Amidst pushy parents, eccentric teachers, hours of repetitive practice, stage fright, the agony of competitions and exams and the dream of greatness, Ted and Richard grow up as ‘piano nerds’. As they mature, they become more aware of the gap between the merely very good and the great, and come to the humbling realization that concert stardom may be out of reach, but they just might be two of the best piano players in the neighbourhood, and that in itself is worth celebrating.
6 Essential Questions tells the story of Renata as she travels to Brazil to reunite with the mother who abandoned her when she was just five years old. In Rio, Renata discovers more than she bargained for in her quest to uncover the truth of who abandoned whom. She is continually tossed about by her undead grandmother and a semi-invisible uncle as they choreograph the ultimate dance of mother and daughter, both of whom must confront their dreams before they can ever attempt to confront each other. Imaginations run wild in this strangely beautiful and funny story loosely based on Uppal’s critically acclaimed memoir, Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother, a finalist for both the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction.
Seeing beyond Winston's disfiguring scars and foreseeing a future with him, Lise falls in love and the couple soon marry. Years later, having inherited Lise's gift, two of their children, Theresa and Jerome, must struggle to find their place within the community. But for Leo, their middle child, that is just the start of his worries. As he grows older and the chasm between himself and his family grows, Leo realizes that he doesn't belong to his family. While familial tensions mount and secrets are revealed, the Evans family come to see the monumental effect even the smallest spark can create. Based on the short story by Michael Crummey, Afterimage explores the connections built within both family and community, of finding a place to belong. Winner of the 2010 Governor General's Literary Award in Drama.
Almighty Voice and His Wife shakes up a familiar story from the Saskatchewan frontier, reimagining it from the postmodern late twentieth century. The “renegade Indian story” transforms into both an eloquent tale of tragic love and an often hilarious, fully theatrical exorcism of the hurts of history. A modern classic about the place of First Nations people in Canada.
Greg is a once-respected journalist searching for a high-profile story that will help revive his career. Chloe is the missing girl he wrote about six years earlier who has just returned home to a world she no longer recognizes. Instead of leading police to her captor, Chloe turns to Greg to share her story. Unfortunately for him, Chloe won't provide names or locations, and instead dictates exactly how the story should be told. But Chloe has become an international celebrity – both respected and scrutinized by the public – and they all want to know, who is her kidnapper? Why is she protecting him? When Greg begins to question whether truth and fiction have collided, he takes matters into his own hands, in spite of the drastic consequences. Even if that means coming face to face with Chloe's abductor. Inspired by the story of Natascha Kampusch, An Almost Perfect Thing is a multi-perspective thriller about possession and desire, the need to own our stories and our right to the truth.
On a publicity tour in Japan, Carl, a Canadian author, finds himself falling in love amidst the sacred stages of Noh theatre and the seedy dance clubs in Tokyo, wired on cocaine and sake. His object of affection is the young, seductive actor, Yori, but the affair becomes complicated when Carl’s translator and Yori’s sister, Nushi, becomes entranced with him. As his tour continues, he straddles the fragmentary place between two cultures – one of individuality and directness, the other of tradition and formality – and uncovers the dualities that exist in life and love. Based on The Tale of Genji, one of the world’s oldest pieces of literature, MacIvor’s script takes us into the centre of a clandestine Japan as experienced by the visiting outsider.
After suffering an injury during a tour of Afghanistan, Michael, a young soldier, is recovering in the rehabilitation wing of a hospital. The last thing he wants is to spend time with a twelve-year-old girl, but Halley, a spirited Pathfinder and ‘reading fiend’, is eager to earn her community service badge. The pair is at odds from the start, but they find a shared interest in The Red Badge of Courage, the classic American Civil War novel, which spurs them to reveal their own stories. As their friendship grows, uncomfortable truths are exposed and questioned, redefining the meaning of courage and heroism.
In a white trash, northern Ontario gothic, we follow Beatrice ‘Beaver’ Jersey as she learns to grow beyond her circumscribed world, struggling with her whacky extended family, her alcoholic father, and her chain-smoking ghost of a mother.
Bunny Best has met her unfortunate end after a mishap at a Gay Days parade. Now her two sons, Kyle and Hamilton, have the task of arranging her funeral and caring for her most beloved companion, a troublesome Italian greyhound named Enzo. In the bustle of obituary-writing, eulogy-giving and dog-sitting, sibling rivalry quickly reaches its peak and years of buried contentions surface.
Marion, a working mother with a special-needs child, has discovered a devastating secret: her husband Curtis has been engaging in a torrid love affair with none other than their son's young teacher, Teresa. Armed with love notes between Curtis and Teresa, Marion shows up to a parent-teacher interview to confront the woman who may be the thread that unravels her life. What ensues is a gripping and raw confrontation between two women, one fighting to protect her family, the other fighting for the family she always wanted.
Standing at the edge of the ship, contemplating a watery demise, Billy is called back to reality when his dead mentor, Sid Diamond, appears as a handpuppet. Sid forces Billy to re-enact his life as a puppet show, rekindling the passion Billy once had for puppets, people and the dream of a life that sparkles. For anyone stuck in the middle – mid-career, mid-love, mid-life – this requiem for a golden boy shines a little light on the wonder of youth meeting the wisdom of age.
