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Category: Jordan Tannahill

rocks voaden

Herman Voaden’s Rocks

by Jordan Tannahill

Below is a Facebook note I wrote several days ago on the ways in which we remember and assign value to plays in Canada. In the note I suggest an ‘anti-cannon’ of 100 performance works not easily captured on the page.

The list tends to favor my region and era of exposure. As such, I encouraged commentators to contribute their own suggestions. So far the response has been enthusiastic, but almost entirely Toronto-centric. My hope is this blog post will help extend the reach and dialogue to others across the country who might be interested in a crowdsourced Canadian ‘anti-cannon’.

A few days ago I was honoured with first place in the Herman Voaden Playwriting Competition for my play Late Company. While I believe the award serves the important function of supporting the writing of new dramatic text in our country, it also provided me the opportunity to reflect and question the ways in which we assign value to plays.

Herman Voaden was, himself, an early pioneer of experimental theatre in English Canada. His works of ‘symphonic expressionism’ were some of the first and most ambitious multidisciplinary performances in our contemporary theatre, in which sound, light, choreography, choral work, and even early forms of multimedia projection were given equal weight and importance as the text. Many of Voaden’s published texts are arguably shadows of the performances they attempt to capture – not ‘well made plays’ by any stretch of our contemporary definition.  It is ironic to consider Voaden himself may never have won his namesake award.

This spurred me to consider which plays in our country are canonized. It is perhaps only natural that the plays that exist most effectively and wholly as published texts are the ones that find their way most often into textbooks, university reading lists, lectures, and ‘Best Canadian Play’ lists. This past week I decided to sit down and consider which works of Canadian theatre and performance have been neglected or overlooked from the canon, based on (among other things no doubt) the difficulty of conveying their totality on the page.

Below this note are 100 suggestions for an ‘anti-canon’ of English Canadian theatre. An additional 30 titles have been listed for French Canadian theatre, shorter due to my lack of knowledge and exposure to it. I hope my colleagues in Quebec will help add to it. These are pieces that are historically and artistically resonant not because of their dramatic texts but for the total live event they presented. It is, by nature of the impossibility of the task, a woefully incomplete list. Many of these performances occurred before I was born. Many I never saw. But their impact, what is passed down through documentation, oral tradition, and the influence felt/seen in the work of subsequent generations of artists, has informed my selection. I acknowledge that this list is completely informed by my own biases and knowledge (and lack thereof) – it does not intend to present a complete narrative but rather a jumping off point for further conversation. It is something to be debated and added to. Hopefully there may be some interest among my friends and peers to do so.

PLEASE NOTE: After input from contributors across Canada, particularly those from Quebec, I chose to separate English and French Canadian works to recognize their distinct linguistic and cultural traditions. Also, I have included two small ancillary lists (performance art/interventions and theatre for young audiences) for further inclusivity and points of discussion.


Electric Company

Phobophilia (2007)

2b Theatre (Christian Barry, Steven McCarthy, Michelle Monteith)
Revisited (2005)

Alianak, Hrant
Lucky Strike (1978)

Alton (Kate), Manson (Ross)
The Four Horseman Project (2007)

Aluna Theatre
Nohayquiensepa (2011)

Anna Project, The (Suzanne Odette Khuri, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Banuta Rubess, Maureen White)
The Is For You, Anna (1985)

Arden (Leslie), Cascio (Anna Theresa)
The House of Martin Guerre (1993)

Arsenault, Nina
The Silicone Diaries (2009)

Atkins, Damien
Real Live Girl! (2003)

Augusta Company, The
86: An Autopsy (1995)

Barrow, Daniel
Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry (2008)

Bettis, Paul
The Rule Plays (1970-80s)

Bluemouth Inc.
Something About a River (2004)

Boca Del Lupo
My Dad, My Dog (2008)

Brassard, Marie
Jimmy (2001)

Brebner, Morwyn
Music for Contortionist (2000)

Brooker, Blake / One Yellow Rabbit
The Land The Animals (1991)

Brooker (Blake) with Martini (Clem), Miles (Clem) / One Yellow Rabbit
Ilsa Queen of the Nazi Love Camp (1987)

Brooks (Daniel), Verdecchia (Guillermo)
The Noam Chompsky Lectures (1990)

Burkett, Ronnie
The Memory Dress Trilogy (1994 – 2000)

Core members of The Workers Theatre

Core members of The Workers Theatre

Canadian Workers’ Theatre (Oscar Ryan, E. Cecil-Smith, Frank Love, Eugenia Watts and Mildred Goldberg)
Eight Men Speak (1933)

Catalyst Theatre
Nevermore (2008)

Chafe, Robert
Under Wraps (1997)
Afterimage (2009)

Clarke (George Elliott), Rolfe (James)
Beatrice Chancy (1999)

