Canadian Popular Theatre Alliance

Alan Filewod Powering Structures and Popular Theatre

Excerpt from Committing Theatre: Radical Theatre and Political Intervention in Canada by Alan Filewod. (at press).

“We share a common belief that theatre is a means and not an end. We are theatres which work to effect social change.” Canadian Popular Theatre Alliance, 1981 (1)

The popular theatre movement, as it came to be known in the 1980s, was an attempt to formalize and share theatrical methods of engagement with community activism, and to create a radical space in the theatre profession for the increasingly diverse cultural practices this work entailed. It was on one level a national movement, and in another an attempt to harness a tendency into a productive network. When we speak of popular theatre as a movement, we gesture both to a movement that came into formation, and the vast domain of activist theatre work it helped to define and reveal. All of it was engaged; some of it was radical, and much of it was not.

Over the course of the seventies and eighties, the emergent, small project-based theatres became institutionalized as the “R&D” sector of the theatre industry. And as small theatres clustered around the unfunded “fringe” they developed new creative vocabularies. (New groups are always in formation because for the most part, theatre in Canada is a young person’s profession, and every year hundreds of students graduate with the awareness that they have to produce their own work). Often these came out of engagement with minoritized cultural politics and seeped into the ‘mainstream.’ But the economic pyramid that shapes the theatre world in Canada functions as a series of stepped barriers to the basic rewards of theatre work (which are prestige and a decent living). Even at the best of times, theatre is an underpaid profession; for people labouring at the bottom of the creative pyramid, generating new work, new ideas and new audiences, it often offers no pay at all. (A fringe festival can be defined as a showcase where artists pay for the right to work for free in the hope they will recoup enough to cover their costs.)

One result of this was a growing community of theatre workers who had developed multiple skill and professional flexibility. An actor might eke out a living by supplementing engagements with commercials and TV work, but an actor who could write a play or a solo show increases the possibilities of work exponentially. An actor-writer who can direct, compose or produce leverages work even more possibilities. In an ironic way, the relative lack of professional institution in Canadian theatre has produced an extremely skilled creative workforce. It was also one in which broad leftist sympathies were common. The hardships of a freelance theatre life, with minimal income and no benefits, tended to produce a widespread sense of radicalism and dissent throughout the most creative sector of the theatre. This did not always find expression in activism but it helped create a cultural climate in which theatre work and activism could meet.

By the mind-seventies, activists were picking up on the use of theatre in popular and participatory education. A major figure in this regard is Ross Kidd, a Canadian who had worked in popular education campaigns in Botswana in the 1970s and had begun to connect with other Africa-based educators who were exploring the application of theatre techniques in community development. Kidd has spent most of his career in Africa, building and training ‘theatre for development’ projects and, more recently, AIDS and water supply education programs, but for a period of time he returned to Canada to complete a PhD in Participatory Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. In this tradition of work, theatre is understood as a collaborative process in which communities draw on their own cultural performance traditions to create social dialogue to raise critical awareness and capacity for change. A typical example – one of many hundreds – of how this form of popular theatre worked in the Canadian context was Enviromaniacs, a troupe formed out of the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG) at the University of Waterloo in the early 1990s. Drawing on works by Kidd and other popular educators, the WPIRG student activists taught themselves popular theatre techniques and wrote a manual out of their experiences. One of the authors, Jennifer Anderson, makes the point that “It seems to me that somewhere around grade 5, we forget how to play. We begin to think that only ‘professionals’ can act and sing and dance and create art. I say, NOT TRUE!” (2) Their manual takes readers through the steps of planning and group formation, showing how to run meetings and set goals, and introduces some of the participatory games that are crucial in group formation in any popular theatre process. It then outlines method of group analysis and assessment. Only three of the 88 pages in the manual actually look at ways to create a “play.” Their advice is sensible and useful, and defines aesthetic choices as instrumental decisions:

