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  • The Wild West
  • Claire Borody (bio)
Dwayne Brenna. Our Kind of Work: The Glory Days and Difficult Times of 25th Street Theatre. Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2011.

Our Kind of Work: The Glory Days and Difficult Times of 25th Street Theatre, written by Dwayne Brenna, is the first full-length documentation of the life and times of Saskatoon’s first professional theatre company. As such, it offers insight into the challenges faced by an upstart company far away from what can be considered the major theatre centres in the country. Founded in 1971, the Twenty-fifth Street Theatre (now Twenty-fifth Street Theatre Centre), is best known for Paper Wheat, a collectively conceived documentary montage on the history of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, which toured nationally (1978–1979) and became the subject of a [End Page 88] National Film Board documentary in 1978. The company is also well known for serving a mandate of producing and promoting grassroots theatre. It has premiered the plays of a range of Saskatchewan writers, including Ken Mitchell, Don Kerr, Connie Gault, Dianne Warren, Mansel Robinson, and nationally recognized playwrights such as Brad Fraser, Linda Griffiths, Jim Garrard, and others: pioneers and adventurers who would go on to shape the Canadian theatrical landscape. What is not necessarily common knowledge is the extent of the difficulties that were endured throughout Twenty-fifth Street Theatre’s existence in order to maintain an environment, outside of a major theatre centre, in which new scripts and forms of spectacle might emerge.


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Cover image from Our Kind of Work by Dwayne Brenna, featuring Don Freed in The Saskatoon Show.

Photo courtesy of Thistledown Press


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Cast of The Sibyl (1973).

Photo by Patrick Close


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Sharon Bakker and Michael Fahey in Paper Wheat (1982).

Photo by Patrick Close

Brenna’s chronicling of Twenty-fifth Street Theatre’s activity and ongoing struggle through its formative years (1972–1983) presents readers with a strong sense of the role the company played in the advancement of Canadian dramatic literature as well as its influence on the development of alternative performance models. As a former actor with Twenty-fifth Street Theatre and a long-time member of the Saskatoon theatre community, Brenna is thoroughly invested in preserving the company’s legacy and provides specific detail tracing Twenty-fifth Street Theatre’s development over time. He captures the sense of optimism in the company’s beginnings as a university theatre company and the sheer energy and enthusiasm of the young actors that drove the (initially) single-project collaboration forward. Brenna’s portrayal of Andras (Andy) Tahn—co-founder, long-time artistic director, writer, director, and producer—depicts a complicated personality that was in parts mercurial visionary, soul of the company, and agitating force with funding agencies. He offers his perspective on the company’s at times chaotic journey, with gentle humour and genuine admiration for Tahn’s efforts on behalf of Twenty-fifth Street Theatre. The book is peppered with reviews, media commentary, and photographs that illustrate the range of theatrical forms that Twenty-fifth Street Theatre members explored as they sought to define and forge a company identity: collectively conceived performances, [End Page 89] collaborations with a variety of local and national playwrights, and an ongoing practice of premiering work by new playwrights and new work by established playwrights. In this portrayal of the company’s creative activity, Brenna identifies dozens of theatre artists—actors, directors, and writers—whose careers were jump-started or advanced through their involvement with Twenty-fifth Street Theatre.

As was the case with many alternative theatre companies, creative output did not come without a cost. This is made abundantly clear as Brenna presents the myriad of artistic and financial challenges that plagued Twenty-fifth Street Theatre at every stage of its development. He cites difficulties that included the lack of appropriate rehearsal and performance space, tempestuous relationships between actors and directors, tenuous relationships with funding bodies that often resulted in financial hardship, and an at times unforgiving spectatorship; these became contributing factors in the forging of Twenty-fifth Street Theatre...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1920-941X
Print ISSN
0315-0836
Pages
pp. 88-90
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-17
Open Access
No
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