Watch a conversation with Kim Cattrall and Paul Gross about the Canadian stage production of Private Lives. Includes brief excerpts from the play.
The naturally small amount of early Canadian drama in English is shaped largely by foreign modes, as in the case of Lieutenant Adam Allan's The New Gentle Shepherd (1798), which is Allan Ramsay's The Gentle Shepherd (1725), a pastoral drama in Scottish dialect, "reduced to English." Seventeenth-century English heroic tragedies, such as John Dryden's The Conquest of Granada (1670, 1671), were the obvious antecedents for George Cocking's verse drama The Conquest of Canada (1766), in which General WOLFE leads his greatly outnumbered British soldiers to victory.
Even Robert ROGERS's Ponteach (1766), a sometimes-engaging verse drama depicting the defeat of the noble savage PONTIAC by evil European invaders, is Canadian only in that its American-born author resided briefly in Canada. The anonymous "Acadius," staged in Halifax in 1774 and extant as a 2-act extract in the Nova Scotia Gazette and the Weekly Chronicle (1774), dramatizes a wealthy Boston merchant's extramarital activities and his black servants' attempts to cope with their exploitation.
The 19th Century
The common impression that closet poetic drama was the 19th century's dominant dramatic genre can be challenged, as more plays are found in other modes. Certainly, authors with literary pretensions did write poetic dramas and "dramatic sketches" not intended for the stage, many of them published in the Literary Garland. The anonymous "The Queen's Oak" (1850), which treats in conventional verse Elizabeth Woodville's meeting with Edward IV, is typical. Eliza Lanesford Cushing is the most notable of the Garland contributors; among her 10 plays is "The Fatal Ring" (1840), about a virtuous countess seduced by an alluring, womanizing king.
The uneven quality of its blank verse and its moral tone are evident also in Cushing's biblical drama "Esther" (Lady's Book, vols 16-17, 1838). One of the first plays printed in monograph, Charles HEAVYSEGE's Saul (1857), gained the respect of both John A. MACDONALD and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, among others, but, like Heavysege's Count Filippo (1859), this bulky, sententious piece has fallen into a well-deserved obscurity. Thomas Bush's sprawling Santiago (1866), one of the most ambitious poetic dramas of the age, suffers from obscure allusions, passages of incomprehensible blank verse and melodramatic excess.
The end of the century saw poetic dramatists using indigenous subjects with greater frequency, but the quality of their expression improved only slightly. Tecumseh (1886) displays Charles MAIR's minor poetic talent and his fervent patriotism. Sarah Anne CURZON, whose poetic talent was more limited than Mair's, also follows a patriotic bent in Laura Secord (1887). John Hunter-Duvar in De Roberval (1888) tries to dramatize too many themes suggested by Sieur de ROBERVAL's adventures in early Canada.
Foreign and indigenous elements often came together in poetic drama, a fact well illustrated by the range of William Wilfred CAMPBELL's works; eg, "Daulac" (1908) presents DOLLARD DES ORMEAUX's brave defence at the Long Sault, whereas "Mordred" (1895) centres melodramatic intrigue on King Arthur's bastard son. As is characteristic of the genre, Campbell's 5 plays suffer from ponderous "Shakespearean" verse and weighty philosophy which render them impractical to stage.
The practice of publishing political or social satire in newspapers created a lively topical drama early in the century, as illustrated by "The Charrivarri" (The Scribbler vols 3-4, 1823) by Samuel Hull Wilcocke (pseudonym Lewis Luke MacCulloh), "The Triumph of Intrigue" (anon, New Brunswick Courier, 1833) and the "Provincial Drama Called the Family Compact" (British Colonist, 1839), attributed to Hugh Scobie (pseudonym Chrononhotonthologos).
Similarly biting sketches, such as William Henry Fuller's "The Unspecific Scandal" (Canadian Illustrated News, 1874), which deals with the PACIFIC SCANDAL, and Curzon's "The Sweet Girl Graduate" (Grip-Sack, 1882), which exposes sexual discrimination against women at University of Toronto, continued to appear to the end of the century. Topical satire appeared in monographs by midcentury.
The Female Consistory of Brockville (1856) allowed its anonymous author, "Caroli Candidus," to attack hypocrisy in the Brockville Presbytery. "Sam Scribble" wrote both Dolorsolatio (1865), a burlesque in which Federation is the answer to Grandpapa Canada's dolors, and King of the Beavers (1865), in which FENIANS conspire to attack Beaverland. The Fair Grit (1876) by Nicholas Flood DAVIN is an enjoyable satire on party politics.
Government figures played a significant role in the development of Canadian drama. In Ottawa, Lady Dufferin organized dramatic entertainments between 1872 and 1878 in the theatre in the governor general's residence, Rideau Hall. Frederick A. DIXON, author of the comic operetta The Maire of St Brieux (1875), was one playwright whose work she encouraged. Dixon's masque, entitled "Canada's Welcome" (1879), which chronicled pioneer settlement in the Canadian wilderness, was presented for the marquess of Lorne and Princess Louise at Ottawa's Grand Opera House in 1879.
Musical dramas were important entertainment in the 19th century. Leo, the Royal Cadet (1889) by George Frederick Cameron (music by Oscar Telgmann) centres on Nellie's love for Leo, an army cadet who becomes a hero fighting the Zulus. Nina (1880s) by Thomas Herbert Chesnut is a "nautical comic operetta" influenced by Gilbert and Sullivan. Musical parodies and burlesques prevailed, the most famous being William Henry Fuller's HMS Parliament (1880), which borrowed from HMS Pinafore to satirize Canadian politics and political figures. Jean Newton McIlwraith showed more originality exploring Canadian identity in the context of the annexation issue in her comic Ptarmigan (1895, music by J.E.P. Aldous).
The century produced plays in a number of other genres. Catharine Nina Merritt's prose history When George the Third Was King (1897) celebrates LOYALISTS who settled in Canada. Stage melodramas are represented by pieces like John Louis Carleton's More Sinned Against than Sinning (1883), a meaningless formula play which became an annual treat in Saint John, NB, for several years. Like Harry Lindley's inferior Chick (1893) or W.P. Wood's sketchy scenario Minnie Trail (1871), these melodramas suffer from the genre's weaknesses without having its strengths.
The 20th Century
Poetic dramas such as the Reverend Robert Norwood's The Witch of Endor (1916) continued to be written in the 20th century, as did melodramas and light comedies by W.A. Tremayne and other professional playwrights. The Man Who Went (1918), a wartime spy thriller, is typical of Tremayne's formulaic plays for the American commercial stage. Children's plays and scripts for educational, temperance or religious purposes were prevalent during the early 20th century, as were humorous dramatic sketches, eg, adaptations from Dickens, and Stephen LEACOCK's burlesques of outdated theatrical modes.
After WWI Canadians wrote in the environment of the amateur movement that grew up across the country. In Canadian Plays from Hart House Theatre (2 vols, 1926-27), editor Vincent MASSEY gives us examples in various genres of this "little theatre" activity, including 3 short, ironic comedies, "Balm,""Brothers in Arms" and "The Weather Breeder" by Merrill DENISON, the first significant playwright of the century. His "Marsh Hay," a 4-act, realistic drama published in The Unheroic North (1923), treats important Canadian themes.
One-act plays in a variety of styles became the predominant form of the time. Poet Marjorie Pickthall's evocative verse drama "The Woodcarver's Wife" (University Magazine, 1920) was performed at Hart House, University of Toronto, but Amy Campbell's "The Cradle" (1928), which echoes Synge's poetic style, never received production. One Act Plays by Canadian Authors (1926) collects 19 plays, of which only "Come True" and "Low Life" bear mention, these chiefly because they are by Mazo DE LA ROCHE; they antedate Whiteoaks (1936), the conventional drama, adapted from her novel, which ran for over 2 years in London, England, before the war.