When putting on a skit: it may be appropriate to have a narrator telling a story, or voicing some details. Determining the intention of the play (change attitudes, to empower, or to make people aware), will give the group more direction. Choose a method for performance. How will the audience participate? If so, how will the audience participate? What types of activities, role-plays and exercises will be built into the process to allow this direction to happen? Which characters will explain the steps and when will these activities happen? Will props be used? Costumes? Will there be lots of dialogue, or no talking at all? (3)

The manual then offers a succinct definition of street theatre, stressing that it is most effective when “less than three minutes.” It also includes a new twist on guerilla theatre as “civil disobodience”: “An example of guerilla theatre would be people doning [sic] gas masks and laying on the street and on cars to protest the amount of inner-city pollution and to encourage people to ride bikes, walk, carpool or use public transport.” (4) For WPIRG, as with many activist groups using performance techniques, popular theatre is a process of group conscientization and cohesion. The performance is only important as one phase of public presentation of the issue. Even then, what matters is clarity of the issue rather than the aesthetic pleasure of the performance. They came to understand popular theatre as it has been defined by Tim Prentki and Jan Selman, as “a process of theatre which deeply involves specific communities in identifying issues of concern, analyzing current conditions and causes of a situation, identifying points of change, and analyzing how change could happen and/ or contributing to the actions imply.” (5)

In keeping with the suggestion that interventionist theatre practices follow changes in mass communication technology, this de-aestheticized use of theatre as a form of applied communication development in a group has its sources (in Canada, at least) in the reorientation of mass media technology to local communication. One significant moment that had repercussions in both popular education and interventionist theatre was the National Film Board’s ‘Fogo Process,’ which used film as a technique of community animation in remote Newfoundland fishing outports. Produced as part of the Film Board’s “Challenge for Change” series in 1967–68 by Colin Low and Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Extension department, the process consisted of filmed interviews with fishery workers in each of the island communities; as each community responded on film, the results were screened back in what was called a “communication loop.” (6) The process of participatory research on film was by its nature a process of community development. The project drew considerable attention not only because of its innovative process but because its political result – the establishment of a fishing co-op –demonstrated that cultural action could lead to material change. The Fogo Process had another effect in Newfoundland, when it inspired Chris Brookes to take the Mummers Troupe in the direction of community engagement.

For activists, the Fogo Process was an early application of Friereian pedagogy. In his work, beginning with the foundational Pedagogy of the Oppressed (7), Freire offered a critique of traditional systems of knowledge and education, which reinforced structures of social oppression. He argued that when people “lack a critical understanding of their reality, apprehending it in fragments which they do not perceive as interacting constituent elements of the whole, they cannot truly know their reality.” (8) Adult education for Freire was a process of working with communities to codify and decode representations of reality in order to identify points of possible change. His theories of activist community education, with their emphasis on participatory democracy and local knowledge, circulated through Canada via development educators and literacy workers. They provided theatre artists with a vocabulary that enabled them to theorise and reconceptualise their largely self-taught work in community animation.

Friere would become a guru figure in the Popular Theatre movement, coming into the discourse from two different directions. The first was the Popular Education vector, as in Fogo and the theatre practices and theories promoted by Kidd. The second came through the theatre in the early 1980s, through the work of Friere’s friend and compatriot, August Boal. By the time Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed techniques began to remake Canadian popular theatre practices in the mid-1980s, Frierean methods had already been well established in a number of theatres. The most notable of these was Catalyst Theatre in Edmonton, which during that decade established itself as a funded agency of the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, using Frierean principles to develop interactive roleplay with target audiences. (8)

These two vectors came together in 1978 when Ross Kidd and Chris Brookes convened a meeting of left-wing and collective theatres from across the country in Newfoundland. The main results of that meeting was a sense of solidarity, an offer by Michael Sobota on behalf of the small collective Kam Theatre Lab in Thunder Bay to host a festival, and the beginnings of a consensus around the term ‘popular theatre.’ In claiming this term, Canadian practitioners found a rhetorical instrument that identified their work as instrumental and populist.

