New Play Creation in English-Speaking Canada (2004 – 2009)

SSHRC Standard Research Grant Project

This research project, supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Standard Research Grant, was designed to examine and critique the perception, fostered by several decades of writing by both scholars and practitioners, that, even granting the differences of opportunity afforded by a range of issues such as culture, class, education, and sexual orientation, there exists a commonality of experience for a diverse population of dramatists in this Canada. Specifically, this shared experience relates to the established and systematic structures and processes utilized across a broad section of developmental and producing theatre organizations.  This perceived commonality is problematic, however, in that the pervasive standardization of structures and strategies  of new play development—developmental dramaturgy—that it presumes would seem to contradict the very sorts of cultural and social distinctions that can be so significant on other levels and at other stages of production and reception.

In an attempt to navigate this perceived incongruity, the project conducted an in-depth national survey, and I traveled from one side of Canada to the other, visiting many of the most influential Play Development organizations in the country. Ultimately, the study was designed to examine the ways in which Canadian developmental dramaturgy can be seen to reflect the complex set of economic, industrial, political, and aesthetic conditions that combine to determine, within flexible but finite parameters, what is “possible” in Canadian professional theatre.


  • To establish, through a comprehensive literature review, as complete as possible an understanding of the specifically theatrical and broadly-based cultural factors which, over the course of the last 50 years, have inspired and defined the unprecedented contemporary Canadian preoccupation with “new play development.”
  • To analyze, through cross-sectional and specific case study investigations, the contemporary relationships between established developmental dramaturgy programs and institutions of professional theatre production.  This involved research into developmental organizations which are not affiliated with producing institutions, those indirectly and directly affiliated with producing institutions, and those that are “in-house” components of producing institutions.
  • To analyze the contemporary relationships between established developmental organizations and the primary sources of financial support for new play development, both public (federal, regional, provincial, and municipal) and private (foundations and individuals).
  • To conduct focused analyses of existing approaches to new play development in Canada that have conspicuously identified themselves as “alternatives” to the perceived commonality of development activities in Canada, in order to analyze their claims to distinction and innovation.
  • Based upon the information and analysis emerging out of the previous objectives, to consider thoroughly contextualized and informed complements and/or alternatives to current practice in terms of new play development conceptualization, organization, and methodology.