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originally published November 2008

Prime Minister Stephen Harper dissolved Parliament citing it was no longer functional, forcing Canadians to polls for the third general election in 4 years. That frustrated a large segment of an unfortunately already apathetic tax-paying population. The picture only seemed to get worse for voters as stock markets crumbled and Harper’s Conservatives government took a machete to arts funding. Bad enough Bill C-10 was a censorship wolf wrapped in sheep’s clothing. All this served up inspiration for writer Edward Riche who seemed to be right on the arts community’s pulse when he wrote To Be Loved which debuted from October 10 – 12th at the Rabbittown Theatre just days before the election.

The 40 minute presentation was preceded by a video presentation called F*** The Arts, featuring a series of recognizable artists of every discipline satirically encouraging the funding slashes. The 3 short films were made by Brad Hodder, Neil Butler and Phil Churchil and edited into a more consistent piece for the prelude but are available to watch individually on the FTA group page on Facebook.

Hodder and Butler both starred in To Be Loved as well playing Harper and Stockwell Day respectively. The piece was set in 2040 and opened with Harper in the basement of 24 Sussex Drive with Day dropping by. The set was cluttered and easily recognizable as a home basement but also exaggeratedly peppered with Tim Horton’s paraphernalia. Day referenced the sweater vest Harper had on and they revisited how it was such a good strategy in 2008 joking the two should ‘go in costume’ for appearances, referencing Day in a wetsuit after winning his short-lived leadership. Day suffered more darts with Harper suggesting he was hard to keep on message and that if it was on cards it might have helped him.

Butler portrayed Day in an exuberant light that made him often appear innocently anxious which brought life to the lines that were just blurted out, seemingly without any prior thought. He exclaimed, “I never graduated. What a great country!” going on about his eventual position as Minister of Public Safety while digging through storage boxes for a “hat or sash” and ultimately snapping up with a helmet. He continued that “maybe pre-emotive incarceration” might help fix up the justice system and Harper eventually couldn’t help correcting him after saying “counter thunk” instead of counter intuitive.

The conversation shared by Hodder and Butler was trying to get at what might have triggered the motivation for cutting arts funding. When Day discovered Harper in the basement he was pounding away on a cardboard set of piano keys. Harper explained his teen asthma had precluded him from getting athletic so he opted for piano but the cardboard variety was all he’d got. Day quipped they should “offer a tax credit on cardboard piano’s, for everyone!” A joke referenced again when Harper shared his wife was also leaving him for a jazz musician, from Newfoundland, to which Day inquired “real or cardboard? He wasn’t ABC was he?”

There were other comedic references to the current political climate surrounding a government which will now be in power for at least another few years. The two joked about who had the best hair in cabinet (that went to Maxime Bernier) which led into a cardboard rendition of Canadian rocker Alanis Morrissette’s ballad Ironic. Harper also shared strategy with Day, letting him know that he’d shown Tom Flanagan the whole entire plan on the back on an envelope once.

To Be Loved is smartly written and created around a minimalist set that can be easily created with clutter. Featuring a small cast of two with only a few light changes, it was a great show that was easy to fully take in and appreciate, especially given the timely relevancy. The humour, although somewhat dark at points, didn’t presume a deep familiarity with politics either, instead lampooning campaign issues that were front and centre for the 2008 election but also some fundamental to Conservative Alliance policies. The reminiscing nature of the conversation between the two was somewhat laissez-faire, juxtaposing the opening video, but both unapologetically brought out their message that it is important to be loved and the arts are fundamentally important.

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