In the mid-1930s, Samuel French (Canada) Ltd launched a Canadian Playwrights Series offering a range of one-act plays, including Martha Allan's Summer Solstice (1935), shaped by G.B. Shaw's Heartbreak House; Lillian Thomas's amusing Jim Barber's Spite Fence (1936); and The Lampshade, an English murder story by W.S. Milne.
In his 4 Plays of the Pacific Coast (1935), A.M.D. Fairbairn dramatizes West Coast Indian stories and the collision of white and Indian cultures; the Québec legend of Rose's dance with the devil is rendered into rhyming couplets in E.W. Devlin's Rose Latulippe (1935). The hardships of the GREAT DEPRESSION inspired Eric Harris's domestic drama Twenty Five Cents (Toronto 1936) and Lois Reynolds Kerr's Open Doors (1930).
The Depression also led to numerous "Worker's Plays." Dorothy LIVESAY, whose "Joe Derry" (Masses, 1933) is a narrated pantomime, was the most famous author involved; Eight Men Speak (1934) by Oscar Ryan, E. Cecil-Smith, H. Francis and Mildred Goldberg, was the most notable play. Its importance is both historical and as an example of the effective use of agit prop and related presentational techniques. Aside from "Worker's Plays," the most daring experiment was Herman VOADEN's "symphonic expressionism." His ballet-music-dramas were described at the time as compelling on stage, but now may seem dated, their image-laden language stilted.
If a single one-act play of the period stands out, it is Gwen RINGWOOD's "Still Stands the House" (Carolina Playbook, 1938), a moving, realistic portrayal of spiritual starvation and repression in hard times on the Prairies. Len PETERSON's radio play, Burlap Bags (1946, pub 1972), also bears citing for its portrayal of an alienated, absurd postwar world. It seems a transitional play between the expressionism of the 1930s and the existentialist drama of the 1950s and 1960s.
The leading playwright of the late 1940s and early 1950s was Robertson DAVIES, who dramatized in a witty, often eloquent style his satirical view of philistine Canadians. His early plays received amateur productions, but A Jig for the Gypsy (1954) and Hunting Stuart (1955, pub 1972) were staged by Toronto's professional CREST THEATRE. The 1950s saw the establishment of modern Canadian professional theatre, highlighted by the founding of the STRATFORD FESTIVAL.
From the 1930s radio had aided the professional evolution by employing playwrights. Among them was Lister SINCLAIR, author of "The Blood is Strong" (A Play on Words, 1948), who emerged in the late 1940s as a prolific radio dramatist. W.O. MITCHELL, in "The Devil's Instrument" (1949, pub 1973), showed a prairie Hutterite youth rebelling against his religion; in "The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon" (1951, pub 1965) Mitchell humorously pitted Wullie against the Devil, an avid curler.
Earle BIRNEY wrote "Trial of a City" (1952), an inventive, witty indictment of Vancouver. Teach Me How to Cry (1955), Patricia JOUDRY's sentimental study of small-town prejudice, was first a radio and television play (1953), then received a professional production in New York (1955) and won the 1956 Dominion Drama Festival Best Play Award. It was retitled Noon Has No Shadows for staging in London's West End in 1958 by an all-Canadian cast, and it subsequently became a movie.
In the manner of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, John REEVES fashioned A Beach of Strangers (1961), hitting out at Canadian puritanism. John COULTER, whose 1930s plays were popular with amateur groups, also wrote for the radio, then used a Canadian hero in the episodic and moving Riel (1950, pub 1962). Coulter's last dramatic work was François Bigot (1978), also a history play.
The late 1960s saw an unprecedented increase in the quantity and quality of drama, a trend which continued through the 1970s. In 1967 James REANEY's imaginative and metaphorical Colours in the Dark, which explores growing up in a repressive southern Ontario, was staged at the Stratford Festival. That same year, the MANITOBA THEATRE CENTRE produced Ann Henry's Lulu Street (1972), a sensitive, critical look at the Winnipeg General Strike.
John Herbert's prison drama, Fortune and Men's Eyes (1967), graphically depicting intellectual and sexual oppression, received its first full, professional staging also in 1967, ironically in New York, although it had been presented in a workshop at the Stratford Festival in 1965.
Also in 1967, at the VANCOUVER PLAYHOUSE, George RYGA's The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (1970) made an emotionally provocative statement on native-white relations; this was followed by Rita Joe's travelling to Ottawa's NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE in 1969. In Vancouver, Ryga's multimedia and highly successful "hippie" play, Grass and Wild Strawberries (1971), caused controversy, but nothing compared to the fuss over his Captives of the Faceless Drummer (1971). British Columbia playwright Beverly SIMONS used absurdist techniques in Crabdance (1971) to present the plight of middle-aged Sadie Goldman trapped by the stress of modern life.
In the early 1970s, small professional theatres dedicated to new Canadian plays sprang up across the country. Some relied on scripts of a traditional nature. In Leaving Home (1972) and its sequel, Of the Fields, Lately (1973), David FRENCH used the conventions of realism to explore the psychological tensions within a Newfoundland family forced to move to Toronto. His Jitters (1979, pub 1980) is a more sophisticated comedy of manners satirizing Canadian theatre.
Joining French in ushering in a muscular Canadian realism was David Freeman, whose Creeps (1972) is a searing revelation of life among the physically or psychologically handicapped. Freeman's plays were also part of the early 1970s realism, which included French's poolroom drama One Crack Out (1975), William Fruet's "Wedding in White" (1973) and Mary Humphry Baldridge's The Photographic Moment (1974).
Using less realistic conventions, Herschel Hardin's Inuit drama, "Esker Mike and his Wife Agiluk" (TDR, 1969), received attention, as did Carol BOLT's documentary satire Buffalo Jump (1972), about the ON TO OTTAWA TREK, and her episodic portrait of anarchist feminist Emma Goldman, Red Emma (1974).
In Newfoundland, Michael COOK wrote "Colour the Flesh the Colour of Dust" (1972), "The Gayden Chronicles" (1977) and "On the Rim of the Curve" (1977), this last work about the demise of the BEOTHUK Indians. These somewhat Brechtian dramas use incidents from Canadian history to comment on modern social and political injustices, and head a list of large-scale history plays including Stewart Boston's "Counsellor Extraordinary" (1971), Michael Bawtree's The Last of the Tsars (1973), James Nichol's Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons (1977) and Ron Chudley's After Abraham (1978). Cook's shorter plays, "Quiller" (1975) and "Tiln" (1973), and his 2-act plays, "The Head, Guts and Sound Bone Dance" (1974) and Jacob's Wake (1975), take a philosophical attitude to modern Newfoundland life and express it in an image-laden language.
In western Canada, Walsh (1972), an episodic treatment of the North-West Mounted Police officer's anguish over the injustice he helped perpetrate on Sitting Bull, was the first of 5 major plays establishing Sharon POLLOCK's reputation. She then wrote The Komagata Maru Incident (1978), which uses a circus atmosphere to comment on Canada's handling of a 1914 shipload of SIKH immigrants; "One Tiger to a Hill" (1981), depicting the complex tensions in a prison hostage taking; and "Blood Relations" (1981), a skilful handling of the Lizzie Borden tale. "Generations" (1981) was Pollock's only play in a wholly realistic mode; the others demonstrated an imaginative restructuring of reality that forced the audience to concentrate on issues inherent in the actual events portrayed.
