Nightwood Theatre

The Toronto-based company soon became a magnet for writers and performers, including Jan Kudelka, Banuta Rubess, Beverley Cooper and Ann-Marie MACDONALD, all of whom flourished in the company's initial freewheeling collective phase.

nightwood theatre
allegra fulton stars in nightwood theatre's production of The List in 2010, co-produced with Canstage (photo courtesy Nightwood Theatre).

Nightwood Theatre

Nightwood Theatre, founded as a collective in 1979 by Maureen White, Mary Vingoe, Kim Renders and Cynthia Grant, has become Canada's pre-eminent feminist theatre company. The company's express mandate - to forge creative alliances among women artists from diverse backgrounds in order to develop and produce innovative Canadian theatre - immediately led to a break with the naturalism prevalent in Canadian theatre in the late 1970s. Over time, the company has offered women theatre artists a supportive environment within which they have explored "alternative visions of the world."

The Toronto-based company soon became a magnet for writers and performers, including Jan Kudelka, Banuta Rubess, Beverley Cooper and Ann-Marie MACDONALD, all of whom flourished in the company's initial freewheeling collective phase. Early successes included The True Story of Ida Johnson, a COLLECTIVE CREATION adapted from the novel by Sharon Riis (1979); Nancy Drew, The Case of the Missing Mother by Cooper and MacDonald (1984); and the wildly comic Pope Joan by Rubess (1984). The greatest success from this period, however, was a strongly written, compellingly performed drama centring on violence against women. This Is for You, Anna (1986) was created by MacDonald, Rubess, White, Suzanne Khuri, Aida Jordao and Patricia Nichols. It subsequently toured Canada and Britain.

Nightwood entered a period of change in 1986 when Grant, who had been the company's chief spokesperson, left to join another feminist theatre troupe, the Company of Sirens. Vingoe remained to act as interim artistic director.

It was during the overseas portion of the Anna tour that MacDonald conceived the idea for Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), which became one of the hits of the 1987-88 Toronto theatre season. The production toured Canada in 1990 and has since had more than 100 productions worldwide. The 1987-88 season, during which White served as artistic co-ordinator, also produced the phenomenally successful one-woman show My Boyfriend's Back and There's Gonna Be Laundry by comedienne Sandra Shamas.

Kate Lushington took over as artistic director in 1988, creating the popular Up Against the Wallpaper with the Clichettes the same year. Highlights of the Lushington era were Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots by Monique Mojica (1990), Susan G. Cole's A Fertile Imagination (1991) and Charming and Rose by Kelley Jo Burke (1994).

Alisa Palmer and Diane Roberts became artistic co-directors in 1994, with Leslie Lester as producer. Roberts resigned in 1997. Nightwood's production of Djanet SEARS's Harlem Duet (1997-98) ranks as one of the company's major triumphs, sweeping DORA, CHALMERS and GOVERNOR GENERAL'S AWARDS. Diane Flacks's one-woman tour de force, Random Acts, premiered in 1998 and went on a national tour the following year. MacDonald's musical, Anything That Moves, premiered in 2000 and was remounted in 2001, the same year that both Palmer and Lester decided to step down. They were succeeded in the spring of 2001 by artistic director Kelly Thornton and artistic producer Nathalie Bonjour, who were joined in 2006 by producer Monica Esteves. Denyse Karn became producer/general manager in 2010.

Encouragement of young artists became Nightwood Theatre's central focus in the early 2000s. In addition to the Groundswell Festival of new play readings (founded in 1986) featuring works by both established and new playwrights, the theatre initiated the "Write from the Hip" and "Busting Out" programs for young artists. These give girls and young women opportunities for public exhibition, workshopping, and mentoring under some of Canada's most prominent playwrights. Nightwood Theatre celebrates International Women's Day with its annual FemCab and has held Hysteria, a festival of women's work, each year since 2003. The company reaches out to aspiring theatre artists with a variety of programs on all aspects of theatrical writing, production and performance.

The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God, The Danish Play, China Doll, Cast Iron, Bear With Me, and Crave are among Nightwood Theatre's most highly acclaimed recent productions. Two much-lauded productions were a remount of No Exit (Berkeley St Theatre, 2009), a live-movie-style reinterpretation of Sartre's masterpiece, directed by SIMINOVITCH PRIZE winner Kim Collier, and The List (Berkeley St Theatre, 2010), starring Allegra Fulton.

In 2010 Nightwood Theatre celebrated its 30th anniversary, bringing women directors to the forefront in its 4x4 Festival.


Further Reading

  • Nightwood Theatre: A Woman's Work is Always Done, by Shelley Scott