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Pulled from the Pages: Beyond Walls by Peter Jobin

It’s trite but true: fact can be stranger (and more entertaining) than fiction. In Peter Jobin’s Beyond Walls, we begin to get a sense that the history of Toronto’s long-running alternative theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille, couldn’t have been more compelling if it were a theatrical script.

Beyond Walls

Picture this: 1960s Toronto. The infamous Rochdale College, an institution of co-operative living and alternative education, is emerging as a radical experiment in creativity, learning, and co-habitation. Writers, poets, visual artist, actors, dancers and others around the city are beginning to recognize the limits of the Toronto cultural scene—and look for ways to innovate.

It is in this maelstrom of artistic change that Theatre Passe Muraille was born. A radical theatre group designed to be innovative and provocative, Theatre Passe Muraille focused on literally breaking down barriers between actors and their audiences. The story of its founding and evolution demonstrates the company’s ability to take inspiration from disparate sources and synthesize them into a new, uniquely Canadian—or Torontonian—form of artistic expression. And like any good story, there are conflicts of character, clashes with authority, triumphs and lean times. But despite the challenges and controversy the company faced during its early years, Theatre Passe Muraille lives on today, and has recently marked its 50th anniversary.

 

Read on for an excerpt of this fascinating study of the history of Toronto’s alternative theatre scene.

 

* * *

Chapter One
Busted: Theatre Passe Muraille at Rochdale

On Wednesday, March 5, 1969, the day the Theatre Passe Muraille production of Futz was scheduled to open, producer William (Bill) Marshall challenged his city: `We want to see what you can put on in Toronto.’ The Toronto Star printed a rousing article, `Futz Brings Nudity, Bestiality to Toronto Stage.’

The Toronto Police showed little interest: `If all it’s got to show is a couple of bare mammary glands,’ declared a spokesman, `I don’t think we’d even bother with it.’ Marshall’s producing partners, lawyers Miles O’Reilly and Arthur Pennington, invited crown counsel Peter Rickaby to the opening night. Rickaby was both the complainant and prosecutor in the 1965 obscenity conviction of art gallery owner Dorothy Cameron, still a scandal in Toronto. At the Central Library Theatre, a Toronto Police morality-squad plainclothes obcer asked Rickaby if, in his opinion, an obscenity charge should be laid. `It would be laughed out of court,’ Rickaby told him.

Hours before the opening, the Futz company stage manager telephoned his actors with a warning that the police might charge them right after the performance. To avoid running into any law obcers after the opening, the actors made their exit via the theatre’s fire escape. On Thursday, March 6, after the second night’s performance, the Toronto Police preferred charges of `staging an indecent performance’ and the following day legal summonses were issued to the director Jim Garrard, the three producers, the actors, the stage crew and even the Central Library’s teenage coatroom attendant.

Gina Laight, Bernice Gai Hune and Shoshana Brown. Jim Garrard directing Futz by Rochelle Owens in the ‘Zeus Suite’ at Rochdale College

Actresses Gina Laight, Bernice Gai Hune and Shoshana Brown. Jim Garrard (right) directing Futz by Rochelle Owens in the ‘Zeus Suite’ at Rochdale College, 1969.
Photo by Lionel Douglas, courtesy of R. Nasmith Archives.

As the play’s scheduled three-week run proceeded, new summonses were issued to everyone after each night’s presentation, each performance constituting a new odence under the law. The daily legal ceremony was covered by press and television, a major media event. The publicity put ticket sales through the roof; the producers scheduled additional performances, and invited the surprised American playwright, Rochelle Owens, to Toronto for interviews. Her rather `Manhattan’ comment was, `This couldn’t happen in New York. All this prurient sex. It’s very corny.’ Torontonians, who weren’t odended by `an indecent performance’, as the warrants read, or by the denial of free speech, were unhappy with the rather provincial character of the entire adair. The Toronto Telegram commented, `The press, the police, and those responsible for the production have this much in common: they have all become excited by a trace of smut.’

After its scheduled three-week run, Futz closed, as another theatre had previously reserved the Central Library. There was talk of moving the production to a new location, but this was just not possible. Passe Muraille had no production funds, the Trio partners were facing three weeks of Criminal Code charges and lawyers Pennington and O’Reilly, if convicted, could face sanctions by the Ontario Bar. The Futz arrests and the explosive media coverage they received produced extraordinary public exposure for the new Toronto theatre scene and energized local stage professionals of all kinds. In retrospect, it’s interesting to examine why members of the Futz company were arrested.

Jim Garrard at Rochdale

Jim Garrard at Rochdale, 1969. Photo by Robert Nasmith.