COLLECTIVE CREATION describes the working process of many theatres in the early 1970s in preparing performance pieces, often "documentary dramas" improvised around a specific topic or theme. Among the best of the genre are scripts such as The Farm Show (1976) by Toronto's Theatre Passe Muraille, Far as the Eye Can See (1977), which it did with Rudy WIEBE, and "Paper Wheat" (1977) by Saskatoon's 25TH STREET THEATRE. They gain strength from imaginative staging rather than deep insight into the topic; hence, they yield little to traditional modes of dramatic analysis. As a result, this complex, sophisticated form is often misjudged or ignored by critics.
Sometimes the collective process involves a playwright, as in Far as the Eye Can See and the very popular "1837: The Farmers' Revolt" (1975), which Rick SALUTIN scripted with THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE. Salutin's equally famous Les Canadiens (1977), written "with an assist from Ken Dryden," uses the rapid changes of time, place and action, the character-doubling and vignette structure associated with collective works, but provides more analysis of its topic: social and political life in Québec. Rex DEVERELL scripted "No I Hard" (1978) from a collective creation process, but he is the playwright of Boiler Room Suite (1978), where 2 old winos find joy in each other's company, and Black Powder (1982), his documentary drama about the 1931 Estevan riots.
Even English Canada's most acclaimed dramatist, James REANEY, has often exercised his manifest genius through improvisational collaboration with acting companies. Over the years, following amateur first productions of his more conventional early plays, Reaney has evolved a mythopoeic drama based on fragmented plots and resonant thematic imagery that echoes between rich dialogue and the stage action, characters or objects. His Donnelly trilogy ("Sticks and Stones," 1974; St Nicholas Hotel, 1976; Handcuffs, 1977) has been called the strongest drama yet written in English Canada.
Experimental work by many other playwrights has challenged the boundaries of traditional English Canadian theatre. Québec dramas in translation, notably the multilayered, resonant plays of Michel TREMBLAY, have helped extend conventional modes. Especially in the 1960s, Wilfred WATSON offered audiences multimedia dramas which were often surrealistic, satirical and poetic. "Let's murder Clytemnestra according to the principles of Marshall McLuhan" (1969) took place in a laboratory-like setting on a stage whose proscenium was fitted with numerous televisions carrying the bizarre action from the stage.
Gramsci X3 (1983) explores the murder/martyrdom of Antonio Gramsci, an Italian political theorist and activist. Part of the play uses Watson's number grid verse which enables performers to experiment with various solo and choral techniques in handling the dialogue.
The many successful productions of Michael ONDAATJE's The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, which he adapted for the stage from his brilliant poetic narrative (1970), created a dramatic form by juxtaposing short scenes in prose and verse. Rich imagery, in the manner of Reaney's Donnelly plays, transforms the chronicle of Billy the Kid into myth, then ironically questions the nature of that myth.
In the early 1970s, Lawrence Russell used surrealistic techniques in the short pieces in Penetration (1972) and The Mystery of the Pig Killer's Daughter (1975). Michael HOLLINGSWORTH dabbled with bizarre events in Clear Light (1973). "Mathematics" (1973), 190 seconds without dialogue during which 6 groups of carefully selected objects are thrown one by one upon the stage, indicates the ephemeral, yet daring experiments of Hrant Alianak. His "Western" (1973) finds a gunslinger and 2 beautiful women in humorous dialogue consisting of the titles and names of stars from western movies while they wait for the cavalry to rescue them from 500 attacking Indians.
Ken Gass, the author of the cartoonlike, antifascist Hurrah for Johnny Canuck! (1975), raised controversy with his Winter Offensive (1978), in which Adolf Eichmann's wife hosts a kinky sex party for Nazi officials.
Bryan Wade's Blitzkrieg (1974), about Hitler and Eva Braun, and many of his earlier shorter plays (eg, Lifeguard, 1973, and "Alias," 1974) have imaginative unconventional qualities. A talking dog and exploding croquet mallets make Larry Fineberg's Hope (1972) slightly unusual. George WALKER's Zastrozzi (1977), Theatre of the Film Noir (1981) and Science and Madness (1982) abound in entertaining theatricality, usually in the service of making fun of traditional dramatic modes.
An innovative script is John Krizanc's "Tamara" (1989), which won a Dora Mavor Moore Award in 1981. Its "environmental theatre" form allowed audience members to follow a chosen character through the large, old house in which it was staged. No individual saw all the 1920s political and amorous action unravelling simultaneously in the many rooms, but playgoers gained enjoyment piecing the strands together from chats with others after the show. Many, however, seemed to have missed the play's serious exploration of the clash between politics and art.
There was special attention focused on women in the theatre during the 1970s and after. The plays of Sharon Pollock and Carol BOLT pursue feminist themes, and Margaret HOLLINGSWORTH entered the forefront of Canadian dramatists. Her full-length Ever Loving (1981) traces the lives of 3 war brides who come to Canada to live with their husbands. Ever Loving joins "The Apple in the Eye" (1977), Mother Country (1978), "Operators" and Bushed (1973) in illustrating Hollingsworth's skill at creating lively human characters and scenes loaded with humour and tension. Erika RITTER demonstrates a rapierlike wit and a perceptive reading of life in Automatic Pilot (1980).
The mid-1970s produced many talented writers, among them Timothy FINDLEY and his resonant Can You See Me Yet? (1977) and American-born Sheldon Rosen with Ned and Jack (1979). David FENNARIO wrote what may be the most "Canadian" of plays, Balconville (1980), a bilingual slice of life comically revealing the oppression of French and English slum dwellers in Montréal.
Tom WALMSLEY's handling of sex and violence in Something Red (1978), The Jones Boy (1978) and The Workingman (1976) is forceful and graphically realistic, if sometimes overdone. In Waiting for the Parade (1980), John MURRELL creates nostalgia to link the vignettes of 5 women living out WWII in Calgary. His earlier Memoir (1978) lacks truly dramatic action.
Most of the plays mentioned combined box-office appeal with enough substance to engage the mind, but there was a proliferation of situation comedies like Allan Stratton's Nurse Jane Goes to Hawaii (1981) and Alden NOWLAN and Walter LEARNING's The Incredible Murder of Cardinal Tosca (1978). In fairness, one must note Stratton's subtle, thoughtful Rexy (1981) and Nowlan-Learning's engrossing history play, The Dollar Woman (1981).
Financial restraint fostered one-person shows seemingly beyond count. Pierre Trudeau's notorious marriage and the novelty of Linda GRIFFITHS playing all three roles in Maggie and Pierre (1979), which she created with Paul Thompson, made this play exceedingly popular despite a very thin script. John GRAY's Billy Bishop Goes to War (1981) was equally popular and combined the solo performer with a trend towards musical theatre.
Gray also wrote "18 Wheels" (unpublished) and Rock and Roll (1982), 2 small-cast musicals. This form has been used well by Ken MITCHELL in his "trucker's Othello,"Cruel Tears (1976).
See also THEATRE, ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
Separating drama in English into regional territories inevitably threatens to override many significant distinctions within each region--particularly issues of multicultural and intercultural specificity. However, when these considerations are borne in mind, regional categorization effectively identifies a range of cultural, economic, and geographic factors that unquestionably influence the creation and production of drama in a country as vast and varied as Canada. Thus, while the regions identified below have permeable borders and "multiple personalities," they also represent important categories of identification, within and beyond those borders, both historically and at the "turn of the century."
