Playwrights of Collective Creation // Review

By Bessai, Diane | Journal of Canadian Studies, Spring 1994 | Go to article overview

Playwrights of Collective Creation // Review


Bessai, Diane, Journal of Canadian Studies


The late Carl F. Klinck's recently published memoir was entitled Giving Canada a Literary History in order to make the rather remarkable point that, when Klinck began graduate work in 1929, the large and complex industry that has grown out of the study of Canadian literature was practically non - existent.(f.1) Today, a memoir purporting to survey the construction of Canadian theatre history from a similar summit of consolidated professionalism would be a little premature, but only just a little - an astonishing notion when one considers that Canadian theatre studies lagged behind the "Canlit" movement by about four decades. Of course, as with pre - Klinck Canadian literary studies, it is not difficult to find various isolated forays into the field of Canadian theatre studies, but it was really not until the late 1960s, when the University of Toronto established the first graduate academic program in drama and a number of studies borne of the centenary self - consciousness boom made their appearance, that the discipline began to gather coherence and to establish professional standards.

Yet, despite the brevity of the history of Canadian theatre studies, it now appears that the discipline has reached a kind of plateau, the evidence of which may be found in the publications surveyed here. To varying degrees, each is conscious of a crucial need to evaluate accomplishments thus far and to establish directions for the future. However, if there is a consensus that Canadian theatre scholarship has encountered a crossroads, there is a profound ambivalence about what is to be done next. The question is not simply which path Canadian theatre studies as a whole should take - that seems to be the minimum dilemma requisite for the health of any discipline - but a much more profound ambivalence between, on the one hand, the very notion that there are paths to be taken and, on the other, the sense that such metaphors betray an ideological agenda in which pseudo - Darwinian rationalizations are employed for the erection or consolidation of specific cultural hegemonies.

Moreover, the schism appears to be less a division between two separate groups than a rift running through the minds of individual scholars, which suggests that the dilemma is somehow endemic to the subject itself. From that point of view, it is wise to keep in mind certain forces in the two major areas that sandwich Canadian theatre studies: the recent theoretical trends in the humanities departments - usually English - out of which theatre studies grew and to which they are, in most universities, still indentured; and the changing faces of the Canadian theatre itself.

Evidence of what has been accomplished thus far is provided by the Bibliography of Theatre History in Canada edited by John Ball and Richard Plant. This is the most massive and important publication to have appeared in the discipline since The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature (1989). It completely overhauls Ball and Plant's earlier bibliography, which covered the period from 1583 to 1975 (with a supplement reaching to 1976). Although the new work only reaches to 1984, at 10,800 entries it is more than triple the size of the first edition. About a third of these entries are items left out of the earlier book, many of them obscure references that could only have been discovered serendipitously in the intervening years of scholarship: a couple of pages about Halifax in a rare biography of an American theatre manager, a few references to theatre in a retired major's history of Vancouver, an article on subsidies in a Quebec political journal from the 1960s, and so on. That still leaves a third of the book for more recent entries, meaning that the eight years after the end - date of the first edition added 50 percent of the quantity produced in the previous 400 years, an escalation of activity that would seem to have continued in the nine years yet to be documented.

Of course the Bibliography is still not fully comprehensive.

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