Kent Stetson

One of Stetson's earliest plays is also one of his best known. Warm Wind in China (1988, 1989) proved a landmark work, both personally for the dramatist and within Canadian theatre.


Stetson, Kent

 Kent Stetson, playwright, screenwriter, dramaturge, director (b at Marshfield, PEI 5 July 1948). Kent Stetson attended Charlottetown Rural High and graduated with an Honours BA in literature from Prince of Wales College (University of PEI) in 1970.

One of Stetson's earliest plays is also one of his best known. Warm Wind in China (1988, 1989) proved a landmark work, both personally for the dramatist and within Canadian theatre. As the first popular, full-length drama to address the plight of AIDS victims in this country (foreshadowed in 1986 by As I Am, another Stetson work focused on the social challenges faced by homosexuals), the play was both controversial and actively championed at home and abroad.

Subsequent dramas have revealed the playwright as increasingly curious and versatile in terms of genre and dramatic form. Plays such as Warm Wind in China (1988, 1989), Queen of the Cadillac (1990), Just Plain Murder (1992) and The Eyes of the Gull (2000) display a wide stylistic range, including romantic comedy, murder mystery and popular film parody. Stetson approaches all of these conventions with a winning combination of respect for tradition and a readiness to mix, match and swap compositional strategies and tropes. Yet, throughout much of these works, the author also retains a common attraction for human-interest subject matter and, with increasing emphasis, a fascination with the potential for heroism among otherwise ordinary individuals. The Harps of God (1997, 2001), winner of both the 2001 GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD for English drama and the Canadian Authors Association's Carol Bolt Award in 2001), is explicitly "heroic" in all its aspects - scope, structure, situation, characterization, language and symbolism - and successfully elevates a cruel and potentially pathetic disaster to the heights of myth.

It is perhaps ironic, therefore, that Stetson's next play, Horse High, Bull Strong, Pig Tight (2001, 2004), is subtitled "a play for one actor." Moving from the vast ice floes off Newfoundland into a barn on a PEI farm, everything about Horse High is scaled down, more tightly focused, and distilled. Whereas The Harps of God presents a sprawling, panoramic landscape, the later play explores decidedly interior terrain, in which the multiple characters are the creations of one man's tumultuous memories and heated imagination. And whereas it is the threatened loss of a mass of humanity that provides the stakes in the sealing narrative, it is the impending loss of land, heritage, dignity and history - both personal and cultural - that fuels the intense solo show.

Kent Stetson's 2001 play New Arcadia was the recipient of a 2001 Herman Voaden National Playwriting Award, and he was commissioned to write a novel adaptation. A translation of Horse High, Bull Strong, Pig Tight was staged in 2007 at Théâtre Ephéméride in Val de Reuil and then toured France. In the same year Stetson received the Prince Edward Island Council of the Arts Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Literature of Prince Edward Island, and was appointed a member of the ORDER OF CANADA.