When NBC’s dreadful soap-musical “Smash” is the only representation of theatre artists in mainstream culture, you know there’s a problem (for theatre artists, at any rate). So it’s no wonder there has been an online flutter over the potential relaunch of the Canadian comedy “Slings and Arrows.”
Creator Bob Martin tells the New York Theatre blog that he and his co-creators, Mark McKinney and Susan Coyne, are “thinking, shall we say, laterally. Slings may live again.”
Documenting the backstage tribulations of the New Burbage Festival – a fictional version of the Stratford Festival – the show’s three seasons are a delightfully dark romp through the theatre industry and its characters, from aging actors in crisis, to long suffering arts administrators, to a sinking Executive Director. Its 50 award-nominations (and numerous wins) were well deserved: the series provided insight into the drudge, devotion, and euphoria of theatre.
The final episode aired in 2006, just months after Stephen Harper started to cut arts funding, and prior to the recession that has thumped arts organizations with lower attendance numbers – especially from across the border – and tighter budgets.
Fictional ED, Richard Smith-Jones, certainly anticipated the plight of many when he said (granted, after a blunder of his own): “What the hell are we going to do? I mean, I know what I’m going to have to do. I’m going to have to go to the Minister of Culture and beg for money like some kind of blind hurdler.”
Athletic feats aside, the prospect of a fourth season raises the question of what the current climate might mean for New Burbage. Would the festival weather a 13 percent drop in ticket sales as well as Stratford has? Would traditional Shakespeare and experimental offerings be downplayed in favour of the mainstream? That started to happen in the show’s final season; Stratford, meanwhile, has been mounting the likes of Peter Pan and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown to try to secure family audiences.
And what Shakespeare would be the leading production? Many of the biggies have already been done – Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Macbeth – but Martin hinted at the possibility of Richard III. This, or another history such as Henry V, would provide enough pomp for the comedic overtones plus a real range of storyline possibilities (and, of course, tales of overweaning kings are always topical).
Will the remount actually happen? “Well, it’s more than a dream,” Martin says. “I’ll tell you that much. I’ll stop now, before I’m hoisted by my own petard.”
The Bard was first to point out that delays make dangerous ends. Here’s hoping Martin and Co. find a sympathetic network and we see a fourth season in production soon.