The rhetoric became a structure two years later, at the Thunder Bay festival. Kidd organized an international ‘community animation’ workshop in 1981 in Thunder Bay as part of Kam Theatre’s Bread and Circuses festival of small, vaguely left-wing theatres (which became, retroactively, the first CPTA festival). With financial support from CUSO, Kidd’s week-long workshop brought a dozen Canadians together to exchange skills with popular theatre workers from seven African and Caribbean nations. By introducing the term ‘popular theatre,’ Ross Kidd gave the workshop participants an instrument that enabled them to define their commonality clearly and which relocated the defining criteria for political theatre to the active collaboration with a community in the process of struggle. It was the Canadian contingent in this workshop that drew up the original proposal of a popular theatre alliance for ratification by the companies at the festival.

The original intention of the workshop was to bring theatreworkers from Canada, Africa and the Caribbean together to create a theatre work on the international food economy. That plan fell apart quite quickly as the realities of the situation changed the script. The visitors were shocked and disconcerted by their exposure to poverty in Thunder Bay, which disturbed their preconceptions of North American society, and the Canadians had a hard time finding political consensus. In the end, the workshop broke into three teams that spent several days sharing skills and developing short performances on aspects of food production and consumption. I was present as a participant/observer, and I still have the detailed notebooks I filled, and the handwritten script of the play my team wrote and produced. With me in my group were a Canadian director, a white Nigerian theatre educator, and cultural activists from Grenada and Dominica. We created what we thought was a dialectical agitprop, writing the outline in magic marker on a 20-foot roll of newsprint. It took two long days of improvisations, analysis and cross-cultural talk to come to this scenario:

“Empty Plates”
  1. Gary and Joe cut sugar. Gary leaves to play cricket. Joe’s wages are cut because he misses his quota.
  2. Gary is accepted to college and cricket team, but his scholarship is insufficient. Joe must forgo his electricity course to take a second job.
  3. Gary becomes a star and team captain. He makes TV commercials for a giant sugar company
  4. The workers in the fields have their wages cut as sugar prices fall. Angered, Joe’s friend Man-Man strikes the paymaster and flees to the city. Joe stays behind to organize the workers.
  5. Gary is given a position in the Canadian head office of the sugar company. He is forced to approve the decision to close down a West Indian plant rather than let it face a long and expensive strike.
  6. Joe is chairing a meeting of workers who have occupied a closed-down sugar plant. In this scene, the audience is asked to assume the roles of delegates to the meeting; the actors are the delegation leaders. Joe argues that the occupation must be extended into a general strike, because the workers, having “inherited sabotage,” cannot get the plant in production, and cannot stand alone. But he doesn’t believe in violence. Man-Man returns in the city with news of militant action pair. He tells the delegation that the only recourse is armed struggle. (9)

My notes record that “the play only works if the audience accepts the characters’ justifications at the end of every scene and is prepared to seriously discuss the issues presented in the final scene. Twice in the final scene an audience discussion takes place as the several delegations argue amongst themselves and votes are called. When Joe asks whether the strike should be extended; and again when the issue or armed struggle is raised. But the real argument is in the form of the play itself. The dramatic story is the particularization of that argument.”

In effect we had re-articulated the fundamental principle of Brechtian agitprop: that the play really only works as an exercise in critical thinking. (10) Each step of the play produces a moment of decision in which the audience is made complicit (by logic, emotion or theatrical power); these eventually and dialectically bring the audience to a point of contradiction that cannot be resolved within the world of the play. This was the method that Brecht had pioneered in his lehrstucke like The Measures Taken, and developed dramaturgically in plays like The Good Person of Szechwan. Brecht was, however, a better dialectician than we proved to be. After we performed it at the festival, a colleague from GCTC made the (very accurate) comment: “Not much more information was presented, in a not much more powerful way, than a half-decent speaker could have presented to a half-sympathetic audience.” The point of the exercise was not the play but our experience of learning to work together, and learning how to negotiate the balance of argument, information and theatricality. It was in this way a very ordinary popular theatre process, made somewhat complicated by the fact that it called for the trained theatre professionals to unlearn much of what we took for granted.

