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Modern Theatre in Context: A Critical Timeline

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Cover of 'Captives of the Faceless Drummer'

Produced at Le Théâtre de Quat'Sous in Montreal and directed by André Brassard, Bien à moi, by Marie Savard marks a pivotal moment in women's theatre in Quebec as the first prominent play written by a woman dramatist that is explicitly feminist. Another precursor of new developments is the appearance, albeit very short lived at this point, of the avant-garde. In contrast to a theatre that up to then had been dominated by the traditions of Gélinas, and was to fall under the influence of Tremblay for over a decade afterwards, Le Groupe Zéro, under the direction of Claude Paradis, produces Claude Gauvreau's Le charge de l'orignal épormyable in Montreal. This avant-garde production is perhaps the single representative of the "road not taken" in Quebec, with Gauvreau dying in mysterious circumstances in 1971 just before the opening of his next play, Les oranges sont vertes.

The politics of Quebec also have a decided impact of English-Canadian theatre. George Ryga's sleepy new play The Lovers, commissioned by Vancouver Playhouse Artistic Director David Gardner, is transformed when in October members of the FLQ kidnap the senior British Trade Commissioner in Montreal, then abduct and murder the Quebec Labour Minister. Ryga rewrites it into the controversial Captives of the Faceless Drummer, which the Playhouse Board abruptly cancels from its season. The play is finally staged the following April in the Vancouver Art Gallery, with, as one newspaper critic wrote, "no tuxedos, no social reporters, no fancy ticket prices."

Elsewhere, possibly in opposition to the separatist movement in Quebec, there is a move to assert Canadian identity in the theatre. One sign of this is Factory Theatre Lab – later Factory Theatre. Founded in Toronto by Ken Gass and Frank Trotz, it proclaims a mandate to produce only Canadian work and a slogan, "discover Canada before the Yankees do." Its first season includes the premieres of David Freeman's Creeps and Herschel Hardin's Esker Mike and his Wife, Agiluk. Another aspect is represented by the new play centre founded in Vancouver by Douglas Bankson, who, as a governor of the Dominion Drama Festival (DDF), had written a year earlier of the need to make Canadian playwrights "equal partners with the Director, Actor, Designer, and Technician." But with the DDF in its dying years, Bankson founds the New Play Centre "to aid and encourage the writing of plays." Under the leadership of Pam Hawthorn, the Centre soon becomes home to playwrights such as Tom Cone, Sheldon Rosen, Margaret Hollingsworth, John Lazarus, and Betty Lambert.