Just Say NYET
It started with one small comment as I was hopping in my car.
We’d just had a lovely coffee date, just me and a colleague who had recently joined the board of Zee Zee Theatre, the theatre my husband Cameron Mackenzie and I run. She’d shared how much my play My Funny Valentine had affected her and she casually said “Your next play should be about Russia”. And in a way she was right. The insane antigay legislation that President Putin had brought in last May was making Russia a hotbed of homophobia and of course I was following the developments – the pathetic responce of the International Olympic Committee, the devastated young queer Russians reaching out to the rest of the world… But with so many projects on the go, and knowing that it takes a couple years for me to fully develop and realize a play, it felt like it would be too little too late.
Until I thought about an amazing political theatre model that I’d experienced in Toronto. Wrecking Ball was started 10 years ago as a politlcal cabaret to talk about urgent matters coming up in the news – playwrights wrote, actors rehearsed for a couple days and then it was read in front of an audience. The key was immediacy. And so Cameron and I went about asking playwright friends and writers we admired from a distance to participate.
The response was overwhelming. Ten playwrights, among them Canada’s crown jewels all writing about Putin’s new legislation, all from very different perspectives. Emails from top actors came pouring in – “how can I be involved?” “what do you need?” “I’m here, I’m available just say the word”. No one wanting anything in return, everyone volunteering their time so that the money we raised at the door could be sent to Russia to help cover legal fees for those affected by the new legislation.
And so NYET: a cabaret of concerned Canadians came to life. And the energy in the theatre was palpable – we came together as a community of concerned artists, concerned queers, concerned citizens – for those few hours we were all one. With the help of Qmunity, BC’s queer resource centre a panel spoke afterwards including a new refugee from Russia who spoke first hand about the insanity happening back home. I always love to assume that as a writer my mind exaggerates everything, that surely the reality of Russia couldn’t be as devastating as what I was imagining. But his stories showed me how very wrong I was.
NYET was a huge success. And started a conversation that we will be continuing. And hopefully two years from now, when that original play I might have written would be finished, events like NYET won’t be necessary.
But do I believe that for a moment?
(Maybe there’s a Russian play in me yet)