If the Popular Theatre Movement really was a movement, it was because the techniques and methods it produced were developed over time, tested and improved in thousands of such workshops across the country. The Thunder Bay workshop was by no means the first, but it was the key moment that marked the convergence of professional theatreworkers and popular theatre educators. It was also key in the subtexts of power, gender and race that filled the room. Jan Selman, then artistic director of Catalyst Theatre, and one of the formative figures in legitimizing popular theatre as theatrework in Canada, later wrote, “To my middle-class, white, female, northern eyes this international crowd was very male (entirely), very patriarchal, was dominated by the white men in their group and was very convinced that they had the answers. It was tempting to dismiss much. However, what remains dominant from me almost two decades later, is that the experience was perhaps the most deeply challenging national experience of my life. […] For me, theatre was redefined: as a political process within community, as opposed to, to be simplistic again, a well-intentioned expression of the community’s social issues.”(11)

From the standpoint of the twenty-first century it seems inconceivable that a workshop on social action theatre would be predominantly male and that the Canadians would be all white. But in inviting participants, Kidd had looked to representatives of the theatre companies that he identified as principal agents of interventionist theatre (including the Mummers, GCTC and Catalyst), and in the early eighties, even in leftist theatres, residual masculinism was only just beginning to pay attention to feminist critiques of male power. My own recollection was that issues of oppression and colonialism were framed almost entirely as issues of class, and that gender inequity was understood by most of the men involved as a superstructural consequence. And no-one questioned the absolute whiteness of the Canadian contingent – although that would soon change.

The Canadian Popular Theatre Alliance The plenary sessions of the Bread and Circuses Festival of Canadian Theatre accepted the proposition brought by the members of the workshop to establish a national organization, to be known as the Canadian Popular Theatre Alliance (CPTA). It was originally proposed as an association of professional activist theatre companies, however loosely that term might be applied (in general, ‘professional’ was a code word meaning recognition by the Canada Council.). A separate category for individual memberships was accepted, but with resistance from those who saw the organization as a left-wing alternative to the entrenched theatre estate. For that same reason ‘amateur’ companies were to be excluded from company membership but could apply for individual membership. This provision of course failed to anticipate the later realization that in popular theatre the distinctions of professional and amateur were always problematic, and both of these conditions very quickly evaporated.

The original principles of the CPTA articulated a vision of popular theatre that owed much to the collective tradition of the alternative theatre. The political definition of popular theatre was a subject of considerable debate when the idea of the CPTA was proposed at the festival’s plenary. The term had been introduced in the workshop that preceded the festival to convey political engagement, but was accepted by the companies attending the festival as a description of their shared populism. The statement of principles is perhaps the first articulation of theatrical refusal – of critical standards, of the theatre economy, and of dominant aesthetics – to emerge out of the theatre profession:

A. Notwithstanding our various methods and structures, we share a common belief that theatre is a means and not an end. We are theatres which work to effect social change.

B. We see our task as an ongoing process in which art is actively involved in the changing nature of the communities in which we live and work.

C. We particularly attempt to seek out, develop and serve audiences whose social reality is not normally reflected on the Canadian stage.

D. Therefore our artistic practice grows out of a social rather than private definition of the individual.

E. Therefore there is a fundamental difference of purpose, priorities and aesthetics which separates us from the dominant theatre ideology in Canada today. (12)

One of the expressed objectives of the association was the “development of aesthetics: theory and criticism related to the nature of our theatres.” (13) Mindful of what had happened to the Mummers, the companies present shared the concern that their work would always be marginalized and downgraded by arts council peer-review juries. For the theatre companies, one of the main tasks of the alliance was to legitimize popular theatre as a distinct sector of theatre work in cultural policy. The formation of an alliance provided them with a structural tool that could be offered as proof of legitimacy to the arts councils, and which could provide a letterhead for fundraising. The major funders targeted by the small groups of volunteers who sustained the sequence of biennial festivals through the next decade were the arts councils, but international development agencies were no less important.

