Vol. 3 No. 2 (Fall 1982)

CONSTANCE BRISSENDEN, ed. "Spotlight on Drama: A Teaching and Resource Guide to Canadian Plays." Toronto: The Writer's Development Trust, 1981

David Kemp

This resource guide to Canadian plays, the eleventh in the Writer's Development Trust series, was prepared by 26 playwrights and teachers from across Canada; it is edited by Constance Brissenden and contributors include Michael Ardenne, Dennis Hayes, Diane Bessai and Anton Wagner.

Divided into eleven chapters, the guide includes a brief history of theatre in Canada together with a regional analysis of Contemporary Playwrighting; a section examining plays for primary grades together with 'follow-up' activities; an analysis of scripts which can be performed, either in their entirety or in individual scenes, by secondary school students; an introduction to Canadian historical drama together with related classroom activities; a chapter dealing with the drama of social issues concentrating on the playwrights' contribution to the vision of Canada; a description of, and selected readings pertaining to, collective creation; and chapters dealing with plays thematically: humour, family, and personal relationships. The book ends with a chapter on Canadian experimental drama together with a resource guide which includes publishers' addresses, play catalogues and brief notes on such aspects as censorship, copyright and touring programmes.

I particularly enjoyed the first chapter in the book which is entitled' Theatre in Canada to 1969'. In a brief six pages, Anton Wagner manages to touch on the major theatrical developments in Canada from 1600 to 1969. There are some fascinating anecdotes regarding 17th and 18th Century stage productions and our appetite for further study is whetted by the mention of such books as Murray Edwards' A Stage in Our Past; English-Language Theatre in Eastern Canada from the 1890's to 1914 (University of Toronto Press, 1968) and the first two volumes of the Canada's Lost Play Plays series, The Nineteenth Century and Women Pioneers (Canadian Theatre Review Publications).

I was impressed by the chapter on contemporary playwriting which in fourteen pages manages to capsulate both the trends and the trend setters in modern Canadian theatre in Ontario, Quebec, the Atlantic Provinces, the Prairies and the West Coast, and the thematic approach to modern Canadian plays through such chapter headings as 'The Drama of Social Issues', 'The Family', and 'Personal Relationships', is both satisfying and useful.

As a drama educator it would be ungenerous not to warmly welcome Spotlight on Drama. Within its 126 pages there is a wealth of information concerning approaches to Canadian theatre and Canadian plays within education. Yet by the same token, the book is essentially an 'Introduction to Canadian Plays' rather than a teaching and resource guide in the fullest sense. Every chapter left me wanting more, not necessarily the analysis of more plays, but rather a greater depth of discussion concerning those plays included. I wanted to know something about the authors and the diversity of the plays they had written. Authors' names are not included in the otherwise excellent index. I yearned to see just one example of an extended teaching unit built around a specific play rather than a short list of randomly related theatrical activities - albeit some of them were excellent. I also longed for some real in-depth analysis rather than the constant six line descriptions - I don't believe there is one quotation from a text in the whole book.

These criticisms however by no means negate the value of the book for the Secondary School teacher. I do think the chapter on 'Play for Primary Grades' fails to differentiate between plays performed for Junior Grades and plays performed by Junior Grades. As the focus of the book is not on the performance of plays to young children and as the presentation of plays by young children is of dubious educational value, I feel this chapter should have been omitted. This is not a book for the Elementary School teacher, anymore than it is a book for the University Drama Department - it is too simplistic and lacking in real academic content for that.