British Columbia, and Vancouver in particular, boasts an active theatre community, with thriving professional organizations such as the VANCOUVER PLAYHOUSE, the ARTS CLUB THEATRE (Vancouver), and the BELFRY THEATRE (Victoria). The development and production of new Canadian works are central to the mandates of several smaller but influential organizations such as Touchstone Theatre and Rumble Productions, while Youth Theatre companies such as GREEN THUMB regularly contribute new works in that category. Initiatives such as the Playwrights Theatre Centre (formerly the New Play Centre) and Theatre BC's annual National Playwriting Competition provide resources and inspiration to new and developing writers from throughout the province and nationally.
Sally CLARK's plays present a wide range of contexts and situations that focus on the struggle of the (usually female) individual in the face of inexplicable and overwhelming social bureaucracy. Her characters are surprisingly resilient - a quality regularly expressed through satirical humour.
Kevin Kerr was the recipient of the 2002 GOVERNOR GENERAL'S AWARD for drama in English for Unity (1918) (2001). The play is a rich pastiche of lyricism, overt symbolism, and social commentary. It effectively conflates global armed conflict with the rampant international spread of influenza that killed millions of people worldwide in the autumn of 1918.
Michael Lewis MacLennan is conspicuous among younger writers from BC. His work is characterized by deceptively complex structures and poetic language. His plays focus on personal and social factors that impose separation and isolation while offering the potential for apparently (but never quite) coincidental opportunities for connection.
Joan MACLEOD utilizes humour as a means for her characters and audiences to open themselves to the challenging issues of equality, discrimination and personal integrity. In all her work MacLeod uses direct, accessible language to construct familiar characters. She then places these characters in unexpected situations that force often harrowing experiences of self-scrutiny.
Morris PANYCH is regularly noted for his dark comedy. But it is perhaps his ability to construct disarmingly novel and engaging situations and conceits that most fascinates audiences and encourages engagement with political and/or existential issues.
The Canadian Prairie provinces are home to vital theatre communities, particularly in the large urban centres. Western Canadian stages are particularly active during the summer season, when large-scale fringe and playwright festivals regularly showcase a variety of new Canadian works (see FRINGE THEATRE FESTIVALS).
Maureen Hunter's early, well-crafted works address the challenges of family life. Her more mature writing is increasingly allusive, lyrical, historically curious, and preoccupied with concepts of mysticism.
Bruce McManus's Selkirk Avenue (1990), winner of a Governor General's Award, portrays a colourful, animated history of Winnipeg through the eyes of an Our Town-style narrator. It recounts the challenging experiences of the successive immigrating minorities that have made their homes, if only temporarily, along the stretch of road from which the play takes its title.
Ken MITCHELL's contribution to Western Canadian drama is extensive. Few dramatists are so closely associated with Prairie life, specifically that of Saskatchewan, his birthplace. Mitchell is drawn to the structural and moral clarity of the tragic form. As the author himself has noted, the inevitable downfall of his characters is unsullied by ambiguity as they succumb to the temptation of a single, defining character flaw. Universalized through a seductive romanticism, Mitchell's protagonists ultimately represent, in the author's words, "feisty and defiant attitudes toward the world."
John MURRELL has written plays that pair emotional resonance with social consciousness. His most well-known work, Waiting for the Parade (1977), explores gender inequality, moral oppression, racism and mortality. While the characters are occasionally predictable and demonstrate a crowd-pleasing resilience, the play avoids stereotypes and offers an inspiring study of human nature. Murrell is widely recognized and produced as a translator/adaptor of the works of Anton Chekhov, as well as of Sophocles' Oedipus the King, Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, and the contemporary plays of Québec playwright Carole Fréchette.
Sharon POLLOCK, a significant presence in Canadian drama for over 30 years, has produced an extensive body of work. Her unwavering, unapologetic social activism, and her efforts to locate personal issues of gender and class within a larger, primarily socialist, political framework, preclude a postmodernist sense of detachment and irony in her dramatic voice. But the issues of systemic oppression and dominance that her works explore and expose remain relevant and topical. Even Pollock's early works demonstrate an enthusiasm for experimentation with issues of time, space and character. Pollock's ability to link the personal and the political in her plays accounts for her enduring reputation as one of Canada's most important dramatists.
It is not surprising that the largest proportion of dramatists in Canada is located in Ontario, and Toronto in particular, where opportunities for production and collaboration are greatest in the country. Toronto's thriving professional theatre scene boasts such landmark companies as THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE, TARRAGON THEATRE, FACTORY THEATRE, and Canstage (CANADIAN STAGE COMPANY), as well as more recently established companies that are often culturally specific in their mandates, such as Native Earth Performing Arts, Buddies in Bad Times, fu-Gen Asian Canadian Theatre and Obsidian Theatre. There are also a variety of alternative theatre spaces, such as the Theatre Centre and ArtWord, that serve as homes to a wide range of independent productions. Combined, these venues offer a steady supply of new, primarily Canadian plays throughout the year, and have provided the context for the development of many of the country's leading playwrights. Beyond Toronto, organizations such as the Blyth Festival, The Great Canadian Theatre Company (Ottawa) and the NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE (Ottawa) make the development of Canadian drama a regular component of their activities.
Linda GRIFFITHS is a celebrated actor as well as a playwright, and her early works emerged out of collaborative efforts. Griffiths's work avoids a specifically feminist mandate, and her roots in the Theatre Passe Muraille tradition under the strong influence of director Paul Thompson have encouraged a more eclectic approach to political and cultural subject matter. Griffiths's early prominence was earned with Maggie and Pierre (1980), a sharp, satirical solo performance co-created with Thompson in which Griffiths played both former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau and his controversial younger wife, Margaret.
Michael Healey's The Drawer Boy (1999) is a finely crafted and consistently engaging play. At its centre is the paradoxical act of storytelling, with its potential to deceive and mislead as well as to heal and transform. In Plan B (2002), Healey offers an often humorous yet ultimately sobering prediction of the nation's future.
Ann-Marie MACDONALD, also an actor, is a playwright for whom regional categorization is particularly inadequate. Although the majority of her dramatic writing has been developed and received its first stagings in Ontario, her strong connection with her Cape Breton roots has become widely recognized through her fiction. It was, however, with Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) (1988) that MacDonald achieved national recognition. Simultaneously intellectual and physically rowdy, the play verified MacDonald's virtuosity. Her subsequent work continues to demonstrate her versatility, imagination and verbal dexterity.
Daniel MACIVOR's early works push the possibilities of the one-person show into wildly animated, highly humorous, and intellectually challenging theatre events. House (1992) is driven by a strategy common to much of MacIvor's work: a narrator figure delivers most of the play in direct address to the audience. Invited into the performance, yet destabilized by this unconventional, participatory role, MacIvor's spectators are suspended within the theatrical moment. Much of the significance and meaning of the playwright's work derives from this dynamic, although he has also produced conventionally structured plays with considerable critical and popular success.
John MIGHTON, a PhD mathematician, writes plays that express both his rigorous, scientific intelligence and a fertile creative imagination. His best-known play, Possible Worlds (1990), is highly innovative in its alinear, cyclical and contradictory understanding of plot and characterization, and remains only partly resolved, allowing for a powerful, lingering unease upon its conclusion.
Adam PETTLE's play Zadie's Shoes (2001) is one of the few Canadian plays to successfully transfer from a medium-size house (The Factory Theatre) to the huge, commercial Wintergarden Theatre, a clear indication of its balance of intelligent writing and accessible and emotionally engaging characters and storyline. The often sobering content of all his works is mediated by Pettle's consistently buoyant dialogue, and the strength of the plays lies in the quick and sure (and often very funny) exchanges between the central characters, who are paced through a considerable range of laughter, guilt, regret and tears.