By formally constituting itself as a movement, the CPTA was a textual fiction given materiality by the signs of institution: an executive, a newsletter and a mailing list. By 1983, when Catalyst Theatre, (which by that time had emerged as perhaps the most innovative popular theatre in North America) sponsored the Bread and Roses festival in Edmonton, the movement was less of a counter-professional structure than an instrument to lever funding for festivals.

Bread and Roses established a biennial tradition that was followed in Winnipeg in 1985 with Bread and Dreams; two years later the festival located to Sydney, NS, as Standin’ The Gaff. By the time of the 1987 festival, popular theatre had clearly consolidated into a movement very different from that envisioned by the founders of CPTA only six years previously. Now instead of an alliance of professional companies, the CPTA had evolved to include as well a broader network of community based groups and individuals, many of whom were not theatre professionals but popular theatre facilitators and development educators. This evolution may be perceived in effect as the gradual penetration of the movement by the very sector its founders sought to exclude.

But if the structural terms of a movement defined by radical work in theatre culture, bidding for legitimacy in the theatre estate, had clearly shifted, it remained true that the movement was still largely a narrative that kept alive a text of common purpose and enterprise. As the definition of popular theatre shifted from companies and structures, the statement of principles expressed by the emergent CPTA shifted to reflect an emphasis on process. The biennial festivals were useful indexes in the expansion of popular theatre, as a community coming into disciplinarity. The programs of the festivals show the negotiations that on the one hand shifted the focus of the CPTA away from the subsidized professional theatres, to the wider domain of community-specific troupes and popular educators, and on the other exposed the fault lines and conflicts in the community of theatreworkers who were trying to make livelihoods doing popular theatre.

Over the course of the next decade, local groups of volunteers staged five more festivals at two-year intervals, in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Sydney NS, Guelph and again in Edmonton. The reorientation of the CPTA can be demonstrated by comparing the programs of Bread and Circuses in 1981 and Bread and Butter/ du Pain sur la Planche, held in Guelph in June 1989. The companies that had performed at Bread and Circuses represented the populist and collective theatres which had surfaced in the 1970s; they were the political left wing of the professional theatre. That program included Catalyst Theatre; Theatre Energy, a feminist collective based in the interior of British Columbia; Resource Centre of the Arts, successor to the Mummers Troupe in Newfoundland; Mulgrave Road Co-op; Théâtre Sans Fils (a black-light puppet theatre) and GCTC. The theatres involved were all small – GCTC and Catalyst were the most established – and the performances dealt in the main with local community issues or history. The only show that could actually be considered popular theatre as the term developed was GCTC’s Red Tape, Running Shoes and Razzamatazz, a show on public housing, produced in collaboration with the Ottawa Tenant’s Council.

In contrast, few of the troupes at Bread and Butter eight years later met the Canada Council’s criteria of professionalism. That festival saw performances from such companies as Puente Theatre, comprised of Hispanic refugee women from Victoria; Siyakha Cultural Productions, an emigré South African troupe based in Toronto; Second Look Community Arts Resource, an inner city Toronto forum theatre collective; Le Groupe Montréal Serai, a Southeast Asian community theatre; Tunooniq, an Inuit theatre from Pond Inlet/ Mittimatalik; and a collaboration between Headlines Theatre from Vancouver, Sheatre, a rural women’s collective from Southern Ontario, and a Guelph public housing advocacy group. Three troupes presented shows dealing with safe sex and AIDS prevention. Along with the performances the festival included a full program of workshops, ranging from introductory skills to advanced sessions on methodology; it also included an academic panel on the history and theory of popular theatre. Funding from the arts councils, employment programs and NGOs enabled the festival to bring performances from Zimbabwe and South Africa.

