The Enigma of Playing Alan Turing

A friend of mine works at the Communications Security Establishment, a Canadian government agency that does a lot of Very Secret Stuff involving codes and such. Like many other workplaces, they were having a “Bring your kids to work” day, though I’m not sure how this works if you can’t show them what you actually do. The day was to start with a little sketch about two of the great heroes of the code-breaking world, William Tutte and Alan Turing. My friend invited me to play the role of Turing.

Now, many people know that my route to writing plays has been a rather circuitous one – away back in my university days I studied the history of science, and strands of the subject do creep into my plays from time to time; this is most explicitly the case in my new play about Marie Curie. But one of the figures in the history of science whom I find particularly interesting – and dramatic – is Alan Turing, so I was very eager to take the opportunity to get to know him a little better.

I do mention Turing in an earlier play, The Lavender Railroad, though he doesn’t appear as a character. Instead, two of the characters discuss Turing in the context of his breaking the code used by the German Enigma machines in World War II.

The presentation took place yesterday, and while I’m not sure the 30-odd kids in the room were terribly interested in Turing’s and Tutte’s work, I had the great treat of getting to examine and handle a real Enigma machine that happens to reside in the agency’s archives. The historian of science in me was absolutely delighted – how often does an opportunity like that come along?

Is Turing worthy of a play about him? Absolutely – but it’s been done. The play, by Hugh Whitemore, is called Breaking the Code. I had the pleasure of seeing it in the 1980s with Derek Jacobi as Turing.

Meanwhile at Arts Court…

It’s been quiet lately on the Arts Court front, but I did want to note that the City of Ottawa has now released its Request for Proposals for managing and operating the theatre space “within the current conditions, appropriate funding levels and mandate.” The term of the contract would be for the calendar year 2013 with an option to renew.

The city’s document notes that in 2011 the Arts Court Theatre was used for a total of 151 days (3,683 hours), hosting 22 productions and 5 festivals and serving audiences “in excess of 10,172.” (I’m not quite sure what that means, exactly. 10,173?)

The deadline for submitting a proposal is 3 pm on Monday, November 19.

Meanwhile, the city is continuing with its plans for the $39-million Arts Court expansion, which is expected to focus largely on new space for the Ottawa Art Gallery. As reported recently in the Ottawa Citizen, there’s talk of new theatre facilities being built by the University of Ottawa for its theatre department as part of the new complex. However, this would presumably be a U of O space to complement its Academic Hall and Léonard Beaulne Studio theatres and as such would not be run by Arts Court, the city, or the future Arts Court Theatre operator.

Residing

It’s now official, I suppose, since they’ve issued the media release … Thanks to a generous grant from the Ontario Arts Council, I am the playwright in residence at GCTC.

What does this mean, exactly?

It does not appear to mean that I can save a little rent by camping out in the green room at the theatre – which is a pity, because it’s not a bad space at all, and the theatre’s in a great neighbourhood.

What it does mean, however, is that I have the privilege of joining an inspiring community of theatre artists from whom I look forward to learning a great deal in the coming months. In particular, it means I’ll have the time and space to focus on creating some new work and to participate in the development of other new projects underway this season at GCTC.

When I sat down with GCTC last year to draft our proposal to the Ontario Arts Council, the theatre had not yet selected its new artistic director. This meant I was reduced to saying how much I looked forward to working with, um, someone … not sure who, but I know it’ll be great. I’m told this is not the ideal way to make a case for support. Happily, I’ve had the chance to sit down with the new AD, Eric Coates, who took up the reins earlier this month and I’m genuinely excited at the opportunity to share my work with him. GCTC has a history of new play development, and Eric is committed to that aspect of the company’s mission.

I’m also looking forward to working with the estimable Patrick Gauthier, who continues to produce the undercurrents festival at the theatre. This year’s launch is happening on November 15 at 5 pm at the theatre, and I’m very much looking forward to the chance to work with some of the artists he’s bringing in as they develop their projects for the festival in February.

But I can’t wait to get started – so if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some writing to do…

The official announcement is here.

Meetings about Arts Court

It’s September now and the Ottawa Arts Court Foundation is officially defunct. Its tombstone, for those who care to look, is a sad and lonely logo on the old website at www.artscourt.ca. [Update: the old web address now redirects automatically to the new one.]

So the world moves on, and two public meetings took place this week to offer glimpses into what comes next.

Earlier today, the City of Ottawa staff who are managing the facility on an interim basis through the end of the year hosted a session in the Library at Arts Court. They offered information about what their activities will be for the next few months, including the particulars about things like booking the theatre, as well as a new website (www.artscourtottawa.ca), but declined to discuss any longer term issues, either concerning future management options or the fate of the planned new building. In short, while we now know who to talk to about bookings, we really don’t know where things go from here.

