHAT DID HE JUST SAY?”.  This demographic represents the majority of some companies’ subscription bases.

But no big deal, other than the actors having a slumped over patron in their eye line.

Cue the snoring.  The kind that leaves spouses sleeping on the couch.  The vibrations bouncing off the walls of the theatre and filling every pause in the dialogue.  Front.  Row. Centre.

Heads turning.  Gasps of frustration.  Heated whispers. By now the audience is a bunch of French mimes, gesturing, grimacing and strangling on their indignation but paralyzed by indecision.

FIFTEEN MINUTES.

My girlfriend and I are feeling our jaws drop slowly to the floor in amazement that nobody, including her seatmates, is tapping her!  The whole time I’m searching my pockets for objects heavy enough to reach the lady’s head but light enough to do no harm.  I’m calculating how big a disturbance I’ll make by stumbling through my row, down the stairs and across the front of the stage to alert this woman that she’s unwittingly producing a piece of Canadian performance art behind her.  Somebody should have filmed it as a documentary for the national archives: “The Canadian Identity: A History of Silent Frustration.”

Finally, the penny drops and the man sitting directly behind her was encouraged/ordered by his wife to lean forward and commit the unthinkably cruel and invasive act of tapping the woman’s shoulder.  Her head popped up, she rubbed her eyes and sat up with the renewed energy that only a power nap can bring.  Shoulders and anuses relaxed in a collective moment of Canuck catharsis.

We’re watching a play satirizing Canada while we the Canadians watching act out a farce of our own.  Does irony get any stronger?

rsz_angry_old_ladyI live and work in both the USA and Canada.  Say what you will about Americans being abrasive, but for the love of a healthy heart, at least they are unafraid to take action.  Canadians, and Vancouverites more specifically, are so notoriously petrified of rocking the proverbial boat that we’d rather have the experience of the collective ruined than create a moment of discomfort for the individual. What did those people within reaching distance of the lady think was going to happen if they “politely” tapped her?  She’d awake and scream out with nightmares of childhood?  Launch a sexual harassment lawsuit?

 

 

The tyranny of this fear, this terror at offending makes us unreadable and disconnected from our ability to balance reason and instinct in the moment.  We’re much more comfortable expressing our discontent on a Facebook thread than we are about letting ourselves be known in the flesh.

 

 

rsz_children-of-the-cornThis dichotomy of placid exterior and boiling interior makes us polite, trigger happy with apology and yet creepy as those kids in the “Children of the Corn” movies.

I couldn’t count the number of times that newbies to the city comment on this and this awkward local vibe has become a running cliche in the Vancouver dating scene, hasn’t it?  For a city that craves authenticity via yoga and connection with the earth, we sure seem to be hiding ourselves in strange ways.

I’m a born and raised Vancouverite, a flag waving Canadian and a bleeding heart liberal.

But sometimes I just want to scream out against the sea of complacency.

I guess that’s what hockey riots are for.

 

 

HELP US PACK THE HOUSE!

“I’m going downtown to Mitch and Murray!”  We need to make that more than a great line from Alec Baldwin.

indexMitch and Murray Productions has had a great response to our two plays this year.  Unbelievable reviews for “BECKY SHAW”, which closed last weekend, and equally stellar response so far for “LUNGS”, which closes this Saturday December 14th.

Despite this great run, we’re still shy of reaching our budget for this year’s festival.  We need a boost in attendance in our final week and we call on you, our friends and supporters to help us finish up strong!  Five more performances of “Lungs” this week at the Havana – HELP US PACK THE HOUSE!

LUNGS plays Tuesday Dec 10th – Saturday Dec 14th, 8pm at Havana, 1212 Commercial Drive in Vancouver.  2 for 1 Tuesday Dec 10th – 2 tix for just $20!  BUY TICKETS HERE!

