- Theatre in Alberta
Without doubt this is another fine addition to the important series Critical Perspectives on Canadian Theatre, by general editor Ric Knowles. The impact of making these essays widely available for scholars and readers is not to be underestimated. Here Anne Nothof ably collects and comments on the perspectives she has chosen to represent theatrical practice in Alberta - no easy task. The chronological ordering here is useful and Nothof provides an excellent framework for reading the essays collected. Her own extensive and detailed knowledge of historical and political practice in Alberta comes through in the ways that she is able to situate writers and commentary.
The volume provides an interesting mix of articles that provide a critical and/or historical perspective. Many articles were previously published in Theatre Research in Canada, and their presence here ensures a level of scholarly engagement that is welcome. Reading the book from beginning to end, I am struck again by the prescience and clarity of many of these voices, speaking with confidence and precision about cultural practices and the impact on theatre practice in Alberta.
Organized chronologically by date of publication, the collection pays homage to the roots of much Canadian drama in radio, with an article by Diane Bessai, tracing, among other things, W.O. Mitchell's experiences in CBC radio drama, and an article by Howard Fink on Station CKUA Edmonton, founded by the Extension Department of the University of Alberta in the 1920s. In a similar way, important early figures are recognized (Elsie Park Gowan, for example, in the article by Anton Wagner, and Elizabeth Sterling Haynes in the article by Moira Day). There is also an accompanying recognition of the influence of grassroots theatre-making. Moira Day, while describing Haynes's influence in founding the Banff school, also chronicles its transformation within a shifting cultural and political milieu. Day argues that the expansion of the school from its popular roots in the thirties to the mainstream in the fifties is 'as much the failure of its dream as its fulfillment' as she charts its shift in emphasis from popular education towards one more oriented to production and production values. In back-to-back essays, Day then sets about debunking the myth of the 'artistically dead rural backwater' in a detailed reading of theatre in the Peace River District, 1914-45. This critical political reading is continued in Anne Nothof's analysis of four playwrights who challenge the religious right in their work (Frank Moher, Lyle Victor Albert, Raymond Storey, and Greg Nelson). Throughout the book, again and again, the importance of the local, situated experience is recognized and, although there may be a kind of 'boosterism' here of a local product - as described in the article by Ches Skinner on [End Page 533] community theatre in Lethbridge - there is, for the most part, an attention to reading audiences and the cultural landscape rather than simply reading the products here produced.
A few short articles in the middle of the book seem somewhat out of place and bring a different sensibility to the material. The article by Liz Nicholls on the theatre of Ronnie Burkett is a largely descriptive, celebratory piece. Certainly the very fine work of Burkett also invites a more critical reading. Similarly the short pieces on Lyle Victor Albert by Lynne Van Luven and the High Performance Rodeo by Martin Morrow are also largely descriptive and generally less critical.
The article by Roberta Mock is of a different genre, speaking as it does to a largely non-Canadian audience about the work of Brad Fraser and its establishment and queering of an Anglo-Canadian identity. The exploration of masculinity is continued in Mark Vincent Diotte's astute essay on Sharon Pollock's Whiskey Six Cadenza. The volume concludes with an essay by Diane Bessai, which provides a comprehensive history of Edmonton's Citadel Theatre and its 'alternatives.' Bessai's keen attention to detail and nuanced writing of history make this a fine essay to finish the volume.
The essays here present an exuberant picture of Alberta: many detailed...