Theatre of Canada

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The contemporary theatre scene in Canada revolves around companies and summer festivals based at facilities in Canadian cities.

Prominent playwrights, practitioners, and contributors[edit]

Early Canadian theatre[edit]

The Annapolis Basin in Nova Scotia served as the cradle for both French and English language theatre in Canada.[1] Théâtre de Neptune was the first European theatre production in North America. The tradition of English theatre in Canada, also started at Annapolis Royal. The tradition at Fort Anne, Nova Scotia, was to produce a play in honour of the Prince of Wales's birthday. Prior to Paul Mascarene's productions, the Boston Gazette (4–11 June 1733) reported that George Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer was produced on Saturday, 20 January 1733 by the officers of the garrison to mark the Prince's birthday. Paul Mascarene translated Molière's La Misanthrope and then staged at least two productions of the work during the winter of 1743-1744. The second performance on 20 January 1744 had also coincided with celebrations in the colony to mark the birthday of Frederick, Prince of Wales. The text of the first three acts is contained in the Mascarene papers, British Library. And four years after the Mascarene production, on 20 January 1748, Major Phillips and Captain Floyer also produced a play in honour of the Prince's birthday. Unfortunately, the Boston News Letter (3 March 1748) fails to indicate the title of the play. It does reveal, however, that the same play was staged a second time on 2 February 1748, at the request of Captain Winslow, after the colony received the news of Admiral Edward Hawke's success Second Battle of Cape Finisterre (1747), in October of 1747.[2]


  • Lescarbot’s Neptune Theatre 1606
  • Molière’s Tartuffe Scandal 1693
  • Halifax Prologue 1776
  • Sullen Indian Prologue 1826
  • Eight Men Speak 1933 (at Toronto’s Standard Theatre)


A performance at John Molson's Theatre Royal, Montreal, 1825

Antoine Foucher (1717-1801), of Terrebonne (father of Louis-Charles Foucher), was the owner of the first Francophone theatre in Canada. In 1774, with various British officers, he staged the first production of Molière at his home in Montreal.[3][4][5] Other Garrison performances were private shows put on for troops, publicly performed by officers, which helped bridge theatre and war during its initial stages of development. It was welcomed by the populaces and distracted soldiers from war and routine military protocol.[6]

Before 1825, the Hayes House Hotel on Dalhousie Square, Montreal, had a theatre that staged German Orchestras and held Viennese dances.[7] After it burned it down, John Molson built the Theatre Royal in 1825, presenting Shakespeare and Restoration authors. It sat 1,000 guests and was also used for circuses and concerts.[8] Edmund Kean and Charles Dickens both performed there before it was demolished in 1844 to make way for the Bonsecours Market.[9]

From 1929, Martha Allan founded the Montreal Repertory Theatre and later co-founded the Dominion Drama Festival. She loathed amateur theatre, but her energies spearheaded the Canadian Little Theatre Movement at a time when live theatre in Montreal and across Canada was being threatened by the rapid expansion of the American-influenced movie theater. She almost single-handedly laid the groundwork for the development of the professional modern Canadian theatre scene.

Theatre of the 1950s[edit]


  • Teach Me How To Cry 1955 Patricia Joudry

Theatre companies and groups[edit]

  • Theatre du Nouveau Monde 1951 Jean Gascon (Montreal)
  • Stratford Shakespeare Festival 1953 Tyrone Guthrie (professional)
  • Manitoba Theatre Centre 1958 John Hirsch (regional)
  • Toronto Workshop Productions 1958 George Luscombe (alternative)

Theatre of the 1960s[edit]


  • Ecstasy of Rita Joe 1967 George Ryga
  • Fortune and Men’s Eyes 1967 John Herbert
  • Les Belles-Souers 1968 Michel Tremblay

Theatre companies and groups[edit]

Theatre of the 1970s[edit]


  • Leaving Home 1972 David French
  • 1837: Farmer’s Revolt 1974 Rick Salutin
  • St. Nicolas’ Hotel 1974 James Reaney
  • Zastrozzi 1977 George F. Walker
  • Billy Bishop Goes to War 1978 John Gray
  • Balconville 1979 David Fenarrio

Theatre companies and groups[edit]

  • Factory Theatre Lab 1970 Ken Gass (Toronto) (alternative)
  • Tarragon Theatre 1971 Bill Glassco (Toronto) (alternative)
  • Toronto Free Theatre 1971 founders Tom Hendry, Martin Kinch, John Palmer (alternative)
  • 25th Street Theatre 1972 (Saskatoon) (alternative)
  • Black Theatre Workshop 1972 Errol Sitahal (Montreal)
  • The Second City 1973 (Toronto)
  • Persephone Theatre 1974 (Saskatoon) founders Janet Wright, Susan Wright, Brian Richmond
  • Green Thumb Theatre 1975 (Vancouver) Dennis Foon
  • Theatre Network 1976 (Edmonton)
  • Northern Light Theatre 1977 Scott Swan (Edmonton)
  • Buddies in Bad Times 1979 Sky Gilbert (Toronto) (queer)
  • Nightwood Theatre 1979 (feminist)
  • Workshop West Theatre 1979 Gerry Potter Artistic Director (Edmonton)
  • Roseneath Theatre 1979 (Ontario) founders David S Craig and Robert Morgan