Clements, Marie
Burning Vision (2003)

Cod on a Stick (1973)

Company of Sirens
The Working People’s Picture Show (1985)

Debajehmujig Theatre Group
The Best Medicine Show (1996)

Die-Nasty Troupe
Die-Nasty (1991 – present)

Druick, Don
Where is Kabuki? (1991)

Dyba, Kenneth
Lily, Alta (1986)

Earle, Chris
Radio: 30 (1999)

Electric Company, The (Kim Collier, Jonathon Young, Kevin Kerr, and David Hudgins)
Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla (1996)
Tear The Curtain! (2011)

emergency exit
trilogie (2005)

Froelich, Peter
Simpl (2003)

Gall (Brendan), McPhaden (Mike), Roberts (Rick), Tepperman (Julie)
The Gladstone Variations (2007)

Garnham, Ken
Beuys Buoys Boys (1989)

Gilbert, Sky
Drag Queens on Trial: a courtroom melodrama (1994)

Gilmour (Dean), Smith (Michelle)
Chekov’s shorts (1999)

Gorlin (Wendy) and Panych (Morris)
The Overcoat (1998)

Griffiths, Linda (with Maria Campbell and Paul Thompson)
Jessica (1986)

Gray, John
18 Wheels (1976)

Hines, Karen
The Pochy Plays (2004)

Hinton, Peter
The Swanne (2002-2004)

Hollingsworth, Michael
Clear Light (1973)
The History of the Village of the Small Huts (1982-2012)

Hummer Sisters, The (Janet Burke, Jennifer Dean, Deanne Taylor)
Hummer for Mayor: Art vs. Art (1982)

Jain (Asha), Jain (Ravi)
Brimful of Asha (2011)

Kane, Margo
Moonlodge (1990)

Keilly, Jillian
The Cheat (1996)

Krizanc, John
Tamara (1981)

Ledoux (Paul), Young (David)
Fire (1999)

Liitoja, Hillar
The Last Supper (1993)
Poundemonium (1993)

Luscombe, George / Toronto Workshop Productions
Hey, Rube! (1961)

mandiela, ahdri zhina
dark diaspora… in dub (1991)

McCurley, Jon & Friends
Double Double Land Land (2009)

Mercer, Rick
Charles Lynch Must Die (1990)

Miller, Rick
Bigger Than Jesus (2003)

Mills, Sonja
Dyke City (1994)

Moore, Mavor
Spring Thaw (1948)

Mummer’s Troupe
They Club Seals, Don’t They? (1978)

Mump and Snoot
Flux (2003)

Newton, Alistair
The Pastor Phelps Project (2008)

Nightwood Theatre
The True Story of Ida Johnson (1979)

O’Donnell, Darren
Pppeeeaaaccceee (2003)
Haircuts by Children (2006 – present)

Famous Puppet Death Scenes

Famous Puppet Death Scenes

Old Trout Puppet Workshop
Famous Puppet Death Scenes (2006)

One Reed Theatre
Nor the Cavaliers Who Come With Us (2006)

Ouchi, Mieko
The Red Priest (Eight Ways to Say Goodbye) (2003)

Parsa (Soheil), Quirt (Brian)
Aurash (1998)

PME-ART (Caroline Dubois, Claudia Fancello, Jacob Wren)
Families Are Formed Through Copulation / La famille se crée en corpulant (2005)

Platform 9 Theatre Collective
White Trash, Blue Eyes (1989)

Primus Theatre
Alkoremmi (1991)
The Night Room (1993)

Radix Theatre
Instruments of Torture (1994)

Reaney, James
Colours in the Dark (1969)

Salutin, Rick (with Theatre Passe Muraille)
1837: The Farmer’s Revolt (1976)

Schafer, R Murray
Patria (1966-1990)

Sears, Djanet
Afrika Solo (1987)

Seremba, George
Come Good Rain (1994)

Small Wooden Shoe
Dedicated to the Revolutions (2009)

STO Union –  Ross (Nadia), Wren (Jacob), Wright (Tracy)
Revolutions in Therapy (2004)

STO Union – Cave (Diane) and Ross (Nadia)
The Alistair Trilogy (1995)

Tepperman, Julie
Yichud (2010)

Theatre Columbus
Fertility (1987)

Theatre Junction
On the Side of the Road (2009)

Theatre Replacement
Clark and I Somewhere in Connecticut (with Theatre Rumble) (2007)

The Chop – Itai Erdal in collaboration with James Long, Emelia Symington Fedy & Anita Rochon
How To Disappear Completely (2011)

Thompson, Judith
Enoch Arden in the Hope Shelter (2006)

Thompson, Paul and collective
The Farm Show  (1972)
I Love you Baby Blue (1974)