Five classmates come together for their thirtieth high-school reunion. Some see it as a welcome trip home, others see it as an obligation, while a few never even left. But as the night wears on, the one-time classmates start to reconnect and reminisce. The more alcohol that's consumed the closer the friends come to confronting their darkest secrets. Once again, Daniel MacIvor proves to us that just because we're all grown up doesn't mean we have everything figured out. His characters are sometimes naive, often crass, but always honest. As they try to reclaim their high-school glory days, these five friends charge headfirst into the secrets they all tried to run so far from.
Twin sisters Poubelle and Angelique are bonded in both biology and shared tragedy after a car accident leaves them orphaned along a prairie highway in a pool of blood. But the young twins are brought home with Dr Glass after their remarkable recovery, and quickly find themselves the subject of endless experiments. In a quest to study Poubelle and Angelique's undeniable bond, Dr Glass's questionable practices are soon scrutinized by a young doctor who might be the twins' only hope for a normal life. Blood: A Scientific Romance probes the questions: do relationships take on new meaning when they begin to shape not only our experiences, but our biology? And do we, in fact, complete one another?
Leni Riefenstahl, 100 years old, is in the office of a young female Hollywood studio executive. Leni's reason to be there is clear: to make one last desperate pitch to direct her first feature film in 50 years. A thought-provoking contemplation on art, politics, and the seduction of fascism, and a theatrical examination of a woman who danced one perfect dance with the devil and forever changed the way films are made. Leni Riefenstahl was one of the most remarkable and controversial women of the 20 century. Dancer, actor, photographer, and filmmaker, Riefenstahl caught the eye of Adolf Hitler with her prodigious first film: The Blue Light. A cinematic innovator, her decision to direct Triumph of the Will, got her blacklisted as a filmmaker until her death in 2003 at 101, unrepentant and mostly forgotten.
An elf named Bob gets banished from the North Pole to learn a lesson about cooperation. Because of his bad attitude, Santa sends him to a small town to help out with their Christmas pageant. Here, Bob is faced with a group of bumbling actors who are doing their best to put on the greatest darn Christmas show their town has ever seen.
Jamie is 22 years old and works 12-hour shifts operating a wood processor, clear-cutting for pulp. At the end of each shift, he walks through the destruction he has created looking for injured birds and animals and rescues those he can. Jamie's desire to escape this world is thwarted by his fear of leaving the place where he has some status.
Bone Cage examines how young people in rural communities, employed in the destruction of the environment they love, treat the people they love at the end of their shift. Bone Cage is about the difficulty in growing and hanging on to dreams in a world where dreams are seen as impractical or weak. It is funny. It is tragic. It is about different kinds of escaping. It is about a soul trapped in its own rib cage, a cage of bone, a bone cage. Winner of the 2008 Governor General's Literary Award for Drama
Boys With Cars follows Naz, a classically trained Indian dancer, who dreams of getting out of small town Port Moody to attend the University of British Columbia. But when Buddy causes a stir over Naz at school, Naz’s university plans begin to crumble quickly.
In 2007 Ravi Jain completed school and was itching to get his feet wet in the theatre scene. With plans to begin his own company, Ravi put off marriage for a few years, much to the disappointment of his mother, Asha, who was getting impatient with Ravi's non-traditional approach to life. In this autobiographical story of the Jain family, Ravi recalls a trip to India with his parents in tow where they ambushed him with a series of prospective wives at every turn. Conveyed through storytelling, A Brimful of Asha is a comedic and heartwarming tale of a family caught between two cultures.
A deal has been struck between two men in India – 2,100 rupees in exchange for a young village woman named Rekha. Sent to Calcutta without knowing why, Rekha finds herself in the confines of a brothel with Jamuna, a prostitute and madam, who is resigned to her trade. In these conditions, Rekha must shape her destiny and find inner liberty.
From the shore of Ko Phi Phi in Thailand to a suburb in Utah to a mysterious Kafkaesque hole in the ground, carried away on the crest of a wave gives us brief glimpses into the lives of a sphinx-like escort, a grieving father, a conflicted priest, brothers of legend, a felonious housewife, an accountant of time, an orphaned boy, a radio shock jock and a man who finds things. Each are connected, primarily, by the cataclysmic 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed the lives of over a quarter million people. In a series of vignettes, carried away on the crest of a wave illustrates the ripple effect of one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history and ponders what happens when the events that bind us together are the same events that tear us apart.
Dianne is a printmaker who derives her imagery from pre-history – Neanderthal teeth, the Jericho skulls, old bones. Too many people close to her have passed away and her only son has rebelled by embracing a life of religious fundamentalism. The Cave Painter is a funny, moving one-woman show about being an artist and dealing with loss.
A tree lot. Christmas Eve. One man. One woman. One tree. Who should get it? Each gives reasons through tales of woe as to why they are more deserving of the tree, and each seems unmoved by the other's predicament. A story filled with laughs, heartache, and good old-fashioned Christmas spirit.