Jason SHERMAN has become one of Canada's most produced and critically acclaimed playwrights. His penchant for hard-edged, naturalistic, and at times graphic dialogue regularly expresses a self-conscious political sensibility and his concern with the complex nature of Judaism in contemporary North American society. His plays explore the powerful, overriding stories that individuals and cultures tell themselves in order to bring meaning and order to their existence.
Judith THOMPSON confronts audiences with ardent, committed social criticism. Her themes are concerned with the darker aspects of contemporary society that, the plays demonstrate, can only become more dangerous and uncontrollable through denial. Her first play, The Crackwalker (1980), is a graphic, unflinching portrait of substance abuse, violence, and infanticide. The play polarized audiences and established Thompson as a provocative theatrical voice. Her drama is almost always visceral, probing, and relentless as it lays bare both the institutionalized inequality in contemporary western society and the depth of the general public's complicity in this oppression.
Guillermo VERDECCHIA is a frequent collaborator with Daniel Brooks, and it was their co-authored, co-directed, and co-performed The Noam Chomsky Lectures (1990) that firmly established the reputation of Verdecchia's eclectic, wry, and intelligent voice. Verdecchia received the Governor General's Award for Fronteras Americanas (1993). A one-person show incorporating two polar personalities, the overtly metatheatrical and often hilarious autobiographical play examines the fractured experience of an Argentine-Canadian who discovers he can call neither country "home."
George F. WALKER remains an original and unpredictable voice. His ability to combine innovation with commercial success (internationally, as well as in Canada) makes him an uncommon and perpetually intriguing writer. Walker has explored a wide range of stylistic approaches, including a surreal swashbuckler that combines characteristics of revenge tragedy and melodrama; an absurd, B-movie-inspired work of mock science-fiction depicting the decay of western society; and a rowdy, irreverent, and thoroughly "Canadianized" adaptation of Turgenev's Fathers and Sons entitled Nothing Sacred (1988).
David Young's first play, Fire (with Paul Ledoux, 1985), demonstrates considerable innovation and range. Incorporating original songs and extravagant choreography, it explores issues of morality, sexuality, and identity and presents them as highly accessible, popular theatrical entertainment. Subsequent works explore contrasting social and political perspectives with dense intellectualism, sardonic humour, and claustrophobic intensity.
Atlantic Canada is far from a homogeneous community. Yet while its playwrights project distinct provincial perspectives, they also share deep historical roots, relative isolation within the country, cultural insularity, and economic hardship. Theatre companies in all 4 of the Atlantic provinces have emphasized the importance of Canadian content through their programming.
Norm Foster, although born in Ontario, is closely identified with New Brunswick, his adopted home for many years. One of the most successful and most produced playwrights in the country, Foster has a facility for smart, witty dialogue, clearly defined characterization, and reassuring comic structure. Since his first efforts, Sinners (1983) and The Melville Boys (1984), Foster has been remarkably prolific, and many of his plays are performed each year in professional, community, and summer festival venues.
Charlie Rhindress's work suggests that New Brunswick is fertile ground for popular comedy. Of particular note is Rhindress's The Maritime Way of Life (1999), a dark satire on traditional East Coast lifestyles and personalities. Despite its vicious sarcasm, extensive cross-dressing, and absurd humour, The Maritime Way of Life is very popular with Atlantic audiences.
Wendy LILL, who was born in Vancouver, may be the most widely recognized playwright of Nova Scotia. Her strong social and political convictions were apparent early in her career and continue through her most recent work. The Glace Bay Miners' Museum (1995), Sisters (1989), and Memories of You (1988) are "memory plays," a form Lill finds particularly effective for considering the relationship between intention and experience, and between reality and interpretation.
Bryden MACDONALD's work is often unconventional, yet his plays retain an East Coast (specifically Cape Breton) relevance and sensibility. Later works demonstrate increasing formal experimentation while continuing the playwright's characteristic assault on contemporary middle class morality.
Michael Melski locates most of his plays in the context of his native, small-town Cape Breton, but it is a dark, desperate, and violent perspective on a region often represented to the outside world as a rural paradise. Melski's grasp of local dialect and his unwavering insight into the motivations and instincts of the social class he writes about bring an authentic energy to his work.
Kent STETSON is a native of Prince Edward Island whose work has been produced across the country. Drawing on the elements of tragedy, comedy and farce, works like Just Plain Murder (1992) are crowd-pleasing, stylized romps. Stetson's later work reflects a more intentionally poetic and historical approach. The one-man drama Horse High, Bull Strong, Pig Tight (2001) is based on the history of a small PEI community, and the award-winning epic Harps of God (2000) finds tragedy of classical proportions in the historic Newfoundland sealing industry.
Michael Cook arrived in Newfoundland from England in 1965 and, ironically, became one of its most recognized playwrights abroad. His most memorable plays depict the domestic and communal tensions of Newfoundland society (particularly those generated by the vote to join Confederation), and often contrast the charm of place with the bitter realities of outport life. Cook, who died in 1994, is best remembered for his poetic and detailed renditions of Newfoundland speech and behaviour.
David FRENCH has provided the world with vivid and memorable images of Newfoundland. He is also seen as a pivotal contributor to modern Canadian theatre. His play Leaving Home (1972) was heralded by Urjo KAREDA, then drama critic for the Toronto Star, as the vanguard of a distinct and distinguished new national drama. This intense, realistic play depicts the conflict within a 1950s Newfoundland family, the Mercers, as they struggle to adapt to life in central Canada. Multiple generations of the Mercers appear throughout many of French's subsequent works, almost all of which are characterized by hearty humour that is eventually overcome by nostalgic longing.
Several homegrown Newfoundland dramatists emerged at the same time as Cook and French. Tom Cahill's As Loved Our Father (1974) announced its author's indignation, and that of many Newfoundlanders, concerning the joining of their "nation" with Canada in 1949. His The Only Living Father (1992), a one-person account of the life of Joey Smallwood (Newfoundland's premier at the time of the union), continues this theme. Ray Guy's biting drama Young Triffie's Been Made Away With (1985) adopts the guise of a melodramatic thriller. Just below the surface, however, is a sharp critique of both conventional Newfoundland morality and uninformed foreign condescension.
Newfoundland is also home to new generations of dramatists. Robert Chafe (along with director/collaborator Jillian Keiley) provides an innovative take on the "boy meets boy" story in Under Wraps (1997), which features a large chorus whose members spend the entire play under a sheet the size of the playing space, moving about and manufacturing every element of the setting with their bodies throughout the drama. And Bernie Stapleton combines feminist indignation with sharp comic sensibility in Woman in a Cage (1993), an expressionistic study of female subjugation.
Although much attention has been paid to the ongoing emigration of native speakers of English from Québec since the first election of the indépendantiste Parti Québécois in 1976, and 2 subsequent referendums on Québec independence (1980, 1995), English-language theatre in the province has remained surprisingly vigorous. The Québec Drama Federation, which arose from the ashes of the DOMINION DRAMA FESTIVAL (1973-78) with a mandate to promote English-language theatre in Québec, as of 2007 claimed a membership of 57 professional theatre companies (established, intermediate and new), 12 training institutions, 10 community theatres and 186 individuals.
Many English-language companies established in the wake of Canadian centennial celebrations and Montréal's EXPO 67 continue to have a significant impact on Québec theatre, including the Saidye Bronfman Centre theatre (1967), CENTAUR THEATRE (1969), which continues to be English Québec's main stage, Youtheatre (1968) and the BLACK THEATRE WORKSHOP (1970).
