A Rant: Our World and Our Theatre Are Going to Hell in a Handbasket

by Lynn on November 27, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

I had a great time recently giving a talk to the Arts and Letters Club Members about how the world and our theatre is going to Hell in a handbasket.

I blame it on the pandemic.

For two years or so everything was shut down. We were isolated from our friends and family. We yearned to be out and socialize but couldn’t. Initially because we were fragile we reached out to our neighbours or they reached out to us, to offer to shop or do errands for those less fortunate. That lasted a short while.

We were wary of people on the streets; to wear a mask or not to wear a mask became almost a political statement. In a short time, we went from being kind and considerate to being prickly and territorial. If someone accidentally knocked into us on the street the reaction was anger not consideration.  Belligerence and lost temper seemed the norm.

Those smart theatre makers with ingenuity made up for the lack of in person performances with filmed/zoomed/or streamed productions. I saw wonderful stuff around the world, across Canada and especially in Toronto and reviewed it. I actually loved being at home. I was out every night so often when the theatre was live, that I just loved being home for a change.  

The pandemic is over, sort of, and theatres are now open and my theatre going has resumed with a vengeance.  The same can’t be said about theatre attendance. Except in a few cases, it’s down.  Getting the audience back has been difficult. People are timid about coming back to the theatre, even if we are wearing masks. They either don’t want to be in crowds or they find they can live without paying high prices for tickets.

The Media is Decimated

What used to be a robust media that reviewed theatre as a matter of course, is now decimated. We have four daily newspapers that all used to review theatre. Now only the Globe and Mail has a full-time theatre critic—J. Kelly Nestruck—in all of Canada.

The Toronto Star uses freelancers to cover theatre productions and not regularly at that. That means there is no consistent critical theatre voice there.

We used to have the reliable NOW Magazine that covered everything. It’s gone and Glenn Sumi, NOW’s intrepid theatre/film critic seems to be doing triple duty reviewing for his own blog, “So Sumi” and freelancing at the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail.

My York University four-year honours BA in Fine Arts Degree specializing in History, Theory and Criticism of Theatre is no longer offered. Why would it be?  There are no theatre critics jobs.

Critics or Cheerleaders

Apparently, theatre reviews are still considered important because so many bloggers are writing them. I certainly think theatre criticism is important. I’ve given short workshops on the basics of reviewing. Theatre is thousands of years old. You can’t teach even the basics of theatre criticism in a short workshop  but you try.

And there is a sweeping variation between those  who are “true critics” who have been trained in reviewing with rigor (Glenn Sumi, Drew Rowsome, Istvan Dugalin, Paula Citron, Christopher Hoile, me).

And “cheerleaders” who gush about everything without variation, nuance or background in the artform of theatre criticism/theatre. They want to be up close and personal with the people they review. There goes the idea  of arm’s length distance between reviewer and those we review. The idea of objectivity. I think “distance” is the best practice, otherwise the review could be written by the artist’s mother.

Censorship & Lecturing.

Theatre reviews seem to be a hot topic. In the last few years some theatre makers tried to decide who could review their shows and who couldn’t, sometimes on the basis of skin colour. I believe that’s called racism if not censorship.  Not a good idea.

Others wanted to give lectures on their culture to explain their process/ideas/story/ceremony etc. Well-intentioned but highly inappropriate and it betrays a lack of knowledge of what a review actually is or who it’s for etc.

I’ll write more later on this thorny subject of theatre reviews and criticism.

Education or Daycare

Troubling changes are also happening at theatre schools and elsewhere in the theatre.

At theatre schools students are voicing their opposition over curriculum, questioning why they have to study the plays of “dead white men” such as Shakespeare or the classics. I heard from one instructor that at a rehearsal for a production the student didn’t like the line and wanted to change it. The director tried to explain that the character said the line and it was appropriate for the character. The student was determined.  The playwright was Morris Panych and I doubt he would stand for a change.  We are now changing lines in plays so as not to hurt the feelings of students etc. So, we have situations where students want to change words because they are offended, never mind that it’s appropriate for the character.

This isn’t theatre education. This is enabling daycare for theatre wannabees.

