Much ado about theatre

Thirty theatre critics and scholars from some two dozen countries are gathering at York next week for an international conference on theatre criticism. The conference has been organized by Professor Don Rubin, president of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association and director of York’s MA and PhD programs in theatre studies. Joining Rubin as co-host is York English and creative writing Professor Patricia Keeney.

The conference runs Oct. 6-13, with public seminars taking place Oct. 7 at York’s Sandra Faire & Ivan Fecan Theatre, 110 Accolade East Building and on Oct. 8 at Ryerson University’s Oakham House.

Left: Don Rubin

Delegates from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America and Oceania will participate in panels and discussions on the evolution of public theatrical commentary around the world. They will also have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the Canadian cultural scene, meet with key figures in the professional theatre community and attend stage productions in Toronto, Stratford and Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The York seminars will deal with Anglophone theatre traditions and will feature speakers from Toronto, London, New York and Wales. The sessions at Ryerson will include speakers from more than 20 countries including Korea, Japan, Argentina, South Africa, Bulgaria, Russia, France and the Caribbean.

These seminars are open to the public at a charge of $20 for the two days. Registration is available in advance or at the door. Those interested in attending are invited to contact Graduate Student Byron Laviolette by sending an e-mail to to receive more information.

The conference encompasses the annual general meeting of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association – representing working theatre critics across the country – and the executive committee meeting of the UNESCO-affiliated International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC).

The IATC’s current president – Yun-Cheol Kim, theatre critic for the largest daily newspaper in Seoul, Korea, the editor of the Korean Theatre Journal and a professor at the Korea National University of Arts – will attend, as will two former IATC presidents: John Elsom of the BBC and Ian Herbert, founding editor of the London Theatre Record, both from the UK.

"Canada has long been a member of the International Association of Theatre Critics," says Rubin. "We felt it was time to let the world’s theatre critics take a look at what has been happening in our professional theatre over the past two decades. With the blessing of the Faculty of Fine Arts at York and with Ryerson’s help, our association extended the invitation and the response was tremendous."

Right: Patricia Keeney

The international writers and scholars will have the opportunity to take in wide range of home-grown theatre during their week-long stay. Their itinerary includes a visit to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to see an inter-racial Romeo and Juliet and Christopher Plummer in Caesar and Cleopatra; the world premiere of Scratch by young Canadian playwright Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman at Toronto’s Factory Theatre; the recent western Canadian hit, Black Rider, performed by Edmonton’s November Company at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto; and two classics at the Shaw Festival: Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes and Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession.

"That much theatre-going, plus the two days of the colloquium, plus visits to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Black Creek Pioneer Village and, of course, a morning at Niagara Falls, will make it an extraordinarily busy week," says Rubin. "We’re hoping that it will result not only in a deeper awareness of anglophone Canadian theatre, but also a fair amount of positive press around the world about Canada as a whole."

Beyond the conference, York theatre students will have additional opportunities to meet and learn from two of the international delegates. Temple Hauptfleisch of South Africa’s Stellenbosch University will speak to York’s African theatre class on Oct. 6. Kalina Stefanova, a critic and scholar from Bulgaria, will give a lecture on theatre and theatre criticism in Eastern Europe before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall on Oct. 15.

With regard to the colloquium itself, Rubin says: "Some of us in the IATC have come to realize that although we are writers and scholars of theatre, we often neglect to document and articulate our own history. There are a few exceptions: in Canada, scholar and York adjunct Professor Anton Wagner edited a very important volume on the history of Canadian theatre criticism in 1999 called Establishing Our Boundaries. There was also a history of theatre criticism in France published in 1980. We hope that this conference will be the beginning of international scholarship in this area."

"The IATC is obviously keenly interested in this subject," says Rubin. "We’re hoping this conference will lead to a book on the history of public theatrical commentary. Two other books are also under discussion, to come out of future colloquia on the pedagogy of theatre criticism around the world and representative examples of theatre criticism from Aristotle to today. It’s a real challenge, but we’re hoping this York colloquium will get it started."

A theatre historian, writer and critic, Rubin was executive editor of the six-volume World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, the largest international cooperative project in the history of cultural publishing (Routledge 1995-2000). He was the founding editor of Canada’s national theatre journal, the Canadian Theatre Review, which was originally housed at York and which gave rise to the archival series Canada on Stage and the historical series Canada’s Lost Plays. His other publications include Canadian Theatre History: Selected Readings, the first sourcebook in Canadian theatre history. As a theatre critic, he has written for major journals, magazines and newspapers worldwide. He is currently a freelance contributor to the UK-based New Theatre Quarterly.

An internationally renowned poet, Keeney is the author of seven books of poetry and a picaresque novel, titled The Incredible Shrinking Wife. Keeney’s Selected Poems (1996), with an introduction by the distinguished Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, has also been translated from English into Chinese, Hindi, Bulgarian and Spanish, this last in a series of conversations and poems on national and personal culture with Mexican poet Ethel Krauze called You Bring Me Wings

She has also been published extensively as a literary and theatre critic. Most recently, her long poem titled "South African Suite", created as a result of her six-month residency in South Africa, has been accepted for publication by the South African poetry journal New Contrast.

The International Theatre Critics Conference is presented by the Canadian Theatre Critics Association, the Graduate Program in Theatre Studies and Faculty of Fine Arts, York University, and The Faculty of Communication & Design, Ryerson University, with support from the Ontario Ministry of Culture’s Strategic Investment Fund and the Culture Division of the City of Toronto. Selected conference and tour events are being organized in association with the Stratford Festival, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce, Vintage Inns and the River Garden Inn, Stratford.