As the relationship of the popular theatre movement and the NGOs suggests, popular theatre structures (and by corollary, the work methods and artistic principles they produce) adapt to meet the economic conditions of funding, as activist theatre workers seek means and opportunities to continue working. The grant-conditioned climate, in which popular theatre work developed in Canada, was in fact a benign form of state sponsorship that lasted so long as it served the interests (inarticulate, negotiated and ad hoc as they might be) of state and quasi-state policy. In those terms, popular theatre work was part of the larger hegemonic workings of the liberal social contract. A popular theatre festival, such as Bread and Butter, typically received funding from five or six different government agencies. Federal and provincial arts councils, touring offices, multicultural programs, women’s directorates, job creation programs, CIDA: all contributed their bit, on their own terms, in a funding web that drew on social service funding, community development and cultural programs. Each of these programs saw the festival as a line item that fulfilled program requirements in their annual report. The CPTA festivals exposed the extent to which popular theatre work in the 1980s depended on a workshop-based culture funded by NGOs. There were many such projects, and each of them generated a report as a condition of the project grant. In a very real sense the movement is the narrative that emerges from a vast pile of unpublished, and generally unread, bureaucratic documents of this sort.

The river of funding from NGOs was never lavish but it was constant: through the 1980s, major agencies such as CIDA and CUS0 funded numerous projects that brought theatre workers from the under-developed world to share skills with Canadians. This led to a productive series of exchanges, such as the “Food Chain” workshop organized by Catalyst in 1988, which brought together a small group of core theatre activists to Alberta to work with First Nations and Jamaican popular theatre workers. CIDA and CUSO funding was crucial to the CPTA festivals and brought to Canada groups such as Teocoyani from Nicaragua, Jagran from India, the Philippines Educational Theatre Association (more commonly known as PETA) and Sistren from Jamaica. More than anything else, this funding sustained popular theatre as a movement. These contacts began to dwindle as successive federal governments pulled the plug on international aid programs. In retrospect, the turning point was the defeat of apartheid in South Africa, after which the Canadian government backed away from its widely recognized stance of moral and economic eminence in the field of international aid, and exposed more clearly its deeper commitment to transnational finance. (With no more political capital to be won by sponsoring dissidents, Canadian government policy began to replace sponsoring dollars with pepper spray.)

Rehearsing Revolution “Theatre is dangerous. You are adults. You came here of your own free will. You may leave whenever you wish. People cry.” Augusto Boal (14)

By the end of the eighties, the CPTA was losing cohesion and funding opportunities were declining. In this context, the dissolution of the CPTA was not the end of a movement but a withering away of the need for an organizational structure. Seen in that light, the CPTA and its affiliates that were summoned into being to create boards of directors for funding and letterhead purposes (the Ontario Popular Theatre Alliance, the International Popular Theatre Alliance, etc), were the last residual traces of the statist institutionalizing strategies of the 1930s in the cultural sector. But as the popular movement expanded to become a common meeting ground for theatre activists from increasingly diverse cultural and ethnic communities, it became too pluralized to be represented metonymically by an organizational structure, no matter how democratic. As the definition of popular theatre shifted from companies and structures to processes and practices, the statement of principles expressed by the CPTA shifted to reflect an emphasis on process. In July 1992, Ground Zero, then a small production company working out of Toronto and Peterborough, sponsored a retreat of popular theatre workers from across Ontario. Meeting in Peterborough, the group chose not to (re)form into a centralizing organization, and issued a statement of principles that revised the original CPTA statement substantially to acknowledge the politics of cultural diversity:

  1. We do theatre for, with and by communities. […] we choose to work with communities whose voices have not been given equal who have not been given access to resources in our society.
  2. Our audiences are our judges.
  3. We believe in taking theatre to the people, rather than making them come to us.
  4. We see our work as engaged in a process of Popular Education.
  5. We believe our work does not begin and end with the performance of a play.
  6. We believe our work must speak the language of the people.
  7. We agree to treat our fellow popular theatre workers with respect.
  8. We acknowledge that the conditions of our work must change with the needs of our communities, and we must respond flexibly. (15)

A later draft of that statement of principles, compiled by Julie Salverson and not published until 1998 (when a new initiative to restart the CPTA resulted in a briefly-lived newsletter), articulated the principles of collaboration even more explicitly: Our interaction with these communities implies a participatory process that may include:

A. Development and collection of stories from individuals affected by an issue.

B. Accountability to the participating individuals and their communities for further use of the stories in other contexts, and appropriate acknowledgment of direct sources and contribution.