The single most important post-1976 Québec play in English is David FENNARIO's bilingual drama, Balconville, which premiered at Centaur in 1979 and remains one of the most popular plays ever in the Canadian dramatic canon. In addition to its innovative use of dialogue in both French and English, the play reconfigured how the English of Québec were imagined, undermining the stereotypical, caricatured image of anglophones as uniformly wealthy, British and upper class by focusing on the common struggles of Montréal's Irish and French working class. Fennario's Balconville inspired numerous other playwrights and theatre companies to produce bilingual and multilingual drama, and to draw attention to the multiple groups, cultures and ethnicities that make up the English of Québec. Fennario continues to write politically relevant and controversial Anglo-Québécois dramas, including Condoville (2006), his sequel to Balconville, 25 years later.
In 1981, under playwright and artistic director Rahul Varma (see also Asian-Canadian Drama), Teesri Duniya Theatre was established in Montréal with a mission to present politically and socially relevant drama that promoted intercultural awareness, reflected Canada's multicultural make-up and gave a voice to visible minorities. The company has been widely lauded for its productions of Varma's plays, Job Stealer (1986), Counter Offence (1996) and Bhopal (2001). Contemporary companies established in the post-1976 era include Geordie Productions (1982), a professional company in Montréal that specializes in theatre for young audiences and tours extensively, and Imago (1986), an alternative theatre dedicated to advancing theatre as an art form. Montréal, like most major Canadian cities, is part of the fringe-festival circuit, enjoying the summertime theatrical tradition that began in Canada in 1982 in Edmonton, inspired by the Edinburgh fringe festival.
In 1988 Marianne Ackerman and Claire Shapiro established Theatre 1774 with a mandate of providing a forum for English and French artists to work together on the production of bilingual and multilingual plays. Theatre 1774's inaugural production, The Echo Project, was directed by Robert LEPAGE, and the company subsequently presented a number of plays written by Ackerman, including L'Affaire Tartuffe, or The Garrison Officers Rehearse Molière (1991), Woman by a Window (1992), Celeste (1995) and Blue Valentine (1996). In 1998 the company was taken over by Guy Sprung and became Infinitheatre, the name under which it continues to operate today.
In addition to David Fennario, Marianne Ackerman and Rahul Varma, English Québec's most prolific playwrights include Aviva Ravel, Colleen Curran and Vittorio ROSSI. Aviva Ravel's verse drama Dispossessed, which premiered at the Saidye Bronfman Centre in the 1970s, won the Women Write for the Theatre Award and was subsequently published in the anthology Major Plays of the Canadian Theatre 1934-1984. Colleen Curran's comedies made her a household name at the BLYTH FESTIVAL in Blyth, Ont, before she returned to her native Montréal to pursue her career as a playwright and novelist. Vittorio Rossi is credited with doing for the Italians of Montréal's Ville-Émard what David Fennario did for the Irish of Verdun and Pointe St-Charles. The popularity of Rossi's early plays - The Chain (1989), Scarpone (1990) and The Last Adam (1995) - helped open the door at Centaur for other Italo-Anglo-Québécois plays such as fringe playwright Steve GALLUCCIO's hit comedy, Mambo Italiano, and Rossi's own trilogy documenting his family's immigration to North America.
The capital city of Whitehorse is home to a number of theatre artists, including playwrights, actors and directors. With the opening of the Yukon Arts Centre in 1994, the small town gave local performing artists a legitimate venue in which to showcase their work. Prior to that, The Guild Hall, a community black box theatre converted from 2 old army barracks, had been the only real playing space in Whitehorse. A handful of smaller, independent, professional theatre companies such as Sour Brides Theatre, Ramshackle Productions and Gwaandak Theatre Adventures enhance the thriving local community theatre scene with professional, original Yukon creations. Nakai Theatre, the territory's longest-standing major player, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2004. Though isolated, many Yukon playwrights have begun to receive notice from "outside," as the locals like to call the rest of Canada.
Patti Flather's first play Sixty Below, co-written with Leonard Linklater, received 7 Dora Mavor Moore Award nominations for its 1997 Toronto production with NATIVE EARTH PERFORMING ARTS, and also toured the North with Nakai Theatre and Gwaandak Theatre. Her play Where the River Meets the Sea won the 2005 Theatre BC Canadian National Playwriting Competition and Gwaandak and Nakai premiered it at the Yukon Arts Centre in 2007. Flather's main characters are often strong yet vulnerable women who are trying to find a balance between the need for love and the search for self.
Mitch Miyagawa's very first play The Plum Tree hit big, premiering at the Yukon Arts Centre in 2002 and going on to receive publication by Playwrights Canada Press and 5 subsequent productions, one of which (ALBERTA THEATRE PROJECTS, Calgary) was nominated for 2 BETTY MITCHELL Awards. Miyagawa's work explores the juxtaposition of cultural diversity and the influence of family on the individual.
Celia McBride was the only female playwright to be commissioned by the STRATFORD FESTIVAL OF CANADA specifically for the 2002 inaugural season of the 260-seat Studio Theatre and the festival's 50th anniversary celebration. McBride's plays have been produced across Canada, the United States and Europe. She is a Fox Fellowship recipient and a graduate of the playwriting program at the National Theatre School of Canada in Montréal. Her style varies from the wildly comical to the darkest of dark and yet always at the story's core there lies a spiritual journey.
Only in the last two decades of the 20th century has a significant body of Aboriginal plays and productions begun to form in Canada. The primarily oral tradition of Canadian indigenous peoples, combined with systemically disadvantaging social conditions and a dearth of production opportunities, effectively discouraged the development of script-based Aboriginal performance. The founding of Native Earth Performing Arts in 1982 was both pivotal and representative in the emergence of an increasingly high profile Aboriginal drama, which now boasts some of the nation's most celebrated and produced playwrights.
Tomson HIGHWAY's The Rez Sisters (1986) and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing (1989) were breakthrough works, both for Highway and for Aboriginal drama in Canada. Set on the Wasaychigan Hill Indian Reserve (or "Rez") on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, the plays stage the intersecting lives of Aboriginal men and women struggling with the poor living conditions, boredom, and lack of opportunity that characterizes reserve life. Combining Aristophanic humour with engaging, compassionate characterization and a reimagining of Aboriginal spirituality in the contemporary Canadian context of hybrid identities (in particular through his extensive and complex use of the Native "Trickster" figure), the plays established Highway as a major dramatist.
Daniel David MOSES also draws on traditional Western European forms in his work, but gives more prominence to traditional Native storytelling techniques and motifs. All of Moses's drama exhibits a poet's concern for form and language. His plays regularly express outrage at the plight of Native Canadians, tempered by a whimsical sense of melancholy. Balance is achieved by adopting a historical perspective and by overlaying the events portrayed with mystical and/or mythical significance.
Drew Hayden TAYLOR is one of the most prolific of Aboriginal playwrights in Canada. Unlike the work of either Highway or Moses, Taylor's plays are more easily organized using the categories of youth theatre, drama, and satirical comedy. His plays use fantastic situations and sharp wit to explore the many challenges and options facing Aboriginal youth, and are accessible to audiences from a wide range of age groups.