One wonders, where will these theatre students get the life lessons to understand and to delve into the hard lives of troubled characters if their feelings are so fragile they are rendered inert?

How will they find the moral fiber to discover the difficult character if they can’t/won’t stand up to scrutiny? Will they even get jobs or will this handholding continue?  I don’t think so.

Shaw Festival-Cult of Sensitivity

And then we hear about the debacle at The Shaw Festival last year about the concert version of Assassins  by Stephen Sondheim. This had been in the works for a few years and then COVID delayed the production. Then there was a director change. And finally the show continued with rehearsals. But an actor refused to sing the ‘N’ word because he found it offensive. It’s supposed to be offensive. It’s sung in a song by a racist. The actor is not racist. The character is.

That seems to be the next big hurdle in the theatre, trying to convince actors that their character does not necessarily hold attitudes and ideas similar to them as people.  As I heard once last year in an announcement before a show, at the Shaw Festival funnily enough: “We, the actors have faith that the audience can tell the difference between the character and the person saying the words.” Loved that.

But, to Assassins, The ‘N’ word was changed  during rehearsals to accommodate the actor. No one passed this by the Stephen Sondheim people for formal permission. Eventually the Sondheim organization found out about the word change. They insisted the ‘N’ word be used as the lyric or they had to cancel the show. The artistic director of the Shaw Festival put it on the acting company to solve the problem. They were to vote confidentially on whether to cancel or not. And it had to be unanimous. The vote wasn’t unanimous. The show was cancelled. Then actors felt hurt and troubled because they were responsible for the cancellation.

Does anyone know the meaning of the word “consequences” anymore? How about, “we’ll have to find another actor for the part”. What happened to life lessons?

We seem to be developing a generation of people who want to be seen, to have space, to voice their opinions—all good—without seeming to know background, history, the consequences of their actions or on whose shoulders they stand.

Still to come: What theatre criticism and reviews are really about, who writes them and for whom; correcting misunderstandings regarding reviews etc.; the new misinterpretation of racism.


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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mary Kerr November 27, 2023 at 12:19 pm

We seem to be developing a generation of people who want to be seen, to have space, to voice their opinions—all good—without seeming to know background, history, the consequences of their actions or on whose shoulders they stand.

I so agree.. Great analysis….especially about reviewers and theatre schools….


2 Lynn November 27, 2023 at 9:37 pm

Thanks Mary!


3 Sookie Mei November 27, 2023 at 3:19 pm

Great article, Lynn. One note: I think you might be missing the words “so often that” or the like in this part: “I was out every night when the theatre was live, that I just loved being home for a change.”


4 Lynn November 27, 2023 at 9:37 pm

Thanks Sookie Mei. I looked at the sentence and I think it says what I wanted to say. But thanks for the suggestion…


5 Lynn November 28, 2023 at 11:14 am

Hi Sookie,
On reflection, you are right. I added “so often that” on your suggestion. It reads clearer. Much thanks for the comment.
Best, Lynn Slotkin


6 Anon November 27, 2023 at 4:37 pm

“They want to be up close and personal with the people they review. There goes the idea of arm’s length distance between reviewer and those we review. The idea of objectivity. I think “distance” is the best practice, otherwise the review could be written by the artist’s mother.”

You wrote a whole essay about how you were close with Martha Henry.


7 Anon November 27, 2023 at 9:02 pm

If things are overly policed now it’s because young people understandably don’t trust the generation who stood by while harassment and abuse became woven into the fabric of theatre to make the call on what appropriate boundaries are. If older people don’t like it, maybe question why you allowed it to get to get to that point by being spineless and self-interested, and not doing anything to address these issues sooner. Agreed that the work is bad, that’s what happens when talented, smart people with backbones leave the industry en masse. And why wouldn’t they, long before Covid? When exactly do you remember the work being exceptional? Ps Lynn, since you seem to like old-school criticism so much: you are a blogger, and just like the other bloggers you mention, a terrible writer.


8 Lynn November 27, 2023 at 9:34 pm

Anon,–not your real name of course? Talk about spineless. And of course you are selective about information that would discredit your argument. My piece on Martha Henry was an appreciation when she died. People familiar with a person’s work and character tend to write such appreciations. I’ll write more fully when you have the guts to use your full name.


