Rebels On Stage and Off Script:
Toronto’s Alternative Theatre Movement

Black and white photograph 5 people standing in front of a theatre dressed in warm clothing holding a sign reading

Alternative theatre is theatre that rebels. Rebellion against theatrical norms and against the idea that Canada was unworthy of its own dramatic literature. Discover the rebels of Toronto's theatre scene from 1950 to 1980.

Meet the companies, directors, writers, and actors who mounted rebellious performances from the 50s to the 80s and helped establish Toronto’s now-thriving theatre scene.

Alternative theatre is theatre that rebels. This tour will take you through the Bloor-Yonge area to dive into the history and stories of Toronto’s alternative theatre movement. We’ll meet the companies, directors, writers, and actors who mounted rebellious performances and helped establish Toronto as the third largest theatre centre in the English-speaking world.

Many of the movers and shakers of Toronto’s alternative theatre movement had a goal: to create theatre that told distinctly Canadian stories. In the 1950s, Canada was searching for a distinct artistic voice that was neither American nor British. Alternative theatre companies set in motion acts of creation, but also acts of erasure, which marginalized nuanced Indigenous storytelling and performance methods.

But, by the 1980s, companies like Native Earth Performing Arts, Turtle Gals Performance Ensemble, schools like the Centre for Indigenous Theatre, and creators like Tomson Highway, Drew Hayden Taylor, Daniel David Moses, Rebecca Belmore, and many more were bringing Indigenous theatre to Toronto stages.

This digital tour was developed by Emerging Historian Thomas Sayers and was supported by TD and The Ready Commitment as part of Heritage Toronto’s Equity Heritage Initiative.

Last Updated: December 6, 2023

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Additional Resources

Carson, Neil. Harlequin in Hogtown: George Luscombe and Toronto Workshop Productions. University of Toronto Press, 1995.

Charlebois, Gaëtan. ‘Luscombe, George.The Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia, 3 July 2018.

Crew, Robert, and Paul Halferty. ‘Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 4 Mar. 2012, 

Doolittle, Joyce, and Zina Barnieh. A Mirror of Our Dreams: Children and the Theatre in Canada. Talonbooks, 1979.

Filewood, Alan. ‘Collective Creation.The Canadian Encyclopedia, 7 Feb. 2006.

Johnston, Denis W. Up the Mainstream: The Rise of Toronto’s Alternative Theatres, 1968-1975. University of Toronto Press, 1991.Levin, Laura, editor. Theatre and Performance in Toronto. Canada Playwrights Press, 2011



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