Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Amy Sternberg's Historical Pageant (1927): The Performance of IODE Ideology during Canada's Diamond Jubilee

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Amy Sternberg's Historical Pageant (1927): The Performance of IODE Ideology during Canada's Diamond Jubilee

Article excerpt

In 1927, Amy Sternberg, one of Toronto's most successful dance teachers and choreographers, wrote and directed Historical Pageant. Staged as part of the celebrations marking Canada's Diamond Jubilee, the production premiered at Massey Hall in Toronto on Wednesday, 22 June and was performed for three consecutive nights plus a Saturday matinee ("IODE Pageant"; "Municipal"; "Toronto"). The pageant, which received significant press coverage, featured Sternberg's students, a few of the Hart House players, members of the Navy League, school children, and community members ("Children"; "Gowns"; "Toronto"). The majority of the over 500 performers and the approximately 3,000 production personnel, however, belonged to sixty-five chapters of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE), which produced the pageant under the aegis of its Toronto Municipal Chapter, working in conjunction with administrators for the city of Toronto who were coordinating civic activities in honour of Canada's sixty years of Confederation ("Progress"; "Three Thousand"; "Toronto").

In briefly addressing Sternberg's pageant in his article about Canada's Diamond Jubilee festivities, Robert Cupido argues that federal attempts to use the anniversary to unite the country through the rallying of nationalist sentiments were co-opted by the conflicting agendas of organizations like the IODE, which used Historical Pageant to stage their "obliquely imperialist orientation." ("Appropriating" 178). (2) Moreover, as Cupido notes, specifically referencing Sternberg's production, "apart from highlighting the isolated and exceptional exploits of a few exemplary heroines like Laura Secord and Madeleine de [Vercheres], Canadian women were still devoting most of their talents to commemorating the nation-building achievements of men" (179).

It is true that Historical Pageant, which consists of nine scenes and accompanying tableaux vivants, idealized Canada's colonial relationships; presented Canadian history as an uncomplicated parade towards modernity and dominion status; and implied that the country had been shaped primarily by men like Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, Generals Wolfe and Montcalm, and the Fathers of Confederation. Nevertheless, Historical Pageant requires a more in-depth consideration of the nuanced understanding of Empire and gender politics that underpinned the production and defined the IODE in 1927. Certainly, the organization strongly advocated allegiance to the British crown, but this fidelity did not preclude patriotism for Canada. In this way, Historical Pageant was aligned with the liberal imperialism that was commonplace in Canada at the time. While the scenes included in Historical Pageant primarily valorised male explorers, military men, and politicians, the very act of producing the pageant was an assertion of female agency. Moreover, the female characters in the pageant, though outnumbered by their male counterparts, were still dramaturgic ally important because they conveyed ideals associated with the IODE at the time. The backstage dominance and activities of women are particularly worth examining because they communicated IODE priorities such as providing female civic leadership. In other words, just because the ideals of nation and history furthered by Sternberg and the IODE reified, instead of challenged, the traditional and dominant ideologies, the issue of how these women used theatre to stage their political beliefs should not be negated or ignored. On the contrary, although for many theatrical professionals, the stage is a liminal arena where it is possible to play with and transgress--if only temporarily--established cultural values and to rehearse alternatives perceived as more progressive, we should not forget that the arts are equally available to iterations of the status quo and agendas resistant to social change.

Post-colonial scholarship in the arts has often focussed on the subversion of imperialism by colonial subjects, while how some of those subjects willingly facilitated the continuation of imperialism has arguably received less attention. …

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