Of note amongst a growing number of Aboriginal dramatists in Canada are Marie Clements, Monique Mojica, Yvette Nolan, and Ian Ross. Marie Clements's Age of Iron (1993) is an extremely ambitious hybrid that combines classical Greek mythologies and dramatic structures with their Native North American counterparts. A passionate, often enraged work, Clements's play incorporates music, song, dance, and elaborate spectacle with dense, poetic text. Monique Mojica, an actress, singer, and dancer as well as a playwright, has created several memorable theatre pieces, often working collaboratively. Her Princess Pocahontas and the blue spots (1990), a play for two actors with 17 characters, revisits and revisions the popular perception of its title figure through a highly physical montage of history, mythology, spirituality, pop culture, and feminism. Yvette Nolan's Annie Mae's Movement (1998) focuses on the life and murder of the Mi'kmaq Native rights activist Anna Mae Aquash. Offering little of the humour that characterizes much Aboriginal playwriting in Canada, Nolan's drama combines historical fact and informed speculation to describe the complex, contradictory social forces, both beyond and within the Native community, that collaborated in the "unsolved" crime. Ian Ross's fareWel (1996), like the works of Highway, Moses, and Taylor, makes use of sardonic wit and occasionally broad humour to focus on the trials of reserve life. The Gap (2001) revisits the myriad obstacles to romantic attachment across race. Both plays succeed through the establishment of closely observed characters, an enduring sense of playfulness, and firm political awareness.
A variety of play development and production initiatives have contributed to the heightened public awareness of African-Canadian drama at the turn of the century. Among the significant advances for African-Canadian writers are the establishment in 2000 of the AfriCanadian Playwrights Festival, the publication in the same year of Testifyin' (the first anthology of plays by playwrights of African descent in Canada, followed in 2003 by Volume II), the formation in 2002 of Obsidian Theatre (a company dedicated to the exploration, development, and production of black theatre on the local and international level), and the regular appearance of numerous African-Canadian writers among the nominees and winners of major regional and national playwriting awards.
George Elliott Clarke is primarily recognized as a poet, and his works for the stage employ a lyrical approach to language, character, and structure. Whylah Falls: The Play (1997) is an adaptation of Clarke's collection of poetry of the same title, and retains the dreamlike fragmentation and freewheeling historical licence of the source material. His libretto for the contemporary opera Beatrice Chancy (1998), an exploration of slavery in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia in 1801, draws upon the heightened emotionality of the operatic form to present a tale of forced assimilation, rape, murder, and a brutal justice system.
Andrew Moodie's work has met with both commercial and critical success, and his drama Riot (1995) is a clear example of his desire to stage African-Canadian culture with wide-based popular appeal. Set in Toronto, the play about 6 black characters who share a residence is set against the backdrop of the Los Angeles riots that followed the Rodney King trial acquittal. While politically informed, Moodie's play utilizes familiar comic strategies to explore a Canadian social dynamic that is distinctly less radical than its American counterpart.
Djanet SEARS is the most active and immediately recognized of African-Canadian dramatists. Harlem Duet (1997) is a transposed "prelude" to Othello, set in contemporary Harlem, that explores sexual and racial relationships as indicators of social conditioning and determination. The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God (2002) is Sears's most structurally ambitious work. In its combination of traditional realism and chorus-based, narrative framing, the play embodies Sears's stated intention to establish a "hybrid" theatrical form.
Other celebrated African-Canadian dramatists include George Boyd, Lorena GALE, and George Seremba. George Boyd's Consecrated Ground (1999) stages the struggles of the residents of Halifax's Africville in 1965, at a time when that long-established community faced demolition and redevelopment by the municipal authorities. Lorena Gale produced a limited number of plays, but the impact of her work has been significant. Of particular note is Angélique (1999), a "trans-historical" drama that looks unflinchingly at Canada's little-known history of slavery in the 18th century. When the play suddenly shifts its scenario from the 1700s to the mid-1990s, the continuing parallels within contemporary Canadian society are unavoidable. George Seremba's one-man play Come Good Rain (1992) is an intense, autobiographical tale of personal survival. Featuring no less than 32 characters, the play incorporates African mythology and history as context and commentary.
Asian-Canadian dramatists are neither as numerous nor as widely recognized as either Native Canadian or African-Canadian playwrights. However, through the concerted efforts of play development and production companies such as Cahoots Theatre Projects and fu-Gen Asian Canadian Theatre Company in Toronto and Teesri Duniya Theatre in Montréal, several celebrated works have been professionally mounted and have found enthusiastic audiences.
Marty Chan is a Chinese-Canadian dramatist whose work plays with many theatrical conventions and incorporates models from other media, such as B-movie racial stereotypes. His Mom, Dad, I'm Living with a White Girl (1995) offers parallel narratives. The first charts the familial tensions of a Chinese youth and his parents, exacerbated by racial prejudice and misunderstanding. The second storyline uses spectacle to comment on the deceivingly complex predicament of the first, through the establishment of a dark, clichéd thriller.
M.J. Kang's plays are loosely autobiographical. They explore the competing tensions of cultural memory and the desire for assimilation of Korean immigrants to Canada. Both Noran Bang: The Yellow Room (1993) and Dreams of Blonde and Blue (2002) depict generational and gender conflict within an immigrant family, as sometimes widely divergent perspectives on the past and the future collide.
Betty Quan's Mother Tongue (1992) explores the challenges faced by Chinese immigrants adapting to West Coast Canadian life. The play's titular focus on language is effectively complicated by the fact that one of the three siblings portrayed is deaf and communicates only in American Sign Language. Combined with the English of the other two children and the Cantonese of the parents, the dialogue of the play is replete with opportunities for misinterpretation (unintentional and otherwise), frustration, confrontation and, ultimately, the possibility for true understanding.
Born in India and now a native of Montréal, Rahul Varma is one of Canada's most directly and unapologetically political playwrights. His plays tackle specific, charged situations and events, and proceed to explore the multiple factors, both personal and organizational, that lead to pronounced instances of oppression and injustice. Varma's vision is clear-headed, determined, and fuelled by indignation.
Gay and Lesbian Drama
The final decades of the 20th century have seen greatly increased production opportunities, as well as popular and critical attention, for gay and lesbian dramatists and theatre practitioners in Canada. Defining itself as the premier home of gay and lesbian theatre in the country, BUDDIES IN BAD TIMES THEATRE in Toronto has fostered many new dramatic voices. Other companies, such as NIGHTWOOD THEATRE (also in Toronto), while not directly incorporating gay and lesbian production into their mandate, have nonetheless supported the development and production of explicitly gay and lesbian works.
Brad FRASER's entrance onto the country's theatre scene with Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love (1989) was spectacular. This dark, graphic work creates a mosaic of events and images, combining realistic character interaction with a fragmented, expressionistic dramatic structure and stage design. Many of his subsequent plays have only increased in shock value, without sacrificing intellectual rigour. Drawn to the paranormal, horror genres, and (perceived) social deviants for his subject matter, Edmonton-born Fraser continues to extend his reputation as a jarring, disturbing, yet intoxicating dramatist.
It is difficult to overestimate the contribution of Sky GILBERT to the heightened profile of gay and lesbian play development in Canada. His works consistently play havoc with established conventions of aesthetic and thematic appropriateness. Gilbert's early works shocked viewers and destabilized popular conceptions of homosexuality. Other works draw on famous personalities to explore the tension between society's fascination with and prejudice against homosexuality. In all his work, Gilbert remains surprising and subversive.
Kathleen Oliver's Swollen Tongues (1998) is one of a limited number of works that has both achieved mainstream success and can be classified as lesbian drama. Swollen Tongues differs from the work of Gilbert and Fraser in that issues of gender and sexuality are developed integrally and without overt political intention. Highly poetic, the play manoeuvres around the very conventions that provide its framework, as it offers astute commentary on issues of homosexuality within a generally accessible investigation of the peculiarities of romantic love.
The turn of the 21st century has seen unprecedented levels of new play creation and production in Canada. Original dramas that express a broad range of perspectives are being developed in all regions, and an expanding diversity of representation, in terms of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, is making its way to Canadian stages. The search for a single Canadian "identity" has been succeeded by a recognition of the country's increasingly multi- and inter-cultural character, and this in turn is portrayed through appropriately complex and hybridized dramatic forms and themes. Canada has come a long way since the early 20th-century anxiety over British and American theatrical oppression, and the voices of Canadian drama - distinct in their strength and multiplicity - bode well for the century ahead.
