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Performance Art in Canada

Primary Sources and Research Material: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1010UGa_z2YGAtDDfWCntdLnmHsB768rcXhKr7sWMFwQ/edit?usp=sharing

James Hyett

on 31 August 2013

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Transcript of Performance Art in Canada

Performance Art in Canada
Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford was born in 1892 in Toronto

From 1909 to 1950, she was active in the American film industry,
becoming known as "America's Sweetheart"

In 1919, she teamed up with three American contemporaries
(Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks) to found United Artists, which exists to this day (its most recent film: Skyfall)

Mary Pickford was the first of many Canadian actors to make it big in the US (see Nathan Fillion, Jim Carrey, William Shatner), a theme often found in Canadian history

The fact that she could only really become famous by working mostly in the US shows the state of the Canadian performance art world at the beginning of the 20th century

http://goo.gl/vjeuo4 (pp 49 - 55) - A profile of Pickford's career from Photoplay magazine in 1916; details how well she is doing and how talented she is, this "sweetheart" from Toronto
Robert Nathaniel Dett
Born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Dett was a black composer, pianist,
and scholar

Studied for most of his life at various music conservatories around
the world and Harvard University

His primary interest was in studying traditional African-American spirituals, and merging these with the style of European romantics, seeking to:
make use of the vast store of beautiful spiritual music
present it in such a way that it is comparable to classical European music

Dett wrote many compositions and essays on this topic, which enriched
the Canadian and global music world with some unique ideas and
beautiful compositions, like this one, Chariot Jubilee, an excellent
example of Dett's philosophy
The CRBC and the CBC
Not so eager to be dominated by the United States, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King set up a Royal Commission to come up with the best thing to do for Canadian broadcasting

The commission came up with the idea of the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, which was finally set up under Conservative Prime Minister Bennett in 1932

The CRBC provided regular, coast-to-coast radio programming (mostly music and entertainment programs), and also regulated what could be broadcast by other stations

By the mid-1930s, there was much public and political criticism of the CRBC, and when the Liberals won re-election in 1935, the CRBC was taken down, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was set up

The CBC took into consideration some of the issues brought up about the CRBC, so it was more than pure entertainment, and its new mandate was to spread coverage to as much of the population as possible

This broadcast is from around the foundation of the CBC, and details what the new corporation will be like, and what listeners should expect of this national medium for news, music, and what was then called "vocal plays" (ie radio theatre) http://goo.gl/eQRDlR

Wayne and Shuster
A radio, stage, and television comedy duo active from 1941, Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster were the first big names in Canadian comedy

They gained popularity during World War Two, during which they wrote for and performed in the Army Show, a radio show featuring music and entertainment broadcast by the CBC weekly for most of 1943, and later a touring stage show used to bolster army morale and the sale of war bonds

For many years after the war, the two produced radio and television comedy shows for CBC, and appeared a record 67 times on the Ed Sullivan Show in the US

Wayne and Shuster are considered the founders of Canadian comedy, influencing later Canadian comedians and groups such as Lorne Michaels, Second City, and Rick Mercer

One of their most famous skits, Rinse the Blood Off My Toga, a parody of
Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, shows some examples of their style of humour, which
used parody, pop culture and historical references, and banter to create this early
example of Canadian comedy
1968 - Royal Winnipeg Ballet European Tour
The Festival of Festivals (the name of the Toronto International Film Festival before 1994) was an international film festival founded in 1976 in Toronto, featuring Canadian films, and films from other film festivals worldwide

One of the festival's mandates is to provide Canadian films with a worldwide audience, and it definitely succeeds in doing this

It currently stands as one of the most influential film festivals in the world (second only, some say, to the famous Cannes festival in France), often premièring Academy Award nominees and winners

It is an enormous affair for Toronto and Canadian film, a press release in 2010 claimed a $170 million impact on Toronto's economy (ie money generated for the city through tax revenue, etc)

Here is an article describing some of the festival's mandate of trying to not only attract film connoisseurs, but also working class "everymen". The article also mentions that a Québécois film was a favourite in 1980, which shows the exposure Canadian films can get through the festival
As has been seen, the history of performance art (ie music, theatre, dance, etc) in Canada in the 20th century started off with performers being dominated or forced to work in the US, but starting around the 1930s, Canadian performers were more and more able to perform their unique Canadian art in their own country. The style of Canadian performance art reflects the society of Canada as a whole, consisting of some American, some British, and some totally unique features and ideas, of exceptional quality, and varied, like the cultural mosaic Canada is often described as being.
Festival of Festivals
1952 - Opening of the Stratford
Shakesepeare Festival
While Canadian actors were indeed becoming more prominent, there wasn't really anywhere in Canada where actors could train and hone their craft

