When I was in my late twenties, I worked as an arts administrator for a small theatre company, da da kamera, and a small theatre festival, The Six Stages, both international in practice and located in Toronto. These jobs brought me into contact with theatremakers and artists from Canada and around the world. One evening, at a Six Stages opening-night party in Theatre Passe Muraille, I found myself speaking with a group of artists, all of whom were older and much more established than myself. The topic of discussion was, “Why did you go into the arts?” The answers were fascinating. As a young person finding his way in theatre and in his career, I ate them up. Among the artists engaged in the discussion was a successful film-maker who, when asked the question, responded by saying, “I’ve always thought about art, in the most general sense, as a conversation. When it comes down to it, I’m a artist because I want to be a part of the conversation.” This response has stuck with me and continues to inform my own participation in research, scholarship, and teaching. As an incoming co-editor of Views and Reviews, I am thrilled to be taking part in the vital and ongoing conversation that is this section, and that is Canadian Theatre Review.
And it seems quite appropriate that the pieces gathered in this, my first issue, are all reviews. As any writer—creative or scholarly—knows, writing is often a solitary endeavour, and as such can be a lonely one. At their best, reviews provide scholars and artists with engaged interlocutors who recognize their efforts through the sustained attention of critique. Gathered here are three new books on various aspects of Canadian theatre and performance studies, as well as a set of reviews of performances by undergraduate students—young people finding a vocabulary and voice and initiating their role in the conversation. The diverse and noteworthy publications reviewed here raise questions about historiography, the nature of autobiography, and affect, while the performance reviews invite thought about the possibilities for critical engagement.
To open our conversation, Tracy C. Davis reviews Heather Davis-Fisch’s Loss and Cultural Remains in Performance: The Ghosts of the Franklin Expedition. In her review, she notes the many ways in which Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition to discover the Northwest Passage has been approached, analyzed, and represented in various academic disciplines and media since setting out in 1845. Davis notes that, with Davis-Fisch’s study, “performance scholars can think across” these representations and the epistemologies that attend them and that the book provides an opportunity to “test a limit case on ‘how performance studies can intervene in the production of historical knowledge.’”
Following this is a review of Jenn Stephenson’s monograph Performing Autobiography: Contemporary Canadian Drama, written by Deirdre Heddon. Heddon discusses the sometimes slippery terrain of autobiography studies and the ways in which “Stephenson’s focus on ‘fictional autobiography,’” gleaned from contemporary Canadian drama, enables “nuanced metacritique of autobiographical practices.” Through her discussion of Stephenson’s book, Heddon maintains that “plays have much to teach us about the performances of autobiography, performances pervasive and potentially consequential in the ‘real world.’”
Jean-Marc Larrue points to the interdisciplinarity and border-crossing nature of affect studies and the ways in which these elements undergird Erin Hurley’s edited anthology, Theatres of Affect. In his discussion of Hurley’s anthology, Larrue suggests that looking at theatrical performance through the prism of affect brings into focus “other artistic, cultural, and social questions.” For Larrue the positive potential of affect studies, and of Hurley’s anthology, is found in the ways it brings aspects of theatre and performance, such as debates around theatrical liveness, the private versus the public, and difference, into new light.
Kim Solga rounds out the discussion with her introduction to a series of responses written by a group of theatre students embarking critically on the Scotiabank Nuit Blanche all-night art festival. Solga draws our attention to the pedagogical as well as critical interest embedded in these student reviews, while the students themselves investigate the various forms...