When your work is a labour of love, every day is payday. This is the philosophy keenly expressed in Dwayne Brenna’s Our Kind of Work: The Glory Days and Difficult Times of 25th Street Theatre.
An actor himself, Brenna provides the inside story of 25th Street Theatre, the first professional theatre company in Saskatoon. In addition to his own recollections, his richly detailed text incorporates numerous press reviews of the plays presented.
The impetus behind this experimental theatre company was its first artistic director, the irrepressible Andy Tahn, who proposed producing prairie-based, original plays. The theatre provided a venue for emerging playwrights such as Ken Mitchell and Connie Gault, and actors like Janet Wright, later of “Corner Gas” fame.
As the subtitle suggests, however, this labour of love involved some birthing and growing pains. Lack of space and finances persistently plagued the company, as did the clash of personalities between actors and directors. Bad reviews and the spectre of censorship also raised their heads.
The premiere of one play, Cold Comfort, described by playwright Jim Garrard as a “story of love and bondage on the Canadian prairie,” caused consternation among reviewers and audiences. “Good grief!” one reporter wrote. “Can it really be that the theatre which gave Canada the folksy and lovable Paper Wheat has shifted abruptly into a world of madness and sexual obsession?” Two longtime patrons started a letter-writing campaign urging that a censorship committee be set up to deal with the “vulgar language and nudity” in the play.
Brenna supplements his 237-page book with a dozen black and white photos from the era as well as an appendix and endnotes.
Perhaps the decline of 25th Street Theatre was the result of trying to do too much with too little. Yet its legacy from its heyday in the 1970s and ’80s lives on today in the Saskatoon Fringe Festival and in the hearts of those who love live theatre.
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