Canadian Rep Theatre was founded in 1984 and operated out of a church space on Avenue Road (since destroyed by arson) and there presented the first Robert Lepage work outside of Quebec in 1985, Circulations, as well as Carbone 14’s spectacle Le Rail in a Massey Ferguson warehouse on King St. West. The company produced Herschel Hardin’s Esker Mike and his Wife, Agiluk (a 15-cast play) for the World Stage Festival in 1986 and simultaneously presented Hrant Alianak’s Lucky Strike for the Quinzaine Festival in Quebec City. In 1988, we produced the premiere of John Palmer’s A Day at the Beach at the Berkeley Street Upstairs Theatre, directed by Eric Steiner, starring Wendy Thatcher and Michael Ball.
In the 1990s Canadian Rep Theatre operated as a project-based company and produced Claudius, a 10-character play written and directed by Ken Gass, renting the Factory Mainspace. The play won a Chalmers nomination and enjoyed strong reviews and large audiences. In 1995, the company presented Amazon Dream also written and directed by Gass in the Factory Studio with a multi-racial cast of 17. In 1996, Canadian Rep Theatre co-produced, with Theatre Passe Muraille, a new production of Lucky Strike. Then, in late 1996, Ken Gass returned to head the Factory Theatre (rescuing the company from financial ruin and launching the George F. Walker Suburban Motel cycle) and Canadian Rep was put ‘on ice’ for most of the following decade.
Subsequently, through funding from a SSHRC grant in partnership with the University College Drama Program at the University of Toronto, as well as support from the Ontario Arts Council and Luminato, Canadian Rep began a major research project. There were two key themes: a) international perspectives on Canadian drama and b) the semiotics of culturally and racially diverse casting. In 2005, German theatre director Herbert Olschok led Karen Robinson, Gord Rand, Oliver Becker, Liisa Repo-Martell and Brandon McGibbon though an extensive exploration of Judith Thompson’s White Biting Dog. In 2006, Yoshi Oida directed a cast that included Richard MacMillian and Irene Poole in a three-week workshop presentation of John Mighton’s Possible Worlds. Subsequently, we produced two readings of Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles-Soeurs with a multi-racial cast of 15 women, using the Glassco/van Burek translation.
In 2008, Canadian Rep put together a culturally and racially diverse ensemble of 19 performers. The initial concept was to take plays written for one particular racial/ethnic context and to explore them with actors from a variety of racial/cultural identities. Discussions around this were intense, given many of the performers’ past experience with racially stereotypical casting. In the end, the ensemble presented major scenes from a variety of key plays in the Canadian canon, working with four directors, using several stylistic approaches. SCENES FROM THE CANON was given two public performances and many of the artists still refer to this as one of the most creative experiences in their work history. The ensemble members were: Salvatore Antonio, Sean Baek, Oliver Becker, Leah Cherniak, Ins Choi, Andre du Toit, Nicco Lorenzo Garcia, Ken Gass, Caroline Gillis, Kevin Hanchard, Grace Lynn Kung, Jani Lauzon, Pamela Matthews, Brandon McGibbon, Billy Merasty, Tiffany Martin, Lisa Norton, Soheil Parsa, Jamie Robinson, Karen Robinson, Pamela Sinha, Sanjay Talwar, Iris Turcott, Nigel Shawn Williams and Jean Yoon. The work of the Canadian Rep Research Initiative remains a cornerstone in creative planning for future programming.
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