‘WHO ARE YOU?’ Monsieur Pierre (the immigration official) poses his usual question, but Heinrich’s unusual answer sets in motion a metaphysical roller coaster. Why would a simple statement of name and profession bring so much attention to an unassuming clockmaker? Maybe because that’s two more things than anyone else in this place remembers . . . ? Soon, Heinrich is reminding his new friend Frieda of memories she’s forgotten and even summoning up a few of his own – of forbidden love, and crimes he may or may not have committed. Is it possible to be guilty of being about to commit a crime, as Monsieur Pierre suspects? And why wouldn’t one recall something so significant as premeditating murder? Armed with a newfound-yet-familiar love for each other, Heinrich and Frieda set about solving this Kafkaesque puzzle. Winner of the Betty Mitchell Award for Best New Play (2009) and named best Canadian play of the 2010-2011 season at the inaugural Toronto Theatre Critics’ Awards.
In Communion, a recovering alcoholic and her estranged daughter try to negotiate a new relationship in spite of vastly different lifestyles.
Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco dreamt of the land of the free. Leaving their small Italian villages, they embarked on a long voyage to the United States, only to encounter a world they never could have imagined. Controversially imprisoned for murder, both men must fight for their lives amidst discrimination and public humiliation. Based on actual events, Comrades bring to life Sacco and Vanzetti's seven-year imprisonment and explores the struggles and agonies of two men, tried not for what they did, but for who they were.
Concord Floral is a one-million-square-foot abandoned greenhouse and a refuge for neighbourhood kids; a place all to themselves in which to dream, dare, and come of age. But hidden there is a secret no one wants to confront, and when two friends stumble upon it they set off an unstoppable chain of events, from shadows in parking lots to phone calls from the grave. It's time for the teens of Concord Floral to start talking.
A play in two acts, Healey introduces two sets of characters. In the first, a lawyer and his partner seek a civil ceremony, but are stopped when the officiant won't perform a homosexual marriage because tenets of his religious beliefs won't allow it. But tensions only mount when they learn that the officiant himself is openly gay. In the second act, a young couple decide to marry to secure a family for their unborn child, despite their poor financial situation. Facing eviction, the husband – a young Aboriginal man – meets his new neighbour, a refugee from Somalia, and they become fast friends. As the young couple finds happiness, prosperity and friendship, their competing civil rights tears that friendship apart. Nominated for the 2010 Governor General's Literary Award for Drama
Teresa is sexy, seductive, and mentally challenged. Worshipped by her boyfriend, she turns tricks at $5, is addicted to Tim Hortons' doughnuts, lies without thinking, and overflows with endless kindness, but she continues to hold on to her limitless innocence. The Crackwalker captures the music, the dialect and the unpretty realities of the inner city. First produced thirty years ago, Thompson's striking portrayal of the discarded class in Canada continues to move audiences today.
Every day after school, seventeen-year-old Timothy waits at the neighbourhood crosswalk where years earlier his older sister disappeared. Every day he crosses the street with Jim, the elderly crossing guard. It’s a ritual Timothy thinks might go on forever, until one day he arrives and Jim is absent. Instead, standing at the crosswalk is a young woman – a young woman who looks a lot like his missing sister. The Crossing Guard is a tender meditation on the limits of fidelity.
Elsa is a typical fifteen-year-old growing up in the early 1960s. Her world revolves around independence, boys, and being popular at school, despite growing concerns surrounding the Cuban missile crisis. In fact, this is Elsa's opportunity to let loose before the world blows up. Knee-deep in teenage angst, her mission is clear: get drunk for the first time and lose her virginity. Though Elsa is old enough to feel the tense political climate, she is young enough to believe there might be a cure for everything. A comedic and compassionate sequel to Ardal's award-winning You Fancy Yourself, The Cure for Everything is a coming-of-age story about a teenager who discovers that the world is more complex than she could have imagined.
Santa Claus tries to fulfill a child's special Christmas wish while his staff attempts to overcome a supply shortage at the North Pole. A laugh-filled holiday play, innocent enough for the youngest boy or girl, and entertaining enough for adults.
A virus has plagued the city and residents are quarantined. Curfews have been imposed and rumours of government corruption abound. Bureaucratic red tape is creating a food crisis. Laurel and her parents are imprisoned in the basement of their stately home, relying on the generosity of their former gardener, Cheater, for information and supplies. While Laurel and her family struggle just to survive, Cheater becomes intoxicated with his new-found power as a member of the Security and Surveillance police. Laurel must act as go-between if she is to liberate her family from their basement cell, and enters the dark and convoluted world of Cheater, discovering in the process startling revelations about herself, politics, art, violence, and the man they have become dependent upon.
Bessie, Alice, and Margaret have two things in common: they are married to George Joseph Smith, and they are dead. Surfacing from the bathtubs they were drowned in, the three breathless brides gather evidence against their womanizing, murderous husband by reliving the shocking events leading up to their deaths. Reflecting on the misconceptions of love, married life, and the not-so-happily ever after, The Drowning Girls is both a breathtaking fantasia and a social critique, full of rich images, a myriad of characters, and lyrical language.