9 Robert Motum November 28, 2023 at 2:33 am

Hi Lynn,

I’m writing to challenge a few of your thoughts here.
I’m not a critic, but I’m nearing completion of my PhD, and have certainly written much about theatre over the last decade.

First, I work in theatre schools. I teach at UofT, at Sheridan College, and I’ve led classes at other institutions. I find your anecdotal points about the ‘students of today’ severely out of touch with the reality of these spaces. The students I work with are brave, self-reflective, politically engaged, and are (in the best way) deeply critical. They aren’t concerned about “hurt feelings”. Changes to curriculua have been long overdue, and it’s unfortunate that students have had to lead the call for many of these institutional shifts. The truth is, we don’t need to center our study on the plays or writing of “dead white men”. I teach theatre history without mentioning Shakespeare, Chekhov, Wilde, or reading any Greek Classics… and I promise you, the course content is so much richer for it.

I do wish that you could meet the classes and students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching before using words like ‘inert’ or ‘daycare’ or ‘handholding’. Creating a supportive, care-full environment doesn’t mean that today’s theatre education isn’t rigorous.

Of course, it might not surprise you that I also take issue with your vocabulary around “censorship and lecturing”… but others have articulated these thoughts in the past.



10 Lynn November 28, 2023 at 8:34 am

Hi Robert,
Much thanks for taking the time to reply.
I’m glad your experience of teaching students is heartening and that the students are “brave, self-reflective, politically engaged and in the best way, critical”. I’m talking about the other side, and it’s huge, of students and institutions who aren’t. Another side of the story. We are both right. I would love to know what authors you do teach, truly. I’m interested. While I would love to meet your students and classes you teach, I stand by my original comments of “daycare” “handholding” etc. because they too, are true. Again, another opinion. And because I’ve been the recipient of censorship and lecturing, I stand by those thoughts too. But I’m grateful for your comments, and the opportunity to debate something that is obviously important to both of us. All the best, and good luck in your PhD studies. With respect, Lynn Slotkin


11 Scott Moyle November 28, 2023 at 9:12 am

I’ll echo what another commenter has said: the anecdote about the student and the Morris Panych text is an outlier in my experience of current theatre schools and young actors. I’ve seen no hint of the larger trend you extrapolate from it, and I’d love to know how you got from a single anecdote to the sweeping problem that has you worried.

Also, re: the “still to come”… “the new misinterpretation of racism” is a topic that, in my reading of your work, you’re ill-equipped to responsibly address. If that’s a topic on which you think we really need your hot take, I hope you’ll have it peer-reviewed by an anti-racism educator or three before you publish.


12 Lynn November 28, 2023 at 10:07 am

Dear Scott,
I guess you are in a wonderfully protected environment that you don’t see a hint of the wider problem I mention using a few examples. There are many I’ve heard of from students, instructors, actors, etc. Pity that you take at face value one example, thinking it represents the whole.
Your reading of my work? All 5000 reviews over the decades, or the few that offended some who don’t like to be put under scrutiny?
“Peer-reviewed” “Anti-racism educators” the new words of the woke….tiresome. Racism? Ill -equipped? I’m referencing it the old fashioned way–because of being the recipient of it for my whole, long life. Thanks for your comments, Scott. Always good to hear another point of view.


13 Scott Moyle November 28, 2023 at 10:52 am

I wouldn’t say I’m in a protected environment- as an intimacy director I work with a bunch of young actors in different settings, often on very challenging content. I’ve certainly seen young actors express a need that I found overly cautious or risk-averse. I honestly just don’t see the pattern you describe, and I’d like to better understand your perspective.

I’ve not read all 5000 of your reviews, but I think I’ve seen a good cross-section over the years, and I don’t believe I’m cherrypicking the ones that have pulled the most heat. I have noticed what feels to me like a recurring blind spot around race and racism in your writing. It’s my opinion that your work would improve from educating yourself in that area, specifically by seeking perspectives that you find challenging. It’s also my opinion that when people use “woke” pejoratively or dismissively, they’re determined to not learn or change. I’d love to be wrong about that.


