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Canada's contemporary theatre reflects a rich diversity of regional and cultural identities.[1] Since the late 1960s, there has been a concerted effort to develop the voice of the 'Canadian playwright', which is reflected in the nationally focused programming of many of the country's theatres.[2][3] Within this 'Canadian voice' are a plurality of perspectives - that of the First Nations, new immigrants, French Canadians, sexual minorities, etc. - and a multitude of theatre companies have been created to specifically service and support these voices.[4]

Prominent playwrights, practitioners, and contributors

Early Canadian theatre

The Annapolis Basin in Nova Scotia served as the cradle for both French and English language theatre in Canada.[5] Théâtre de Neptune, performed in 1606, was the first European theatre production in North America.

The tradition of English theatre in Canada also started at Annapolis Royal. In Fort Anne, Nova Scotia, plays were produced for Prince of Wales' birthday.[6] George Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer was produced on Saturday, 20 January 1733 to celebrate the birthday of Frederick, Prince of Wales.[6] When he was a Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, Paul Mascarene translated Molière's French play The Misanthrope in to English and produced several plays in 1743 and 1744.[6] An unknown play was also staged on 20 January 1748 for the Prince's birthday, and it was restaged on 2 February 1748.[6]



A performance at John Molson's Theatre Royal, Montreal, 1825

Theatre was banned in French Canada by the Catholic clergy in 1694,[7] but after Canada became British in 1763, theatrical activity begun to flourish, foremost among the British garrisons and within amateur theatre.

Antoine Foucher (1717-1801), of Terrebonne (father of Louis-Charles Foucher), was the owner of the first Francophone theatre in Canada. In 1774, with various British officers, he staged the first production of Molière at his home in Montreal.[8][9][10] Other Garrison performances were private shows put on for troops, publicly performed by officers, which helped bridge theatre and war during its initial stages of development. It was welcomed by the populaces and distracted soldiers from war and routine military protocol.[11]

The first professional theatre company was Allen's Company of Comedians, which made its first performance in Montreal in 1786, and was followed by the all male French language amateur society Les Jeunes Messieurs Canadiens in Quebec City in 1789.[12] From 1790 to 1840, amateur theatre was regularly performed at the Haymarket Theatre in Quebec City.[13]

Officially opened on the 24th of June 1893 in Montreal, the Monument National is located at the historical interface between the Francophone neighbourhoods (to the east) and the Anglophone areas (to the west), it also found itself in the heart of the Jewish and Chinese sections on the most multiethnic street in the city.[14]

Before 1825, the Hayes House Hotel on Dalhousie Square, Montreal, had a theatre that staged German Orchestras and held Viennese dances.[15] After it burned it down, John Molson built the Theatre Royal in 1825, presenting Shakespeare and Restoration authors. It sat 1,000 guests and was also used for circuses and concerts.[11] Edmund Kean and Charles Dickens both performed there before it was demolished in 1844 to make way for the Bonsecours Market.[16]

In the West, the Grand Theatre was built in 1912 in Calgary by the visionary Sir James Lougheed.[17] The Grand was the initial home of many arts organizations in Calgary; the first theatre, opera, ballet, symphony concerts, and movies were seen here. This theatre was the centre of social, cultural, and political life in Calgary until the early 1960s. The Grand Theatre has been saved from demolition in 2004 by the company Theatre Junction and its director Mark Lawes.[17]

From 1929, Martha Allan founded the Montreal Repertory Theatre and later co-founded the Dominion Drama Festival.[18] She loathed amateur theatre, but her energies spearheaded the Canadian Little Theatre Movement at a time when live theatre in Montreal and across Canada was being threatened by the rapid expansion of the American-influenced movie theatre. She almost single-handedly laid the groundwork for the development of the professional modern Canadian theatre scene.

Theatre of the 1950s


Theatre companies and groups

Theatre of the 1960s


Theatre companies and groups

Theatre of the 1970s


Theatre companies and groups


With Canada's centennial in 1967 came a growing awareness of the need to cultivate a national cultural identity. Thus, the 1970s were marked by the establishment of multiple theatre institutions dedicated to the development and presentation of Canadian playwrights, such as Factory Theatre,[3] Tarragon Theatre,[21] and the Great Canadian Theatre Company.[22] Theatre Passe Muraille, under Paul Thompson's directorship in the 1970s, gained a national reputation for its distinctive style of collective creation with plays such as The Farm Show, 1837: The Farmer's Revolt and I Love You, Baby Blue.[23]

In 1971 a group of Canadian playwrights issued the Gaspé Manifesto as a call for at least one-half of the programing at publicly subsidized theatres to be Canadian content. The numerical goal was not achieved, but the following years saw an increase in Canadian content stage productions.[24][25]

Theatre of the 1980s and 1990s


Theatre companies and groups


The 1980s and 1990s saw a flourish of experimental theatre companies cropping up across Canada, many of whom were exploring site-specific and immersive staging techniques, such as Toronto's DNA Theatre[26] and Vancouver's Radix Theatre.[27]

Theatre of the 2000s


Theatre companies and groups


The 2000s saw the creation of several theatre companies with specific cultural mandates including Obsidian Theatre, a company supporting 'the Black voice',[28] fu-GEN, a company dedicated to work by Asian Canadians,[29] and Aluna Theatre, a company with a focus on Latin Canadian artists.[30]

This decade also was a particularly significant for the rise of devised performance practices across the country, particularly in Vancouver through artists graduating from Simon Fraser University and the creation of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in 2006, as well as in Halifax with the founding of Zuppa Theatre. Devised and creation-based models of theatre making continued to be underrepresented in the larger regional theatre system of the country.