The Duchess enters the audacious world of Wallis Simpson – from the filth of Shanghai brothels to the regal splendour of Buckingham Palace – shedding light on the infamous woman for whom King Edward VIII would eventually abdicate his throne. In this adult Alice in Wonderland, Wallis’s personified jewels, her Royal Court chorus, and the royal family themselves dance us through the personal, the political and the fabulist, giving us a glimpse at the life of the controversial woman who diverted the course of the twentieth century.
Standing outside his father's study in Paraguay, Rudi is smoking cigarettes, trying to work up the courage to go in. It has been seven years since he stood in that same spot; seven years since he left his family and their history behind him. As a teenager, Rudi discovered that his father was a doctor at Auschwitz. Trying to reconcile his inherited guilt, Rudi lashed out against his family and his friends, and eventually fled to Germany. While there, he follows in his father’s footsteps by studying medicine, and falls in love with Sarah, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Questioning redemption, love, guilt and the sins of the father, East of Berlin is a tour de force that follows Rudi’s emotional upheaval as he comes to terms with a frightening past that was never his own.
Einstein’s Gift follows the life and work of Nobel laureate Dr Fritz Haber, a man who risked everything for a country that never accepted him. Haber, a chemist who worked hard to enhance life, discovered too late that when his knowledge was put in the hands of the wrong people, millions would die and that his efforts to serve humanity were futile against political will, nationalism, and war. This updated edition of Vern Thiessen’s compelling play about the collision of power and pride still resonates with verve and vigour.
It's a week before Christmas, and struggling egg farmer/artist Ethan Claymore meets a woman who could turn his life around. But things are shaken up when Ethan receives a visit from his estranged, and recently deceased, older brother.
Ever since her brother's untimely death, Marie has been fascinated with angels, believing her brother has become one. Now as a young woman, she has dedicated her doctoral thesis to the subject: the sudden portrayal of angels with feet in Renaissance paintings. As Marie tries to analyze the motive behind this, she begins to uncover questions of existentialism, societal perceptions of women, and the meaning of art and life. Her biggest challenge, though, becomes grasping a seemingly impossible understanding of her brother's suicide, and dealing with her own dislocation.
Fish Eyes is the story of Meena, a classically trained Indian dancer who, despite being obsessed with Bollywood movies and her dance career, just wants to be like the rest of her high-school friends. When she develops a massive crush on Buddy, the popular boy at school, Meena contemplates turning down an incredible opportunity to pursue him, even if he barely notices her.
When Olivia loses control at her 50th birthday party, her four best friends decide to intervene once and for all, much to the irritation of Olivia and her lover, Norma. But is she the only one battling a demon? Or do each of these women face an addiction of one kind or another? Five @ Fifty is a raw and darkly comedic portrayal of turning 50 in contemporary society and of the friendships we can't live without.
When Pierre and Simone planned a vacation to the Irish coast, they were hoping to revive their failing marriage. What they weren't expecting was to stumble upon the body of Mary, a drowned woman, during a walk along the beach. It's not long before curiosity and obsession take over, and the couple begin to piece together Mary's history using both facts and their imaginations. As her story comes alive, Mary's presence integrates itself into Pierre and Simone's lives, resurrecting their memories and regrets, fears and obsessions. Now they must struggle more than ever to revisit the past in order to write their own story.
Sun Wukong’s goal is simple: to feed his son Laoson. Known to his people as the Monkey King, Sun Wukong leaves his home with a promise to return one day and feed the drought-ravaged city of Jung Guo.
Sun Wukong's path, however, becomes a test of strength, agility, and character as he comes face to face with mysterious, enchanting, and heartless creatures. Inspired by the Chinese opera, The Forbidden Phoenix’s lyricism brings us to a world where Chinese parables are woven with the painful history of the immigrant men who suffered greatly to build Canada's railroad in the 1800s. Playwright Marty Chan and composer Robert Walsh create a musical rife with stylized characters, lending itself to a performance brimming with acrobatics, slapstick, and martial arts.
Rick, Ted, Donnie and Cameron are home for their fifteen-year college reunion; a great time to go out for a game of golf and catch up on each other’s lives. Unlike their college days, the conversation doesn’t include talk of beer and final exams, but of colonoscopies, home-security systems, alcoholism, Buddhism and more.
Jem is a self-described butch dyke from Montreal who always imagined spending her life in bars and having multiple flings. When she meets Freda, a woman who exposes Jem’s vulnerabilities, her preconceived notions of who she is become moot as she finds herself partnered in a long-term relationship with kids. Which she surprisingly loves – most of the time. But that’s all changing as Jem and Freda’s marriage shifts from one of love and lust to one of gripes and grumbles.
Gigi knows the limitations of her trade, while her young protege, Lola, looks for love in every man that comes her way. Lola's brother, Chickn, ekes out his own living while keeping an ever-watchful eye for Gigi's affections and Lola's safety. But love is not a luxury these girls can afford. Through story, song, and play, Gigi and Lola inspire each other to find joy on the edges of survival.
Based on a true story, Get Yourself Home Skyler James follows the harrowing journey of a young lesbian who defects from the army when she is outed by fellow soldiers.
