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Theatre in British Columbia

By Ginny Ratsoy

Review By George Belliveau

November 4, 2013

BC Studies no. 153 Spring 2007  | p. 125-7

Theatre in British Columbia consists of eighteen articles by academics and artists who explore plays, playwrights, and/or productions that reflect theatre within the Province of British Columbia. This important book is Volume 6 in the much welcomed series “Critical Perspectives of Canadian Theatre in English,” edited by theatre scholar Ric Knowles. Ratsoy begins the volume with a thorough introduction that prepares the reader for the upcoming articles by drawing connections between each piece and providing a valuable historical perspective on the variety of work presented. The introduction also points to areas where research on BC theatre could be pursued further (e.g., BC Aboriginal playwrights, theatre in small cities, physical theatre).

Ratsoy includes an extensive bibliography, which should prove very useful for scholars studying not only British Columbia theatre but also Canadian and North American theatre generally. With the exception of Peter Dickinson’s “Going West: Queer Theatre in British Columbia,” which was commissioned specifically for this volume, all the articles have been previously published in journals or books over the last twenty years. As with most anthologies, so with this one: the decision regarding what to include was challenging. Nonetheless, Ratsoy has done a commendable job in selecting an eclectic array of essays that provide multiple perspectives on BC theatre. It is not surprising that playwrights such as George Ryga, Joan MacLeod, Sharon Pollock, Margaret Hollingsworth, Morris Panych, and Marie Clements are featured in the various articles, but the volume also offers less frequently featured work from established or emerging South Asian Canadians (Uma Parameswaran’s “Protest for a Better Future: South Asian Canadian Theatre’s March to the Centre”), African Canadians (Siobhan R.K. Barker’s “Reigning Worlds: Black Playwrights in BC Theatre”), Aboriginal Canadians (Margo Kane’s “From the Centre of the Circle the Story Emerges”), and Japanese Canadians (R.A. Shiomi’s “Voice, Community, Culture, Responsibility and Visible Minority Playwrights: Visible Means of Support”).

These four articles describe some of the tensions/successes of ethnic plays, playwrights, and productions. Exposure of this multi-ethnic work should spark further research and creative theatre projects among these vibrant but often less privileged populations. For his part, Dickinson closely analyzes the form and content of five recent Vancouver productions that feature gay issues. David Diamond’s ongoing social justice work is explored in “In This Moment: The Evolution of ‘Theatre for Living’– A Historical Overview of the Work of Headlines Theatre,” which traces his company’s continued commitment to giving marginalized communities a voice through interactive theatre. A historical perspective on where BC theatre emerged (with a Vancouver focus) is well documented in both Malcolm Page’s “Fourteen Propositions about Theatre in British Columbia” and Denis Johnston’s “Drama in British Columbia: A Special Place.” As well, theatre outside Vancouver is discussed in two comprehensive articles: James Hoffman’s “Political Theatre in a Small City: The Staging of the Laurier Memorial in Kamloops” and Bruce Kirkley’s “Caravan Farm Theatre: Orchestrated Anarchy and the Creative Process,” which explores an Okanagan based company.

Three other noteworthy articles featured in the anthology examine important contemporary Canadian female playwrights: Jerry Wasserman’s “Joan MacLeod and the Geography of the Imagination,” Marlene Moser’s “Reconfiguring Home: Geopathology and Heterotopia in Margaret Hollingsworth’s The House That Jack Built and It’s Only Hot for Two Months in Kapuskasing,” and Sherrill Grace and Gabriele Helms’s “Documenting Racism: Sharon Pollock’s The Komagata Maru Incident.” These three articles are thoroughly researched and finely crafted, representing some of the finest scholarship in Canadian theatre research, let alone BC theatre research. Other articles, such as Reid Gilbert’s theoretically informed “Panych and Gorling: ‘Sheer’ Texts ‘Written’ in(to) Perception,” Don Rubin’s historically informed “George Ryga: The Poetics of Engagement,” and Jennifer Read’s visually descriptive “Marie Clements’s Monstrous Visions,” respectively, provide important insights into leading BC playwrights and the uniqueness of their productions. Renate Usmiani’s “Western Magic: Tamahnous Theatre and Savage God” and Richard J. Lane’s “Performing History: The Reconstruction of Gender and Race in British Columbia Drama” both effectively trace local companies (some now defunct) and productions that have shaped some of the fine theatre we currently experience in British Columbia today. As a whole, this book represents a valuable resource for academics and practitioners interested in BC theatre as well as for those interested in Canadian studies and theatre in general.