Stephanie Izsak and Kayvon Kelly in Lungs

Stephanie Izsak and Kayvon Kelly in Lungs

“LUNGS” is a great play about Gen Y’s struggling with financial and social modernity while deciding to have a child.  It is modern, fresh, funny and heartbreaking and anyone under 40 will completely relate.  Check the reviews and bring some friends out to the show!  Tix at mitchandmurrayproductions.com

“Gen Y’s stumbling towards adulthood…Lungs is smart and often very funny.  Both actors are relentlessly, fearlessly present.” (The Georgia Straight) READ MORE REVIEWS

 

You can find us on Facebook and Twitter – please help us spread the word about our final week #Lungs @mitchplusmurray
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Meghan Gardiner and Aaron Craven in Becky Shaw

 

We just wrapped up the first show of the festival, “BECKY SHAW”. Audience members consistently remarked that we are “building something great here” – a core of Vancouver-based artists producing modern, funny, provocative and cutting edge stories to an audience base thirsty for that type of entertainment.  Remember our productions of “Fat Pig”, “Fifty Words” and “Race”?Screen shot 2013-12-09 at 3.17.51 PM

We’re also doing an early bird ticket drive for next year’s show, which is TBA next fall.  Your early support helps us meet our budget for this year and allows us to secure venues and plays for 2014.   We’re doing a one week sale on early bird subscriptions ending December 17th – what a great Xmas gift!   All early bird purchasers will be entered to win $75 of Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Blanc wine from our sponsors.  GET YOUR EARLY BIRD TICKETS HERE!

 

Thank you for your support, we couldn’t do it without you!

 

Best,
Aaron Craven – Artistic Director, Mitch and Murray Productions

Coffee is For Closers

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My production company is called Mitch and Murray Productions, an homage to two characters in David Mamet’s finest work, characters who are often spoken about but are never seen. Company emails from us come up in a person’s inbox as “Mitch and Murray Productions” or at least “Mitch and Murray” if the length allows.

I realize the film/play has a cult following and the names Mitch and Murray aren’t household names like Chloe and Kim. So, I always include my name in the body of emails when sending from that address – “Hey, this is Aaron Craven…” or “Sincerely, Aaron Craven..” etc. I especially do this when I’m a stranger to the recipient.

I wish I had a nickel for every reply that came back with “Hey Mitch” or “Hi Murray”. Usually the email ends with “sent from my iPhone” or “sent from my iPad”. Which means that person is likely replying to me from the lineup at a coffee shop. Or from their toilet. Or while crossing a crosswalk.

The little civilities are getting missed these days. Don’t you think?

Maybe from now on I should just reply back to these emails with a video clip of Alec Baldwin’s GlenGarry GlenRoss speech, and nothing else in the body of the email.

Of course, irony tends to be missed when you’re about to get hit by a bus…

Great New Theatre in Vancouver

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Check out the new trailer for our 2013 Theatre Festival, featuring the Vancouver premieres of the plays “Lungs” and “Becky Shaw”. Great new theatre from Mitch and Murray Productions, the company that brought you last year’s hit production of David Mamet’s “Race”.

Opening November 21st – Get more info and book your tickets today through http://www.mitchandmurrayproductions.com !

Lance Armstrong Takes it in the Ball(s).

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As an actor commuting constantly between Vancouver and LA, I live in a world of creativity and leftist politics.  It suits my belief system just fine, as I’m pretty much a big bleeding heart liberal in every department.

Ironically, I’m also a straight white male with some vestige of old school “stiff upper lip”,  which means I tend to follow the unspoken rule that for me to complain about anything is verboten.  As Louis CK says about white people, “we’re gonna pay hard for this shit”.  Double down on those odds if you’re a guy and grab a cup.  We’ve raped and pillaged our way into this corner and it’s time to take it in the balls, right?

girls
This passive acceptance of our lot makes us acceptable targets for any and all potshots.  We’re sort of like those guys on Japanese game shows who get blasted in the nuts by a mechanical fly swatter if they get the wrong answer.   Or the endless parade of emasculated and ineffectual dudes in commercials and pop culture.