The Driver family struggles to cope with an accident that robs them of a mother, leaving them to care for her as she fights to regain her memory. Touching and powerful, Good Mother examines the ties that hold a family together and the crises that draw them apart. A compelling drama by one of Canada's most promising playwrights, Damien Atkins.
Winner of the 2001 Prism/UBC Creative Writing Department Award
Lilly and Morgan Beaumont are comfortable in their routine until Parker, a homeless man, lands on the balcony of their new condo. After scaring the older couple half to death, he pours himself into the holes of their relationship, agitating them with talk of sex – talk that drives Lilly out into the night and sends Morgan on the road to another heart attack.
Julius Rothstein and his granddaughter Abby have loved each other from opposite ends of Canada since Abby was born. But now, accepted as a freshman student at the university where Julius teaches, Abby is moving in with him to be close to school and to keep her newly widowed grandfather company. The two must negotiate a new relationship as housemates and friends, which means dealing with issues of youth and age, work and play, activism and apathy, homework and heart attacks, and those three tricky topics: sex, politics, and religion.
Iris Trimble is trying to hold it all together. She may very well fly off the face of the earth if she doesn’t hang on to the kitchen counter. At least that’s how she feels after her mother, Bernice, a lively, recently widowed 55-year-old breaks the news that she has early onset Alzheimer’s. In an effort to cope with the stress, Iris makes her mother’s famous Everything-That-Is-Bad-For-You casserole, a childhood favourite. Her siblings, on the other hand, are on opposite sides of the spectrum: Sara, the eldest, irately calls for a second opinion, while Peter, the youngest, seems completely unfazed. As for Bernice, she’s still as vivacious as ever, always up for a good laugh and, most of all, ready to finally put herself first.
The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble is about the tricky nature of family dynamics and the effects of mental illness seen through the eyes of a young woman who’s searching for her own feelings amidst the whirlwind emotions of her family.
Theatre in English Until the twentieth century the history of theatre in Canada, a nation formed only in 1867 and not fully independent until 1931, is a record of domination by foreign touring companies offering standard fare from the classic English repertoire with generous doses of melodrama. The example of such art theatres as Grein’s Independent Theatre Society in London and Dublin’s Abbey Theatre inspired the development of a Canadian Little Theatremovement dedicated to innovation and experimentation. The Arts and Letters Players of Toronto (founded 1908), led by Roy Mitchell, presented plays by Maeterlinck, Yeats, Synge and other contemporary writers. In 1919 the University of Toronto’s semi-professional Hart House Theater opened under Mitchell’s direction, regularly performing new Canadian plays in addition to contemporary drama and the classics. The most significant playwright associated with Hart House was Merrill Denison, who produced a number of plays superior to any yet written in English in Canada. His The Unheroic North: Four Canadian Plays (1923) contains three short plays and the full-length Marsh Hay, a powerful portrayal of life in northern Ontario which bears comparison with the work of Synge. The example provided by the Hart House Theater was emulated in Canada’s other major cities; the most innovative contribution was Herman Voaden’s work with the Sarnia Little Theater, founded in 1927 in Sarnia, Ontario. Voaden, much influenced by German expressionist drama, drew heavily on music, painting and dance to develop what he called ‘Symphonic Expressionism’ in plays like Rocks, Earth Song and Murder Pattern, produced between 1932 and 1936.
The Dominion Drama Festival, founded in 1932, helped focus and develop amateur theatre of a high quality – including the presentation of new Canadian plays – in annual competitions held throughout Canada between 1933 and 1970. Among the playwrights associated with the festival were John Coulter and Robertson Davies. Coulter is important for demonstrating in his trilogy about the Métis (mixed race) rebel Louis Riel that Canadian history and attendant mythology could provide the substance of an indigenous drama. Riel, the first play of the trilogy, was produced by Toronto’s New Play Society in 1950. Davies, who had worked under Tyrone Guthrie at London’s Old Vic before returning to Canada in 1940, brought to his craft a rare professionalism. In plays written between 1950 and 1975, he explored wittily what he termed the ‘theme of the portion of life that is unlived’.
Radio drama played an important role between the 1930s and 1960s, a period during which the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast more than 3,500 original Canadian plays.
Gwen Pharis Ringwood, the most important of western Canada’s playwrights, is best known for her folk plays, Still Stands the House (1938) and Dark Harvest (1945), sombre tragedies that derive their power from a deep sense of place and the poverty of the Depression era. Ringwood’s trilogy – Maya, The Stranger and The Furies, first produced in 1982 – is a biting indictment of white society’s treatment of British Columbia’s native peoples.
Following the Second World War the number of professional theatres in Canada increased, with the establishment of, for example, Vancouver’s Everyman Theater (1946–53), Toronto’s New Play Society (1946–71) and the Crest Theatre (1954–66), and these institutions encouraged the production of new Canadian plays. The Stratford Festival opened in 1953, the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1962 and the Charlottetown Festival in 1965 (its perennial favourite a musical based on L. M. Montgomery’s novel Anne of Green Gables). Perhaps the most important influence on professional theatre in Canada was the creation in 1957 of the Canada Council, a federal agency which provided substantial funding to create new theatres and sustain new professional companies.
