Michelle Porter - Bertolt Brecht - Culture As Subversive ActivityMonday, March 12, 2012
A random look into my photo files brought me to one I had no memory of. It was Porter, Michelle – theatre director. Inside I found b+w negatives of a very young woman. There was also a tear sheet from the Georgia Straight, October 1-8, 1998 which was an interview with Porter by theatre critic Colin Thomas. The interview was about a forthcoming production of The Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.
Thomas’s piece has an interesting first paragraph, particularly, if seen from the context of the disappearance of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre:
Director Michelle Porter went to UBC on a physics scholarship; at the end of high school, her marks on the provincial-government math and physics exams were in the top two percent. But when Porter got to university, she went into theatre. So it makes sense that she is directing Bertolt Brecht’s The Life of Galileo; the play argues passionately for the important and thrilling nature of pure research, but it also argues for placing science in a moral context – the kind of context the arts provide, the kind of context science in our culture increasingly lacks.
Further reading of the essay helped me connect the dots to my own past. My parents, for reasons that only now I begin to understand took me to see translation of this play into Spanish in Buenos Aires when I was 8 or 9. It was a theatre-in-the-round type of production which was called Galileo – Galilei. I have no idea which version this might have been as Brecht wrote various adaptations of his original. One in particular, in which he worked in tandem with Charles Laughton, seems to be the most popular.
Of the play I remember the elaborate costumes, the round stage and a telescope – nothing more.
With Rosemary I go to many plays in Vancouver and we rarely see children, teenagers or young adults. Much the same is the situation at the Vancouver Opera and in dance performances that are not well promoted Ballet BC matinees.
During this protracted labour confrontation between our BC’s teachers and the provincial government I have seen extra curricular activities at my granddaughters’ schools all but disappear. My oldest, Rebecca was all ready for a formal dance last year and had even purchased a vintage black dress when the dance was cancelled.
But I have noticed that Eric Hamber Secondary School where one of Rebecca’s friends attends and is part of the theatre program, that the program has been active, nonetheless. Rebecca even attended a production at Eric Hamber with her friend.
I cannot write here how many times I have been in a local theatre like the Stanley where persons (youngish to middle age) near me have commented, “This is an interesting looking place. I had not been here since it was a movie house.”
That comment brings to mind one I heard over CBC Radio some 15 years ago when writer/actor/composer John MacLachlan Gray, who at the time had an executive position in the Canada Council uttered something like, “I have not been to the Vancouver Art Gallery since Luke Rombout was its director.” I found it astonishing that Gray had not been curious enough to visit his city’s premier art gallery for so many years.
In my efforts to steep my granddaughters into an appreciation of the arts, I began when Rebecca, now 14, was 4; I made the mistake of using the word culture. I told my daughter and son-in-law that I wanted to take the girls to cultural performances. The word culture soon became anathema and Rebecca would tell me, with a high level of anger, “I don’t want to go to anything that has to do with culture.”
Things improved when I stopped using the word and tricked the girls into going to see stuff that involved funny names or unusual music with unusual instruments. They went along for a long while until suddenly as, childhood shifts into the teenage dark ages, baroque music, dance of any kind, and even theatre and musicals became some sort of lofty form of entertainment that had no bearing with facebook and the more relevant culture of text-on-a-device.
But as I wait for the current dark ages of my granddaughter shift to some sort of renaissance I believe that her friend at Eric Hamber is meanwhile growing up to an appreciation of theatre even if the word culture is not cited. I can only hope that all the theatre, dance, music and visual arts that Rebecca and Lauren have been exposed to will leave a germ of a mark in them that like a moss spore will waken to life and thrive.
And so with the demise of the Playhouse and the unhealthy financial situation of most of our local arts organizations I keep wondering when parents of our children will understand that a “cultural subversive activity” has to be integrated into their education. This involves taking those children often to these events until they become not unusual but normal. Normal, but at the same time a necessity, like bread and butter (unless you are a celiac like one of my granddaughter’s grandmothers). The reward will be threefold. The aging audiences of Vancouver’s theatre, opera, and dance community will be rejuvenated, seats will be occupied, helping the organizations approach that in-the-black Mecca and children will grow up appreciating the values inherent to the arts.
It would be nice if I could tell my parents now that their experiment in taking me to that play so long ago bore fruit. All I can do is to continue with my cultural subversive activity!
As an example I might just invite Rebecca to a play (I will say it is hilariously funny) that features that neat and funny guy from the A&W commercials. I will not tell her that it is Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest with Ryan Beil (I will not tell her that it also includes Simon Bradbury, Charlie Gallant, Allan Gray, Amber Lewis, Ella Simon, Deborah Williams, Allan Zinyk or that it is directed by David Mackay and that it is an Arts Club Theatre production at the Stanley. I used the same tack to convince her to see last year's production of Billy Bishop Goes to War with Ryan Beil. This trick might just work twice.