The Turtle Gals - The Scrubbing Project

The Turtle Gals – The Scrubbing Project

Turtle Gals, The
The Scrubbing Project (2002)

Tunooniq Theatre
Changes and In Search of a Friend (1986)

Verdecchia, Guillermo
Fronteras Americanas (1993)

Voaden, Herman
Hill-Land (1934)

Walker, George F.
Rumours of Our Death  (1980)

Williams, Alan
The Cockroach Trilogy (1980)

young.anitafrika, d’bi
the sankofa trilogy (2005-2010)

Carbone 14 Le Dortoir

Carbone 14’s Le Dortoir


Archambault, Francois
15 secondes (1997)

Barbeau, Jean
Ben-Ur (1971)

Blackburn (Marthe),(Marie-Claire), Brossard (Nicole), Gagnon (Odette), Pelletier (Pol), Théoret (France)
La Nef des sorcieres (1976)

Carbone 14
Le Dortoir (1988)

Caron (Jean-Francois), Champagne (Dominic), Messier (Jean-Frédéric), Rafie (Pascale)
Cabaret neiges noires (1992)

Champagne, Dominic
La Répétition (1990)

Choiniere, Olivier
Le Bain des Raines (1998)

Dalpé (Jean-Marc) and Haentjens (Brigitte)
Nickel (1983)

Danis, Daniel
Cendres de cailloux (1992)

Dupré (Louise) and Haentjens (Brigitte)
Tout comme elle (2006)

Garneau, Michel
Héliotropes (1993)

Gauvreau, Claude
Les Entrailles (1940s)

Germain, Jean-Claude
Les enfants de Chénier dans un autre grand spectacle d’adieu (with Le Théâtre de Même Nom) (1969)

Gratien, Gelinas
Les Fridolinades (1938 to 1946)

Laberge, Marie
Pierre, ou la Consolation (1992)

Lamarche, Gustave
Notre-Dame-des-Neiges (1942)

Robert Lepage's Lipsynch

Robert Lepage’s Lipsynch

Lepage, Robert
La Trilogie des Dragons (1985-86)
Les Sept Branches de la Rivière Ota (1996)
Le Project Anderson (2005)
Lipsynch (2008)

Brassard (Marie), Lepage (Robert)
Le Polygraphe (1988)

Le Théâtre Euh!
A bas le plan Trudeau! (1978)

Le Show des femmes de Thetford Mines
Si Cendrillon pouvait mourir! (1980)

Monty, Michel
Accidents de parcours (1993)

Théâtre des Cuisines
Nous aurons les enfants que nous voulons (1974)

Théâtre Expérimental des Femmes
A ma mere, a ma mare, a ma mare, a ma voisine (1978)

Théâtre L’Eskabel
Les Troyennes (1999)

Théâtre Sans Fil
Le Grand jeu de nuit (1992)

Pelletier, Pol
JoieOcéanOr – a trilogy (1992-1997)

Porte Parole
Sante (2003)


Ten seminal works of Canadian performance art/intervention-based performance

Belmore, Rebecca
Vigil (2002)

Campbell (Colin) and Dragu (Margaret)
I Am Already Changing My Mind (1982)

Dempsey (Shawna) and Millan (Lorri)
The Dress Series (1989-1996)

Dobkin, Jess
Fee For Service (2006)

Fletcher (Kenneth) and Wong (Paul)
Bruise (1976)

General Idea
The 1971 Miss General Idea Pageant (1971)

Kantor, Istvan
Blood Campaign (late 1970s – 2000s)

Laing (Jeremy) and Munro (Will)
The Pavilion of Virginia Puff-Paint (2006)

Mars, Tanya
women-and-power series (1984-1990)

Randy & Berenicci
As The World Burns (1977)

And because plays for young audiences seem to be so frequently omitted from these lists, here are ten seminal works for young people arguably driven by elements beyond text

Axis Theatre Company
The Number 14 (1998)

Children of Kush Arising

Children of Kush Arising

Black Theatre Workshop
Children of Kush Arising (1994)

Boyle (Shary), Fellows (Christine)
Everything Under the Moon (2012)

Canadian Stage Hour Co.
i.d. (1989)

Craig (David S), Morgan (Robert)
Dib and Dob and the Journey Home (1999)

Ducharme, Hélène
Baobab (2009)

Lebeau, Suzanne (1979)
Une lune entre deux maisons 

Massingham, Andy
Rough House (2005)

Northey, Michael P.
Cranked (2012)

Taylor, Drew Hayden
Raven Stole the Sun (2007)

November 19, 2012, by

Viceofag Launch Party

by Jordan Tannahill

Last month my boyfriend William and I signed a one year lease on an old barbershop in Kensington Market, spent three weeks in our long johns scrubbing the walls and floors of hair, painting it, installing lights, and launched a storefront performance space called Videofag. It is our home and the first one we have shared together. But it also one we want to share with Toronto’s cultural community because we believe we can offer something vital to our peers – space. From Le Chat Noir and Gertrude Stein’s rue de Fleurus salons in Paris, to Warhol’s Factory and the Chealsea Hotel in New York City, to VideoCaberet, A Space Gallery, and Rochdale College in Toronto, space for experimentation and discourse has been critical to the development and evolution of artistic peer groups and cultural movements for generations.

