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Establishing Our Boundaries

Establishing Our Boundaries: English-Canadian Theatre Criticism

  • Book Info
    Establishing Our Boundaries
    Book Description:

    An impressive collection of essays by 21 of English Canada's leading theatre critics provides a cultural history of Canada, and Canadians intense relationship to theatre, from 1829 to 1998, and across the whole country.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7462-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction

    • 1 Establishing Our Boundaries: English-Canadian Theatre Criticism
      (pp. 3-58)

      Canada′s cultural history – from colony to Dominion to independent nation – is mirrored in the pages of its newspapers from the 1750s to the present. Newspapers and magazines have reflected and shaped how we view and express ourselves and how we differentiate ourselves from others – how we establish our personal, collective, and political boundaries.

      Nowhere is this cultural debate more evident and vocal than in press coverage of foreign and indigenous theatre and drama in Canada. How to express what is here in the face of international standards and how to provide local creativity with the resources and...

  5. Part One: Editor-Critics

    • 2 From Puffery to Criticism - William Lyon Mackenzie, Joseph Howe, and Daniel Morrison: Theatre Criticism in Halifax and Toronto, 1826–1857
      (pp. 61-92)

      In her introduction toEarly Stages: Theatre in Ontario, 1800–1914, Ann Saddlemyer observed that although ′many of the early newspaper notices of theatre productions tended to be more puffery than appraisal, dramatic criticism was not unknown even during the early years.′¹ Although such newspapermen as William Lyon Mackenzie at the YorkColonial Advocate(1826–33), Joseph Howe atThe Novascotian(1827–40), and Daniel Morrison at the TorontoDaily Leader(1854–7) did produce insightful commentary on the theatre, their work was, however, in the minority. Before Confederation (as ever), editors and journalists were subject to the pressures of...

  6. Part Two: Reviewer-Critics

    • 3 The Critic as Reviewer: E.R. Parkhurst at the Toronto Mail and Globe, 1876–1924
      (pp. 95-106)

      For forty-eight years critic E.R. Parkhurst commented on the passing scene during the most active period in the history of theatre in Toronto. Parkhurst′s columns, first at theMail, 1876–98, and then at theGlobe, 1898–1924, usually contained several items, and his reviews as such were brief and overwhelmingly positive. He wrote about opera and ballet, circus and show business, silent film and vaudeville, in addition to concerts and plays, both amateur and professional. His columns are rarely critically insightful; but that is not why they are valuable. Rather they reflect the taste of his readership, and as...

    • 4 The Cosmopolitan, the Cultural Nationalist, and the Egocentric Critic: Harriet Walker, Charles W. Handscomb, and Charles H. Wheeler in Winnipeg, 1898–1906
      (pp. 107-134)

      When American theatre-manager C.P. Walker came to Winnipeg in 1897 to operate the Winnipeg Theatre, he found a city in the midst of rapid social change.¹ Its population was only a little over 30,000, but it was growing quickly; within ten years it would triple.² In many ways it was still a frontier town, with cheap hotels, pool rooms, and a notorious red-light district catering to a large floating population of young males seeking seasonal employment in the Northwest. But there was big money to be made in the railroads, in the grain trade, and especially in wholesaling, as Winnipeg...

  7. Part Three: Cultural Nationalism

    • 5 Hector Willoughby Charlesworth and the Nationalization of Cultural Authority, 1890–1945
      (pp. 137-176)

      Toronto: Sunday, 30 December 1945. Hector Willoughby Charlesworth, age 73 – veteran culture critic, freelance journalist, former editor-in-chief ofSaturday Night(1926–32), the first chairman of the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission [forerunner of the CBC] (1932–6), charter member of th Arts and Letters Club since 1908, and industrious author of no fewer than three memoirs,² dies suddenly of a heart attack only a few days after writing his last review, for theGlobe and Mail, of a Toronto Symphony Orchestra Pops Concert.³ Within a matter of days, eulogies are published in newspapers and broadcast on radios across the...