In 2019, videocan was founded as the first nationally focused video archive with the project of archiving and making accessible documentation of theatre, dance, and live art from across Canada, in both English and French.

Western Canadian theatre

British Columbia




Northwest Territories

Central Canadian theatre



Atlantic Canada

New Brunswick

Prince Edward Island

Nova Scotia

Newfoundland and Labrador

Summer Festivals

Major summer theatre festivals include:

As of 2014, Canada had more fringe theatre festivals than any other country,[34] forming a summer fringe circuit running from the St-Ambroise Montréal Fringe in June and heading westward to the Vancouver Fringe Festival in September. The circuit includes the two largest fringe festivals in North America, the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival and the Edmonton International Fringe Festival. Other fringe theatre festivals include the Saskatoon Fringe Theatre Festival, the Calgary Fringe Festival, the London Fringe Theatre Festival (Ontario), the Toronto Fringe Festival and the Atlantic Fringe Festival.

See also


  1. ^ Katherine Foster Grajewski. "Multicultural Theatre". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b "Factory Theatre". Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  4. ^ "Buddies in Bad Times Theatre — Toronto's Queer Theatre Destination". Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.
  5. ^ David Gardner's thesis, "An Analytic History of the Theatre in Canada: the European Beginnings to 1760," and his article "British Garrison Theatre in Canada during the French Regime"
  6. ^ a b c d Patrick B. O'Neill (2000). "Yashdip S. Bains. English Canadian Theatre, 1765-1826". Theatre Research in Canada. 21.
  7. ^ "Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia - Canadian Theatre History".
  8. ^ "Quebec et bourges - Bourges encyclopédie". Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  9. ^ "Societe d'Histoire de la Region de Terrebonne" (PDF). Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  10. ^ Nardocchio, Elaine F. (March 25, 1986). "Theatre and Politics in Modern Quebec". University of Alberta Press – via Google Books.
  11. ^ a b Wilson, Edwin, ed. Living Theatre: History of the Theatre. 5th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2008. Print.
  12. ^ "Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia".
  13. ^ Elaine Frances Nardocchio: Theatre and Politics in Modern Québec
  14. ^ "Monument-National - History". National Theatre School of Canada. Retrieved 2023-11-12.
  15. ^ "Biography – HAYES, MOSES JUDAH – Volume IX (1861-1870) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography". Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  16. ^ Encyclopedia, Canadian Theatre. "Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia - Theatre Royal". Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  17. ^ a b Donald B. Smith (2005). Calgary's Grand Story: The Making of a Prairie Metropolis from the Viewpoint of Two Heritage Buildings. University of Calgary Press.
  18. ^ Roderick MacLeod and Eric John Abrahamson (2010). Spirited Commitment: The Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation. McGill-Queen's Press. p. 163.
  19. ^ "Stratford Festival". Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  20. ^ "Manitoba Theatre Centre". Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  21. ^ "Tarragon Theatre - Canada's home for new contemporary plays". Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  22. ^ "Home". GCTC - Great Canadian Theatre Company. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  23. ^ "Theatre Passe Muraille - Canada's first alternative theatre devoted to the development and production of new Canadian work". Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  24. ^ Ryan Edwardson, Canadian Content: Culture and the Quest for Nationhood (University of Toronto Press, 2008), ISBN 978-1442692428. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  25. ^ Louise Ladouceur, Dramatic Licence: Translating Theatre from One Official Language to the Other in Canada (University of Alberta, 2012), ISBN 978-0888647061. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  26. ^ "DNA Theatre". Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  27. ^ "Radix Theatre". Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  28. ^ Koehler, Omega Station • Paul Kevin. "Obsidian Theatre Company". Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  29. ^ "fu-GEN Theatre Company". Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  30. ^ "Aluna Theatre". Aluna Theatre.
  31. ^ "Theatre >> Theatre Company / Producer in Victoria BC - Get to Know Your Arts Community".
  32. ^ "From store to stage: Toronto theatres set up shop in small places". The Globe and Mail, December 13, 2013.
  33. ^ "Qui sommes-nous". Théâtre des Nouveaux Compagnons (in French). Retrieved 23 March 2020.
  34. ^ Nestruck, J. Kelly (11 July 2014). "Has the Fringe circuit been good for Canadian theatre?". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 6 November 2016.

Further reading

This 'further reading' section may need cleanup. Please read the editing guide and help improve the section. (February 2012) (Learn how and when to remove this message)
  • Bhabha, Homi. Editor's Introduction: Minority Maneuvers and Unsettled Negotiations.
  • "Cosmopolitanisms." Public Culture 12.3. 2000. pp. 577–89.
  • Critical Inquiry 23.3. 1997. pp. 431–50.
  • Robinson, Amy (1994). "'It Takes One to Know One': Passing and Communities of Common Interest." Critical Inquiry 20. pp. 715–36.
  • "Summary," In Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade/Ministère des affairs étrangères et du commerce international. Canada in the World. 1999. Rpt. Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade/Ministère des affairs étrangères et du commerce international Home Page. 2001.
  • Wagner, Anton, ed. Contemporary Canadian Theatre: New World Visions, a Collection of Essays Prepared by the Canadian Theatre Critics Association. Toronto: Simon & Pierre, 1985. 411 p. ISBN 0-88924-159-7
  • Young, Robert (2001). Postcolonialism: an Historical Introduction. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.