Collective Creation

In Canada and across North America, the seventies saw the beginnings of a new form of theatre. Generally termed 'alternative', this theatre was peopled by a new generation of theatre makers, frequently trained in Europe or America, who sought to create art outside the mainstream. One form that quickly became popular was collective creation. Its roots can be traced to the documentary tradition. What is special about this style of theatre is the process. In fact, process lies at the heart of collective creation as a company of actors researches, improvises and creates a script. Directors and/or playwrights can be part of this process but their role is generally peripheral.

Donna Butt, 1982
Donna Butt, 1982
Donna Butt, a well-known Newfoundland actress, performing at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John's.
Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections (Coll-178), Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Collective Creation in Newfoundland

In Newfoundland, collective creation dominated the stages of the seventies and eighties. The Mummers Troupe staged its first collective in 1973, and was joined in the eighties by Rising Tide Theatre, the Resource Centre for the Arts, Sheila's Brush and others to create what became a characteristically Newfoundland form of collective creation. What was unique about these productions was a strong acting community; the collective creations increasingly became dominated by stage types brilliantly portrayed by a large pool of multi-talented performers. While collective creation in the rest of Canada remained predominately either political or community- based, in Newfoundland collective creation became the performance style of choice for whatever subject. Whether it was the story of the first premier and the resulting collective creation, Joey, or that of the Americans during the war and another collective creation, Makin' Time With the Yanks, a company researched, improvised and created text. Although collective creation waned throughout North America in the early eighties, it remained the predominant style in Newfoundland in this decade, and the 1986 season at the Resource Centre for the Arts was dedicated to remounting past collectives.

The LSPU Hall was originally built by the Longshoreman's Protective Union in 1903 and is now used as a theatre in downtown St. John's.
Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections (Coll-125, 10.01.006), Memorial University of Newfoundland.

There were many different forms of the Newfoundland collective creation. The Mummers Troupe created a characteristically political blend while CODCO mined black comedy and satiric ground. Sheila's Brush, originally devoted to traditional music and dance, explored folklore and folk tales in its collectives, while Rising Tide Theatre and the Resource Centre for the Arts moved through various phases of development. Their evolution differs in some ways from the other companies as their broad mandate allowed them to embrace the collective and the single authored text simultaneously.

<em>Makin' Time With the Yanks</em>, 1981-1982
Makin' Time With the Yanks, 1981-1982
Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections (Coll-126, 7.10.001), Memorial University of Newfoundland.

The late eighties brought a change to the Newfoundland performance landscape. Many of the talented actors trained in the tradition of collective creation evolved into playwrights. While the form of collective creation was occasionally returned to in such annual shows as Rising Tide's Review and in community based projects, the collective creation remained tied to the vibrant and exciting period of the seventies and eighties when so many theatre companies were first formed.