Performed negotiations: the historical significance of the second wave alternate theatre in English Canada and its relationship to the popular tradition




Drennan, Barbara

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This doctoral project began in the early 1980s when I became involved in making a community theatre event on Salt Spring Island with a group of artists accomplished in disciplines other than theatre. The production was marked by an orientation toward creating stage images rather than a literary text and by the playful exploitation of theatricality. This experiment in theatrical performance challenged my received ideas about theatre and drama. As a result of this experience, I began to see differences in original, small-venue productions which were considered part of the English-Canadian alternate theatre scene. I determined that the practitioners who created these events could be considered a second generation to the Alternate Theatre Movement of the 70s and settled on identifying their practice as Second Wave. The singular difficulty which Second Wave companies experience is their marginalization by mainstream theatre reviewers. These critics not only promote productions but also educate audiences and other theatre practitioners about theatre practice. Second Wave productions defy conventional descriptive categories which are founded on the assumption that theatre practice is the interpretation of a literary drama; thus they seem to fall short of their artistic potential. At issue here is the way we talk about theatre in English Canada: the conventions which authenticate our discourse and the implications of this discourse which makes material the three-way dynamic--knowledge/power/practice--as it pertains to our theatre institution and cultural value systems. In this study, three Second Wave productions were selected as sample case studies. I recognized these theatre events as different because they employed performance practices from the popular theatre tradition to generate their plays. Tears of a Dinosaur (One Yellow Rabbit, Calgary) used puppets; Doctor Dapertutto (Theatre Columbus, Toronto) used clowning techniques; and Down North (St. Ann's Bay Players, Cape Breton Island) used local folk performance conventions. In English-speaking theatre, popular traditions are trivialized; they are spoken of in derogatory terms as lesser forms or entertainments. Sometimes they are discursively constructed as paratheatrical or outside theatre. I concluded that the Second Wave negotiation between the popular traditions and the conventional or literary paradigm for theatre as an art form is stylistically indicative of postmodernism. At the same time, this practice is politically subversive, a postcolonial gest, because the employment of paratheatrical traditions undermines discursive norms about English-Canadian theatre and thus destabilizes the dominant cultural narratives which sustain the hegemonic status quo.



Theater, Drama, history and criticism