On 28 October 2015, “A Conversation on the State of Canadian Theatre: Redux” was held at the Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto. Organized by Martin Julien and the centre’s staff, the event was inspired by Julien’s chance finding of an archival video of a 1973 panel discussion—called “A Conversation on the State of Canadian Theatre”—in which playwright Carol Bolt, actor David Bolt, and artistic directors and theatremakers Bill Glassco and Paul Thompson discussed issues in Canadian theatre, moderated by academic and historian Richard Plant. The “Redux” panel featured a repeat appearance by Thompson, with Rosamund Small, Jennifer Brewin, and Beatriz Pizano playing the roles, so to speak, of the now deceased Glassco, Bolt, and Bolt, and with Julien playing Plant’s part, as Plant was unable to attend. I use the language of role-playing purposefully as I would like to indicate the extent to which the people involved in both panels, as outlined by Julien in his article published here, took up the same script and format: a panel, hosted by an academic in front of a gathered audience, on the topic of “the state of Canadian theatre,” with time for audience participation at the end—thus the “Redux” of the event’s title.
Unfortunately, as I live in Dublin, Ireland, I was unable to attend this talk/performance, but after watching the 1973 video, reading the evening’s transcript, and editing the wonderful responses written by Julien, audience member Jacob Zimmer, and panellist Rosamund Small, I was taken by the extent to which the similarities moved beyond the conventions of engagement and included the concerns articulated by both the 1973 and 2015 participants. An observable through-line in both events, explored here variously by each author, is artists’ motivation for making theatre being a desire to connect with an audience and a/their community. In both events, the artists involved spoke about the practical difficulties in making work, and the complex politics, indeed, ethics, of the encounter between artists and audience. Though the players in this redux have changed, the issues and concerns have remained interestingly similar. But similar is not the same, and this Views and Reviews asks: what are the differences between then and now, and what is their significance? What does this redux event reveal to us about the past and our contemporary moment?
Martin Julien’s “Community, Viability: Theatre Past and Present” begins this section, introduces us to the event, and comes to the conclusion that although the artifact (the videotape) and what it shows has the feel of a bygone age, the concerns articulated by the panellists hold a surprisingly contemporary resonance. He writes about the thrill of discovering the tape; as a professional actor who has dedicated his life to theatre, and as a PhD candidate working on Canadian theatre history, the tape is a definite find—though, sadly, the first ten or so minutes have been lost to physical deterioration. Calling his desire to stage the redux “stealth nostalgia,” Julien outlines his motivations for organizing the event in the manner he did, his assumptions going in, and his conclusions after the fact. He is astounded by the presumptions made by panellists about the nature of Canadian theatre speaking at the original event. With an eye to diversity, he details his rationale for inviting the speakers he did for the redux. He also contends that the “‘questions from the audience’ section was one of the most enlivening aspects (as is often the case) of the original event, and so it proved to be in our contemporary version,” but notes that, unfortunately, the digital video recording ran out before the lively discussion had ended. The deterioration of the original tape and the limitations of recording the redux both remind us of the complexities of archiving and documenting such ephemeral performances, while the similarities and differences between the events bring issues of identity, diversity, and what “Canadian theatre” is into relief.
Following Julien’s introduction to the event are two excerpts from the transcript of it. The entire transcript is available online (see doi: 10.3138/ctr.169.013...