The other news this week was the announcement of a “Request for Expressions of Interest” to manage the facility for the 2013 calendar year. Responses for the REOI are due on October 3 and will “inform and or validate a future Request for Proposal (RFP) phase,” which presumably will need to be completed quickly if the selected manager is to be up and running by January 1. What’s not addressed is what happens after December 31, 2013 – in other words, the long-term options for Arts Court remain as murky as ever. The city has scheduled an information session to discuss the REOI on Thursday, September 13 in the Arts Court Theatre from 5 to 7 pm.

Meanwhile, the Ottawa Fringe Festival, which has been considering putting in a bid to run Arts Court, held a community meeting on Wednesday evening at a local pub to explain its interest and to respond to questions. The format of this meeting was decidedly informal, with those present gathered round tables in the pub as Fringe board members fanned out to chat. Given the general level of uncertainty, confusion and rumor about Arts Court that’s out there, I noted at the outset that having half a dozen separate conversations going on at the same time might not help address the unease, so the Fringe folks allowed for a bit of general Q&A at the outset.

I can only speak to the conversation at the table I was at, which raised a variety of substantive concerns both about the challenges facing Arts Court and the risks surrounding the specifics of the Fringe bid. Some of these include technical issues about the theatre space, needed capital upgrades, the state of the box office systems for ticketing, and the expertise that Fringe can bring to the table in managing the facility in addition to its festival, among others. I’m sorry to say that I found few answers to these kinds of questions beyond an acknowledgement that Fringe would have to address them in either their Expression of Interest or their subsequent Proposal.

It may be that the Fringe folks are reserving their answers for their bid rather than sharing them at the pub, and that the utility of the meeting for them was to help craft that bid based on what they heard. But after talking with some of the others who were there, my sense is that the meeting did little to ease the concerns of those who came out, beyond perhaps the comfort of knowing that Fringe might get to run the facility for a year instead of the city. (No one was aware of other potential bidders, beyond the odd rumor.) I’ve heard that Fringe will be circulating a summary of what they heard and will look forward to reading it.

It seems to me that there remains a crying need for some arena in which all interested parties (including independent artists with no direct formal tie to Arts Court at the moment) can both hear what’s going on and air their concerns, and I’m hopeful after talking to some of the participants at both meetings that something along these lines will be organized. In the interim, the best forum for information seems to be the Phoenix Project on Facebook.

Comments, anyone? I’m very interested to know what might have been discussed at other tables at the Fringe event, as well as others’ perspectives on these two meetings and what needs to happen next.

Thoughts from the Galatea tour

I`m back in Derry again as the Galatea tour winds up this week and have savored the feeling of being “home” again. It was while living here in 2010 that I first met Pat Byrne of Sole Purpose Productions, and it’s felt like putting on a favorite pair of old shoes again as I wander along familiar roads, revisit the landmarks of my time here, and reunite with old friends I haven’t seen for a long time.

It’s also been a chance to reflect on what may be the most interesting part of the tour, which has been the visits to a couple of smaller towns in Northern Ireland – Newtownabbey, a largely Protestant community of some 80,000 just north of Belfast, and Strabane, a Catholic border town of 20,000 a short drive south of Derry.

The towns themselves are studies in contrasts that were reflected in the tour. One of the sponsors of the tour is the Rainbow Project, a Northern Ireland organization that provides a variety of services to local gay and lesbian communities. From the start the group has been a strong supporter of the production and tour. I suspect that this is both because the story presents its story of two gay couples in a healthy and positive light – which perhaps is not as commonly available here as one might wish – and also because the project has provided an opportunity for community building over the last year.

Perhaps because of its proximity to Belfast or perhaps because of a fairly conservative hue to its population, Newtownabbey doesn’t seem to have a well organized local gay and lesbian community, and this was reflected in the modest size of the audience that turned out for the show. In contrast, Strabane has a well established local group who were out in force, as was the vice-chairman of the Strabane District Council, all of whom went out of their way to offer me a very warm welcome to their community.

Damian Friel and Alex Wilson in the Sole Purpose production of Galatea

For me, the most profound realization about this production has been the degree to which it has helped to galvanize the community here. One might not have expected this; while I think the play does provide a positive portrayal of gay life to its audiences, it’s hardly an overt political piece. But the community has adopted the show with gusto and I think the production has made a modest contribution to its evolution in return – whether by its simple presence in a town like Newtownabbey or in how it’s inspired some of the audience members I spoke with in Strabane.

