Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

The Professionalization of a Stage Naturalist, the Making of a Mythmaker: The Theatre Criticism of Urjo Kareda at the University of Toronto's Varsity Newspaper

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

The Professionalization of a Stage Naturalist, the Making of a Mythmaker: The Theatre Criticism of Urjo Kareda at the University of Toronto's Varsity Newspaper

Article excerpt

The fourteenth of February 1972 proves to be a telling date in the life of Estonian-born Canadian Urjo Kareda. At the age of twenty-eight and serving in the first year of his position as lead theatre critic at the Toronto Star, he is lecturing in English and Drama at the University ofToronto's Erindale campus. He is also in the thick of rehearsals at the University Alumnae Dramatic Club's (UADC's) Coach House Theatre on Toronto's Maplewood Avenue directing a double-bill of Harold Pinter's short plays Landscape and Silence. His stage manager is Mallory Gilbert, who had joined Tarragon Theatre before the start of the season (she would become Tarragon's General Manager in 1975). It is UADC's last "Coach House" production before moving into its current Berkeley Street Firehall home.

It is also on this date--between classes and rehearsals--that Kareda sets out his preferred style of drama in a Star review of the Poor Alex's production of Bill Fruet's Canadian prairie play Wedding in Whited

   Why has naturalism become such a taboo in Canadian theatre? Why are
   there so few attempts at a naturalistic depiction of the quality of
   our life?

   Why do some younger writers regard the form with a spectrum of
   indifference ranging from bemused apathy to aggressive contempt?
   [...]

   Naturalism, with its 19th-century origins in a desire to mirror
   life on the stage, still holds astonishing power to spellbind.
   [...]

   Because theatrical naturalism inevitably holds an incomplete mirror
   up to life, because it presents a heightened and juggled reality,
   its final effect is acutely poetic and impressionistic. The
   naturalistic details acquire depth, beauty and resonance.
   ('Almost")

Kareda links his concept of naturalism's "heightened and juggled reality" with Pinter, whom he believes "plays [...] with a naturalistic presentation of life" ("Drama"). His direction of Landscape and Silence at the Coach House Theatre is an extension-in-practice of his favoured form of drama, and his column in the Star is the medium for this message. By the end of that year, in his Introduction to the publication of David French's Tarragon Theatre hit Leaving Home, he proclaims the 1971-72 Toronto theatre season to be one "during which, creatively, all hell had broken loose" (v), and one in which "the wane of neo-Pinterism is not yet due. It was as if, compressed into one season, we were witnessing a ritualized recreation of the history of modern drama" (vii). Kareda would be the chronicler of this recreation.

But how might we ground Kareda's preference for naturalism--which he judged so vigourously to be the best form for the new Canadian theatre--prior to his time at the Star? This study analyzes Kareda's early theatre and film reviews while he was a student writing for the University of Toronto's Varsity newspaper in the mid-1960s. It traces the predominant themes, styles, and opinions that he developed during these years, and offers insights into how it prefigures his construction of Toronto's so-called alternative theatres in the Star in the early 1970s. It also argues that Kareda's writing in the Varsity prepared him to take the lead in translating these practices into narratives that would influence artists', audiences', and scholars' perception of the alternative theatres as the next, and thereafter maybe even last, "movement" to dominate theatre practices not only in Toronto, but across the country.

Positivist Discourse and the Pre-Professionalized Critic

To review the undergraduate writings of an eminent cultural figure like Urjo Kareda is, arguably, a radical choice for professional theatre scholars. Doing so challenges us to reconsider the notion, however explicit or unintended, that pre-professional critical writings, like other extra-professional cultural products such as "amateur" theatre, should remain outside the purview of professional research, as if such phenomena predate, or are otherwise external to, the origin of knowledges, practices, and genealogies. …

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