History of Canadian Theatre (A brief very History)
1606 • Marc Lescarbot wrote “Le Theatre de Neptune en la Nouvelle France”. • Staged in First Nations’ War canoes to honour the arrival of the French dignitaries at Port Royal. • 1st Canadian Play of note.
1700 – 1800’s • Play houses sprang up in sustainable numbers. • Though mainly to accommodate American and British touring companies.
1900’s • 1st half of the century saw the development of a thriving armature theatre movement and the best radio drama of the continent. • Handful of playwrights emerged (playwrights of distinction)
1919 • Hart House founded by Vincent Massey (in honour of his son who was murdered by a black servant. She was the first black woman to be hung in Canada). • Vincent Massey, a theatre pioneer, realized that “if we are to have Canadian drama we must have a theatre in which to produce it. • Hart House was a product of that vision
1920’s – 1930’s • Amateur theatre flourished under the umbrella of “Little Theatre Movement”. • A birth of homegrown play making in large and small communities on both sides of the Canadian-US border. • Canadian theatre was working towards an ideal National Theatre. • This was realized in 1932 with the Dominion Drama Festival. • The Play Workshop ran from 1934-1936 encouraging Canadian Playwriting and indigenous theatrical style. • 25 works were created.
1923 • Merrill Denison’s comedy “Brothers in Arms” included in Hart House’s collection of Canadian Plays • Published collection called “The Unheroic North” established Merrill Denison as Canada’s 1st playwright of note.
1927 Hart House filled two volumes of Canadian Play. Most successful was Merrill Denison’s “Brother in Arms”
1932: Dominion Drama Festival • The Dominion Drama Festival was established. • This was a nationwide competition organized by the new Governor General, Lord Bessborough – chaired by Vincent Massey. • The festival included regional playoffs. • Finals were held in a different city each year. • Awards were given.
1932: Dominion Drama Festival Community Theatres, schools, university drama groups, established amateur companies (like Hart House) were eligible candidates for the festival. The festival was to showcase theatre Canada and upgrade the quality of theatrical arts and crafts through competition and cross-fertilization. From 1933 – 1970 (with a hiatus from 1940-1946 due to the War) the DDF helped institutionalize amateur theatre in Canada. It was also providing ground for Canadian talent which often went abroad and to Stratford or other Canadian professional theatres. Through special trophies and cash prizes, the DDF encouraged writing and production of Canadian Plays.
1933 • In Alberta, The Banff School of Theatre was founded – later evolving into The Banff School of Fine Arts.
1933 • Gwen Pharis Ringwood wrote stark Prairie tragedies: “Still Stands the House” and “Dark Harvest” (written between 1930’s and 1940’s). • Her plays were among the strongest Canadian plays of the 1930’s and 40’s. • Later she taught George Ryga (who wrote “Ecstasy of Rita Joe”), among other Canadian Theatre greats at Banff.
1936-1940’s • CBC Canadian Radio drama began to rise – it was established in 1932 and began broadcasting plays in 1936. • CBC actually paid writers, producers, directors, actors, musicians, and technicians. • This was the “Golden Age” of Canadian Radio. • (Even in the 1950’s with television being introduced CBC radio drama still paid the bills for a lot of Canadian playwrights).
1940’s Late 1940’s – 1967 Robertson Davies and James Reaney plays were highlighted theatre in English Canada. 1945 HermonVoaden president of new Canada’s Arts Council. 1946 New Play Society founded by Dora Mavor Moore. 1948 “Spring Thaw” staged by New Play Society. 1948 modern drama in Quebec had its inception with GratienGelinas with “Tit-coq”.
1950’s John Coulter award winning playwright criticized Canadian Theatre and urged it to find dramatic subject matter in indigenous situations, prairie droughts and crop failures, mining disasters, poverty in slums of city dwellers, etc. Coulter taking his own advice turned to Canadian History. Coulter wrote a trilogy about Louis Riel. Served as a model for history plays of James Reaney and Theatre PasseMuraille dramatists of the 1970’s.
1953 • Robertson Davies was a significant force in Canadian Theatre until the mid 1960’s where he went on to become a novelist. • His journalism also contributed to the development of theatre in the 1940’s and 1950’s and the conditions of “would be theatre professionals” had to labour (He protested theatre working conditions). • He reacted with enthusiasm to the idea of a world class Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford Ontario.
1953 • Stratford Theatre Festival begins in Stratford Ontario. • Robertson Davies and Dora Mavor Moore were instrumental in arranging for the innovative British producer-director, Tyrone Guthrie to head the venture at Stratford. • Stratford’s first season had two plays under a tent in the summer of 1953. • A policy at the Stratford Festival was to cast with Canadian Actors (which still exists today). • Stratford became the training ground for many up-and-coming Canadian actors (i.e. Christopher Plummer). • Stratford created a model for indigenous Canadian Theatre: • A non-profit organization • Unashamedly use of imported personnel where Canadian expertise was lacking • Welcome subsidy support in return for placing destiny in the hands of a volunteer board of governors and reps from the community. Finally in 1971, a third stage was added in part to produce Canadian Work.
1954 Toronto founded its 2nd professional theatre – The Crest . Its presented quality theatre for 13 seasons until its demise in 1966. A major playwright with the Crest was Robertson Davies whose “A jig for Gypsy and Hunting Stuart” premiered in 1954-1955. He had become Canada’s foremost playwright on the amateur circuit with “Eros at Breakfast”. Other plays were “Overlaid” and “Fortune, my Foe” in 1948-1949 which satires Canadian philistinism and national disease and “emotional under stimulation”.
