Michael Hollingsworth

Michael Hollingsworth had his first play, Strawberry Fields, produced by the Factory Theatre Lab in 1972. His next, performed at Toronto Free Theatre the following year, was Clear Light. In this LSD-inspired play, 2 couples and 1 ex-husband gather for a game of cards.


Hollingsworth, Michael

 Michael John Hollingsworth, playwright (b at Swansea, Wales 5 Feb 1950). Michael Hollingsworth immigrated to Canada at the age of 6. He graduated from Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute in Toronto in 1969 and studied fine arts at York University in 1974. He is a playwright and co-founder of the theatre ensemble VideoCabaret (or "VideoCab") and directs his own plays with this company. He has identified influences as diverse as Victorian melodrama, Commedia Dell'Arte, Antonin Artaud, Monty Python and John Lennon. In his efforts to create theatre "for a generation raised on rock and TV," Hollingsworth has developed a theatre-as-spectacle style adapted for the smaller stages afforded new Canadian works.

Michael Hollingsworth had his first play, Strawberry Fields, produced by the Factory Theatre Lab in 1972. His next, performed at Toronto Free Theatre the following year, was Clear Light. In this LSD-inspired play, 2 couples and 1 ex-husband gather for a game of cards. The evening degenerates into a fractured and horrifying series of sexual encounters and violent actions, culminating in the roasting and eating of a baby. Or is it a turkey? Who knows? The Morality Squad forced the play into closure after 12 performances.

Michael Hollingsworth found himself out of work for 3 years following the closure of Clear Light. He met politically minded cabaret troupe The Hummer Sisters and joined with member Deanne Taylor to found VideoCabaret in 1976. VideoCab was one of the first companies in Canada to experiment with integrating video and live rock music into theatrical performances. The first pieces the new company mounted were Taylor's The Patty Rehearst Story and The Bible as told to Karen Ann Quinlan. Hollingsworth produced Electric Eye and adaptations of George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, both of which involved interaction between actors and onstage video screens.

In 1982, Hollingsworth saw a photo of the Queen of England handing a repatriated constitution to Prime Minister Trudeau. His creative efforts for the next 25 years were consumed by writing a series of plays dramatizing and satirizing the history of Canada. The series is divided into: The History of the Village of the Small Huts, 8 plays covering Canadian history from New France (which won a Chalmers award in 1985 for best new play) to WWII; and The Global Village, 4 plays from The Cold War to The Life and Times of Brian Mulroney.

VideoCab combined efforts with designers Jim Plaxton, Astrid Janson and Shadowland Theatre to design what they call a "black-box epic" style, which is Videocab's homage to television. A typical set-up would consist of no set, eccentric props and costumes (satirical interpretations of historical items), and only spotlights to delineate different scenes. Confederation and Riel, for example, contained 137 scenes and 72 characters played by 11 actors in under 2 hours.

Michael Hollingsworth has responded to a media-obsessed, spectacle-hungry culture by producing theatrical works that subject stories and characters to a refractory lens of high-impact staging. In addition to the Chalmers Award, he has won 3 Dora Mavor Moore Awards for his writing (Rigoletto with Deanne Taylor, 1990; The Great War, 1993; and Confederation, 2004), and 1 for directing (The Cold War, 1996). In 2008 his play Laurier was nominated for 6 Dora Awards.