In 1971 a group of Canadian playrights issued the Gaspé Manifesto as a call for at least one-half of the programing at publicly subsidized theatres to be Canadian content. The numerical goal was not achieved, but the following years saw an increase in Canadian content stage productions.[10][11]

Theatre of the 1980s and 1990s[edit]


  • Doc 1984 Sharon Pollock
  • Drag Queens on Trial 1985 Sky Gilbert
  • Occupation of Heather Rose 1986 Wendy Lill
  • Bordertown Café 1987 Kelly Rebar
  • Polygraph 1988 Robert Lepage
  • Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing 1989 Thomson Highway
  • Lion in the Streets 1990 Judith Thompson
  • Harlem Duet 1997 Djanet Sears

Theatre companies and groups[edit]

  • Cirque du Soleil (Quebec) (early 1980s)
  • Windsor Feminist Theatre 1980
  • Native Earth Performing Arts 1982 (Toronto)
  • Soulpepper Theatre Company 1997
  • Broadway North Theatre (community)
  • Act I.V. Theatre Company 1984 - 1986

Western Canadian theatre[edit]

British Columbia[edit]




Northwest Territories[edit]

  • Yellowknife is home to the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre, a small theatre with just over 300 seats.

Central Canadian theatre[edit]



Atlantic Canada[edit]

New Brunswick[edit]

Prince Edward Island[edit]

Nova Scotia[edit]

Newfoundland and Labrador[edit]

  • St. John's has the RCA (Resource Centre for the Arts), an artist-run company that is based at the LSPU Hall. It also has the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre, with a 1,000 seat main theatre.
  • Clarenville, Newfoundland is the home to The New Curtain Theatre Company, which operates as a year-round professional theatre based out of The Loft Theatre at the White Hills Ski Resort in Clarenville (2 hours west of St. John's).
  • Cupids, Newfoundland is home to The New World Theatre Project, which aims to do work from and inspired by the year 1610, when Cupids was settled as Canada's first English colony.
  • Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador, on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland, features the annual Stephenville Theatre Festival, a summer festival that began in the mid-1970s.

Summer Festivals[edit]

Major summer theatre festivals include:

  • Gabriola Theatre Festival (Gabriola Island, British Columbia)

Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Canada also has more fringe theatre festivals than any other country,[citation needed] forming a summer fringe circuit running from the St-Ambroise Montréal Fringe in June and heading westward to the Vancouver Fringe Festival in September. The circuit includes the two largest fringe festivals in North America, the Winnipeg Fringe Festival and the Edmonton International Fringe Festival. Other fringe theatre festivals include the Saskatoon Fringe Theatre Festival, the Calgary Fringe Festival, the London Fringe Theatre Festival (Ontario), the Toronto Fringe Festival and the Atlantic Fringe Festival.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Gardner's thesis, "An Analytic History of the Theatre in Canada: the European Beginnings to 1760," and his article "British Garrison Theatre in Canada during the French Regime"
  2. ^
  3. ^ Le Quebec et Bourgues
  4. ^ Societe d'Histoire de la Region de Terrebonne
  5. ^ Theatre and Politics in Modern Quebec (1989) by Elaine Nardoccio
  6. ^ Wilson, Edwin, ed. Living Theatre: History of the Theatre. 5th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2008. Print.
  7. ^ Moses Hayes in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography
  8. ^ Wilson, Edwin, ed. Living Theatre: History of the Theatre. 5th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2008. Print.
  9. ^ Canadian Theatre
  10. ^ Ryan Edwardson, Canadian Content: Culture and the Quest for Nationhood (University of Toronto Press, 2008), ISBN 978-1442692428. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  11. ^ Louise Ladouceur, Dramatic Licence: Translating Theatre from One Official Language to the Other in Canada (University of Alberta, 2012), ISBN 978-0888647061. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  12. ^ "From store to stage: Toronto theatres set up shop in small places". The Globe and Mail, December 13, 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bhabha, Homi. Editor's Introduction: Minority Maneuvers and Unsettled Negotiations. 
  • "Cosmopolitanisms." Public Culture 12.3. 2000. pp. 577–89. 
  • Critical Inquiry 23.3. 1997. pp. 431–50. 
  • Robinson, Amy (1994). "‘It Takes One to Know One’: Passing and Communities of Common Interest." Critical Inquiry 20. pp. 715– 36. 
  • "Summary," In Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade/Ministère des affairs étrangères et du commerce international. Canada in the World. 1999. Rpt. Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade/Ministère des affairs étrangères et du commerce international Home Page. 2001. 
  • Wagner, Anton, ed. Contemporary Canadian Theatre: New World Visions, a Collection of Essays Prepared by the Canadian Theatre Critics Association. Toronto: Simon & Pierre, 1985. 411 p. ISBN 0-88924-159-7
  • Young, Robert (2001). Postcolonialism: an Historical Introduction. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. 

External links[edit]