I am hopeful for a lasting effect as well. The play itself wraps up at the end of this week here in Derry, but I suspect the community will continue to enrich itself theatrically. Sole Purpose held a writing workshop for the gay and lesbian community, and I can imagine organizers in the future arranging to present the work of local playwrights in the towns we’ve toured. I look forward to being in the audience when that happens!

An Arts Court Update from the City of Ottawa

I know there’s no causal link between my post yesterday on Arts Court and this document – heck, I’m writing this from Ireland so am definitely just a distant observer – but there is clearly a hunger for information about what’s going on at Arts Court. Those involved with the issue at the city appear to understand this and have issued the following document, which I saw after Lynn Cox posted it on the Facebook group I mentioned yesterday.

Arts Court Update

The document certainly goes some way to answering the kinds of questions that are out there, although some of the answers are very plainly of the “Stay tuned – we’ll let you know” variety.

Of note, as Riley Stewart observed in a comment yesterday, is that the City plans to issue a “Request for Proposal from the local not for profit arts sector” in September to run the facility, and there is a nod to the need for consultation with the arts community going forward.

In particular, the City will be hosting “an informal information session” on Friday, September 7 at 10 am in the Arts Court Library.  I expect quite a few people will want to attend, though I imagine some who would like to go may be unable to get off work to do so. I plan to go – what questions would people like to have addressed?

What’s New at Arts Court?

What’s new at Arts Court?

No one seems to know.

It’s been some months since the serious challenges facing the facility became known, as I’ve discussed in an earlier post, and it’s been a month since staff were let go and the Ottawa Arts Court Foundation officially announced its demise.

So now what’s happening?

Um.

It’s been awfully quiet, with no real news about how the facility might be managed in the future or what’s going to happen to the proposed new addition to the facility. Which leads many people to assume that no news is bad news.

The theatre has been meeting its existing commitments through the summer – “My Name is Asher Lev” opens tonight for a run through August 25th – and the City of Ottawa proclaims that it’s available for rental after September 1, though there’s no information about who’s actually managing the place and there’s certainly no news about what’s happening to the capital project.

The arts community continues to ask questions – there’s a Facebook group called the Phoenix Project, for example – and there’s a petition calling on the city to ensure that the facility remain accessible to users.

And there are various rumors with varying degrees of credibility as to potential white knights who might step in to save the day.

So what’s really going on?

Anyone?

Hello?

Upstairs at the MAC

I’m in Belfast for the opening of the Northern Ireland tour of Galatea. The tour has been put together by Sole Purpose Productions from Derry and will be playing in a number of venues across Northern Ireland during August, and thanks to support from the Canada Council I have the opportunity to spend some time with the company and observe the performances.

As I’ve been looking forward to the tour, one question on my mind has been: what would the Belfast venue be like? In a word: fantastic.

The MAC – it stands for Metropolitan Arts Centre, but no one calls it that – is a brand new facility in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter just north of the city centre. The MAC, with its motto of “selecting, creating and mixing up music, theatre, dance and art,” has instantly become an anchor in the neighborhood, which is clearly among the most vibrant in the city. It’s a thoroughly modern six-story building looking out on a little square with two theatre spaces (Downstairs, seating about 350, and Upstairs, seating about 100), as well as three galleries, a dance studio, modern rehearsal rooms, meeting spaces, offices for resident companies and artists, and a café in the lobby that seemed to be throbbing with people throughout the day during my visit.

I couldn’t help but think of Arts Court in Ottawa, of course, which aims to fill a similar function. The facility has lately been a source of some concern in the community and the foundation that ran it has been dissolved by the city, leaving the future management of the building in limbo. If and when the parties concerned solve their issues, I hope that they’ll take a look at what the MAC has done – it’s an inspiring model.

More on Galatea in my next post…

Arts Court News

Anyone involved in the Ottawa theatre scene knows how important Arts Court is – its theatre is a key performance venue and it serves as a home for many members of the community.

In recent weeks it’s been clear that the facility’s health is not at all well. There have been some faint murmurings in the media about this, including a report about a possible merger between the Arts Court Foundation and the Council for the Arts in Ottawa. But very little has been communicated to the community that uses the facility.

The best source of information that I’m aware of at the moment is a Facebook group, where there’s been some discussion and where various documents related to Arts Court have been made available. Yesterday, the following was posted to that group; in the absence of any other information, it seems to be a curious development.

This job posting went live on the City of Ottawa INTERNAL staffing site today. This means that the job is ONLY open to City employees. If you can’t find it on the City site, that is why. Anyway, it has been confirmed. Hope that clears up any confusion.

