‘Creative Spaces’: New Play Creation in English-Speaking Canada (2004 – 2009)
In their introduction to Staging the Coyote’s Dream: An Anthology of First Nation’s Drama in English (Playwrights Canada Press, 2003), editors Monique Mohica and Ric Knowles assert that “[a]mong the things that Native theatre artists must contend with that can ‘contain’ their work and limit the possible evolution of new forms are material conditions, economic, organizational, and cultural, that determine which types of work are produced and which are not” (viii). Without challenging or attempting to diminish the specific obstacles that Native dramatists and practitioners encounter on a daily basis, the program of research proceeds from the abduction that the “organizational, processual, and professional bottles into and out of which everything must be poured” (viii) are conditions encountered by virtually all playwrights attempting to operate within the commercial theatre industry in Canada. The research is designed to examine and critique the perception, fostered by several decades of scholarly and practitioner publication, that, even granting the differences of opportunity afforded by a range of issues such as culture, class, education, and sexual orientation, there exists a commonality of experience for a diverse population of dramatists in this country in terms of the established and systematic structures and processes utilized across a broad section of developmental and producing theatre organizations. This perceived commonality of experience is problematic, however, in that the pervasive standardization of structures and strategies of new play development—developmental dramaturgy—that it presumes would seem to contradict the very sorts of cultural and social distinctions that can be so significant on other levels and at other stages of production and reception. In an attempt to navigate this perceived incongruity, this study is designed to examine the ways in which Canadian developmental dramaturgy can be seen to reflect the complex set of economic, industrial, political, and aesthetic conditions that combine to determine, within flexible but finite parameters, what is “possible” in Canadian professional theatre.
In its investigation and analysis of this subject area, the research proceeded with a series of seven linked objectives:
1) To establish, through a comprehensive literature review, as complete as possible an understanding of the specifically theatrical and broadly-based cultural factors which, over the course of the last 50 years, have inspired and defined the unprecedented contemporary Canadian preoccupation with “new play development.”
2) To analyze, through cross-sectional and specific case study investigations, the contemporary relationships between established developmental dramaturgy programs and institutions of professional theatre production. This involved research into developmental organizations which are not affiliated with producing institutions, those indirectly and directly affiliated with producing institutions, and those that are “in-house” components of producing institutions.
3) To analyze, through cross-sectional and specific case study investigations, the contemporary relationships between established developmental organizations and the primary sources of financial support for new play development, both public (federal, regional, provincial, and municipal) and private (foundations and individuals).
4) To assess if—and, if so, in what manner—the conditions that characterize the relationships examined in objective 2) and 3) have contributed to the creation of specific, conventionalized structures and practices of new play development.
5) Conversely, and in parallel with objective 4), to assess if—and, if so, in what manner—specific, conventionalized structures and practices of new play development in Canada have fostered and/or necessitated the conditions that characterize the relationships examined in object 2) and 3).
6) To conduct focused analyses of existing approaches to new play development in Canada that have conspicuously identified themselves as “alternatives” to the perceived commonality of development activities in Canada, in order to analyze their claims to distinction and innovation.
7) Based upon the information and analysis emerging out of objectives 1) through 6), to consider thoroughly contextualized and informed complements and/or alternatives to current practice in terms of new play development conceptualization, organization, and methodology.