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Reclaiming Centre Stage: the Theatre Community of English Quebec (*Excerpt from Quebec Heritage News)

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larger_theatre_001.jpg--October 31, 2011.

As part of its Recognizing Artists: Enfin Visible! project, the English Language Arts Network (ELAN) commissioned short histories of English-language Arts and Culture in Quebec from the dawn of the 20th century up to the present day. Excerpts from these histories will be published in future issues of Quebec Heritage News. The full essays are available on-line at www.quebecelan.org/histories.

On December 7, 1985, a headline in the Montreal daily La Presse declared: “Le théâtre Anglophone à Montréal: pratiquement mort.” (“Anglo theatre in Montreal: practically dead.”) Nine years after the election of the Parti Québécois and after an intense referendum campaign on independence, the province’s historically strong English-speaking population was experiencing a flight of people and capital that would see its numbers decrease by some 350,000, and professional prospects for those who stayed substantially diminished. Little wonder an intrepid francophone journalist discovered a minority theatre scene on its deathbed.

The flourishing amateur theatre scene of earlier decades was little known in the Francophone milieu, and not all Anglophones were aware that back in the ‘50s renowned actors like William Shatner and Christopher Plummer had begun their careers as child actors in Montreal theatre before working in television and film. The lead-up to Expo 67 created a climate of optimism and creativity. The origins of today’s English language theatre scene began with people like Carol Libman, Walter Massey, Victor Knight, Norma Springford and four other playwrights who incorporated Playwrights Workshop Montreal in 1966 as Canada's first play development centre. Also in 1966, Mary Morter founded Instant Theatre which became Centaur Theatre Company in 1969 with Maurice Podbrey. Marion André was the first Artistic Director of the newly opened Saidye Bronfman Centre in 1968 and three years later Montreal was home to another Canadian first when Clarence Bayne founded Black Theatre Workshop....

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The complete version of this article appears in Quebec Heritage News, Vol. 6, Number 3, Fall 2011.

For back issues of Quebec Heritage News, or to order a subscription to this magazine, call QAHN at (819) 564-9595, or at home@qahn.org.

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