14 C.M. November 28, 2023 at 10:42 am

Aren’t most of the reviews cheerleading? I’ve seen reviews of shows on many of the critics you’ve mentioned, where ‘this is damn good theatre’, etc when in reality, those shows are tripe. And this from an entire audience who saw the show, where folks just left the space without a single good thing to say. The high horses that these reviewers sit on judging the merits of a play based on their own personal likes and dislikes. In the past, reviewers like yourself made or break careers. 1 bad review and no one comes to see that artists work. Is that fair? Criticism is important! But it can be done by having a conversation with the creator, which will help them learn and grow. Not by publicly criticizing them.

And if these certain companies, don’t want to be reviewed, that’s on them. You calling them racist shows you either don’t know what the word racist means or shows how your words can hurt. You’re not entitled to review everything. It’s not a time where reviews meant great publicity in major publications which meant free advertising. As you mentioned, its blogs. Including yourself. So the value of ‘reviews’ have diminished. It doenst help promoting a show. Social media is. If an old person like me knows that, you’re in the field and you should know that.

I do however completely agree on your point that everyone’s over sensitive. Plays were written during a certain time and you’re playing a character. Word changing if not approved by the playwright, is a no. But this even shows the need to create new contemporary work and support them. How many times can we see old plays being brough back and old reviewers reminiscing about what theatre was the olden days. Theatre as you mentioned is 1000’s of years old and has constantly evolved. Things change, scripts need to change and most importantly, the way its reviewed, needs to be changed.


15 An Artist November 28, 2023 at 2:53 pm


I feel sad that you think anyone still cares about what you have to say. The amount of harm and little care that you write is violent at its worst and pathetic at its best. The Toronto Theatre industry has moved on from these archaic options of yours. I also think it’s time for you to move on.

Good Luck!


16 Lynn November 30, 2023 at 12:00 am

Dear “An Artist”
And yet here you are reading my reviews, which kind of disproves your comment “I feel sad that you think anyone still cares about what you have to say.” Well you obviously care or are curious or you wouldn’t be reading it, right?

All the buzz words of the woke….’harm’, ‘violent’, ‘little care.’ Be brave, use your real name and don’t hide behind wishful thinking–‘An Artist’ indeed.


17 Camille Intson November 28, 2023 at 4:52 pm

Hi Lynn,

I’m a multidisciplinary artist, writer, and educator here in Toronto. I’m responding to your thread with Robert here to give my two cents, and to echo much of what he’s already said regarding the behaviours of so-called ‘students of today.’ Like Robert, I also teach at UofT (Scarborough and St. George), and have lectured and taught workshops at numerous other institutions; I currently hold a co-commission between Tarragon and TMU, where I’m working with the graduating acting class. Since returning to the classroom post-lockdown(s), the students I have taught have been incredible autonomous critical thinkers—as Robert said, politically engaged, brave, and self reflective. I have also seen, and been a part of, curricula shifts that de-centre the work of “dead white men”, towards embracing anti- and decolonial, queer, feminist, and other diverse perspectives and pedagogies. I believe that rigour and care are not mutually exclusive, and that many educators are working hard to create environments that are dually rigorous and care-centric. I am seeing this first hand. And it is a process—albeit, an imperfect one. Building brand new systems of education, pedagogy, and practice from the ashes of abusive, harmful, and largely colonial systems of authority will be a long and painful process. We need to allow for errors and grace as we navigate this terrain—moving towards more inclusive institutions for artists, educators, and students alike.

Here’s where I see some validity to your arguments—returning to the classroom post-lockdown, many students I’ve taught have been anxious. Sensitive, sure. We have to keep in mind that many of these students have missed out on years of formative psychological and social development due to the ongoing lockdowns, which had real consequences for their mental well being. Working with (and learning with and from) these students every single week, I find terms like “daycare” and “handholding” reductive, offensive, and patronizing. By using that language, we are minimizing the very real issues that young people face—and reinforcing systems of abuse that have long plagued theatre schools and other higher learning institutions. Pedagogy and curricula are changing because, in a post-#MeToo climate, young people have courageously come forward to speak out against abusive behaviour and demand more equitable treatment. And I object to your policing of new generation theatre students’ responses to these shifts in power. It’s just reinforcing the issues at the core of this conversation.

