Canadian & First Nations drama

Level: senior undergraduate


This course introduces students to contemporary Canadian and First Nations drama. Canadian theatre is marked by diversity in its themes and forms, and its establishment has played a role in popularizing and institutionalizing First Nations productions. However, First Nations theatre remains grounded in different cultural contexts, and has different artistic and political priorities. For this reason, it is useful to read Canadian and First Nations performance texts next to each other, in dialogue and sometimes in conflict. By reading and discussing contemporary Canadian plays, we will explore Canada’s nationalized theatre establishment, and how its techniques tackle social issues of class, sexual politics, trauma, memory, cultural identity, and cultural difference. By reading and discussing First Nations plays in alternating weeks, we will simultaneously explore an indigenous theatre economy that both confronts and is reciprocally constituted with mainstream Canadian stage drama, exposing colonial oppression, exploiting and disrupting stereotypes, and enacting traditions that build community and challenge dominant understandings of what theatre is. Rather than identify a distinct or unified Canadian voice, our focus on diverse Canadian and First Nations plays helps us to understand the network of coalitions and contradictions that, together, stage Canada.
Broadly speaking, the first part of the course (before the midterm) introduces the contexts of modern Canadian and First Nations theatre; the second part (between the midterm and the presentation of proposals) focuses on specific theatre forms, and the third part returns to national and postcolonial questions of theatre in a global context. Throughout the course, students will be asked to consider principles and practices of stagecraft and dramaturgy with reference to the plays studied: how have script elements of design, form, and performance been realized in productions? How might you develop alternate solutions?

On completion of this course, the student will:
• achieve a general knowledge of modern Canadian drama and Canadian theatre history
• understand theatre as cultural production and as social commentary
• appreciate the postcolonial cultural and power differences articulated in North American First Nations drama
• recognize major themes, issues, and formal attributes common to several modern Canadian plays, as well as the contexts of their production and reception
• become familiar with principles and problems of stagecraft and dramaturgy in staging the plays studied
• gain a working knowledge of critical terms in theatre and literary studies (like postcoloniality, modernism, nation, representation, mediatization, subjectivity, cultural difference, and the canon)
• develop critical perspectives on everyday terms used in theatre (like performance, nation, translation, culture, and community)
• be able to discuss and debate how experiences of class, race, gender, sexuality, and belonging are enacted in contemporary Canadian and First Nations drama


10% Scene analysis, due Week 4
Select one scene from one of the plays assigned from Weeks 1 to 4, and analyze how elements of its composition (e.g. setting, character, dialogue, plot, tone) construct this scene and thus contribute to the play as a whole.
10% Stage-craft scenario, due Week 7
In a play assigned from Weeks 1 to 7 (excluding that on which you wrote scene analysis), identify one scene that you think presents a particular problem or challenge for performing the play as live theatre. Describe the stage-craft problem you identify, and discuss how you would resolve it. Make your response as concrete as possible with reference to the material conditions and resources of theatre performance.
20% Production record Wiki, due Week 10
Use the public internet and the databases recommended here to document as many stagings of an assigned play as you can discover. You can select any play other than those on which you choose to write your comparative essay. Organize your results as a Wiki site in the designated course Wiki space; it can be one page or a site of linked pages. (See the Course Manual for Wiki instructions as needed.) Properly cite your findings in a recognized scholarly citation format. Preface your findings with a 750-1000 report that reflects on your process. Elements to consider might include how you approached this work, what challenges or obstacles you encountered, and what patterns or insights emerge from the performance record you have compiled.
30% Comparative essay (1500-2000 words) on any 2 (or 3) assigned plays, due Week 12
Leverage your previous practice in scene analysis and stage-craft problem-solving to critically compare principles of dramatic form, and their cultural functions, in 2 (or at most 3) assigned plays. You are encouraged to develop your own topic for comparison (or to consult with the instructor if you encounter difficulties in doing so). You may not write about plays you treated in the scene analysis and stagecraft assignments, but you may write on the play you compiled the production Wiki for.
30% Final examination (comprehensive)

Knowles, Ric and Monique Mojica, eds. Staging Coyote’s Dream: An Anthology of First Nations Drama in English. Playwrights Canada P, 2003.

Wasserman, Jerry. Modern Canadian Plays. Volumes I and II. 4th ed. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2001.

Week 1
Staging Canadian postcoloniality (1)
Read: Salutin, 1837 in Wasserman Vol. I

Week 2
Staging First Nations postcoloniality
Read: Yellow Robe, Jr., The Independence of Eddie Rose in Knowles et al

Week 3
Canada and First Nations Theatre: dialogue and difference
Read: Ryga, Ecstasy of Rita Joe in Wasserman Vol. I and Nolan, Job’s Wife in Knowles et al

Week 4
Staging Canadian postcoloniality (2)
Read: Rebar, Bordertown Cafe in Wasserman Vol. II and Gray, Billy Bishop in Wasserman Vol. I

Week 5
Staging Quebec
Read: Tremblay, Les Belles-Soeurs in Wasserman Vol. I and Lepage et al, Polygraph in Wasserman Vol. II
Production Wiki due

Week 6
Identifying the “modern” in modern Canadian drama
Read: Panych, 7 Stories in Wasserman Vol. II

Week 7
Postmodernism in Canadian and First Nations drama
Read: MacIvor, Never Swim Alone in Wasserman Vol. II and Moses, Almighty Voice and His Wife in Knowles et al

Week 8
The Native “Naissance”
Read: Highway, Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing in Wasserman Vol. II and Taylor, Girl Who Loved Her Horses in Knowles et al
Stagecraft exercise due

Week 9
Canada and the canon
Read: Sears, Harlem Duet in Wasserman Vol. II

Week 10
Postcoloniality and social realism
Read: Lill, Occupation of Heather Rose in Wasserman Vol. I and Clements, Unnatural and Accidental Women in Knowles et al
Essay proposal due

Week 11
Canadian Gothic?
Read: Thompson, Lion in the Streets in Wasserman Vol. II and Walker, Zastrozzi in Wasserman Vol. I

Week 12
All the world’s a stage? Drama, multiculturalism, globalization
Read: Verdecchia, Fronteras Americanas in Wasserman Vol. II
Essay due

Week 13
Final Examination

2 responses to “Canadian & First Nations drama

  1. I remember this course very well 🙂 Remains, to this day, one of my favourite courses ever. Sparked a lasting interest for Canadian and especially First Nations Drama. Provided me with one of the works discussed in my MA thesis… AND the lecturer’s enthusiasm is absolutely catching! Good times! 🙂

  2. Pingback: A reflection on teaching Indigenous literature…in Germany | Academicalism

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