Central prairie province with a population of 1,169,131 (Statistics Canada, 2019).
Although the Manitoba Theatre Centre/MTC (1958) was the first alternative and experimental theatre in the prairies, Saskatchewan wasn't far behind with the establishment of Globe Theatre (1966, still active) in Regina, and 25th Street Theatre (1972, still active) and Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon (1974, still active).
However, there was theatre in Saskatchewan as far back as 1833, when itinerant entertainers came to the towns of the province. By 1887, the town of Whitewood actually had a professional company (formed by Dr. J.F. Guerin who had been with D'Oyly Carte in London).
The first theatres were in town halls, constructed in the late 1880s and 1890s; they provided important community-building space for local performers and events, as well as hosting touring companies from the United States, and individual artists, such as the Mohawk poet, Pauline Johnson.
As in the rest of Canada, the first amateur society in Regina was made up of uniformed men; in this case the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Amateur producions of Gilbert and Sullivan were the most popular form of theatre. In 1910, Regina acquired the Regina Theatre, which seated 870 and had Saskatchewan's first dimmer board. In Saskatoon, an upper room served as a theatre until the Empire Theatre was constructed in 1910. Both in Saskatoon and Regina, the arrival of legitimate venues also meant the arrival of touring companies from outside the region, which began to dominate the cultural landscape in the 1920s.
However, there was some local activity. Saskatoon's Daylight Theatre presented vaudeville, and the Eckhardt Players (formed by Oliver Eckhardt) entertained during WWI in Regina and Saskatoon. Had it not been for the ongoing activities of amateurs between the wars and during WWII, local theatre in the prairies might have disappeared. Saskatoon's Little Theatre was founded in 1922, and performed in rental spaces until its demise in 1949. The Regina Little Theatre began in 1926, and performed in Regina College before building its own theatre in 1981. Gateway Players, founded in 1965, was Saskatoon's biggest amateur company until suspending operations in 2011.
Among the many professional companies past and present in the province are the Troupe du Jour, Dancing Sky Theatre in the small town of Meacham, the Newman Players (now a theatre for young people), Curtain Razors, founded in Saskatoon in 1989, with Michel Sereda as artistic director, and Live Five (Saskatoon), a co-operative theatre which mounts plays by companies in the co-op. The Saskatchewan Centre of the Arts in Regina, which opened in 1970, presents theatre in its three venues. Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company has developed and presented First Nations Theatre since 1999. That same year the women's theatre festival, Her-icane was hosted by 25th Street Theatre. Saskatchewan Playwrights Centre (founded 1983) supports the development of new works.
Play development and production increasingly reflect the growing Indigenous and diverse immigrant population, and the rapid growth of urban areas. It engages in experimental forms, improvisation, and community collaborations in found spaces and site-specific performances, such as Knowhere Productions' The Weyburn Project (2002), set in an abandoned mental hospital.
Bilingual playwright Madeleine Blais-Dahlem characterizes the Saskatchewan attitude as "a somewhat self-deprecating sense of humour and highly functioning bull-shit detector" (Canadian Theatre Review 154: Spring 2013).
Other articles in the Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia: Saskatchewan Festival of Words,Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, Ken Mitchell, Tom Bentley-Fisher, Randall Paris Dark, Richard Epp, Connie Gault, Ken Kramer, Sue Kramer, Erika Ritter, Henry Woolf, Susan Williamson, Janet Wright, Joanna McClelland Glass. Also see the article: Canadian Theatre History .
Further Reading: Don Kerr. "Saskatchewan Theatre--Plain Talk," West-Words: Celebrating Western Canadian Theatre and Playwriting, ed. Moira J. Day. Canadian Plains Research Centre, University of Regina, 2011.
Profile by Gaetan Charlebois and Anne Nothof. Additional information provided by John Thronberg and Beata Van Berkom.
Last updated 2019-10-19