Stage Left: Canadian Workers Theatre 1929-1940


245 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 0-88924-172-4





Reviewed by Renate Usmiani

Renate Usmiani was Professor of English at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax.


Stage Left is Number 4 in the new Simon and Pierre Canadian Theatre History Series, following upon Love and Whisky: The History of the Dominion Drama Festival (1982) by Betty Lee and The History of Prairie Theatre (1984), by E. Stuart Ross (1984). It is the story of the Workers’ Theatre, which grew out of the Progressive Arts Club in Toronto, of Theatre of Action and similar theatre companies in Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Montreal, Canada’s first wave of alternative and political theatre. As Don Rubin points out in his Introduction, this book “documents for the first time this most unique of Canadian theatrical episodes...a period and theatrical movement that few people — in or out of theatre — know or fully understand.”

The book developed out of an oral history project and still exhibits the strengths and weaknesses of oral history. Intensely personal, casual in tone and occasionally chatty, it is based on the author’s own involvement with the political theatre of the period; to complement her memoirs, she has interviewed 39 key members of the movement and has added documentary material such as press reviews, production lists, and the texts of songs from the productions.

It is not a scholarly book, but it is informative and a delight to read. The author provides a fascinating insider’s view of productions such as Eight Men Speak, Waiting for Lefty, or Bury the Dead. Biographical details, though essentially irrelevant, do serve to create a feeling for the period; and her final statement — “what did it all mean to me?” — is deeply moving.


Ryan, Toby Gordon, “Stage Left: Canadian Workers Theatre 1929-1940,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024,