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New Brunswick

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Maritime province of Canada with a population of 781,476 (Statistics Canada 2020) and a thriving bilingual theatrical scene.

It is also one of the provinces with the earliest theatrical activity. The first recorded dramatic presentation was Susannah Centlivre's comedy The Busy Body and Hannah Cowley's farce Who's the Dupe? in 1789, performed in Saint John by a group of gentleman amateurs, sons of Loyalists. With the help of the garrison in Saint John, the Drury Lane Theatre was constructed in 1809. In Fredericton, the garrison was very active in dramatic presentations.

One of Canada's first theatre "incidents" took place in Saint John in 1845 with a riot following the performance of the political piece The Provincial Association; or, Taxing One Another. In 1856, Saint John was the home of the Dramatic Lyceum, whose stock company presented summer seasons until 1876--including old favourites and newly acclaimed plays from London and New York. It burned down in 1877.

However, as in all the other urban centres in the country, touring companies from the US and abroad represented the bulk of theatrical activity at the end of the 19th and well into the 20th centuries. The elegant Saint John Opera House opened in 1891, in which more that 80 different companies performed, primarily comedy and variety shows.

When films arrived, and largely killed off professional touring companies, community theatre flourished in New Brunswick, and many amateur companies toured extensively throughout the province. In 1931, the Saint John Theatre Guild was formed, performing British and Canadian plays in makeshift theatre spaces, and competing in the Dominion Drama Festival. The New Brunswick Drama League was founded in 1933 to encourage competition. The universities all had theatre clubs which successfully competed in the DDF. In 1953, the High School Drama Festival further encouraged theatrical growth.

Summer theatres popped up all over the province, such as Stage Door (1956) and The Miramichi (1957). In 1964 the Playhouse (a gift of Lord and Lady Beaverbrook) opened in Fredericton and hosted companies, performing theatre and other lively arts, from across the country. In 1968, local professional theatre got a strong foothold with the launching of Theatre New Brunswick.

The bilingual nature of New Brunswick strongly influenced theatrical activity and production. The French-language universities have always been the hubs of dramatic activity, but professional companies working in French exist as well: Théâtre populaire d’Acadie, and the touring children's company of Théâtre l’Escaouette notable among them.

New Brunswick has also given rise to important playwrights, including Antonine Maillet, whose La Sagouine, starring Viola Léger, toured across the country and internationally; Sharon Pollock; and Norm Foster.

Other companies active in the province are the Saint John Theatre Company (producing three plays annually at the Imperial Theatre), The Next Folding Theatre Company, Nasty Shadows Theatre Company, the New City Theatre Company (which produces one-act plays), and the Kennebecasis Valley Players (a summer stock company).

The NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival, featuring new plays by local playwrights, takes place every August in Fredericton.

Also see article: Canadian Theatre History .

Readings: Mary Elizabeth Smith. Two Soon the Curtain Fell: A History of Theatre in Saint John 1789-1900, 1981.

The Oxford Companion to Canadian Theatre, eds. Eugene Benson and L.W. Conolly. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Profile by Gaetan Charlebois. Additional information provided by Brian Goodwin and Mary Elizabeth Smith.

Last updated 2021-07-07