- Editorial:Accessibility, Aesthetics, and Ethics
In the introduction to Performance Studies in Canada, Laura Levin and Marlis Schweitzer provide an overview of the sometimes fraught, sometimes symbiotic relationship between theatre studies and performance studies in Canada, highlighting the "concepts and histories that performance studies shares with theatre studies" and welcoming the "opportunity to deconstruct the false dichotomy that positions theatre studies in opposition to performance studies" (15). The contributors to this issue's Views and Reviews section assess works that speak to the broad spectrum of performance and theatre practice and scholarship in Canada today, addressing issues ranging from access and aesthetics in relation to evolving definitions of disability theatre to new play development practices, dramaturgy, and the role of artistic "gatekeepers"; from reception of Robert Lepage's image- and movement-based performance in English Canada to an argument promoting performance's capacity to provoke ethical encounters with otherness; and concluding with a review of Levin and Schweitzer's 2017 collection.
In her review of Neworld Theatre's King Arthur's Night, Megan Johnson surveys accessible performance practices today, noting that while many companies are incorporating elements such as sign language interpretation and relaxed performances in order to increase access for audience members, they often approach these practices from a utilitarian, rather than artistic, perspective. Furthermore, such practices benefit audience members (an important achievement) but do not necessarily increase accessibility for performers or provoke changes to creative processes. Fortunately, Johnson infers, this is changing. King Arthur's Night, she argues, "contributes to a growing body of performance work that considers accessibility as part of the creation process, rather than a component to be added to a 'finished' production. Although the creators of King Arthur's Night do not identify the play as "disability theatre," which Johnson contends points to the complexity of categorizing such work, "productions such as King Arthur's Night make an important contribution to discussions of how theatrical aesthetics can weave issues of representation, access, and inclusion together."
Jessica Riley's ambitious collection of Tarragon Theatre's long-serving Artistic Director Urjo Kareda's correspondence, A Man of Letters, "paint[s] a picture of the late Kareda as both a deeply dedicated, thoughtful artist and a powerful gatekeeper guided by his own tastes and, at times, biases," Lisa Aikman remarks in her review of Riley's anthology. Aikman notes that Riley's decision to minimize editorial commentary and instead include responses from playwrights, many solicited by Riley herself, is a powerful counter to the potentially monologic nature of such a collection. Kareda's letters provide a view behind the scenes during a formative period in Canadian theatre history and demonstrate the rich dialogue that can occur between artistic directors and playwrights. The opportunity to read Kareda's letters, Aikman concludes, will be valuable to theatre historians, audience members, and writers of all stripes.
Claire Carolan's review of Jane Koustas's Robert Lepage on the Toronto Stage: Language, Identity, Nation considers not only the relationship between Lepage and Toronto audiences but also between Toronto and the "ROC" (the rest of Canada; that is, non-Quebec, non-French-speaking Canada). Koustas's analytic biography focuses on performances written or co-written by Lepage, in addition to addressing two of his adaptations of Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliette and Elsinore) as significant examples of response to his work outside Toronto and of Toronto audiences' early disillusionment with his work, respectively. Noting the extensive passages translated from French to English in the book, Carolan makes connections between her experience as a reader and the challenges of witnessing bilingual performance, underscoring the role scenography and visual effects can play in mitigating those potential difficulties. Carolan concludes her review by noting that Koustas's book provides a valuable jumping off point for further research into Lepage's influential work. [End Page 100]
Barry Freeman, like Koustas, takes up questions of reception across cultural boundaries in his book Staging Strangers: Theatre and Global Ethics. In her review of Staging Strangers, Jacqueline Taucar notes Freeman's attempt to disrupt pervasive "us/them" formations of difference in contemporary society by tracing out how "theatre provides alternate ways to relate to cultural difference through...