Author Authors contributing to this article: BRUCE BARTON, GREGORY REID, RICHARD PLANT and CELIA MCBRIDE
R. Usmiani, Second Stage: The Alternative Theatre Movement in Canada (1983); A. Wagner, ed, The Brock Bibliography of Published Canadian Plays in English 1766-1978 (1980); R. Wallace and C. Zimmerman, eds, The Work (1982).
Links to Other Sites
Stratford Shakespeare Festival
The website for the legendary Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Features the latest news and videos about festival productions, educational programs, the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre, and more. Check out "About Us" for a brief history of the theatre and information about Stratford's theatres.
Encyclopedia of Canadian Theatre
The "Encyclopedia of Canadian Theatre" is an extensive online resource about plays, playwrights, actors, and the rest of Canada's vibrant theatre community.
Theatre Museum Canada - The Legend Library
Watch a series of captivating interviews with legendary personalities in Canadian theatre, including Susan Benson and Michael Whitfield, Douglas Campbell, Desmond Heeley, Martha Henry, William Hutt, Mavor Moore, William Needles, Jean-Louis Roux, and Paul Thompson. Interviews conducted by actor/director RH Thomson. From the website for Theatre Museum Canada.
Governor General's Literary Awards
The website for the Governor General's Literary Awards, which are given annually to the best English-language and the best French-language book in each of the seven categories of fiction, literary nonfiction, poetry, drama, children's literature (text), children's literature (illustration) and translation.
The Magnetic North Theatre Festival
This national arts festival showcases some of Canada's best contemporary English language theatre. Check for current performance schedule and other event news.
Do you want to be an actor? Watch an excerpt from "Acting Class," a film that puts the spotlight on young hopefuls as they sweat and strain through a typical day on the boards at Canada's National Theatre School.
Canadian Theatre Review
The website for "Canadian Theatre Review," a journal published by University of Toronto Press. Offers free online access to selected articles.
JWR International Directory of Fine Arts & Film
A global directory of prominent personalities and organizations involved with show business and the fine arts. Also offers film and stage reviews, interviews, and much more. Check the menu on the left side of the page to search for specific topics of interest. Part of the "James Wegg Review" website.
Fringe Theatre Adventures
The website for the world famous Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, the oldest and largest fringe theatre event in North America.
Guide to Canadian Literary Papers at York University Archives
This website offers online biographies of prominent Canadian writers and a guide to related archives maintained by York University Archives and Special Collections. Click on the menu on the left side of the screen for information about specific authors.
Professional Association of Canadian Theatres
The website for the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres. Features an informative online database of Canadian theatres.
Obsidian Theatre Company
The website for the Obsidian Theatre Company, which focuses on plays created primarily by playwrights of African descent. The archives feature stage shots and brief synopses of previous productions.
The website for Infinitheatre, which develops, promotes, produces and brokers innovative Québec plays and new theatrical styles.
The acclaimed Youtheatre company stages new Canadian works primarily for younger audiences. Their website offers the latest news and video clips of current shows and synopses of earlier productions offered since 1993.
Atlantic Canada Theatre Site
This website offers a wide range of primary research materials of interest to Canadian theatre scholars, and to social, cultural, and political historians of the Atlantic region. From the University of New Brunswick.
Canada Council for the Arts: Kent Stetson
A brief biography of Kent Stetson, 2001 winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for English language drama. Scroll down the page for this entry.
Playwrights Guild of Canada
The website for the Playwrights Guild of Canada. Search for brief profiles of Canadian playwrights and information about programs that offer assistance to playwrights.
A Catalogue of Canadian Stage Plays on English Canadian Television, 1952 To 1987
This catalogue lists Canadian stage plays presented on English language television in Canada between 1952 and 1987. From the journal "Theatre Research in Canada."
The Worlds of Herman Voaden
This site is dedicated to the dramatic works of Herman Voaden. From the University of New Brunswick.
Alberta Playwrights' Network
APN is a non-profit, provincial arts service organization and registered charity dedicated to fostering playwriting in Alberta. Check out the sections on "Competitions" and "Newsletters."
Nakai Theatre Ensemble: The Voice of the North
A overview of the innovative Nakai Theatre Ensemble, a Whitehorse-based theatre company. From the Canada Council for the Arts.
Alumni Look Back
On the occasion of the National Theatre School’s fortieth birthday, a group of illustrious alumni reflects on how the School has affected them and the theatre community they work in.
A brief article about the growth and development of theatre and related cultural events in Canada’s North. Includes the Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. From the Encyclopedia of Canadian Theatre.
A brief history of Aboriginal theatre in Canada. Focuses on traditional aboriginal rituals, the impact of European contact, and the more recent revival of indigenous theatre themes and related forms of cultural expression. From the Encyclopedia of Canadian Theatre.
Michael Lewis MacLennan
The official website for Michael Lewis MacLennan, award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and TV producer.
MacIvor's Lively Ghosts
A review of “I Still Love You: Five Plays,” an award-winning collection of plays by playwright-actor Daniel MacIvor. From the Books in Canada website.
The website for the Fox Foundation, an American organization dedicated to the artistic and professional development of theatre actors.
Canadian Television Drama 1952-1970: Canada's National Theatre
This article provides an historical overview of the quality drama productions that were the hallmark of the early years of CBC television and describes the impact of these programs on Canadian theatre. From “Theatre Research in Canada.”
Canadian Association for Theatre Research
The Canadian Association for Theatre Research supports and encourages research in theatre and performance studies in Canada. Check out the full text online newsletter and other features.
The Carol Libman Online Script Collection
The Carol Libman Online Script Collection at the website for the Playwrights' Workshop Montréal. Click on the library link to view the full text of selected scripts created by Canadian playwrights. Also check out the latest information about workshops, public readings, their online newsletter, and related programs.
CANADIAN HISTORICAL DRAMA: PLAYWRIGHTS IN SEARCH OF A MYTH
A comparative analysis of landmark Canadian historical drama. From the journal "Studies in Canadian Literature/Études en littérature canadienne," University of New Brunswick.
Canada and the Theatre of War, Volume I
A brief synopsis of "Canada and the Theatre of War, Volume I" a collection of stage plays by some of Canada's leading playwrights. From the website for Playwrights Canada Press.
The website for the Merritt Awards, which recognize outstanding achievement in professional theatre in Nova Scotia.
An extensive Canadian resource for information about the acting profession, training, auditions, and the entertainment industry.
Theatre Ontario provides theatre practitioners throughout Ontario with training and information to enhance and support their art form.
CFC Actors Conservatory
The website for the CFC Actors Conservatory, a professional level training program for on-screen acting talent. Supported and developed by the Canadian Film Centre, Canwest, and the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation.
Gary Goddard Agency
Search the Gary Goddard Agency website for profiles of Canadian actors, writers, and directors.
This site is dedicated to the Toronto theatre scene. Scroll down the page for reviews and interviews with many of Toronto's theatrical luminaries.
Private Lives with Kim Cattrall and Paul Gross
Watch a conversation with Kim Cattrall and Paul Gross about the Canadian stage production of "Private Lives". Includes brief excerpts from the play. From YouTube.
Representations of the Inuit: From Other to Self
Click on the link to this essay that examines how Inuit people and their culture are depicted in Canadian theatre. See also other articles about theatre in the Canadian North. From "Theatre Research in Canada."
This site features reviews of Canadian dramatic productions on stage and in the movies.