UBC Theses and Dissertations
Barkerville theatre in context : a case study in our theatrical past McCallum, Douglas John
In approaching the subject of theatrical activity in Barkerville, the problems were how to account for its connections with the gold rush that produced the town, for its emergence several years after the rush was over, for its nature, which was utterly different from the usual views of gold mining towns. Moreover, involvement with the material revealed that not only the theatre, hut many other elements of the social, cultural, even economic and political life of Cariboo contradicted the common stereotypes of the place and its people during the 1860's. Precisely the prevalence of those usual views made it necessary, in seeking to understand the theatre in context, to create that context within this study, with the object that Barkerville society and theatre would each shed some light on the other. In keeping with the case study approach and /the proposition that theatre history is only meaningful when understood in the widest and deepest possible context, the methods of the inquiry are accordingly eclectic and empirical. Because the motivations of the gold seekers have been least understood and most often distorted, it was decided to begin with the context of those motive forces: what common impulses lay behind the search for gold and the Cariboo experience; what they had in common with theatre as such; and what changes occurred in them that would have impelled the people to create a theatre of their own. In these motive forces are discernible strong currents of the popular mythology of modern, economic man. These secularized myths, called into being by an era of unprecedented material change, released tremendous energies and also channelled them into relevant contemporary forms, of which gold was a powerful example, hut which also comprised a variety of socio-cultural impulses, activities and institutions. The gold seekers' living out of the wider modes of their competing myths within the harsh realities of the Cariboo environment, evolved a strong social ethos and provided the impetus and the framework for the development of a community life in which theatre could play an important part; indeed "both the deep-seated, archetypal impulses "behind the myths and the historical particulars through which they were realized created a positive need for theatre, by virtue of its unique dimensions and capacities. Next, early theatrical entertainments are considered within the context of that developing community, the tensions and obstacles that hindered it, and the emerging values and goals that animated it and gave it cohesion and coherence. Early attempts to found a permanent theatre are discussed in relation to the influences of that context and the theatrical expressions of them. Then the emphasis is shifted, the theatre takes centre stage and society is viewed in its context. The third chapter includes the establishment of the first Theatre Royal by the Cariboo Dramatic Association, their early activities, the impact of touring performers, the building of a new theatre as part of the community response to the Barkerville fire, and the opening night performances as significant occasions. In two central chapters the Dramatic Association's popular repertory and its organizational and performance practices show that Caribooites selected, adapted and perceived elements characteristic of theatre is essential and unique capacities and its currently available forms and contents in ways that gave expression to their myths, ethos, societal concerns and personal and collective aspirations, within the context of a significant and effective theatrical ritual, shaped and shared in by a democratic and progressive community. Finally there is a discussion of subsequent theatrical developments, which paralleled, reflected and helped to effect the continuing social, economic and political growth of Barkerville, both of which, in spite of worsening obstacles and threats to their existence, reached their apex in 1871, the year of Confederation, almost a decade after the rush. An epilogue sketches the decline of Barkerville and its theatre as a result of the vulnerability of their isolated position and single industry basis to the larger political and economic forces that have since shaped British Columbia. The conclusions are that the initial hypotheses were correct: Barkerville's theatre was a vital part of—and played a vital part in—the growth of a mature community and embryonic, democratic culture out of the gold rush but also far beyond it; and theatre history and theatre itself are only meaningful and valuable in context—the context of what is most meaningful and valuable for the people involved.
Item Citations and Data