As for your stance on the decimated theatre reviewer industry, that is indeed sad. I too wish we had more robust arts coverage—sometimes, more rigorous arts coverage. But equating “objective” or “distanced” reviews with rigorous reviews is, in my opinion, a flawed practice. Objective review practices do not exist; if rigour comes from training, and training comes from systems that have long upheld the white, Western mould for arts (and theatre) education, then “objectivity” is white and western. Questioning and criticizing this mold is itself a rigorous practice—not inherently a rejection of rigour. I also strongly reject your claims about censorship and lecturing when it comes to who reviews what pieces of art—which is ignorant of, and insensitive to, the long history of racism entwined with theatre criticism, especially in this city.

Lynn, I do think that there is some truth in your points made here—but there’s also a lot of harm in the way you’re framing and analyzing some of the critical issues plaguing our industry. As a member of the new generation, as an artist and educator who embraces community care as well as rigour, I can and will not stand by quietly as the old guard of theatre creation and criticism polices and patronizes our reactions to *very real* problematics within our industry.



18 Robert Motum November 28, 2023 at 5:33 pm

Thanks for this Camille! So well said. Couldn’t agree more. Also lovely to read your piece in Intermission today! How fitting.

This website must be the only place on the internet where the COMMENT SECTION is the place to scroll to for well-reasoned, kind, thoughtful commentary…


19 Paul Smith November 28, 2023 at 6:07 pm

Hi Lynn, I hope you’re doing well!

My name’s Paul, and I’m an artist and arts worker in Toronto who finds themselves amongst the incoming wave of theatre makers that you label “theatre wannabees”.

I noticed and read through your latest piece on the state of the industry’s practice and relationship with criticism, and was disheartened to see that many of our views aren’t in line. In fact, I think that the majority of your piece feels rather misinformed. But again, it is your blog after all, and thankfully not something on a larger platform.

That thanks left once I saw it promoted by Glenn Sumi. Now, I feel your intention to be heard will only perpetuate harm rather than ignite discourse. Given our unique perspectives, I was wondering if you would be open to meeting for coffee or tea in the coming weeks?

I hope to hear from you when you get the chance, or before your next piece on “the new misinterpretation of racism”.


20 Lynn November 30, 2023 at 6:15 pm

Hi Paul
Thanks for taking the time to read my post and reply.
Everybody has unique perspectives, we just disagree. No need for a coffee or tea. All the best in your endeavors…
A hint about “The New Misinterpretation of Racism” ….”please fix your sound system” is not culturally insensitive or racist. It means please fix your sound system so that your show can be heard.

All the best,
Lynn Slotkin


21 Claren November 28, 2023 at 10:17 pm

I think your post lacks nuance and empathy. Purposefully, so as to be provocative, no? You love speaking in absolutes with a condescending tone. Who are YOU writing for? Surely you don’t expect to change anyone’s mind or incite productive conversation around evolving theatre practices with that tone. It reads that you’re purposefully trying to insult young theatre makers as well as people who are trying to challenge the current cycles of abuse and racism in our theatre scene. I think, to be juvenile, you’re being mean. I think you’re being mean for sport.


22 Michael Kras November 29, 2023 at 12:35 am

Lynn, in reading this it’s clear you care about Canada’s theatre industry and culture. But I must echo the folks on here in saying that much of what you’ve written here is entirely misguided, misinformed, and unhelpful.

I graduated theatre school in 2015 and have worked steadily as a playwright, director, performer, and magic designer ever since. I am part of the up-and-coming generation you’re keen to criticize for being “oversensitive” in the work. The opposite is true: this generation is one keenly aware of the systemic wrongs of our industry and community, and brave enough to challenge the status quo and engage in difficult-yet-necessary discussion and action as they try to build a better future, messy as that may be.

There’s a great deal of depth and nuance to the new ways emerging artists approach Canadian theatre, and your arguments here are – frankly – reductive, condescending, oversimplified, or (in some cases) simply not factual. Who exactly are you trying to reach with this blog post? What is the goal here, except to complain about an industry changing in ways that have virtually nothing to do with you?


