Sam Sullivan's Project & The ProjectMonday, November 09, 2009
Two events on the same day, last Thursday, November 5 left me with thoughts running around my head like cockroaches on a kitchen counter in the middle of the night in the tropics when one turns on the light. The activity was brutal.
At first one would think that former Vancouver city mayor Sam Sullivan’s unveiling of his Global Civic Policy Society at the Pan Pacific Hotel Crystal Ballroom would have nothing in common with the Solo Collective, Aaron Bushkowsky’s play The Project (directed by Rachel Peaks) which opened Thursday night at Performance Works on Granville Island.
The venues were different, the audience was different, the food was better (Sam had a better budget than the Solo Collective which was celebrating its tenth year of existence and had a modest table with goodies) but in the end it was a similarity in language that stuck out for me. Both events showcased the failure of language be it through repetition or through a false projection of relevant and instant intimacy.
Sitting between the lovely, refined and ever so much fun Leila Getz and Martha Lou Henley at the Crystal Ballroom of the Pan Pacific I heard host Mike Harcourt introduce UBC luminaries on the environment, density and other relevant urban affairs give short talks on Sam Sullivan’s organization which received a five hundred thousand dollar contribution from Charles Annenberg Weingarten and the Annenberg Foundation and from local philanthropists. It is Sullivan’s idea (based on practical experience) that more can be achieved to save our city, region and planet not through or within politics but by intelligent advocacy run by experts. I spotted such experts as former Councilor Gordon Price and urbanist Ray Spaxman. I was most pleased to see that Sullivan had taken some of the council from his Philosopher-King-mentor, Abraham Rogatnick and has brought into the fold of Global Civic, the gentle architect Bruno Freschi. With a bit of Sullivan's passion (with a bit of help from his wife Lynn Zanatta, picture above) the venture might succeed.
Had I had a golf counter in hand I would probably have suffered finger damage clicking the times I heard the words sustainability, affordability, peak oil, green, livability, global warming, carbon dioxide emissions, eco-density, and the expression, “our cars will grind to a halt.” It would seem that the very issues that are so important to our future wellbeing are defined by words, so often used, that they harmlessly bounce off our brain like Darfur, ethnic cleansing and pandemic.
At Performance Works The Project began with actress Sarah Rodgers mimicking in a simulated TV monologue those Saturday afternoon TV programs that my granddaughter Rebecca loves where Canadian celebrities appeal to our wallets by showing us starving children in darkest Africa. The only difference here was that the more Rogers put emotion into her delivery the more the crowd around me laughed. I could not understand why. It took me a while to get it. The whole play is populated by characters who talk in made-for-television cliché. While watching CNN’s Larry King Live I can only take a few minutes before his “instant” and “intimate” rapport with his subjects disgusts me into switching channels. Somehow, in the theatre I found it (eventually) very funny and I laughed with the rest. My Rosemary resisted, but she finally succumbed to the play and the excellent actors. Andrew McNee as Fred the famous (in the play) documentary maker was so perfectly believable I would have purchased a used clunker from him on the spot. Lindsey Angell (see, below, left) was so spot on as the really smart but paradoxically vacant Hollywood blonde that I felt sorry for her at times but marveled at her ability to come back in others. Alvin Sanders shifted from being the typical corrupt Dark Africa bureaucrat to a scary guerrilla leader (the ones that command others to cut off limbs) that I would have put my grandchildren to sleep easily by pointing at a true bogey man. The play came closer than the earlier lunch to showing me why nothing seems to ever get done in spite of all the talk.
Both events showed me that the way to our hearts and pocketbooks, if we are going to see any positive change is through the intelligent manipulation of language. The play, which so many might see as a comedy produced in me a realization, a catharsis of sorts on how language has deteriorated. Would it be possible for Franklin Roosevelt to affect us with his “Fireside Chats” in our present world? Would they be Twitterable? Will Sullivan’s Global Civic Policy Society achieve results by only circumventing politics?
I would think that Bushkowsky’s play points in the direction that the language of intimacy is at a crossroads. Intimacy has to be earned with time. There can be no (realistically) shining light on the road to Damascus while waiting in line for that Americano at Starbucks.
I feel that advocacy has taken away from us that ever so useful word gay so much in the vocabulary of that exquisitely funny and intelligent (and gay) Noel Coward. I feel the same way about those words I heard at the Pan Pacific luncheon. Sustainability for me has always meant to keep something up which at my age is mostly a pipe dream. We need to find new words to get that audience to listen to us.
I would seem to me that Sam Sullivan might just want to hire Aaron Bushkowsky and other local plawrights to help him. We only have to look in the direction of the Czech Republic to realize that playwrights can change history. I am sure that Voltaire would agree.
Addendum: Sustain has a Latin root sustinēre. It is curious that the Spanish who like to keep their language free, when possible, of Anglicisms and Gallicisms eschew brassiere and opt for the more Latin sostén. It would be nice to see such green ads as:
I dreamt I was far more sustainable in my Maidenform bra.