Establishing Our Boundaries: English-Canadian Theatre Criticism

Wagner ( Anton )
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Establishing Our Boundaries is a cultural history of Canada as seen through the eyes of twenty-one of English Canada's leading theatre critics commenting on the creation of an indigenous Canadian national theatre and drama over two centuries. Canadians have always had an intense relationship to the theatre. As Canada has transformed from colony to Dominion to independent nation, the development of a national theatre and the public responses to it have both reflected and affected how we know ourselves. Eighteen essays, written by top scholars in the field, cover the range of influential English-language theatre reviewing from 1829 to 1998, and from Vancouver to Halifax. The word 'critic,' refers primarily to newspaper columnists. The criticism under scrutiny here-much of it only available on microfiche-is generally short (ten column inches) and reflects an immediate, often heated response to the show. Some longer pieces, Hector Charlesworth's (1890-1945) and B.K. Sandwell's (1932-51) work at Saturday Night, are also examined. The editor's extensive introductory essay explains the cultural context for the material considered and suggests a current crisis in criticism.A forceful and provoking tradition of theatre criticism in Canada developed long before Nathan Cohen's outspoken voice called attention to it-of course his confident and controversial work is given a full treatment here. The call for an indigenous theatre arose simultaneously with the proliferation of Canadian newspapers. Patrick O'Neill's meticulously thorough essay 'From Puffery to Criticism- William Lyon Mackenzie, Joseph Howe and Daniel Morrison: Theatre Criticism in Halifax and Toronto 1826-1857' discusses both the status of journalism and the instrumental roles those three played in creating an actual theatre criticism. Issues such as the creation of colourful personae and the implicated nature of criticism are broached by Douglas Arrell. Gina Mallet's iconoclastic and at times incendiary columns in the Toronto Star, appearing between 1976 and 1984, get an admirably sharp review by Alan Filewod. In 'Establishing Contact between Two Cultures: Marianne Ackerman at the Montreal Gazette 1983-87,' Leanore Lieblein offers a sensitive analysis of francophone / anglophone relations. Robert Nunn speculates on the tricky border between traditionalism and postmodernism in the work of Ray Conlogue at the Globe and Mail. Chapters look at the influence of critics, both on a local and national level, who have held sway over the past 172 years at the Novascotian; the York Colonial Advocate; the Toronto Daily Leader, Mail, Globe, Globe and Mail and Toronto Star; the Montreal Herald and Gazette; Manitoba Free Press, Winnipeg Daily Tribune and Winnipeg Town Topics; as well as the Calgary Herald, Vancouver Sun, Saturday Night, Canadian Tribune, and the Canadian Theatre Review.The essays on the critics writing for these publications analyse their attempts to stimulate an indigenous Canadian theatre and drama, and their views on religious, moral and political issues, censorship, cultural colonialism and cultural nationalism, government support of the arts, English-French cultural relations, Canadian national, regional, and minority identities, and the preponderant influence of American popular culture on Canadian artistic creation.Anton Wagner, in amassing this impressive collection, has drawn on his unique combination of practical experience as a producer, an academic background, and political involvement in Canadian theatre in order to meet his mission statement: 'To fill a significant gap in our knowledge of Canadian cultural history.' - from Amzon 
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