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Modern Theatre in Context: A Critical Timeline

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Poster for 'The Captain from Koepnick'

George Luscombe returns from working with Joan Littlewood at Stratford East, London, to found Toronto Workshop Productions (TWP), which for the next thirty years remains Canada's leading socialist theatre. Establishing a style of collective creation, which was highly influential, Luscombe produced European plays such as Georg Büchner's radical Woyzeck, Karl Sternheim's modern classic, The Captain from Koepenick, or Bertolt Brecht's musical Happy End as models for an engaged political drama in Canada. His opening production – which he scripted and developed – Hey Rube! set a tone of acrobatic and high-energy ensemble acting. A story of a ragtag band of circus folk stuck on the edge of a nondescript town in the middle of nowhere, and their unhappy relationship with the locals: the "rubes" who are simultaneously customers to delight and despised antagonists, this encapsulates the position of art in Canada as all too often marginalized by a philistine society. It becomes Luscombe's signature play, restaged and updated throughout his career. The other plays he was responsible for creating tended to be more topical, like Chicago'70 about the Abbie Hoffman trial. But the show most identified with TWP was Ten Lost Years, a documentary evocation of the Great Depression in Canada adapted from a book of interviews by Barry Broadfoot. First staged in 1974, the economic catastrophe of the "Dirty Thirties" was used to attack modern Capitalism and gained contemporary resonance with the first Oil Crisis.

Despite establishing itself as perhaps the most vibrant and politically vocal stage in English Canada TWP ran into financial difficulties during the 1980s. Luscombe was fired from the company he had founded, and TWP closed its doors in 1988.