1958 • Tom Hendry and John Hirsh merge the Amateur Theatre 77 with Winnipeg Little Theatre to create the Manitoba Theatre Center with Hirsh being its first artistic director. • It was Canada’s first (of many) regional theatre. • Combining mainstage productions with a touring company, children’s theatre and a school – it got a lot of support and resources that it became a new concept – A CANADIAN NATION THEATRE that was decentralized and regional like the nation itself (a professional version of the Canadian Mosaic) • It was supported by the Canadian Council. • As a result a network of regional theatres spread across the country.
Some Regional Theatres Across Canada VANCOUVER – Vancouver Playhouse established in 1963 HALIFAX – Neptune Theatre established in 1963 EDMONTON – Citadel established in 1965 REGINA – The Globe established in 1966
1960’s National Theatre School opened in Montreal in 1960. Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake opened in 1962. Charlottetown Festival in P.E.I opened in 1964 specializing in Musical theatre. St.John’s got its Arts and Culture Centre in 1967. 1969 – 1970, Ottawa’s National Arts Centre opened, Toronto St.Lawrence Centre opened, and Manitoba Theatre Centre got a new building – this was a year of extraordinary growth for Canadian Theatre.
1967 1967 Canada’s centennial year. First and last All Canadian Dominion Drama Festival.62 Canadian plays in French and English were performed. Across the country audiences and critics applauded a new national, self-conscious and pride in Canadian Theatre.
1967 Canadian Theatre Boom “Estacy of Rita Joe” premiered in 1967 at the Vancouver Playhouse – this was a landmark production. In 1967 there was a flurry of Canadian Productions. Modern Canadian Drama was born out of new consciousness of the age – social, political, aesthetic with the new Canadian self-consciousness.
1970’s Much of modern Canadian plays dealt with difficult subject manner which mainstream theatres could not make a profit off of. Therefore a new style of Canadian Theatre had to be created. New, smaller theatres were able to produce plays which explored experimentation, expressionism, confrontations and audience participation Themes explored included the sexual taboos of the 1960’s, problems of freedom, and a yearning for community.
Theatre PasseMuraille • In 1969, Martin Kinch became co-director of Toronto’s Theatre PasseMuraille (founded the previous year by Jim Gerrard). • The theatre’s name itself suggests “theatre without walls” • Gerrardenvisioned “Guerilla Theatre” – in subways, or get a truck and perform in a small town, real circuses, to grab people in the streets and start performing. • Gerrard wanted “to make theatre as popular as bowling”.
Paul Thompson at Theatre PasseMuraille • Paul Thompson became a director at Theatre PasseMuraille. • He steered the company to focus on local material/subject manner and collective creation involving his actors in 1st hand research, improvisation, and continual revision.
Factory Theatre • Under the leadership of Ken Gass, Factory Theatre set out to prove that there was no lack of Canadian Playwrights. • Factory Theatre set out to present new works – as well as works in progress, fragments, and staged ideas. • Factory Theatre became home to Canadian Playwrights.
Bill Glasco and Tarragon Theatre • Began in 1971. • Tarragon produced the work of famous Canadian Playwrights, David French and Michelle Tremblay (French playwrights who’s work was translated for an English audience). • Plays produced generally have a domestic setting but unrealistic in style. • Tarragon combined artistic and commercial success to sustain it over the years. • Brought Canadian Drama back into the mainstream.
Toronto Free Theatre • Company in Toronto, Ontario , founded in 1971 by John Palmer, Martin Kinch and Tom Hendry as a legitimate free theatre. TFT was absorbed into Canadian Stage in 1988 when this last was co-founded by the TFT's last director Guy Sprung . • Offered free performances until 1974, when the company was no longer subsidized. • Toronto Free cultivated an excellent acting ensemble and a taste for psychologically bizarre plays.
1972 - 1973 Canadian Council implemented a decision after a great deal of debate and strong protest from Canadian Playwrights that 50% of the plays produced by subsidized theatres were in fact Canadian. The new policy was a return to one of the original concepts of the “regional” ideal, the commissioning of new plays by regional theatres from playwrights with local roots and interests.
1980’s American Broadway shows come to Canada The 1980’s reflected relaxed trade relations between the US and Canada. Many Broadway Shows were produced in Canada. Shows included “Phantom of the Opera”, “Les Miserables”, “RENT”, “Miss Saigon”, “The Lion King”. Although this meant that many Canadian Playwrights struggled against the “Mega Musical”, many Canadian actors found work.
Garth Drabinsky • Garth Drabinsky was a theatrical production mogul in Canada responsible for numerous successful productions in Canada, most notably the long-running Toronto production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. In 2009, he was found guilty of fraud and forgery in Ontario, and has been a fugitive from American law for related crimes
Canadian Theatre Now • Canadian Theatre now hosts a variety of venues. From local semi-professional regional theatre, to professional experimental theatre, to “Mega Musicals” the Canadian Theatre scene is thriving.
Characteristics of Canadian Drama Theatre of the underdog or outsider Social Protest History Autobiographical (of being Canadian) Personal observation Coming of age Disillusionment and revisionism Centennial experience – coming of age as a nation The socially marginalized and disenfranchised took centre stage Exploring the concept of “The Family” Sexual liberalism Feminism Collective hero Focus on historically positive