74he Tarragon Theatre has all the markings of a CanadianTheatre shrine. Walking down its plush, maroon-carpeted hallways, patrons are exposed to over 40years of Canadian theatre history. Productionphotographs from its very first performance in 1971 toits most recent hits line the walls. Mounted headshots ofhundreds of playwrights peer down on mingling audiencemembers from the lobby ceiling. Graffiti-scrawled quotes fromactors adorn the dressing-room walls.This is a theatre committed to its playwrights. At a respectable 42years of age, the Tarragon has fostered the careers of countlessCanadian theatre icons. World-renowned Quebecois playwrightMichel Tremblay was unknown to English Canada before his playswere translated and presented on Tarragon's stage. Names likeDavid French, David Freeman and Judith Thompson are studied inUniversity theatre programs across the country; all have premieredplays at Tarragon. And yet, 50 years ago, the mere idea of anindependent Canadian theatre community didn't exist."We didn't have a voice," says Briony Glassco, actor, playwright,and daughter of Bill and Jane Glassco, co-founders of TarragonTheatre. "We had Stratford, which was an English voice; we hadthe touring houses, which were American voices. We didn't haveCanadian playwrights." And that's exactly what a young andpassionate group of independent theatre-makers set out to changein the late '60s and early '70s.All of a sudden, the scene was ripe with new work. Fledgling theatrecompanies popped up around the city, each attempting to find itsown voice. From their efforts, four key theatre companies emergedin Toronto, producing exemplary work to this day. In addition toTTarragon's ongoingcommitment toCanadian playsCanadianDistinctivelyby Laura Maclean
75Tarragon, the Factory Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille and CanadianStage (an amalgamation of Toronto Free Theatre and CentreStage)were all influential in introducing Canada to its playwrights.Each of these theatres was responding to a marked absence ofCanadian voices on the stage, and each sought to produce home-grown work never before seen on Canadian stages. Through theseefforts, an independent Canadian theatre community began togrow, ushering in a new era of Canadian theatre."We all wanted to do Canadian theatre," explains MalloryGilbert, who began working at Tarragon in its second season andwent on to serve as general manager from 1978 to 2006. "Priorto this, the only theatre that was seen was English and Americanwork," she explains. "Bill Glassco realized he wanted to run atheatre, and in those days, when you decided you wanted to runa theatre, you went and found a space first and then you builtthe theatre around it."The space he found was an old brick building north of the Duponttrain tracks, just east of Bathurst Street. At the time, it sharedbuilding space with an air conditioning company. The theatre wasnamed Tarragon, after Glassco's favourite herb. Its first play,Creeps, written by David Freeman and including a young, then-unknown John Candy, turned out to be a hit.From the very beginning, Tarragon's focus was playwriting. "Thisis really what it's all about, working with playwrights," saidGlassco in an interview with the Toronto Star's Urjo Kareda in1971. Kareda later went on to serve Tarragon as artistic directorfor 20 years. "It isn't a political commitment to Canadiantheatre," explained Glassco. "The measure of our success will bewhen we produce playwrights who no longer need us. I can onlyhelp these playwrights by doing their work well."Tarragon's commitment to playwrights persists to this day. "We'reendeavouring to nurture writers from a very young age," saysThe Children's RepublicThe Children's Republic, written by Tarragon playwright-in-residence HannahMoscovitch, ran from November 8 - December 18, 2011 in co-productionwith the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company. Photo by Cylla vonTiedemann. L-R: Mark Correia, Katie Frances Cohen, and Elliot Larson.