23 Robert Girvan November 29, 2023 at 11:02 am

Without Bias, Prejudice, & Partiality

Lynn Slotkin, thank you for having the courage to write this. We live in turbulent times, and humane discourse is increasingly rare. You are right that our media has been decimated. We’ve lost precious knowledge and rigour from many points of view. It has been replaced by social media posts and blogs, in which people at times feel privileged to write about subjects they often know little about and use incendiary words like “racist” with little or no evidence, often based solely on someone’s skin colour.

We hear the words black, white, Indigenous, and Person of Colour a lot these days. I often wonder, when we say “Indigenous,” do we mean peoples from North America, central or South America, North Africa, or what? By “White,” do we mean a person from Canada, the United States, England, Russia, Serbia, Lithuania, Greece, France, Hungry, etc.? When we say “Black,” do we mean a person from Canada, the United States, Barbados, Gambia, South Africa, Senegal, Cuba, etc.? When we use the word “Person of Colour” we are talking, potentially, about all of Asia, Mexico, central and South America, etc.

Each of these distinct countries and peoples (and others I have not named) has an enormously complex mix of cultures and histories. Simply labeling people by colors ignores and banishes all this rich and complex history and diversity. Furthermore, such labeling reduces each person to a “colour.” Not only does it deny their unique cultural heritage and background, but it presumes to judge them as humans without knowing anything about them except the pigmentation level in their skin. This is a profoundly dehumanizing practice.

In the context of theatre, the situation is even more complex. No theatre is done by a “colour,” but by a cultural tradition or mix of traditions. Often, there are different and conflicting traditions in the theatre, even within a country or people (Marxist, Absurdist, Noh plays, etc.). Not only is trying to describe people by “colour” far too simplistic, one cannot even judge the character of theatre in a country or people in a monolithic way, as there are many conflicting forces and traditions struggling, and all things vary with time. There is no common theatre practice that can be judged on a continent-wide basis. Such a view is dangerously simplistic and ignores the immense diversity of both theatre and the arts in each country or people.

This brings me to theatre criticism. All anyone should want is a fair evaluation and critique of a work. This requires skills, humanity, and the determination to weigh and judge what the critic sees before their eyes and hears. The wise critic will carefully assess the goal of the Director as found in the notes to the play and decide if they have met that goal. It is vital that the critic evaluate the play based on the same material as the audience. The critic will also inform themselves on various cultural traditions, but independence is crucial. This is precisely what Ms. Slotkin does; you are to be applauded for this.

I worked for two decades in the law courts as a Defence lawyer and Crown Attorney. I will always remember the words the Judge would tell the jury at the beginning of the trial. The jury is to inquire into the charges based on the evidence of the case “without bias, prejudice, or partiality.” This is the goal of justice, vital but rarely fully realized, not only in the law courts but in all things. No one should ever be prejudged based on such factors as their ethnicity, colour, gender, etc. They must be judged by their conduct, with evidence and fair reasoning.

Canada, of course, is a multicultural society. There is great richness in this cultural diversity of people, which should be reflected in both theatre and theatre criticism. Not everyone will agree on the appropriate principles to judge a play. That disagreement is normal and even healthy. However, we must never forget that no one gets to be in a “privileged” position as being intrinsically better or worse based on their background, or worse, libeled and attacked if one does not like their words. We need a sound discourse – based on good reasons, good faith, and evidence. If one disagrees with the verdict of a theatre critic, one does not need to libel them or attack them personally; one can give sound reasons and evidence why one thinks they are wrong. It is the reasoning that is helpful, not personal attacks.

Having spent 8 years of my life researching and writing a book on injustices faced by Indigenous persons in Canada, I have learned a little of their plight and of social injustice generally. One does want people from all groups participating in theatre and as critics. However, we must honour and include all our theatre critics. A diversity of unique individuals must be honoured.

There is something tough about being a critic in the true sense. I.e., you tell the truth as you see it. At times one must offer criticism to people and causes you like or like very much, often at significant personal cost. But that is the price a fine critic has no choice but to pay, to tell the truth about the play – as they see it. This is something that Lynn Slotkin has done for over 40 years, and I honour her for that work.

