Joy Coghill was the Artistic Director of the Vancouver Playhouse when it produced The Ecstasy of Rita Joe in November 1967. And Joy was still the AD for a little while longer when Rita Joe opened the National Arts Centre in June 1969. Everything about those statements is revolutionary. Coghill was the first woman to be in charge of a major Canadian theatre. The new AD made a very brave decision by producing such a “problem” play. Further, Ryga’s play is recognized now as the script that proved “Canadian theatre” was not an oxymoron. Plus, Rita Joe spoke of hitherto unspoken, unrecognized themes by the dominant cultures: the Canada that systematically kills/steals the bodies and souls of Aboriginal peoples, women in particular. Many controversies followed when the actors exited the Playhouse stage in 1967: was the play no good because of its strange structure? Did non-Aboriginal Ryga have the right to tell this story? Was it wrong for white Frances Hyland to play the lead character? Rather, this article deals with the question Joy Coghill attributes to young actor, but not-yet Chief Leonard George, son of Chief Dan, after the 1969 National Arts Centre opening: “Is it going to work?”


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pp. 56-61
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