    • 6 Saving the Nation′s Aesthetic Soul: B.K. Sandwell at the Montreal Herald, 1900–1914, and Saturday Night, 1932–1951
      (pp. 177-198)

      Bernard Keeble (B.K.) Sandwell was – perhaps with the exception of Hector Charlesworth – Canada′s most erudite, perceptive, and influential critic before Nathan Cohen. His reviewing for theMontreal Heraldfrom 1900 to 1914 occurred at the height of American, British, and European companies and artists touring Canada, enabling Sandwell to draw on his deep knowledge of dramatic literature, the Continental and American stage, music, and opera. Unlike previous critics in urban centres such as Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg, Sandwell achieved a national critical voice and influence as editor and theatre critic ofSaturday Nightfrom 1932 to 1951....

    • 7 Becoming Actively Creative: Dr Lawrence Mason, the Globe′s Critic, 1924–1939
      (pp. 199-214)

      Lawrence Mason was one of the first critics in English Canada possessing both national stature and a direct national critical influence on indigenous theatre production, if only on an amateur level. Mason′s criticism – as music and drama critic for the TorontoGlobeandGlobe and Mailfrom November 1924 to his death in December 1939 – was as astute and incisive as Hector Charlesworth′s and B.K. Sandwell′s, but was not confined to Toronto or Montreal for its local coverage. Charlesworth was a particularly astute critic of acting¹ and Sandwell of acting and dramatic form. Mason brought an additional new...

    • 8 Herbert Whittaker, Reporting from the Front: The Montreal Gazette, 1937–1949, and the Globe and Mail, 1949–1975
      (pp. 215-233)

      Herbert Whittaker is a Canadian theatre institution. In a career that spanned the four central decades of what he fervently hoped, with Laurier, would be Canada′s century, Herbert Whittaker contributed to the institutionalization of Canadian theatre, and served as a kind of cultural war reporter, sending dispatches from the theatrical ′front′ about the battles won and lost in the fight for what he saw as the survival, independence, and advancement of Canadian culture. And since his retirement from active duty in 1975, Whittaker has been celebrated by the theatrical establishment that he helped to build as something of a war...

    • 9 Criticism in a Canadian Social Context: Nathan Cohen′s Theatre Criticism, 1946–1971
      (pp. 234-253)

      In 1965, six years before his death at the age of forty-seven, Nathan Cohen – theatre and dance critic of Canada′s largest newspaper, theToronto Star, long-time host of the CBC television seriesFighting Words, national commentator on the arts for CBC Radio and without doubt the country′s bestknown theatre critic – wrote an insightful essay on ′American Drama Criticism Today′ for the quarterly journalTamarack Review.¹ In it, Cohen identified five critics of note, praising each for his unique and lasting contribution to the development of the art of American dramatic criticism and revealing much about his own critical...

    • 10 In Anger and Hope: Oscar Ryan at the Canadian Tribune, 1955–1988
      (pp. 254-267)

      Oscar Ryan (1904–1988) was a prominent figure – as a playwright, writer, and cultural organizer – of the Canadian cultural movement of the 1930s, times of economic depression and social uproar in most of the Western world, but also times of political inspiration and massive organizing. In 1931, together with other important writers of the time such as Maurice Granite, E. Cecil-Smith, Dorothy Livesay, and Stanley Ryerson, Ryan founded the Progressive Arts Club (PAC), an organization of Toronto artists and intellectuals whose aim was to encourage the production of Canadian progressive cultural works, an initiative that soon expanded to...

    • 11 The Classical Humanist: Jamie Portman at the Calgary Herald, 1959–1975, and the Southam News Service, 1975–1987
      (pp. 268-290)

      Jamie Portman′s thirty-year career as a theatre critic covered some of the most turbulent and dynamic times in Canadian theatre with a depth and comprehensiveness matched by few of his contemporaries. Portman′s writing between 1959 and 1987 reveals the evolution of the Canadian cultural scene from the growing pains of early professionalism (1959–70) through the unprecedented growth, idealism, and public funding of the 1970s, the disillusionment and panic of the recessionary 1980s, to a leaner, tougher maturity based on increasing artistic, financial, and political expertise. His body of writing over this period also demonstrates the evolution of Portman from...

    • 12 The Archetypal Enthusiast: Urjo Kareda at the Toronto Star, 1971–1975
      (pp. 291-303)

      The year 1970 marks a major watershed in the history of theatre in Toronto. Before this time, mainstream theatre in the city had always been dominated by the tastes of larger metropolitan centres. The longest-serving example of this dominance was the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto′s venerable 1500-seat commercial playhouse, which since its opening in 1907 had housed almost exclusively touring productions from London and New York. In 1960 a second flagship theatre was opened, the O′Keefe Centre, a cavernous 3200-seat opera house renamed the Hummingbird Centre in 1996. Programming at the O′Keefe Centre, as at the Royal Alex, focused on...