Robert Girvan, Toronto


24 Lynn November 29, 2023 at 3:38 pm

Thanks, Mr. Girvan
Beautifully, thoughtfully put.
Best, Lynn Slotkin


25 Matthew Krist November 29, 2023 at 7:59 pm

I read this with interest. Blaming the pandemic is real convenient, but too easy. Not only did people lose the taste for live experiences but the cost of going out, coupled with the over population of Toronto (traffic and ttc nightmares) makes going anywhere much less appealing as it once was. Its not just theatre but society in general that has lost its edge, its adventure. Its because we do what we’re told to do.


26 NF November 29, 2023 at 10:38 pm

When it comes to perceptions on theatre schools, I believe you are erroneously conflating a generation keen on evolving towards a more inclusive, dynamic, and socially engaged arts practice, with entitlement and disregard for one’s history. I also work in a university, and my students – when they challenge certain phrasing – they don’t do it from a place of being “too sensitive” or wanting to be handheld. They want to make a statement that just because certain phrasing was appropriate in the past, doesn’t mean we should continue to support that today. We should want to be better than previous generations. That’s something I believe we need to further encourage and celebrate. They will make the industry stronger and more diverse in the long run.

Also on theatre criticism and what you’ve experienced as ‘censorship’ and ‘racism’, I think you need to reframe this. I also took courses on theatre criticism at York, and the most important thing I took away from that: not every production is meant for every audience member, but the role of the reviewer is to capture the broader context of the production, its intentions, and the audience perception. Part of that is listening to what kinds of review or criticism the creators want to engage in. Our current theatrical criticism grew from traditions of upholding old (dead) white men in the western canon as the pinnacle of arts creation. We are slowly evolving beyond that. We should celebrate every single emerging artist in the industry who wants to shift the relationship between arts and criticism, to something more organic, or supportive of diverse voices, cultures, and experiences. How else are we going to support the future of the industry.

Finally: this blog is just mean-spirited, uneducated, and seemingly committed to a lack of evolution. I went to York, same as you. We were taught better than this.


27 Jason November 30, 2023 at 7:50 pm

Lynn, respectfully, you have had multiple instances on your blog where you express beliefs that are offensive or downright white supremacist, and you shield it as ‘criticisms’. You call people sensitive but then go on paragraph long rants about how people using languages you don’t know in their plays makes them inaccessible. You are such a deeply sensitive person, and yet you tell others that they are too oversensitive for asking for basic human decency. I for one am happy that the theatre scene seems to be outgrowing you, and that you are feeling those effects. No matter how many theatres attempt to legitimize you or give you any kind of credit, I don’t think you’re going to change or grow as a person. I think theatre is going to leave you behind in favour of people who are willing to keep up with the times and be better. And that’s a good thing.


28 Dawn Brennan December 2, 2023 at 4:26 pm

Can I ask why, in the list of critics, (you, Glenn Sumi etc.) it was necessary to point out that one critic writes for a gay site? Just wondering.

I was trained at the National Theatre School in the early 80’s and saw incredible trauma inflicted in the name of training. Do theatre schools have to evolve? Absolutely.

Times change…people and perspectives change. Or we hope they do.

NTS, my theater school, has evolved. They now train Indigenous artists and the faces of the students in the non Indigenous stream now (hopefully) more fully reflect our community. I don’t think there was a single non-white student in the entire school when I was there. I am confident that they did not simply duplicate the existing training for the Indigenous stream. Culture would have been deeply considered when developing the training. Times change.

Your training would have been highly respected when you went to York. That training no longer exists, as you have stated. I think I can safely assume your training would have been deeply colonial. Mine certainly was.

I have been so very lucky, in my life and career, to work with lots of Indigenous artists and artists of colour. I have had to to do a lot of learning (and unlearning).

I am sorry you have not had the same advantages. Do we see your inability to understand “otherness” in your writing? Absolutely. Let’s start with the need to identify one critic as “writing for a gay site”. Who cares? What difference does it make?

Are there places for traditional, hierarchical, colonial styles of theatre making to continue to exist? Sure. But fewer and fewer. And that’s good news. Unless you are someone deeply embedded in that model. Then it’s a misfortune.

Your circle of like.minded thinkers is getting smaller and smaller. And that is indeed good news.


