Candaian Theatre? Essay, Research Paper
Canadian identity has always been difficult to define. This definition is essential in order to evaluate theatre in Canada. French Canadians appear to have no difficulty in establishing their own identity, both on and off the stage, as they share a distinct tradition. We, as English-Canadians, have continued to define ourselves by reference to what we are not, American, rather than in terms of our own national history and tradition. For English Canadians, this tradition comes not from the nation but instead from community and region. Because English-Canada has such a great cultural diversity, nationality and relevance to our outstanding values and attitudes must define the Anglophone Canadian identity, both on and off the stage.
When a Canadian is asked what his or her nationality is, he most often does not reply by saying Canadian. Instead he will answer by his European, African or Asian roots. This is because we as Canadians do not see ourselves as distinct Canadians, but rather as a collection of diversified individuals. Because of this attitude, Canada lacks a common idea of what it means to be Canadian. This common idea could simply be that anyone residing in Canada, whether by birth or citizenship, is in fact distinctly Canadian. By the same argument, English-Canadian theatre can be constituted by any theatrical performance written or produced by an individual of Canadian nationality. Edward Gilbert, who served as artistic director of the Manitoba Theatre Centre, advanced his own particular opinion of Canadian drama and dramatists. Concerning Canadian playwrights he wrote, “ I do not care where [artists] come from or what nationality they have or what race they belong to. If they have something to say, they’re welcome in my book. (Chusid 14).” Just having something to say is not enough. These artists are free to express themselves in Canadian theatre; however, as they do not have any aspect of culture, their work cannot be classified as Canadian. English-theatre, therefore, is vastly embodied by its Canadian cultural identity in the form of nationality. This can be seen in both Hedda Gabler performed at the GCTC and Shakespeare’s Dead & Foolius Ceasar performed at Academic Hall.
Theatre companies of Canadian nationality, The Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) and Company of Fools produced both Hedda Gabler and Shakespeare’s Dead & Foolius Ceasar respectively. This alone is enough to define both these plays as being Canadian. Both plays can be further evaluated, nonetheless, by taking a closer look at the identity of both their playwright and cast members. Firstly, individuals of Canadian nationality wrote both Shakespeare’s Dead & Foolius Ceasar and Hedda Gabler. Even though Henrik Ibsen, the original playwright of Hedda Gabler, was Norwegian rather than Canadian, it is still a Canadian play. Judith Thompson, who is, at the very least, a Canadian citizen, simply adapted Ibsen’s version of the play, whereby forming her own ideas and interpretations. Secondly, in addition to the Canadian playwrights, both productions are comprised of Canadian cast and crew members. The cast and crew of both Shakespeare’s Dead & Foolius Ceasar are undisputedly Canadian since many of them are past graduates from the Theatre Department at the University of Ottawa. It is harder to be positive of the Canadian identity of the cast and crew of Hedda Gabler. Nonetheless, since all of the cast members and most of the crew members have extensive theatre experience in Canada, it is safe to assume that they are either of Canadian origin or Canadian citizens. Being comprised of a cast and crew of Canadian nationality, cannot, on its own, provide English theatre in Canada with a national identity. A Canadian must first and foremost have written the play. To gain an English-Canadian identity, we must learn to identify with our nation, Canada. This is one of the main reasons that we lack a Canadian identity, both on and off the stage, is because we as English-Canadians do not think of ourselves as Canadians.
Like any other country, Canadians all have different values and traditions. In English-Canada, however, this diversity is even more apparent making it even harder for people to identify with each other. When different cultural groups each have their traditions and culture due to their differing origins, it is almost impossible to have a single Canadian identity. In this way, the many traditions, values, and attitudes present in English-Canada, combined with nationality, serve to define English-Canadian identity both on and off stage. According to Gilbert, the Canadian play does not exist:
I don’t see how a play can be Canadian. I mean, what is a Canadian play?
…The whole issue seems to me to be a total red herring…I think the only
area of interest in a discussion of this sort is whether the particular play has
a particular relevance in the place where it is going to be shown and this is
the matter that is quite regardless of the nationality of the author (Chusid 14).
As previously evaluated, it is essential to consider Canadian nationality when evaluating whether or not a play is Canadian. This alone, however, is not enough to define English-Canadian theatre. Instead, similar to the belief of Gilbert, English-Canadian theatre must be classified as having any relevance to past or present traditions, values, and attitudes shared by individuals, written by individuals of Canadian nationality. With this stipulation, it is harder to define both Hedda Gabler and Shakespeare’s Dead & Foolius Ceasar as being Canadian.
Although Shakespeare’s Dead & Foolius Ceasar were written by Canadians, based on this definition, they are hardly Canadian. Audience members familiar with Shakespearean plays and performances during Elizabethan England can in some way relate to the performance through education. The play, nevertheless, has no direct relevance to Canadians. It does not link to any traditions, values, or and attitudes of English-Canadians. Hedda Gabler, on the other hand, is still more Canadian than both Shakespeare’s Dead & Foolius Ceasar. As already established, Hedda Gabler was adapted by an individual of Canadian nationality. Furthermore, although not set in Canadian geography, Hedda Gabler does reflect a part of history, values, and attitudes relative to many, but not all, English-Canadians. The struggle for equality has been an ongoing battle for many Canadian women, and Hedda Gabler’s struggle is based primarily around this issue. Audience members anywhere in English-Canada are able to associate themselves with the struggle of Hedda Gabler throughout the play. Hedda Gabler can not be seen as undisputedly Canadian, since not all English-Canadians share the same values and attitudes as those seen in Hedda Gabler. Unfortunately, until the traditions of the different groups blend as they have in America, English-Canada can not have a real national identity, neither on nor off the stage. It can be argued that the differences in cultural values and traditions are an aspect of the English-Canadian identity, but in order to have a distinct cultural identity, it must be one in which everyone can relate to and see in their own life. A Canadian identity must be shaped by a collection of different values, traditions, and cultures that have emerged from history to create a unique individuality.
English Canadians lack a real national identity off stage making it difficult to evaluate what constitutes English-Canadian theatre. Simply put, Canadian plays are those written by individuals of Canadian nationality concerning traditions or values and attitudes which individuals can relate to. Values, attitudes and cultures of different groups shape identity as they emerged from our history and geography. Even though individuals have their own Canadian identity, Canada lacks a true national identity, one that is clearly Canadian and can be recognized by anyone, anywhere.