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Modern Theatre in Context: A Critical Timeline

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Duncan Regehr and Steven Foster in 'Inook and the Sun'

Henry Beissel's Inook and the Sun premieres at the Stratford Festival, the first Canadian play to be introduced into the traditional Shakespearean repertoire – and as such also a mark of the growing recognition of Canadian drama. At the same time a very different type of festival is founded in the Memorial Hall in the small village of Blyth (population 1,000) in southwestern Ontario under the artistic direction of James Roy. Since then, the Blyth Festival has produced more than 90 premieres of new Canadian plays under the Artistic Directorships of Roy, Janet Amos, Katherine Kaszas, Peter Smith, and Anne Chislett.

The collective style initiated by Paul Thompson takes a different form in Newfoundland, where CODCO produces its first collective, Cod on a Stick, in St. John's. The company goes on to tour the country with collectively written political comedies, and later to produce its nationally celebrated satiric television show, the predecessor to This Hour has Twenty-Two Minutes.

The Manitoba Theatre Workshop – five years later to become Prairie Theatre Exchange – is founded in Winnipeg under the Artistic Directorship of Colin Jackson. Initially focused on Children's theatre and teaching theatre, the Prairie Exchange has also sought to foster the writing of original Canadian plays; and in 1981, under Artistic Director Gordon McCall, the company started to stage adult works. The most notable example is their production of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, George Ryga's 1967 classic, with aboriginal actors playing all the aboriginal roles (whereas in the Vancouver Playhouse premiere the title role had been played by Frances Hyland).

A clear sign of growing maturity in Canadian theatre is the extension of the artistic franchise to minority ethnic groups outside the Quebec/English dichotomy. The first example comes with Black Theatre Canada in Toronto, formed by Vera Cudjoe, with organizational help from Ed Smith. The venture is launched with a production of Ron Milner's Who's Got His Own; and its mandate – to establish a platform for the expression of Black culture in Canada and provide training and opportunities for Black theatre practitioners – remains in effect until the organization disbands because of funding cutbacks in the 1980s. This will be joined in 1981 by the Teesri duniya (Third World) theatre, founded in Montreal by Rahul Varma and Rana Bose. Until 1985 they produce plays in Hindi, and then begin producing South Asian Canadian plays in English. Also in 1985, Rana Bose breaks with the company and founds Montreal Serai, which produces mainly his work.