I believe Toronto theatre has suffered from a deficit of truly independent, radical space over the past decade. While many young theatre artists, including myself, have benefitted greatly from development programs run by established theatres we are in danger of becoming an overly institutionalized generation of artists. A generation who places value on recognition from the establishment, tentative to seek opportunities for ourselves outside the support of pillared companies and festivals, with selection committees, boards of directors, operational funding, and other structural hierarchies. The theatrical institutions of today were iconoclastic spaces carved from the cultural landscape in the 60s and 70s with a sense of urgency and purpose. As crucial as they remain in our ecology, they are now the establishment – with corresponding programming and financial obligations – and are limited in their capacity to represent the  needs and identities of the emerging zeitgeist.

Our generation cannot afford to exist perpetually in the demi-world of workshops and staged readings. Rather than striving for recognition based on a value system prescribed by the establishment, we need to stake out new territory for ourselves. Instead of standing by to inherit old institutions, or to be programmed by them, we should be actively making new space for ourselves, on our own terms and for our own needs.

There is a crisis of space in Toronto – a lack of affordable venues founded and operated by our young peers where year-round access to dialogue, experimentation, creation, and presentation is possible. A space outside the world of the four-hour tech call, the commercialized, review-centric, festival environment, or developmental programs of larger institutions who lack the ability to produce most of what is seeded within them. What is needed is an accessible, year-round space for emerging creators where ideas have the proper time and context to gestate, be torn apart, and reformed. Where the very nature of why we make performance, and what our generation wants out of performance, can be questioned and defined for ourselves. A space that costs nothing upfront to use – affording us more time in the theatre and less time at our day jobs (and mitigating the financial risk in creative risk-taking).

Videofag is @ 187 Augusta Ave in Kensington Market across from the park.

There are many inspiring models for peer-based collaboration in our own theatrical history – the founding of Theatre Passe Muraille in 1969, Factory Theatre in 1970, and the coming together of six independent companies in 1979 to create the B.A.A.N.N. Theatre Centre – and more recent examples, including Hub 14, Unit 102, Toronto Free Gallery, and companies like Native Earth Performing Arts and fu-Gen forging a home for themselves at Daniel’s Spectrum. Furthermore, many informal spaces like family rooms and kitchens have played critical roles in the evolution of Toronto theatre over the years. So there are many working models, historic and present, from which to draw inspiration – without, of course, fashioning replicas of existing institutions.

A few weeks back over coffee, Brendan Healy conveyed his support of Videofag and our hope to present risk-taking and transgressive work there – Buddies was founded on this ethos and continues to embody it to this day. I left the conversation, though, with the understanding that spaces like Videofag shouldn’t attempt to emulate even the most groundbreaking of institutions, but rather embrace their DIY nature and understand how they are specially positioned to present different kinds of work. This is not to say that we shouldn’t pursue opportunities to produce our work on established mainstages, but rather we should not wait to make work solely in these conditions. We should look at our independence as an asset – a freedom from commitments and expectations – to radically explore and innovate on our own terms. I suspect many of the exciting projects of our time will be pieces we create in the spaces and contexts of our own making.

With Videofag William and I want to bring together boundary-pushing artists, academics, curators, and shit-distrubers operating within a wide range of mediums and socio-political communities to form an atelier where new ideas can be explored and worked on over a timeframe tailored to each project. And it will succeed not because of anything William and I do but because a community of creators have already begun to invest emotionally and artistically in it, and are in the process of making it their own. Ultimately, it is the kind of space that I want to create work in. The kind of space I desire as an artist. The kind of space that inevitably will evolve to the point where it no longer fulfills the needs of the next generation and will, in time, be replaced itself.

Videofag is a storefront cinema and performance space in Kensington Market. While one of our primary focuses is supporting new queer voices in the city, we want to nurture transgressive work from shit disturbers of various ages, orientations, cultural backgrounds, and creative mediums. Ultimately, we are interested in creating an inclusive space for risk taking and discourse.

Jordan Tannahill is a Toronto-based playwright, theatre director, and filmmaker who runs Suburban Beast, a performance company. He launched Videofag with his partner, actor William Christopher Ellis, in October of this year. For more information, or to propose a project to Videofag, feel free to email Jordan at