    • 13 The Critic as Cultural Nationalist: Don Rubin at the Toronto Star, 1968–1972, and the Canadian Theatre Review, 1974–1983
      (pp. 304-318)

      Don Rubin did not start out to be a Canadian cultural nationalist committed to the cultivation of Canadian drama at home and its dissemination abroad when, as a sixteen-year-old schoolboy studying acting at New York′s High School for the Performing Arts, he began to write reviews of off-Broadway theatre forShow Business Magazine. Nor was the state of Canadian theatre much on his mind when he continued to review New York′s theatres as arts editor of the student newspaper at Hofstra University, nor when, upon graduation in 1964, he began his journalistic career as a reporter for theNew Haven...

  8. Part Four: The Post-Nationalist Period

    • 14 Subverting Modernisms in British Columbia: Christopher Dafoe at the Vancouver Sun, 1968–1975
      (pp. 321-335)

      In British Columbia there are aspects of theatrical un/endeavour that might surprise anyone, let alone a critic. For one thing, its dramatists haven′t written muchaboutthe province, a characteristic noted recently by Malcolm Page: ′Most British Columbia dramatists ignore the history, politics and distinct nature of the province.′¹ So too, Douglas Cole, in his summative article ′The Intellectual and Imaginative Development of British Columbia,′ listsnodramatists in his short list of notable writers contributing to the ethos of the province.² Certainly there has been no lack of dramatists: the Playwrights Union of Canada in 1998 listed 61 members...

    • 15 Journalist or Critic? Brian Brennan at the Calgary Herald, 1975–1988
      (pp. 336-353)

      It is a commonplace to note that arts critics on Canadian newspapers often come from journalistic backgrounds that have little to do with the art of criticism or even with the particular arts they are assigned to criticize. The commonplace was only partially true of Dublin-born Brian Brennan when he succeeded Jamie Portman as theatre reviewer for theCalgary Heraldin 1975 after a year on the paper as a crime reporter. Like Portman before him, he began his reviewing career by learning on the job – as a member of the entertainment department of theHeraldhe also reviewed...

    • 16 The Iconoclast Sceptic on the Beat: Gina Mallet at the Toronto Star, 1976–1984
      (pp. 354-370)

      In her eight years as drama critic for theToronto Star, Gina Mallet earned a reputation as one of Canada′s most controversial and outspoken reviewers. To her admirers, she was a passionate iconoclast who challenged orthodoxies and championed the need for Canadian theatre to wean itself from public funding and adapt to changing economic and social conditions. As Robert Crew, who occasionally served as theStar′ssecond-string reviewer (and would later take over her position as drama critic), wrote in aStararticle on his experience of working with Mallet while covering the 1981 Toronto International Festival, ′not everyone in...

    • 17 Establishing Contact between Two Cultures: Marianne Ackerman at the Montreal Gazette, 1983–1987
      (pp. 371-385)

      In the 1970s Marianne Ackerman trained as a political scientist and practised as a journalist. Between 1983 and 1987 she was the theatre critic for theMontreal Gazette, and in 1985 and again in 1988 received the Nathan Cohen Award for excellence in theatre criticism for pieces that she had written during that brief period. At the same time, she was an active member of the Quebec and the Canadian Theatre Critics Associations. She was also awarded a Canada Council grant to study theatre in Poland. She sometimes published as many as seven articles a week in theGazette, more...

    • 18 Theatre - Transgression or Tribal Celebration? Ray Conlogue at the Globe and Mail, 1978–1998
      (pp. 386-406)

      The theatre criticism of Ray Conlogue is a fascinating object of study not only for its specific critical insights, but even more for its internal contradictions. Seeking to found itself on universal standards of art and criticism, it collides with new forms of theatre that subvert the very notion of a universal human nature to which such standards could refer. As Conlogue′s career as theGlobe and Mail′slead theatre critic in Toronto spans a thirteen-year period in which these subversive forms (most notably gay and feminist theatre) have commanded more attention, it is not surprising that signs of a...

  9. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 407-416)