July 14, 2014
When I lived in Winnipeg, I worked for awhile with the Popular Theatre Alliance. This type of theatre is also called theatre of the oppressed. It is not the same as what is known as community theatre which is usually about putting on plays by amateurs (albeit often very good amateur actors). Popular theatre is about drawing attention to what it is like to been among the have-nots of society and what we would like to do about it.
Probably the oldest theatre troupe in Winnipeg of this kind was (and I assume still could be) the Nellie McClung Theatre Group. It is named after the woman who spearheaded the final campaign to bring about votes for women in the province of Manitoba. In 1914,They were the first in Canada to win the right to mark the ballot at election time.
Nellie McClung, herself, was a Liberal Party member during a time when there was only a two party choice in Manitoba. You were either Liberal or Conservative.
With a smile on my face, I still wonder what McClung might have thought about the Communist Party of Canada representatives in the theatre group if she had still been alive when the troupe formed. At one point the Communist Party leader was an active actress in the group. Not to be outdone,this also attracted a variety of women from other left-wing parties.
The following is an excerpt (because I cannot find the end of the piece among my suitcase of clippings) from a review I once wrote about the group:
The Manitoba Women’s Newspaper
Play recounts McClung’s vote fight
by Tanya Lester
They say we have equality,
But I’m sure you will agree,
Men are more equal than we.
So sand the Nellie McClung Theatre Group as they marched out from among the audience, firmly gripping placards and hats, and onto The Playhouse Theatre stage.
It was May Day, 1980 but the actors’ clothes and their surroundings reflected a much earlier period in Manitoba’s history. They were the suffragettes (Nellie McClung’s gang) and they were out on the streets to protest the inequalities suffered by their sex. Back then, it was all quite simple — a matter of lobbying to pressure Sir Rod,pmd Roblin and men of his ilk to give women the vote.
“If the day ever comes when women get into politics that’s the day when men will get out,” heckled a drunken man as the women proceeded to demonstrate. And while the women staged their mock parliament, it became apparent that a segment of the male population in today’s Manitoba still can say the same thing about women and their right to enter the political arena. In 1980, there are only two women members in the province’s legislature.
It was depressing (almost to the point of tears brought on by feelings of frustration) to watch the all-woman mock parliament and realize basically nothing has changed for the better. Although, the suffragettes were able to get the women the vote, women have been locked out of the province’s inner law making chambers. Of ten their lobbying outside the Legislative Building’s door has not penetrated through the walls.
But it was some of those inequalities for which women have been in most often in recent years that the theatre group addressed in their mock parliament. With their tongues firmly in their cheeks, they referred to the men who were trying to get into politics as “jock strap burners”….
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Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader by Tanya Lester can be purchased from her or go to the title and author name to read the first pages & buy it at amazon.com