- Julie Salverson (Editor)
Popular Political Theatre and Performance. Playwrights Canada Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Linda Burnett (Editor)
Theatre in Atlantic Canada. Playwrights Canada Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Joanna Mansbridge
It takes a community to support a voice, insists Yvette Nolan in Len Falkenstein’s essay on Mi’kmaq playwright John Barlow. Falkenstein’s essay concludes Theatre in Atlantic Canada, volume sixteen in the twenty-one volume series, Critical Perspectives on Canadian Theatre in English. General Editor Ric Knowles hopes that this archive of both reprinted and new essays
will contribute to the flourishing of courses on a variety of aspects of Canadian drama and theatre in classrooms across the country. The publication of Critical Perspectives marks the consolidation and legitimization of a field that Knowles describes as
still, excitingly, young.
Theatre in Atlantic Canada intersects in multiple ways with volume seventeen, Popular Political Theatre and Performance, particularly in their emphasis on theatre’s role in making (and remaking) communities and representing a diversity of voices. Written by a combination of practitioners and scholars and ordered chronologically according to original publication date, the essays collected in these two volumes span the period from the 1978 to the present. Extending far beyond the regional and generic foci suggested in their titles, these volumes cover a wide range of topics and perspectives that reveal the richly textured history of Canadian theatre, along with some of the gaps waiting to be filled by both criticism and practice. Both volumes will be invaluable resources for scholars, practitioners, and teachers working in Canadian theatre.
Despite the dearth of criticism on Atlantic theatre (no critical work exists on the plays of Daniel MacIvor!) and the folding of many of the theatre companies that flourished in the 1970s and 80s, Linda Burnett, editor of Theatre in Atlantic Canada, insists in her Introduction that
there are lots of reasons to be optimistic. From the
women’s dramaturgy of Mulgrave Road Co-op cogently described by Knowles to the innovative
kaleidography of Newfoundland’s Artistic Fraud deftly outlined by Denyse Lynde, theatre in Atlantic Canada is a vibrant scene. The seventeen essays in this volume illustrate the aesthetic ingenuity, political commitment, and cultural heterogeneity of Atlantic theatre.
Francophone, First Nations, Anglophone, and African-Canadians each have a different relationship to the region, to the nation, and to the histories of both. Maureen Moynagh’s essay
Can I Get a Witness? underscores theatre’s role in constructing communities, however provisional. Moynagh invokes the Brechtian mode of witnessing to suggest how many African-Nova Scotian plays foster a relationship between audiences and performers, thereby creating
a community that does not depend on belonging to a nation, an ethnicity, a particular gender or sexuality but creates a sense of belonging by bringing actors and audiences in relationship to the dramatic action.
Newfoundland’s the Mummers Troupe acts as a thread of continuity between these two volumes. Alan Filewod’s essay in Theatre in Atlantic Canada outlines the dramaturgical strategies and internal schisms of the Mummers, and works well as a critical counterpart to the praxis essay by Mummers co-founder and artistic director, Chris Brookes, published in Popular Political Theatre and Performance.
In her Introduction, editor Julie Salverson points out that Popular Political Theatre is a companion to volume nineteen, Community Engaged Theatre. Of the twenty-two essays in this volume, six are from the 1980s, two from the 1990s, and fourteen from the 2000s, an inconsistency due, perhaps, to the dominance of identity politics in the 1990s. Jan Selman provides a useful definition:
a popular theatre project starts from a community need, the theatre being a response to the need for change. All of the essays here in some way affirm popular theatre’s capacity to create, teach, and transform communities, both global and local, and can be grouped into three categories: practice, pedagogy, and criticism.
Many of the essays grapple with the complex relationship between politics and aesthetics, fiction and reality, and academic and theatre work. Geraldine Pratt and Caleb Johnston describe the
irresolvable but fascinating tensions between academic and theatre work, particularly regarding differences in the purpose of research, mode of representation, and intended audience. Linda Goulet et al describe the challenges working with Aboriginal youth in workshops that straddle
the line between fiction (theatricalizing lived experience) and reality (the lives of the participants). Ian Filewod describes how NGOs often
undervalue the essential artistic integrity of the theatre companies that they mobilize for their development work. In
On the Political Importance of the Aesthetic, Catherine Graham posits
three aesthetic strategies that might enable theatre activists to intervene in
the political life of their respective societies . . . as artists. Graham emphasizes not universal subjects or eternal values, but rather a commitment to
a concrete and local public.
Many of the essays productively problematize the presumption that popular theatre work is intrinsically progressive and community-oriented. Ingrid MÃ¼ndel’s
Radical Storytelling, examines not only
how popular theatres in Canada aim to use stories to challenge received notions of Canadianness, but also . . . the ways in which particular theatre performances may unwittingly reproduce hegemonic Canadian narratives. In
Three Cultures, One Issue, Jan Selman highlights the contradiction of popular theatre work:
As a theatre company forms, its focus moves away from community and towards the production of theatre. Here, Selman identifies the paradox of community formation itself, which depends as much on processes of exclusion as inclusion.
The volume concludes with Patti Frazer’s Zen-inspired commemoration of Augusto Boal, whose Theatre of the Oppressed and Forum Theatre have been influential models for many of the practitioners included in this volume. In the penultimate essay, Sharon M. Lewis redefines the notion of
physical interactivity to persuasively suggest that
Forum Theatre has inherent structures built into it that invite digital interactive possibilities. This essay points toward the future of the field, a future that will continue to unfold in the annual publication of New Essays on Canadian Theatre, the first volume of which was launched in May 2011.
- Matrices et dédales by Émilie Théorêt
Books reviewed: Le même souffle by Normand Glénois, Miniatures, balles perdues et autres désordres by Monique Deland, Dictature de la solitude by Joel Pourbaix, and En haute rumeur des siècles by Robert Berrouet-Oriol
- E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: The Texts by Cecily Devereux
Books reviewed: E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: Collected Poems and Selected Prose by Carole Gerson and Veronica Strong-Boag
- Perfect Cree by Margery Fee
Books reviewed: Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway
- (Black) Community Historiography by Maureen Moynagh
Books reviewed: Crossing the Border: A Free Black Community in Canada by Sharon Hepburn and Loyalists and Layabouts: The Rapid Rise and Faster Fall of Shelburne, Nova Scotia 1783 - 1792 by Stephen Kimber
- Recours contre le désenchantement by Isabelle Miron
Books reviewed: Vivre ainsi, suivi de Le Vent sombre by Paul Chanel Malenfant, Le Moindre vent by Luc Perrier, and Rue Daubenton by Paul Chanel Malenfant
MLA: Mansbridge, Joanna. Performing Community. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #212 (Spring 2012), General Issue. (pg. 132 - 134)
***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.