In 1967 three important new plays symbolized the growth of Canadian drama: John Herbert’s prison drama Fortune and Men’s Eyes, which went on to international success; James Reaney’s Colours in the Dark; and George Ryga’s The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, about a Native girl destroyed by white society. Both Reaney and Ryga have written a large body of dramatic work since then; especially notable is Reaney’s Donnelly trilogy, produced between 1973 and 1975. Following the example of Coulter, Reaney draws on Canadian history (the murder in 1880 of an Ontario Catholic family, the Donnellys) to forge new symbols and myths within a theatrical context.
Despite large government subsidies and the hope generated by these new plays, in the 1960s the country’s major professional theatres, such as Edmonton’s Citadel Theater and Toronto’s St Lawrence Center, still relied heavily on imported plays. But in the 1970s, prompted by a strong sense of nationalism and a groundswell of interest in Canada’s past, a new theatre movement – the ‘alternate theatre’ – emerged, and alternate theatre companies multiplied across the country. They included Vancouver’s Tamahnous Theater (1971), Edmonton’s Theater 3 (1970), Newfoundland’s Mummers Troupe (1972), and Toronto’s Théâtre Passe Muraille (1968) and Tarragon Theater (1971). The most influential of these has been Théâtre Passe Muraille, under director Paul Thompson, who pioneered the development of the collective creation, where actors (perhaps with a writer) addressed Canadian social, political and cultural issues by means of a collectively devised script, as in The Farm Show (1972). The form became very popular in the 1970s: Newfoundland’s Mummers Troupe’s 1978 They Club Seals, Don’t They? was a defence of the sealing industry; Saskatoon’s Twenty-fifth Street Theatre scored a hit in 1977 with Paper Wheat, a collective about the prairie farming cooperative movement.
Founded by Bill Glassco, Tarragon Theater emphasized professionalism in production values, and although its mandate did not exclude the production of non-Canadian plays, about three-quarters of the approximately one hundred works it has produced have been Canadian, and over half of these have been premières. Significant playwrights associated with Tarragon include David Freeman, David French and Quebec’s Michel Tremblay (whose plays have been performed in English). Freeman’s best play is the 1971 Creeps, a long one-act drama set in the men’s washroom of a workshop for victims of cerebral palsy. French is probably English Canada’s most accomplished playwright. His tetralogy about the Mercer family – Leaving Home, Of the Fields, Lately, Salt-Water Moon and 1949, produced between 1972 and 1988 draws on memories of his own Newfoundland background to describe an archetypal father-son conflict as well as a clash between supposed old heroic values (represented by rural Newfoundland) and the mores of a deracinated urban society (Toronto).
Another alternate theatre, Toronto’s Factory Theater Lab, has premièred many of the plays of George Walker. Walker’s early works are derivative, part surreal, part melodrama, with strong affinities with the B-movie. His trilogy The Power Plays, published in 1984, examines the value of liberalism in a world dominated by political and military power through the persona of a private eye, Tyrone M. Power.
While Toronto was undoubtedly the centre of English Canadian theatre in the 1970s, a number of playwrights emerged dedicated to articulating the social, cultural and physical character of Canada’s regions. Michael Cook’s The Head, Guts and Sound Bone Dance (1973) is the best of a number of his plays that dramatize life in the outports of Newfoundland. David Fennario’s Balconville (1979, at Montreal’s Centaur Theater), is rooted firmly in its Montreal milieu of the poor working class. Written in French and English, the play is a brilliant piece of naturalistic writing with a strong Marxist viewpoint. Ken Mitchell, the regional dramatist par excellence, draws extensively on his Saskatchewan environment. His Cruel Tears (1975), for example, is a musical based on Othello that transforms Shakespeare’s tragedy into a tale of love and rivalry among Saskatchewan truck drivers. Sharon Pollock has also written a number of plays with a regional interest: Walsh, for example (about the Canadian government’s treatment of Sioux chief Sitting Bull and his people after their escape to Canada in 1881). Her best play, Blood Relations (1980, at Edmonton’s Theater 3), is about the American Lizzie Borden, accused of murdering her parents. John Murrell has written many plays with a west Canadian background and subject matter, but his greatest success has been with Memoir (1977), about the last months in the life of Sarah Bernhardt. It has been performed in many countries and has been translated into some 15 languages.
New theatre companies and promising new dramatists appeared in the 1980s: Thomson Highway, Judith Thompson, Brad Fraser, Allan Stratton, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Sally Clark, Wendy Lill, Joan MacLeod and Jason Sherman. There has also been a significant growth in companies addressing specialized issues feminism, children’s theatre (there are now some 60 professional theatres for young people), homosexuality – and there has been a dramatic increase in low-budget theatre favouring the one-actor show. Significant examples here include John Gray’s Billy Bishop Goes to War, which played London and New York after great success in Canada, and Antonine Maillet’s La Sagouine as performed by Viola Léger (in French and English). The attendant and necessary infrastructure of professional organizations, theatre publishers, professional critics and awards established in the 1970s was strengthened in the 1980s and 1990s so that it can be said with confidence that Canadian theatre has finally been liberated from its colonial past and is now playing an important role in the nation’s culture.
