SummerWorks theatre fest secures government funding

Toronto's SummerWorks, which lost federal funding for its 2011 edition amid criticism from conservative commentators, has received approval of a federal grant for 2012 and 2013.

2011 federal funding cut came after PMO rep criticized play for glorifying terrorism

Toronto theatre festival SummerWorks, which lost federal funding for its 2011 edition amid criticism from conservative commentators, has received approval of a federal operating grant for 2012 and 2013.

An annual juried performing arts festival featuring predominantly new Canadian work, SummerWorks will receive $45,000 each year through Heritage Canada's Canada Arts Presentation Fund, artistic producer Michael Rubenfeld announced in a news release.

Just six weeks before the 2011 opening day, festival organizers learned that they would receive no funding for that edition, despite years of consistent federal funding.

In 2010, the festival debuted Catherine Frid's play Homegrown about Shareef Abdelhaleem, who was a member of the group known as the Toronto 18 and convicted of participating in a bomb plot. At the time, one newspaper reported that some questioned the government's funding for the festival and suggested the play was "sympathetic" to groups such as the Toronto 18.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office was critical of the festival. "We are extremely disappointed that public money is being used to fund plays that glorify terrorism," he told a Toronto newspaper.

In an interview with the Canadian Press, Frid said she wasn't expressing sympathy for the group in her play. She hoped, however, that the story would stir up dialogue about life in the post-Sept. 11 world.

SummerWorks head Rubenfeld said, at the time, that he didn't know if 2011's sudden funding cut was related to the criticism of Homegrown.

Ultimately, the festival raised $47,000 through small donations from many supporters, allowing the 2011 edition go ahead. Troupes across the country staged readings of Homegrown to help draw attention to what many feared was a case of theatre chill.

"I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to all of the SummerWorks supporters," Rubenfeld said in a news release Tuesday.

"The outpouring of solidarity from our community helped send a clear message about the festival's value. We could not have done this without you, and we are grateful that our federal government took notice."