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Reviewed by:
  • Developing Nation: New Play Creation in English-Speaking Canada
  • Marlene Moser (bio)
Bruce Barton , editor. Developing Nation: New Play Creation in English-Speaking Canada. Playwrights Canada Press. xii, 210. $25.00

By collecting and organizing the articles in this volume, Bruce Barton has identified a significant area of practice that is worthy of further study. The title is a tantalizing promise: connecting an idea of 'nation' in English-speaking Canada, at least, to 'new play creation,' a question that the reader must ultimately answer alone. This collection of writings is also an important step in measuring the 'elastic term of dramaturgy,' beginning a fascinating conversation that one hopes will continue to develop.

The introduction carefully lays out the terrain to be investigated, perhaps too carefully, as at times it appears to be more an apologia for what is not included or what is not yet done, rather than a concrete, critical analysis of what these writings tell us about the development of new play creation in English-speaking Canada. The 'cultural materialist' framework Barton embraces could be more aggressively deployed here. The introduction sketches out ways in which the cultural landscape has changed over the years, but stops short of presenting a sustained argument and refers us to 'Further Reading.' Barton presents the rationale for his organizing principle (chronological) as well as the rationales for [End Page 531] the three alternative organizational approaches he includes as appendices: alphabetical, regional, and thematic. An alphabetical listing is useful; a regional one less so, to my mind, as these can be easily discerned; and the thematic organization suggested here needs much more development and argumentation to be effective. Why separate out 'identity' practices from 'movement-based' dramaturgy, when a play like This Is for You, Anna, for example, covers both territories (and doesn't merit a reference in this volume)? A further niggling criticism of the introduction is the page-number referencing to quotations. As these are taken from the original published source and not the writings in this edition, this practice sends us blindly foraging through the current collection to find and contextualize the references on our own.

Most articles are drawn from practitioners, and most have been previously published in the Canadian Theatre Review over the past twenty years - a monopoly that Barton acknowledges. Barton also asked a number of practising dramaturges to respond and reflect on their practice. These are new entries, not previously published. A few critical articles are also included. For me, the most effective writings are those that are the most engaged, moving back and forth between a practice of thinking and doing: Beth Herst's questioning of the 'workshop alternative,' Sky Gilbert's discussion of 'opportunity without interference,' and Sandra Tomc's detailed account of the Laidlaw Report are some of the more compelling reads. Barton's and Hansen's accounts pursue the application of dramaturgy to movement-based work. Extending this more fully to site-specific works would also add another dimension to this collection. Although other academic writing has been mostly nudged into the 'Further Suggested Reading,' several questions nevertheless come forward: What do we make of the 'invisible' versus 'visible' practices of dramaturgy, for example? To what extent is 'workshop-it is' a result of granting practices? But these questions perhaps indicate the richness of the volume: there are still these cultural practices to be teased out.

Another rather simple question is about the conflation of 'new play creation' and 'dramaturgy' that pervades this volume. Aren't dramaturges used on 'old' plays, as it were, and how is their practice and insight useful here? This approach is really addressed only by Rachel Ditor in her article, which is in part about her experience with Hedda Gabler. Territory for another volume, perhaps?

Overall, the book is a very useful addition to library collections, of many sorts. To have these essays here side by side allows us to see when and how the workshop process became so important to many companies and the different approaches and politics of new play development. I look forward to the further critical work that a collection like this will surely inspire. [End Page 532]

Marlene Moser



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