Invisible Interculturalism? Performing Ireland on the Canadian Stage

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


The various definitions of intercultural performance practice drawn from the work of key theorists and directors –Pavis, Schechner, Grotowski, Barba – all assume that such practice necessarily engages with non-Western performance traditions to create ‘a more or less conscious and voluntary mixing,’ resulting in a ‘hybridized form’ (Pavis, The Intercultural Performance Reader, 1996: 8). Schechner designates much of this practice as ‘integrative’, in that it seeks to harmonize different aesthetics and systems of belief. Irish theatre, according to this paradigm, cannot be regarded as intercultural performance in Canada because it is a predominantly Anglophone body of work with clear roots in Western theatre tradition, and it played an active role in the development of Canadian theatre. For example, John Coulter, originally from Belfast, helped found the Canada Council and the Stratford Festival, bringing to Canada the vision of a National Theatre largely derived from his experience of the Abbey. Jackie Maxwell, also from Belfast, is Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival where she has sought to develop Canadian translations of canonical European texts in response to the Irish translations of Chekhov and Ibsen by Brian Friel and Frank McGuinness. Despite these clear influences, there is very little scholarly material exploring the role of the Irish theatrical innovation on the development of theatre in Canada. As an ethnic group, the ‘Irish’ have perhaps been less visible because they inhabit a dual tradition, with Protestant immigrants from Ulster historically being subsumed into the Anglo-Canadian mainstream, and Catholic immigrants linked in the popular imagination to famine and poverty, as well as fighting, drinking and carousing. The public performances of ‘Ireland’ visible Toronto civic spaces, such as the St. Patrick’s Day parade and the Irish pubs that dot the cityscape, generally represent Irishness in these latter terms. Yet the theatrical relationships between Ireland and Canada have a clear potential to be transformative and dialogic. The influence of Irish immigrants in Canadian debates about a national theatre and the capacity of theatre to represent a nation is only one side of such a dialogue; for the presence of Irish culture and theatre within the mosaic of Canadian multiculturalism also raises questions for Ireland and Northern Ireland on recent immigration there, and for moving beyond religious and political sectarianism in a post-ceasefire society. This exchange seems to suggest what Ric Knowles identifies as a potential in intercultural performance for ‘moving beyond cultures’ in ‘an increasingly heterogeneous and hybrid world’ (Canadian Theatre Review, 2009: 4). This potential can be glimpsed in Canadian productions of Irish work, such as Martin McDonagh's 'Lonesome West' at CanStage, where both the production and reception expose gaps in cultural norms and create space for cultural exchange and transformation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
PublisherIrish Theatrical Diaspora
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 16 Apr 2011
EventIrish Theatrical Diaspora Conference: Canada, Irishness, and Performance - Graduate Centre for Study of Drama, University of Toronto
Duration: 16 Apr 2011 → …


ConferenceIrish Theatrical Diaspora Conference: Canada, Irishness, and Performance
Period16/04/11 → …


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