C. Respect of other people’s cultures.

D. A shared evaluation of the work undertaken together. This assessment of the impact of our work is often a long term process.16

The defining condition of popular theatre after Thunder Bay had been the process of making theatre with communities in struggle, in partnership with activist organizations. Few companies were able to secure ongoing funding in those terms, and those that did invented new models of partnership that moved away from the dominant models embedded in the theatre economy. Catalyst survived through the 1980s as a funded agency of the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission; Ground Zero developed a model of entrepreneurial commissions within the labour movement; in Vancouver, Headlines developed as a Boal-authorized Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed. As popular theatre companies entrenched in their niche in the theatre economy, a series of increasingly fraught workshops exposed growing conflicts over access to funding and legitimization.

The vast domain of local activism in which most popular theatre takes place today is so diverse and fragmented, and so localized, that it can no longer sustain the text of a movement. Its very plurality resists regulatory discourses. In this regard, popular theatre has paralleled the resystemization of theatre culture in its wider sense, with its now clear differentiation between a small, funded theatre estate and a much larger, more diverse but unfunded “fringe” culture. The difference is that the fringe is primarily an economic field that produces structures to penetrate the theatre estate; the localized popular theatre is a field that produces structures to meet local political objectives.


  1. Canadian Popular Theatre Alliance. Statement of Principles. The original draft principles are written by hand in my own notebook from the Bread and Circuses Festival, Kam Theatre Lab, Thunder Bay, 1981.
  2. Anderson, Jennifer, Jennifer Michol and Joshua Silverberg. Ready for Action: A Popular Theatre Popular Education Manual. Waterloo: Waterloo Public Interest Group (WPIRG), 1994: 6.
  3. Anderson et al, 56. Ibid.
  4. Prentki, Tim and Jan Selman. Popular Theatre in Political Culture: Britain and Canada in Focus. Oxford: Intellect, 2000: 8.
  5. Evans, Gary. In the National Interest: A Chronicle of the National Film Board of Canada from 1949 to 1989. Toronto: U Toronto P., 1991: 163-4.
  6. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973: 95.
  7. For a detailed study of Catalyst’s early interactive work, see Filewod, Alan, “The Interactive Documentary in Canada: Catalyst Theatre’s It’s About Time.” Theatre Research in Canada 6.2 (1985): 133-47.
  8. The scenario of “Empty Plates” and a typescript of the whole play are included with my personal notes from the workshop.
  9. In his lehrstucke (“learning plays”) like The Measures Taken, Brecht essentially took agitprop off the streets and into the classroom. The actors model an ideological or political problem in a stylized, highly rhetorical performance. In He Who Says Yes and He Who Says No, he makes slight changes in the modeling of the ethical problem to produce equally logical but opposite solutions, thereby demonstrating that agitprop is not an ideologically determined form. See Brecht, Bertolt. The Meaures Taken and Other Lehrstucke, trans. Carl R. Mueller et al. London: Eyre Methuen, 1977.
  10. Prentki and Selman, 78.
  11. Canadian Popular Theatre Alliance. “Principles and Objctives.” t.s., author’s papers.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Boal, August, qtd in Crowder, Eleanor. “Standin’ the Gaff: Assessing Boal.” Canadian Theatre Review 53 (Winter 1987): 73-5. As Crowder explains, Boal was expressing impatience with the tendency of Canadian participants to worry about hurt feelings in the workshop.
  14. Ground Zero Productions. “Popular Theatre Workers Retreat, Statement of Principles.” Peterborough, 19 July 1992, t.s. Author’s papers.
  15. Salverson, Julie. “Popular Theatre Workers Retreat. Peterborough 1992 - The Hi-Lites.” CPTA News (Summer 1998): 1–2.