A scan of the program for "futz" showing nightly except sundays.

Theatre Passe Muraille

Theatre Passe Muraille

A scan of the program for "futz" showing nightly except sundays.
Program for Futz, circa 1969. Image courtesy of Theatre Passe Muraille Archives.

Program for Futz, circa 1969. Image courtesy of Theatre Passe Muraille Archives.

A black and white image of a group of men surrounding a statue.
The Unknown Student statue with TPM members, Rochdale College, 341 Bloor Street W., circa 1969. Courtesy of Theatre Passe Muraille Archives.

The Unknown Student statue with TPM members, Rochdale College, 341 Bloor Street W., circa 1969. Courtesy of Theatre Passe Muraille Archives.

A black and white image of a dimly lit hall. People are sitting in chairs.
General Meeting, Rochdale College, 341 Bloor Street W., 1971. Image courtesy of Theatre Passe Muraille Archives.

General Meeting, Rochdale College, 341 Bloor Street W., 1971. Image courtesy of Theatre Passe Muraille Archives.

A red garage door with graffiti on it. It reads " TPM: Pas Muraille Back stage."
Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 2013. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 484, Item 90.

Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 2013. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 484, Item 90.

The Canadian 1960s

We begin at Rochdale College, the hotbed of counterculture in 1960’s Toronto. Rochdale represents many of the rapid changes and challenges that took place during this period. Globally, the construction of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis heightened fears about the Cold War. The Vietnam War brought an exodus of American thinkers and draft dodgers to Canada. 

At home, Canada was facing the separatist movement and Quiet Revolution in Quebec. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau decriminalised homosexuality in 1969, previously punishable by up to fourteen years in prison. Yorkville was filled with beatniks, poets, and coffee-houses. And the 1967 Canadian Centenary created a need for a more distinct national identity, if only to separate Canadians from Americans. 

These world events, along with aesthetic influences from avant-garde and experimental Off-Broadway productions, influenced the first rebellious aims of Toronto’s alternative theatre movement.

Born in Radical Rochdale

Rochdale College opened in 1968 to put alternative theories of education and communal living into practice. Students attended Rochdale for free and took classes on a wide variety of topics, including Jungian psychology, sculpture, the history of Atlantis, and a drama workshop run by Jim Garrard.

Jim Garrard was raised in Ontario but studied acting overseas in London, England. He returned to Canada and brought Rochdale new techniques from London’s alternative theatre scene. Garrard led theatre and improv games in his Zeus suite, which he transformed into a production of Tom Paine. For one night only, Rochdale’s basement garage hosted the performance, with actors’ bodies making up most of the sets and scenery. This performance founded Toronto’s oldest surviving alternative theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM). The company called for theatre without walls, with no distinction between actors and spectators or between what was considered inside and outside the theatre.

Much Ado About a Pig

In 1969, Theatre Passe Muraille actors found themselves making a quick getaway during curtain call. Rumour had it that the Toronto Police’s morality squad were on their way to lay charges after their latest production, An Evening with Futz.

Rochelle Owens’ Futz is a play about a farmer whose carnal love for his pig Amanda draws the ire of a town. As the artistic director for the 1969 TPM production, Jim Garrard added an improvised first act where theatregoers stepped over actors sprawled in the aisles. The actors also questioned the audience about their thoughts on such topics as bestiality, amid several sexual jokes and skits. This was all before the play even began!

The morality squad charged Futz’s cast and crew for staging an indecent performance. When the case was brought to trial, Judge P.J. Bolsby found the crew guilty and fined the TPM $1,300. But it was the theatre scene that had the last laugh. The publicity storm around the morality charges for Futz considerably raised Theatre Passe Muraille’s profile in Toronto’s alternative theatre scene, eventually gaining a national reputation and following. 

Collective Creation in The Farm Show

Jim Gerrard passed TPM’s artistic directorship on to Paul Thompson in 1972. Thompson used the method of collective creation – where a group of actors improvise and collaborate to create a play – to create a string of Canadian theatre hits.

Thompson and his cast created The Farm Show by living, working, and improvising on a Clinton, Ontario farm for six weeks. They crafted a groundbreaking play that let the farmers see themselves emotionally portrayed by the Toronto actors, who poked fun at themselves and their artistic process.

Later in 1975, TPM took Toronto’s sexual world as inspiration for its next collective creation piece with I Love You, Baby Blue. The show featured naked bodies, crass language, strip clubs, massage parlours, singles bars, and everything in between. The show sold out most of its three-month run, and the extra cash let TPM put a down payment on a space at 16 Ryerson Avenue, a space TPM has occupied ever since.

Sources:

Watch a TV news spot from the CBC archives on Futz.

Charlebois, Gaetan. ‘Theatre Passe Muraille.The Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia, 13 Oct. 2022. 

Filewood, Alan. ‘Documentary and Collective Creation: The Farm Show.’ Collective Encounters: Documentary Theatre in English Canada, University of Toronto Press, 1987, pp. 24-49.

‘Collective Creation.’ The Canadian Encyclopedia, 7 Feb. 2006.

Jobin, Peter. Beyond Walls: Theatre Passe Muraille 1968 – 1975. The Porcupine’s Quill, 2018.

Johnston, Denis W. ‘Theatre Passe Muraille to 1970.’ Up the Mainstream: The Rise of Toronto’s Alternative Theatres, 1968-1975, University of Toronto Press, 1991, pp. 28-73.

‘Theatre Passe Muraille after 1970.’ Up the Mainstream: The Rise of Toronto’s Alternative Theatres, 1968-1975, University of Toronto Press, 1991, pp. 106-138.

Sharpe, David. Rochdale: The Runaway College. House of Anansi Press, 1987.

Sorli, Scott. ‘Rochdale College.’ Concrete Toronto: A Guidebook to Concrete Architecture from the Fifties to the Seventies, edited by McClelland, Michael, and Graeme Stewart, Coach House Books, 2007, pp. 144-47