For Toronto in 1969, it may well be that the Passe Muraille production of Futz was an `indecent’ act. The first act of An Evening with Futz, as the Central Library performance was called, was based on improvisations that director Jim Garrard had created in his Rochdale College theatre classes, and was designed to prepare the audience for Rochelle Owens’s play. Theatregoers had to reach their seats by stepping over actors sprawled in the aisles. After warm-up exercises, the cast questioned the audience about their ideas on bestiality, sexuality and the play’s reputation. Sexual jokes and skits were mixed with the Walt Disney animated short Three Little Pigs and other visual materials. A recording of the Beatles singing `Why Don’t We Do It in the Road’ was played. One critic described this first act as `an extended series of obscene songs and dreary old jokes’. According to most reports, the audience interrogations were foolish, the songs and jokes were juvenile. Garrard disliked this first act so much he usually remained in the theatre lobby, refusing to watch. Now Theatre Passe Muraille, the new company he had founded just one year earlier, was at risk and he was facing charges, with no resources to defend himself.

 

* * *

 

PortraitHope you enjoyed this unique peek behind the scenes of a major part of Canada’s theatrical heritage. To read more, be sure to get your own copy of Beyond Walls here.

Happy reading! Steph


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PQ Weekly Roundup: 03 Jan 19

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Every Friday, the PQ Weekly Roundup collects the most shared links in our social media network—bookish articles, reviews, quizzes, recommendations and more—in convenient digest form.

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And that’s it—your first PQL Weekly Roundup of 2019. Here’s to a fantastic year full of the very best that the written word has to offer!

Cheers,
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PQL Holiday Giveaway # 3: Free for All

PQL Holiday Giveaway Week 3

We’ve had two wonderful weeks of giveaways and two lucky winners awarded a pair of PQL book bundles. Great for them, but what about you?

This week, everyone’s a winner!

We’re gifting you all with two beautiful, high-resolution, printable bookmarks (one of them holiday-themed!). And since we recognize you might like to do your own thing, we’re also including all of the cool image files used to make these little gems. That includes four collections of vintage alphabet initials and an assortment of dingbats and engravings for your designing pleasure.

We hope you enjoy your little gift. And don’t forget:

If you want more dingbats, ornaments and fanciful initials, you can browse our resource of downloadable images at devilsartisan.ca. Happy holidays!

 

PortraitThank you once again for participating in our month of giveaways. Congratulations to all our winners, and as always, stay tuned for more contests, new releases, and other fun stuff in 2019.

Cheers,Steph


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PQ Weekly Roundup: 21 Dec 2018

pqroundup2Every Friday, the PQ Weekly Roundup collects the most shared links in our social media network—bookish articles, reviews, quizzes, recommendations and more—in convenient digest form.

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It’s the last PQ Weekly Roundup of the year—where does the time go? We hope you have a wonderful holiday, full of joy and good cheer—and maybe a book or two.

All the best,
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PQL Holiday Giveaway # 2: Music to Your Ears

PQL Holiday Giveaway Week 2

Hi Quill friends! We hope you enjoyed last week’s PQL Holiday Giveaway featuring some great books inspired by history. This week, we’re upping the ante with another tempting treat for you literature lovers….

Since it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, we’ve decided that ’tis the season to be jolly, and what better way to make spirits bright than to give away another fabulous book bundle?

“MUSIC TO YOUR EARS”
BOOK BUNDLE GIVEAWAY

Concord of Sweet Sounds, My Life on Earth and Elsewhere, Jan in 35 Pieces

This week, our lucky winner will receive a print copy of each of three books: Gerard Brender à Brandis’s visual stunner Concord of Sweet Sounds, composer R. Murray Schafer’s excellent memoir, My Life on Earth and Elsewhere, and of course cellist Ian Hampton’s beautiful and chuckle-inducing Jan in 35 Pieces, which was just longlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize.

For your chance to win:

1. log in to the form below using email, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram
2. earn up to six entries by visiting Facebook and Instagram, following us or Tweeting on Twitter or by signing up to our newsletter. (If you’re already a newsletter subscriber and an avid social media follower, the bonus entry method is for you!)
3. log out of the form to submit your entry

The winner will be contacted by email next week.

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PortraitThanks to everyone who entered last week’s giveaway. Best wishes to those who toss their hats in the ring this time, too!

Cheers,Steph


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PQ Weekly Roundup: 14 Dec 2018

pqroundup2Every Friday, the PQ Weekly Roundup collects the most shared links in our social media network—bookish articles, reviews, quizzes, recommendations and more—in convenient digest form.

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Can you believe how close the holidays are getting? Here’s hoping that you’re able to relax a little and enjoy the spirit of the season.

Cheers,
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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.