British Columbia Theatre at the Edge?
- Ginny Ratsoy (Editor)
Theatre in British Columbia. Playwrights Canada Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Rosalind Kerr
A valuable overview of British Columbia’s theatrical history highlighting the various contributions of the playwrights, artists, companies, and movements located there, Ginny Ratsoy’s introduction to Theatre in British Columbia argues that her collection of eighteen articles adds up to a complex, off-centred celebratory vision of Canada’s “edge” province and its proclaimed trademark flouting of arbitrary restrictions. While readers may form differing opinions of the degree of subversiveness, they can find a wealth of information in this rich depiction of BC’s theatrical landscape.
My review follows Ratsoy’s helpful groupings of the chronologically arranged articles as she attempts to note their BC specificity. Broad views expressed in Malcolm Page’s “Fourteen Propositions about Theatre in British Colombia” (1990) and Denis Johnston’s “Drama in British Columbia: A Special Place” (1995) provide historical surveys of professional and amateur theatre developments reflective of BC’s cultural growth. More recent articles by Richard J.Lane, “Performing History: The Reconstruction of Gender and Race in British Columbia Drama” (2003), and James Hoffmann, “Political Theatre in a Small City: The Staging of the Laurier Memorial in Kamloops” (2005), counter an earlier observation by Page about the lack of interest in BC issues shown by BC playwrights. Lane references several landmark BC plays for their foregrounding of sexual and racial oppression modelled in the anti-potlatch legislation in postcolonial BC; Hoffmann relates how Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout performed in Kamloops in 2004 re-enacted the same powerful expression of native resistance as the original Laurier Memorial performance of 1910.
Articles on theatre companies such as Renate Usmiani’s “Western Magic: Tamahnous Theatre and Savage God” (1983); Richard Bruce Kirkley’s “Caravan Farm Theatre: Orchestrated Anarchy and the Creative Process” (2000); and David Diamond’s “In This Moment: The Evolution of ‘Theatre for Living’: A Historical Overview of the Work of Headlines Theatre” (2004) foreground the unique relationships of four alternative theatres to the communities they serve(d) and hence offer important local BC histories.
Playwrights’ artistic visions are profiled in Don Rubin’s “George Ryga: The Poetics of Engagement” (1996); Reid Gilbert’s “Panych and Gorling: ‘Sheer’ Texts “Written” in(to) Perception” (2002); Marlene Moser’s “Reconfiguring Home: Geopathology and Heterotopia in Margaret Hollingsworth’s The House that Jack Built and It’s Only Hot for Two Months in Kapuskasing” (2002); and Jerry Wasserman’s “Joan MacLeod and the Geography of the Imagination” (2003). While MacLeod’s BC connection is the most strongly emphasized, Ratsoy points out ways that the others are boundary-breaking in the BC tradition. Similarly, specific plays treated in Margo Kane’s “From the Centre of the Circle the Story Emerges” (on Moonlodge) (1991); Sherrill Grace and Gabriele Helms’ “Documenting Racism: Sharon Pollock’s The Komataga Maru Incident “(1998); and Jennifer Read’s “Marie Clements’s Monstrous Visions” (on Burning Vision) (2004), although not particularly connected to BC, are concerned with undoing national mythologies.
Finally, four articles on specific theatrical communities from R.A. Shiomi’s “Voice, Community, Culture, Responsibility and Visible Minority Playwrights: Visible Means of Support” (1990); Uma Parameswaran’s “Protest for a Better Future: South Asian Canadian Theatre’s March to the Centre” (1995); Siobhan R.K. Barker’s “Reigning Words: Black Playwrights in BC Theatre” (2004) to Peter Dickinson’s “Going West: Queer Theatre in British Columbia” (2006) introduce facets of Asian Canadian, African Canadian, and Queer alternative performance histories that challenge the mainstream.
All in all, Theatre in British Columbia is an important document which encourages further investigation into the ways in which its theatre offers complex reflections of its elusive “BCness.”
- Reversing the Spotlight by Len Falkenstein
Books reviewed: Establishing Our Boundaries: English-Canadian Theatre Criticism by Anton Wagner
- In Living Colour by George Elliott Clarke
Books reviewed: African Diaspora and Autobiographics: Skeins of Self and Skin by Chinosole and Black and Asian Plays by Cheryl Robson
- Designing History by Kym Bird
Books reviewed: Later Stages: Essays in Ontario Theatre from the First World War to the 1970s by Richard Plant and Ann Saddlemyer and Canadian Mosaic II by Aviva Ravel
- Hollywood Not by Jerry Wasserman
Books reviewed: Hollywood North: The Feature Film Industry in British Columbia by Mike Gasher
- Missed Opportunities by Malcolm Page
Books reviewed: From Fire to Flood: A History of Theatre in Manitoba by Kevin Longfield and 7 Cannons by Martin Bragg, Per Brask, and Roy Surette
MLA: Kerr, Rosalind. British Columbia Theatre at the Edge?. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #197 (Summer 2008), Predators and Gardens. (pg. 178 - 179)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.