Hello Vancouver

By Guest Blogger J. Kelly Nestruck

My name’s Kelly and I’m a longtime blogger who became the theatre critic at the Globe and Mail during the winter.

When Simon Ogden asked me to pen a guest post for The Next Stage while he’s in China working undercover for Amnesty International, I was happy to oblige. It seemed like an excellent chance for some shameless self-promotion of my fancy-dancy new Nestruck on Theatre blog. (Not very well updated this week, I’m afraid – I’m on vacation in the Laurentian mountains as I’m dashing this off.)

But there are a couple of other things I would like to take the opportunity to say while I’m a guest in Simon’s house, too.

The first is: don’t go cliff jumping, folks. It looks like fun, but I leapt off a 48-foot cliff into a lake near a friend’s cottage last weekend and my back is still smarting. And I was lucky. My friend Tristan jumped after me and broke a vertebrae; after a few days in the hospital, he is now in a back brace for the next twelve weeks. And he was lucky. The paramedics told me about several people who had died in the area this summer by jumping off cliffs.

The second is: it can be darn tricky covering Canadian theatre from a national perspective. I’m based in Toronto and just reviewing every show in that city is a full-time job, I’ve discovered.

Since moving back from England to take the job in February, I have been lucky enough to get to travel for work to Montreal, Ottawa, Niagara-on-the-Lake (for the Shaw Festival), Stratford and Blyth.

I made it to Vancouver, too, for the Magnetic North festival. And thanks to the amazing Hive 2 event, I was able to sample work by a dozen of your local theatre companies in one go, including Boca del Lupo, neworldtheatre, Radix, Rumble Productions, Theatre Replacement, Theatre Conspiracy and Victoria’s Theatre SKAM.

But even with all that travel – and I’ve been out of Toronto at festivals almost every weekend this summer – I still feel like I’m only brushing the surface. Even if there were ten of me and we had an unlimited travel budget to review every show in every major Canadian city, there wouldn’t be enough space to print all the reviews.

It’s enough to make you wonder: Given the vastness of our country, is there even such a thing as Canadian theatre? Or are there only provincial and city-based theatre scenes: British Columbian theatre, Quebec theatre, Toronto theatre… Canada doesn’t even have an institutional “national theatre” like Britain does. (Though if we did, I’d like to see one modeled after Scotland’s peripatetic one.)

And yet it does feel like there’s a national conversation about theatre going on, now more than ever, thanks to the ever-expanding swarm of blogs devoted to my favourite art form.

The Guardian in the UK recently highlighted Canada’s ” impressive and thriving theatre blogs scene” on its website. (In a meta-blog column called Noises Off that, full disclosure, I started
when I worked there.)

In the short article, the Toronto festival Summerworks, the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, Montreal playwright and performer Keir Cutler, Vancouver’s Next Stage blog and Shaw Festival company member Ali Momen’s blog were all mentioned.

Reading this, it suddenly occurred to me that, indeed, we do have a national conversation about theatre – a vibrant, fun, unpretentious one. Montreal artists are stopping by Vancouver-based blogs to write about incidents that occurred in Winnipeg. We are connected. Maybe “Canadian theatre” isn’t such a oxymoron anymore.

And so, Next Stage readers, may a thousand theatre blogs like this one bloom! Let’s keep communicating back and forth across the country (and up and down too). I may only be able to get out to Vancouver once or twice a year – we do have critic Michael Harris there, who reviews on a more regular basis – but I can keep up to a certain extent thanks to RSS feeds and websites like Jerry Wasserman’s excellent Vancouverplays.com.

Finally, a personal plea to theatre artists based anywhere in Canada who are reading this: please do put me on your media lists even if you’re tired of being ignored by Toronto-centric national newspapers (as many practitioners complained to me at Magnetic North). The email’s knestruck@globeandmail.com. The squeaky wheel doesn’t always get the grease, but it does get more than the one that remains silent…


  1. How great is it that the national theatre critic for the Globe and Mail is guest blogging at The Next Stage?

    Incredibly great. That’s how great.

    This is the kind of ego-less arts reporting we need much more of from our national media.

    What a coup for Simon Ogden and The Next Stage specifically, and for Canadian theatre blogging generally.

    Thank you.

  2. “Canada doesn’t even have an institutional “national theatre””

    Does the National Arts Centre not count as an institutional national theatre?

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