29 S. Keach December 6, 2023 at 3:59 pm

Taliban-times in Canadian theatres:

First, they dropped the classics because they were old. Then they refused to stage any plays that did not follow the contemporary code of moral certainties. Then they banished the theatre critics who questioned the strictures and the dogma of the times.

And the theatre seats became empty and the space grew dark and the doors were locked.


30 Anon December 16, 2023 at 10:52 pm

The responses to this post- to the supporters of this post who throw out terms like taliban and woko-haram- who literally say theatre is losing $$ because it’s not centering white sories- rather than mentioning the huge dip in all entertainment industries because of rising costs.

Lynn- honestly- do you want to align yourself with this commentary? Artists have always pushed boundaries and shown us new frontiers- thier work carries us into the future- and didn’t you start doing this because you love art and artists- regardless of thier identities? If plays are meant to show us the hearts and minds of artists- then we have to believe them. Even if they show us new things about ourselves or question existing paradigms. You don’t have to agree with every piece of art, it’s art. But to say that all art needs to be palatable to everyone who has ever liked art- well that doesn’t make any sense.

You may feel attacked when young, new creators demand certain things, or want to draw attention to new issues, to what’s in thier hearts and minds- but you have to listen and to believe that they are sharing thier truths- after all they are the actual future and to dismiss them because they are different than the past, or different than you- well that seems like the opposite of something someone who actually loves the challenge and reflection art presents. Isn’t it the point to be challenged? To think about new ideas?

Isn’t that why you do this?


31 Lydia December 6, 2023 at 11:03 pm

Thanks for saying what needed saying, Lynn. I think if the folx who want to write only for a group of like-minded people, or their own ethnic or religious groups will fail to build a sustainable audience, infrastructure, subscriber and supporter base in a city like Toronto. The reality will hit them at some point. Zhdanovites are certainly free to form their own organizations. If larger institutions want to program them, they are free to do so. I know very few people who are interested in that kind of theatre and the little matter of ticket sales (even if you’re darling of the grant-giving bodies) will raise its head inevitably.

The fact of the matter is, theatre-and art, and art criticism–job is not to redress historical injustices. Nor revitalize neighbourhoods, nor abolish poverty, nor create a better society. (I know we’d like to think that if we do something well we’re creating a better society, automatically! We should get over ourselves.) All this is waaay above our pay grade. There are parties, assemblies, NGOs, social services, think tanks, university departments, an entire national parliament and a system of courts created specifically with these goals in mind. If all these can’t find a fast viable solution, how do we propose that we do?

The job of the arts is not to confirm to us that our beliefs are the best, whoever we are. Art questions, throws us into the unexpected – it’s an environment where we can lose control and create resilience: ye olde catharsis, quoi – it is about transcending: our boundaries, our loneliness. It is about finding the other (in ourselves, and outside). But again – free country – people can choose do make art as mobilization, or art as agitprop. I know where I’ll choose to spend my time.

Another note I’d like to add: ethnic minority writers and actors and theatre creators don’t all think alike. They are individuals, just like everyone else. They don’t subscribe to a political or esthetic program. That’s another truth that will hit the activists sooner or later.

Regarding the students… the jury’s out. I’ve heard from some professors who tell me the Gen Z are tired of the Millennial woko haram and want to do their own thing. Perhaps it’s cyclical, the politicizing of theatre.


32 Paul December 10, 2023 at 11:20 pm

“Zhdanovites”? “woko haram”? This is unhelpful, hyperbolic rhetoric that prohibits me from taking this commenter seriously. Personally, I welcome politicized / “engagée” theatre, even if (or precisely because) it offends the National Post reading / Fox News watching anti-DEI anti-woke people like this commenter.

I am much more offended by audience behaviour these days – in addition to all of the relentless smartphone stupidity (turn the damn thing off!), twice in the last month, audience members close to me decided it was perfectly appropriate to consume a bag of potato chips inside the auditorium, during the performance. Kettle chips, in a crinkly bag! And when asked to refrain from such ridiculous and disruptive behaviour, they loudly took umbrage with the request! This trend is far more worrisome to me than cheerleading (and reactionary) critics, lecturing directors, and young actors pushing back against a script’s infelicities.