Theatre in French Despite its relatively long history (the first recorded performance was in 1606, in present-day Nova Scotia), French-language theatre in Canada entered the twentieth century in precarious condition. Since its origins, theatre in French Canada has had to struggle to survive, its existence threatened by demographic and economic factors (a relatively small population spread over a vast area with, until the second half of the nineteenth century, a poorly developed transportation system) and, most importantly, by frequent, stubborn opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, to which the overwhelming majority of Canadian francophones adhered until late into the twentieth century. Primarily because of these factors, the stage arts remained resolutely amateur, cyclical and marginal until the last decade of the nineteenth century. A hundred years later, it is obvious that theatre, despite the many obstacles it has faced, has managed not only to survive, but to flourish brilliantly. The last quarter of the nineteenth century had been marked by more and more frequent visits of professional troupes from France, notably those accompanying Sarah Bernhardt on the nine tours she made to Quebec and Montreal in the period 1880–1918. The church had reacted strongly to the sexually permissive boulevard plays these troupes offered, and to the ‘immoral’ actors who offered them. But, naturally, local amateur groups had begun to emulate this repertoire, often adapting it for local sensitivities. At the same time, American entrepreneurs tightened their control of commercial theatre, replacing the traditional stock companies with the ‘star system’, a development which favoured the establishment of local semi-professionals who could, at little cost, supply the supporting cast and supernumeraries necessary for New York-style productions. As a result, the first professional companies grouping local French-language actors began to appear in Montreal in the 1890s, initiating a period often referred to as the ‘Golden Age’ of theatre in that city.
This Golden Age died with the beginning of the First World War, but even before then its glitter had begun to fade with the advent of film and of American variety theatre. After the war, movies and touring companies from abroad vied with burlesque (the French term includes vaudeville, variety and English burlesque), the last influence becoming more and more insidious as it adapted to local diction and themes. With the introduction of radio and soundtrack films, the place for traditional theatre was scant; and much of that was occupied by shallow melodramas such as Aurore l’enfant martyre, based on a sensational local crime (the play would be performed at least 5,000 times between 1923 and 1950). But a surprising quantity of drama – much of it devoted to patriotic, religious or historical themes – continued to be written and published in French Canada, although little of it was performed.
By the early 1930s radio had become the most important vehicle of cultural solidarity French Canada had known, since now for the first time the fundamental problem of demographic dispersal could be overcome. Many of those who worked on radio had come from the theatre, and the successful new medium, initially pernicious to the stage arts, soon helped them indirectly, as for the first time something approaching financial security was possible through radio performance. Actor-scriptwriters such as Henry Deyglun and Henri Letondal moved easily back and forth between stage and airwaves, writing prolifically for both media, with their most successful works (Deyglun’s Coeur de maman, for example) occasionally made into films as well. Meanwhile, throughout the worst years of the Depression, burlesque continued to prosper, and to make its influence felt on stage and radio.
The 1930s also brought two major developments that led directly to the full flowering of theatre in the 1960s and beyond. The first of these was the emergence of a group of well-trained amateurs, the Compagnons de Saint-Laurent – ironically, under the supervision of a Catholic priest, Emile Legault, and based initially at a Montreal college, itself under church control. From these amateurs came the professional actors, directors, designers and technicians who continued to shape Quebec’s theatre to the present. The other factor is even more closely tied to one individual, Gratien Gélinas, who was learning his trade as actor and writer for radio and stage revues. By the end of the Second World War Legault’s dedicated graduates had infused new life into the theatrical process; and the première of Gélinas’ first full-length stage play, ’Tit-Coq (1948), permanently changed indigenous playwriting. The full effect of these two factors would be felt over the next decade, but it was only after the end (in 1959) of the repressive premiership of Maurice Duplessis – the period since characterized, with some exaggeration, as ‘La Grande Noirceur’ (The Great Darkness) by some historians – that Quebec’s society, and therefore its culture, truly came of age.
It was in this period also that the major theatrical institutions were established: Le Rideau Vert (1948), a company founded by Yvette Brind’Amour; Le Théâtre du Nouveau Monde (1951), the most respected and influential of existing theatrical companies in French Canada, founded by former members of Legault’s Compagnons; and the National Theatre School/Ecole nationale du théâtre (1960), with Jean Gascon and Michel Saint-Denis as its first directors. The 1950s witnessed as well the introduction of summer theatre and the sudden profusion of small théâtres de poche, often operating in direct opposition to the policies and repertory of established, traditional companies like the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde.
Television came to Canada in 1952, immediately drawing writers, artists and spectators from stage and radio and, for the first time, threatening even the survival of burlesque. Its influence was immediate and pervasive, in every aspect of theatrical arts. The major author of the decade, Marcel Dubé, began writing for national television in 1952, and all his major works (some three dozen, to date) are visibly influenced by that medium, notably Florence (1957) and Un Simple Soldat (1957). His example was soon followed by others, and the transition of a production from stage to television, or vice versa, became commonplace. Finally, the 1950s saw the establishment at the federal level of the Canada Council, followed by provincial and municipal funding agencies whose subsidies and the policies they reflect have had a profound and lasting effect upon theatre in all of Canada.