And who easier a target these days than Lance Armstrong?  Granted, a harder target to hit as you only have one testicle to aim for, but what a prize turkey for all the trolls who sit back and fire away.  Forget about the cancer money, he’s the 1%, he’s a man, he’s defiant, he’s a liar. Get him.

None more eagerly piling on than my hometown liberal rag, The Georgia Straight, whose only article close to centre politics is the sports section and who published the above front page this week.

“Male ego and lust for power”?  Can you imagine an issue of the Straight with Tonya Harding on the cover labelled “Feminine Stories” with a title like “Tales of female violence and emotional manipulation“?  Or a cover featuring Ann Coulter, Paula Deen, or any number of awful women, tying these women into “femininity” stereotypes of the negative order? Or linking women who drown their children into some sort of feminine dysfunction?  Wouldn’t happen.

But so called traditional masculinity?  Have at it, it’s great copy and fodder.  If the dude’s white?  Home run and risk-free.  Male or female journalists will run with it, whatever puts bread on the table.

How tacky of the Straight and how predictable for a paper stuck in the Pacific Northwest bubble of small town hippie-think.  It reminds me of my days at the University of British Columbia, listening to ivory tower militant nuttiness and my 19 year old brain thinking I was a pig, a racist, a chauvinist and an evil patriarch in waiting, simply by birthright.

men are pigs

I continue to be a bleeding heart liberal.  And an actor/activist.  And a producer of plays which address race, gender, prejudice and the modern world, through a lens of realism and balanced thought.(Shameless plug – come see “Becky Shaw” in Vancouver this November – great female playwright, great female characters.)

Maybe these attachments of mine sound paradoxical given the writing of this blog.  That’s because the world is grey, as it should be.

Perhaps a new generation will think on how our own runaway consumerism has eaten us alive, not just the greed of a few evil men.  Maybe all of us should be on the cover of a paper for wearing yoga outfits made in the third world.   Maybe one day a cover like this week’s Straight will strike everyone as gauche and outdated.  Or maybe it’s me who’s gauche and outdated.

Fire away.  I’m wearing a jock.

Living in the Moment with Your Smartphone

Dallas Green was absolutely killing it.  The City and Colour bandleader with the magical voice was laying out one great ballad after another under a darkening Vancouver sky on a beautiful summer’s night.

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The music was top shelf, but took second place to Green’s stage presence and relaxed connectivity to the audience.  Twice during his set, he stopped his songs cold to improvise around unplanned activity in the audience.  Once for a wedding proposal taking place in the crowd mid song and once for a drunk/high guy who rushed the stage.  He congratulated the newly engaged couple with gracious deference and admonished the stage rusher with a great line: “I’m not mad, just disappointed. I was trying to make this song about us, but you went and made it about YOU.”

How could anybody not love this guy?

So how could you not buy into his crowning moment of the night?  Before launching into one of his acoustic finales during the encore, he walked to the front of the stage and made a request, gently and sincerely…

“Those of you out there with smart phones, hold ‘em up.  Now for just one song only, take them and put them in your back pocket.  Let’s just all be together for one song and just live in a moment that isn’t tweeted or youtube’d.  Let’s remember that sometimes it’s ok just to have a memory.  Let’s be in this moment together.”

What a moment.  What a statement.

The smartphones went down.  The bic lighters came out.  The dying sun cast one glimmer over the amphitheatre as that majestic voice started to ring out across the audience.

All at once, it was a beautiful elevated moment and yet tinged with life’s reality and almost a comical irony.  God, we human beings fall tantalizingly short of absolute perfection.

About 100 people still held up their camera phones.

smartphone-concert

 

 

 

 

 

After such graciousness and artistry, and at such a perfect opportunity to buy in to a communal moment, how much of a narcissistic entitled douche do you have to be to still hold up your little screen in defiance?

I’ve written about the smartphone/live performance issue previously and I don’t think there’s anything new I have to say on the matter.

Like Dallas Green, I’m just disappointed.

I’d love to hear thoughts on this. I can’t seem to resolve my own.