A committee composed of representatives from various Canadian theatres and acting companies, and the CBC, approach the Canadian Theatre Centre to create a "truly bilingual school for the dramatic arts, located in Toronto", however it is finally decided that Montréal would be the best place for a "truly bilingual" school

The National Theatre School is founded in 1960, with 17 anglophone and 9 francophone students enrolled in the first year

Today, the school is the most renowned theatre school in the country, offering programs in Acting, Directing, Screenwriting, and Set Design

Martha Henry (known for her acting and directing at Stratford) was one of
the first students to graduate from the school, here she is talking about
her experiences
1960 - National Theatre School
1958 Broadcast Act
The history of Canadian radio and television has been plagued with political issues

One issue that had been debated throughout the 1950s was how unjust it was to have the public CBC be the regulator of its own private competition

Finally, Diefenbaker's government passed this new act, and established the Broadcasting Board of Governors to regulate all Canadian broadcasting

This act removed the monopoly the CBC had had on Canadian broadcasting for over 20 years, and created a CBC more similar to the one that exists today

Another issue, with its beginnings in this Act, is that of how much Canadian airtime should be devoted to Canadian programming? This newspaper article from 1959 shows some of the opinions about the amount set by the BBG, from wild differences in how high some believe the number should be, to confusion about what is "basically Canadian broadcasting". This debate would continue throughout Canadian history http://goo.gl/SsN3dq
The history of performance art (ie music, dance, theatre) in Canada is full of talented performers, internationally-renowned institutions, and unique ideas, which all reflect and contribute to Canada's cultural mosaic
1984 - Cirque du Soleil
As has been seen in the previous sections, in the beginning of the 20th Century, Canadian performers were either only able to get work in the United States, or else were overtaken and dominated by their American contemporaries
The foundation of a nation-wide, federally-subsidised radio system in the 1930s is reminiscent of the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad in the 1870s

Both helped to bind this vast, diverse country together, and both helped (or at least, had the initial goal) to ward off American influence on Canada

Now, with this great infrastructure, the development of Canadian performance art could really get going
In 1952, Stratford-born journalist Tom Patterson saw his little Ontario town suffering from the loss of auto-manufacturing industry, so he proposed to the city council a repertory theatre company around the Shakespearean canon

With the help of internationally-renowned director Tyrone Guthrie and designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch, two productions, Richard III and All's Well That Ends Well, were mounted on the festival's revolutionary thrust stage (a form of stage that hadn't been used in centuries)

Today, the festival is an international destination for theatre-lovers, showcasing such Canadian talent as Christopher Plummer, Antoni Cimolino, Martha Henry, and more

A poster from the 1952 season, showing some of the big-name talent involved, as well as the significant support the festival received from the Governor-General
(large image) http://goo.gl/7Mz4Np
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, founded in 1939 (Canada's oldest ballet company), has been for most of its history a touring company

It is recognised as an ambassador of Canadian culture, providing high-quality performances and gorgeous productions around the world

The company's 1968 European tour was a special tour for several reasons, first, they won gold medals at the International Ballet Festival in Paris, and secondly, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet became the first Western dance company to tour Czechoslovakia and the USSR since the Russian Revolution

As can be seen in this news article from early 1968, this Canadian cultural ambassador was warmly welcomed by the Soviet people and leaders alike, an incredible accomplishment for foreign relations, with the Vietnam War at its peak around this time
Born out of the perseverance of a group of Québécois street performers who were down on their luck, Cirque du Soleil’s first show (under that name) toured 11 towns in Québec during the province's 450th anniversary celebration of Jacques Cartier's exploration of Canada

It was a massive success, and the troupe re-organised into a more structured circus, but unlike traditional circuses of that time, the Cirque du Soleil did not use any animals, relying in stead on acrobatics, music, and clowns

The Cirque has continued to this day, enriching Canada’s international cultural image, touring in and occasionally creating sedentary performance spaces in cities around the world, most notably Los Angeles

Here is an interview from 1986 (still early days for the Cirque), with
the Communications Director and some of the acrobats, describing
how unique and "Canadian" this circus is
Full transcript