Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Introduction/Presentation

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Introduction/Presentation

Article excerpt

POP. No food for your immortal souls--that's what ails everybody' round here--little, shrivelled-up, peanut-size souls. [...] Why do you think so many people go to the bughouse around here, anyways? Because they've starved an' tormented their souls, that's why! Because they're against God an' don't know it, that's why!

ETHEL. That's blasphemous!

POP. It ain't blasphemous! They try to make God in their own little image an' they can't do it same as you can't catch Niagara Falls in a teacup. God likes music an' naked women an' I'm happy to follow his example.

Robertson Davies, Overlaid (99)

This Special Issue on Religion and Theatre in Canada is the result of a Call for Papers originally circulated in 2005 by Moira Day of the Department of Drama, the University of Saskatchewan, and Mary Ann Beavis, Department of Religious Studies and Anthropology, St. Thomas More College. Religion was broadly defined as that relating to human spirituality, concerned with the divine and with sacred or holy things, including particular religious traditions, philosophies, institutions or theologies, and the expression of spirituality in ritual, worship, devotion and mystical experience. Theatre was broadly defined as that relating to the creation of dramatic material, as well as its realization in production and performance before a live audience, including amateur, educational, and professional theatre, paratheatrical activities and texts (including closet drama), and the elements of playwriting, acting, directing, costume and scene design, architecture, audience dynamics and theatre management. Through proposing such an issue, the editors hoped to explore the dynamic intersection of religion and theatre as shaped within or by Canada, past and present, as a geographical, human and conceptual reality.

The five articles in this issue were selected through a review process whereby each manuscript was refereed both by a scholar with expertise in Drama and one from the field of Religious Studies. They are arranged roughly chronologically and provide an album that captures aspects of both the theatrical and religious history of Canada from the early twentieth century to today.

It is difficult to begin a discussion of the intersection between religion and theatre in Canada--past and present--"as a geographical, human and conceptual reality" without making reference to the witty, urbane early comedies of Robertson Davies. The world, he suggests in the epilogue to his popular one-act play, Overlaid (1947), is divided into two groups: one composed "of the life-enhancing people" represented by Pop, the defiant champion of opera, music and the arts as the real nurturers of the soul in an otherwise spiritually starved community; the other, composed of "the life-diminishing people" represented by his daughter, Ethel, whose narrow, joyless church religion denigrates the arts as either evil or extravagant and sucks stronger souls dry with the sheer power of her "belief in [her] own goodness" (108). "Society," Davies concludes, "is the battleground where these two armies fight continually for supremacy [...]. It reflects, I think, a situation that we shall have in Canada for a long time" (116).

More than that, he suggests in his 1948 play, Hope Deferred, that the first decisive shot in that battle had actually been fired over 250 years ago in New France, when the then-Governor Frontenac had proposed staging a production of Moliere's Tartuffe. Tragically, for the future of arts, culture and theatre in Canada, Davies suggests, the army of the "life-diminishing people" led by Bishop Laval and Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier, emerge triumphant from the field in 1693, having managed to suppress not just the play, but theatre itself in Canada for the remainder of the French regime.

Davies is not completely unsympathetic to the arguments made by the two Roman Catholic prelates, but he clearly agrees with Frontenac, that there is "no tyranny like that of organized virtue" (76) in suppressing the flourishing of the arts, and that these "good men exert a dreadful pressure" that may have an influence far beyond 1693. …

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