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Exterior of 11 St. Thomas St, 2023. Image by Thomas Sayers.

A Theatre Passe Muraille rehearsal at Trinity Square, 11 Trinity Square, circa 1969-1972. Image courtesy of Theatre Passe Muraille Archives.

Theatre Books sticker and bookmark, 2023. Image by Thomas Sayers.

  • TheatreBooks

    Rise of the Canadian Playwright

    McHardy and Harvey credited their store’s success to the rise in Canadian plays written and published in the 1970s. It was rare to see a show written by a Canadian on a stage before then, as Canada’s regional theaters mainly imported successful shows from Broadway or the West End. 

    In 1971, disgruntled Canadian playwrights convened in Gaspé, Quebec for a Canada Council for the Arts conference on playwriting. There they wrote the Gaspé Manifesto, demanding that any theatre receiving government funding must present at least 50% Canadian plays by 1973. Although the Manifesto attracted significant attention and support from Canada’s theatre community, it was ultimately unsuccessful.

    Meanwhile, Toronto companies like the Factory Theatre, with its mandate of producing exclusively Canadian theatre, were devoted supporters of new playwrights. Others, like Tarragon Theatre, offered promising new Canadian plays, like David Freeman’s Creeps or Judith Thompson’s Biting Dog, extended workshops and polished productions to show off to Toronto audiences and critics.

    And as Toronto’s playwriting and alternative theatre scene grew, so did the city’s theatre bookstore.

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  • TheatreBooks

    A Peek Inside TheatreBooks

    Many, including theatre critic Lynn Slotkin, fondly recall wandering between the brushed steel bookshelves and sifting through their specialized collection of books. Sometimes the writers of the books would be there too. American playwrights Terrence McNally and Neil Simon, Canadian puppeteer Ronnie Burkett, Canadian film director David Cronenberg, and many others all gave readings and signings at Theatre Books.

    When the Toronto International Film Festival, then called the Festival of Festivals, debuted in 1976 at the Windsor Arms Hotel, the bookstore drew huge crowds.

    Leonard and John continued to comment on the theatre scene in the Toronto Star as resident experts in the city’s theatre scene. Despite the rise in e-commerce in the late 1990s and the closure of many locally owned bookstores thereafter, the store held on until 2014, when TheatreBooks announced it would close after nearly 40 years of operation. 

    Next time you come across a used theatre book, take a look at the back cover. You may very well find a TheatreBooks sticker, connecting that book to the heart of Toronto’s theatrical community.

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  • TheatreBooks

    Additional Resources:

    Ballet, Arthur, et. al. ‘A Strange Enterprise: The Dilemma of the Playwright in Canada, or The Gaspe Manifesto.’ Canadian Theatre History: Selected Readings, edited by Don Rubin, Copp Clark Limited, 1996, pp. 302-6.

    Bookselling’. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 3 Dec. 2012.

    Charlebois, Gaëtan. ‘Creeps’. The Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia, 28 June 2017,

    Johnston, Denis W. ‘The Factory Theatre Lab.’ Up the Mainstream: The Rise of Toronto’s Alternative Theatres, 1968-1975, University of Toronto Press, 1991, pp. 74-105.

    ‘Tarragon Theatre.’ Up the Mainstream: The Rise of Toronto’s Alternative Theatres, 1968-1975, University of Toronto Press, 1991, pp. 139-169.

    Nothof, Anne. ‘Thompson, Judith’. Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia, 20 Sep. 2021.

    Ouzounian, Richard. ‘TheatreBooks Closing Doors After 39 Years’. Toronto Star, 28 June 2014, 

    Slotkin, Lynn. ‘TheatreBooks – A Remembrance’. The Slotkin Letter, 2 July 2014, 

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