Position: Coordinator, Arts Court
Competition Number: 2012-IN-EN-50293080-01
Competition posting date: 2012.06.27, closing date: 2012.07.12
City Operations Portfolio, Parks, Recreation & Cultural Srvc Dept., Cultural & Heritage Services Branch
Primary Location: Arts Court, 2 Daly Avenue
1 Continuous FT Position – 35.00 hours/week,
Affiliation: CIPP
Salary: $38.963 to $47.411 per hour
Salary: $70,912.66 to $86,288.02 annually (2011 rates of pay)
Job Summary
The Coordinator, Arts Court is responsible for leading, developing and managing business objectives of a multi-disciplinary
arts facility, overseeing the operational and fiscal management of the theatre’s facilities; leading, developing and managing
partner operated theatre and arts facilities; assisting the Portfolio Manager, Community Arts and Creative Arts Programs, with
programming strategy, artistic direction and theatre operations, including the presentation of local, national and international
artists, community relations and support of local performing arts organizations.
Responsible for the execution, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all legal agreements and contracts associated
with Arts Court key partner service delivery agreements (i.e. leases) and contracted services associated with the operation of
commercial spaces. Acts as the City’s representative and liaison on many concerns and matters related to the operations of
Arts Court.
The Coordinator, Arts Court acts as the spokesperson for Arts Court and liaises and builds relationships with community
partners, government officials, and the private sector and industry associations; develops opportunities for artistic creation,
expression and exhibition and presentation locally; seeks out and proposes possible financial support opportunities from
other levels of government and private sources to fund programs, endowment and capital projects; supports the
implementation of the Cultural Services division’s strategies in relation to Arts Court and the operations of the work unit and
management of financial and human resources.
Education & Experience
Honours Degree in Arts (Theatre, Music, Fine Arts), Arts Administration or a related discipline.
Minimum of four years arts facility management and supervisory experience.
* Experience and formal training combined with demonstrated performance and ability may substitute for stipulated
academic requirements.
Language, Certificates & Licenses
– The successful candidate will be required to complete a Criminal Record
Check to the City of Ottawa’s satisfaction.
– Designated – specific level of language proficiency:
– French oral, reading
– English oral, reading, writing.
– Candidates who do not meet language requirements will be required to
participate in training.
Knowledge, Competencies & Skills
– General management and supervisory principles and practices
– Curatorial principles of arts programming
– Human resources management including labour relations and volunteer
management
– Financial and Risk Management including contractual agreements
– Performing arts disciplines and the presenting industry
– Facility and event management
– Box Office management
– Marketing principles and practices
– Fundraising principles and methods
– Development of policies and procedures
– Theatrical production including technology, procedures and practices
– Laws and legislation pertaining to licensing, privacy, freedom of
information, copyrights and royalties
– Health and safety legislation and practices, including those for the
live performance industry
– Relevant government department, community agencies and associations
including the Department of Canadian Heritage, Canada Council, Ontario
Arts Council, Theatre Ontario, Canadian Arts Presenting Association,
Community Cultural Impresarios
– Program development and evaluation
– Working knowledge of working agreements for performers and technicians
including IATSE, ACTRA, Canadian Actors Equity Association and Musicians
Unions
– Knowledge of corporate, department and branch policies and procedures
– Must possess the training, experience and knowledge to organize the work
and its performance
– Must be familiar with all applicable health and safety legislation, have
knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health or safety in the
work place, and have knowledge of appropriate actions to be taken in
order to ensure the health and safety of staff in accordance with
applicable legislation and City policies and procedures
– Demonstrated ability to lead and inspire others into action
– A facilitator with excellent presentation skills including public
speaking
– Excellent oral, written and listening skills
– Sound judgment and decision-making skills
– Ethical with strong negotiation and mediation skills
– Skilled advocate
– Ability to build and maintain successful relationships and partnerships
– Ability to identify realistic goals and deliver outcomes
– Delegates effectively and appropriately, setting challenging but
realistic goals and deadlines
– Ability to handle multiple large projects simultaneously and effectively
– Demonstrated success designing and developing programs
– Ability to establish appropriate policies, guidelines and procedures

Thoughts and comments welcome…

Looking for a playwright

My friends at Jer’s Vision, who have been staging readings of my play Ex Cathedra for high school students, are looking for a playwright to work on an upcoming project. They’re hosting a four day forum, “Dare to Stand Out,” for youth aged 14-17 in December 2012 covering topics such as hepatitis C, sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections, and how discrimination can lead to the transmission of these conditions.

They’d like to include some dramatic readings as part of their programming – and in particular want pieces that can be read by the youth who are participating in the forum. So they’re looking for a playwright who would like to help. If you’re interested, send a proposal (no more than one page) describing your experience and your interest in the project to [email protected] by July 15, 2012. If you have any questions, please contact Loresa at the email listed above or at 613-400-1875.

An honorarium will be provided.