- Echoing Prairie Voices: Theatre Stories Resonating from the Western Provinces
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My first experiences with theatre, both as an actor and as an audience member, occurred in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Moira Day’s West-words: Celebrating Western Canadian Theatre and Playwriting left me with the feeling that I was hearing some untold and important stories about performance history in my home province. I came across the names of actors and directors whom I had the pleasure of working with in Saskatchewan, as well as new discussions of the cultural influence of shows I saw at the Globe Theatre in Regina many years before. Day’s collection contains an array of articles written by “scholars, playwrights, directors, designers, actors, dramaturges, radio producers, and educators intimately and passionately involved in the Western Canadian theatre” (xv). Collectively, these articles create a kind of reverberating echo of the different performance histories of all three Prairie provinces. This collection also draws attention to the continued absence of many other under-researched theatrical voices (for example, amateur theatre and companies outside of major city centres). I certainly hope this is the first in a new series of forthcoming collections on Western Canadian performance studies from Canadian Plains Research Center Press. West-words tries to fully encapsulate the vast Prairie region in a single printed edition, and despite this difficult editorial task, Diane Bessai points out on the paperback cover that West-words “offers welcome new insights” long overdue.
Playwright Bruce McManus introduces us to life in Manitoba with the practical point that the reduced cost of living in Winnipeg is “an advantage for artists in Manitoba and one of the reasons we have a small, but flourishing, theatre community” (3). McManus explains how Manitoba missed the theatrical boom of the 1970s, but he calls attention to the rather unprecedented passion Manitobans continue to have for the performing arts. He relates this through an anecdote of being recognized by a Winnipeg policeman: “‘Bruce McManus? The playwright?’ He sat down and complained about Canadian theatre for forty minutes” (8). The articles in the Manitoba section are all excellent pieces of individual scholarship, although their scope is somewhat limited because they focus primarily on theatre in Winnipeg.
Katherine Foster Grajewski transports readers to the Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg’s Portage Place mall to showcase how artistic (and local) identities are shaped by interplay between community spaces and capitalistic places. This piece addresses funding and development challenges faced by existing prairie theatre companies. An appendix of Sarasvàti Productions shows accompanies Hope McIntyre’s conversational piece about the challenges women face writing and performing in Manitoba. Claire Borody details the precarious politics experienced by Primus Theatre’s productions at the Winnipeg fringe, which she categorizes as moving across “black ice ... a highly treacherous and difficult-to-detect coating of thin ice” (47). Borody does an incredible job of relating alternative theatre scholarship by Robert Wallace and Alan Filewod to a unique Manitoban example. Glen Nichols’s “Identity and Performance in Carol Shields’s Stage Plays” moves the conversation from Manitoban theatre companies to the work produced in Manitoba by playwright Carol Shields. His piece, which won the 2011 Canadian Association for Theatre Research Richard Plant Award for best article in English, advocates further investigation into how Shields’s plays contribute to metatheatrical models of prairie identity construction.
Don Kerr moves us westward to Saskatchewan with an introduction focused on the importance of prairie communities, conversations, and, above all else, dreams. He quotes the last line of Twenty-fifth Street Theatre’s Paper Wheat, “I’d give it all to be young again and feel that I could change the world.” For Kerr, this quotation encapsulates the effect that the landscape (in particular the vast prairie sky) has had on Saskatchewan playwrights and performers. I felt the Saskatchewan section of West-words showcased the most...