Consequently, the 1960s was a decade of great effervescence in theatre, marked by enthusiastic iconoclasm, much of it directed, ironically, against existing institutions, especially the governmental ones from which the stage’s economic lifeblood flows. The prolific Dubé dominated the first twothirds of the decade, passing the baton after 1968 to Quebec’s best-known dramatist to date, Michel Tremblay, whose epoch-making Les Belles-soeurs was staged in that year. The revolution inspired by Tremblay was first centred on the choice of language (in his case, the form of Quebec French known as joual – the impoverished, heavily anglicized dialect of the urban proletariat, hitherto considered unfit for public use except in burlesque). Critics, at first too scandalized by that language to appreciate the splendid originality, poetry and strength of Tremblay’s drama, were, in the main, hostile. But within a few years the battle had been won in that arena as well, as amply demonstrated by the sudden surge of plays composed in joual, many of them less than memorable. By 1970 half of the annual stage productions in Quebec were of indigenous works, a crucial development indeed in the evolution of theatre in the province.
The provocative, adversarial and separatist tone of most of the drama written in the early 1970s – much of it composed and performed by collectivist troupes, many of them anarchistic or Marxist in sympathy changed perceptibly after 1976, the year when the first indépendantiste government came to power in Quebec. Thereafter, mainstream drama and theatre were less narrowly introspective and much more universal in focus, representing a healthy antidote to some of the excesses of the preceding 15 years. The early 1980s brought serious problems, most of them economic in origin. With national and international economic recession, public subsidies declined markedly, even as the number of companies continued to increase and the theatregoing proportion of the population remained static. Quebec boasted some 125 professional and at least 425 amateur companies in 1986, more than the total of the other nine provinces combined. Judicious pruning would be necessary to ensure the viability of those companies which deserved to survive. At the same time, the overall quality of stage and costume design, directing and acting continued to rise impressively, as did the level of dramatic composition. Tremblay continued to write major plays (his Albertine en cinq temps, 1984, is considered by many to be his finest play to date), joined now by a dozen dramatists of the first order, most notably Michel-Marc Bouchard, Normand Chaurette, René-Daniel Dubois, Robert Lepage and Jean-Pierre Ronfard. An imposing generation of female writers, most of them actively feminist in their views, also appeared, led by Marie Laberge, Jovette Marchessault, Elisabeth Bourget and Maryse Pel-letier. Many of the latters’ plays have been produced by women’s troupes such as Montreal’s Théâtre Expérimental des Femmes and Quebec City’s Commune à Marie. As Quebec enters the new millennium its theatre remains, despite persistent economic problems, varied, vibrant and self-confident.
It was in Acadia (roughly consistent with today’s Maritime Provinces and part of the state of Maine) that theatre began in 1606, with the performance of Marc Lescarbot’s Théâtre de Neptune en la Nouvelle-France, but thereafter it disappeared for some 260 years. Its rebirth in Acadia was timid, mainly confined to the college stage, and this was the venue for nearly all theatrical activity until the 1950s, consisting mainly of historical and patriotic texts performed by amateurs for local audiences. Acadia’s first major playwright, and still the dominant literary and dramatic voice for her homeland, was Antonine Maillet. Now internationally known (she received France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt in 1979), she sought to exorcise, in works such as the enormously successful one-woman play, La Sagouine (1971) and Evangéline Deusse (1976), Acadia’s troubled, mythologized past as crystallized in the great Deportation of 1755. Other Acadian playwrights of importance in the 1980s and 1990s are Laval Goupil, Jules Boudreau, Germaine Comeau and Herménégilde Chiasson, all of them concerned with the recuperation of a lost cultural identity and the affirmation of that identity in a linguistically split and economically troubled present.
In Ontario there are three major francophone cultural centres: the Ottawa-Hull area, where theatre in French began in the 1860s and has since been heightened by the growing prominence of the federal capital in the arts as in other spheres; Sudbury; and Toronto. Sudbury is the home of the major Franco-Ontarian dramatist to date, André Paiement (dead, tragically, by suicide in 1978, at the age of 28), and of a rising star, Jean-Marc Dalpé, whose Le Chien, dealing evocatively with the problems of a Franco-Ontarian in an Anglo-Saxon sea, won the Governor-General’s Award for Drama in 1989. There are at present some two dozen French-language troupes active in the province, one of the most enduring and most dynamic being Toronto’s Théâtre du P’tit Bonheur, recently renamed Le Théâtre Français de Toronto. In Manitoba and the West, French-language theatre has been surprisingly widespread, considering the small and declining proportion of French-speakers there. As elsewhere in French Canada, theatre in Manitoba began in educational institutions, in this case in the 1870s. By the 1920s local amateur groups flourished, most notably the Cercle Molière in Saint-Boniface, established in 1925 and still vigorous today. As in Acadia and Ontario, the principal preoccupation of local dramaturgy has been the plight of embattled francophones, as exemplified in the plays of Roger Auger, Claude Dorge and Rose-Marie Bissonnette.
from Eugene Benson, Leonard E. Doucette, The Continnum Companion to Twentieth Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).