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Modern Theatre in Context: A Critical Timeline

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Cover of 'The Res Sisters'

A new aboriginal company emerges at the Native Canadian Centre in Toronto. Founded by Denis Lacroix and Bunny Sicard, Native Earth Performing Arts consciously begins with collectively created works combining theatre, dance, and music. Their opening show, Double Take/A Second Look, created in collaboration with a Native feminist group from New York, Spiderwoman Theatre, and a Danish Inuit group from Greenland, Tukak Theatret, includes Tomson Highway as musical director. He is appointed the first Artistic Director when the group receives government funding in 1986; and provides their first single-author play with The Rez Sisters (also produced in 1986), developed out of a workshop on restoring the Native Trickster figure to the stage that had also resulted in Trickster's Cabaret the previous year. This defines the future focus of the group, with both the introduction of native languages together with standard English, and the Trickster becoming standard features of the work produced by Native Earth – for instance in Tomson and Rene Highway's 1988 piece, The Sage, the Dancer, and the Fool, or Highway's most successful play Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing (produced in conjunction with Theatre Passe Muraille in 1989), as well as in the annual "Weesageechak Begins to Dance" Festival ("Weesageechak" being the Cree word for "Trickster"). In addition to Highway himself, a number of other Native playwrights have been fostered through the company or workshopped in the Festival. These include John McLeod, Margo Kane and Alanis King (Artistic Director in 2000-2002) as well as Drew Hayden Taylor.

A report on the "Status of Women in Canada" includes a section on "The Status of Women in Canadian Theatre" (by Rina Fraticelli) which points out "the invisibility factor". The report is greeted with a deafening silence. However, in the same year Canadian theatre marks advances on other fronts outside the mainstream.

Also in 1982, the Canadian fringe is born in Edmonton, the prototype for a circuit of more than twenty Fringe Festivals that now operate each summer across Canada. In addition to Festivals in the major centres, such as Edmonton, Montreal, Saskatoon, Vancouver, Calgary, St. John's, Halifax or Toronto, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Victoria, there are Festivals even in some of the smaller or geographically isolated communities, including Peterborough, Lloydminster, Kelowna, Abbotsford, Duncan, and Nanaimo, Thunder Bay, Prince George and Athabasca. With completely open selection (with proposals accepted on a first-come basis by postmark and no censorship) these festivals provide exposure for young, old, new, experimental, and entrepreneurial artists and offer the novelty of fringe atmospheres and theatre-on-a-shoestring to summer theatre audiences. A major generator of new work, it is notable that Canada has more Fringe Festivals per capita than any other country in the world.

Precursor of a different but equally successful alternative theatre, Robert Lepage begins a ten-year association with Jaques Lessard and Théâtre Repère in Quebec City. This launches his career as an international superstar, leading to his productions of such original works as The Dragon's Trilogy, Tectonic Plates, Needles and Opium, The Seven Streams of the River Ota, Geometry of Miracles and The Far Side of the Moon, together with productions around the world from the international repertory.