How dull plays are killing theatre and what we can do about it.
Had I become disenchanted with the form I had once fallen so madly in love with as a pubescent, pimple-faced suburban homo with braces? Maybe theatre was like an all-consuming high school infatuation that now, ten years later, I saw as the closeted balding guy with a beer gut he’d become. There were of course those rare moments of transcendencethat kept me coming back. But why did they come so few and far between?
A lot of plays are dull. And one dull play, it seems, can turn us off theatre for good. Playwright and theatre director Jordan Tannahill takes in the spectrum of English-language drama – from the flashiest of Broadway spectacles to productions mounted in scrappy storefront theatres – to consider where lifeless plays come from and why they persist. Having travelled the globe talking to theatre artists, critics, passionate patrons and the theatrically disillusioned, Tannahill addresses what he considers the culture of ‘risk aversion’ paralyzing the form.
Theatre of the Unimpressed is Tannahill’s wry and revelatory personal reckoning with the discipline he’s dedicated his life to, and a roadmap for a vital twenty-first-century theatre – one that apprehends the value of ‘liveness’ in our mediated age and the necessity for artistic risk and its attendant failures. In considering dramaturgy, programming and alternative models for producing, Tannahill aims to turn theatre from an obligation to a destination.
‘[Tannahill is] the poster child of a new generation of (theatre? film? dance?) artists for whom “interdisciplinary” is not a buzzword, but a way of life.’
– J. Kelly Nestruck, Globe and Mail
‘Jordan is one of the most talented and exciting playwrights in the country, and he will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.’
– Nicolas Billon, Governor General's Award–winning playwright (Fault Lines)
Jordan Tannahill is a playwright and filmmaker currently living between his hometown of Ottawa and London, UK. His work has been presented in theatres and festivals across Canada and internationally. He won the 2014 Governor General's Award for Drama for his book Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays and was shortlisted for the prize again in 2016 for Concord Floral (also a recipient of the 2015 Carol Bolt Award). Tannahill's book Theatre of the Unimpressed: In Search of Vital Drama (2015) was called "essential reading for anyone interested in the state of contemporary theatre and performance" by The Globe and Mail, and is on the curriculum of several North American universities. Tannahill has been described in the press as "the future of Canadian theatre" (NOW Magazine), "the hottest name in Canadian theatre" (Montreal Gazette), and "the posterchild of a new generation for whom 'interdisciplinary' is not a buzzword but a way of life" (The Globe and Mail).
William Ellis is a performer whose work in theatre and dance includes Other Jesus by Evan Webber, Even This Old Town Was a Forest by Aurora Stewart de Pena, WorkingOnWorkingOnUs by Andrew Tay, S h e e t s by Salvatore Antonio, and Greg MacArthur's A Man Vanishes. He has performed for choreographer DA Hoskins in Machine Room, The Coating Project for the Luminato Festival, and This is a Costume Drama at Harborfront World Stage. Recently he received a Toronto Theatre Critics Award--Special Citation for Videofag, which he ran with Jordan Tannahill from 2008-16.
Chandler Levack is a Toronto-based filmmaker, writer and journalist. A graduate of the Canadian Film Centre's screenwriting program, her writing has been published in SPIN, The Village Voice, The Globe and Mail, Maisonneuve, and Flare, amongst other publications. Previously, two articles published in Maisonneuve, "The Music We Hate" and "Visions of The Future," were nominated for Best Art and Entertainment Writing at the Canadian National Magazine Awards. Levack currently works at TIFF, where she is the digital editor of The Review, a blog featuring interviews and long-form criticism about TIFF's programming and film culture at large.
Lindsay, Ontario-native Greg MacArthur is a playwright, dramaturg, and teacher. His plays have been translated into numerous languages and have been produced extensively across Canada, as well as in South Africa, Germany, the UK, Mexico, Romania, Hungary, and the US. His work includes: A Man Vanishes, Horror Story, Kate Bowie, A City, The Missionary Position, Tyland: The Toxic Bus Incident, Recovery, Get Away, Snowman, and girls! girls! girls!. He was the Lee Playwright-In-Residence at the University of Alberta and was shortlisted for the 2011 Siminovitch Award for Playwriting. MacArthur holds an MFA in Theatre Studies from the University of Lethbridge, where he currently teaches in the Department of Theatre Arts.