Author Tags: Theatre

At the 2015 Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards held in Vancouver, Jerry Wasserman received the 2015 Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance (GVPTA) Career Achievement Award for a body of work that has made major contributions to the theatre community in Vancouver. In the same year, at the Canadian Association for Theatre Research conference, his edited collections, Modern Canadian Plays, Volumes One and Two, 1985-2015 (Talonbooks), received the Patrick O’Neill Award for Best Edited Collection in Canadian Theatre, Special Commendation. In 2011, Wasserman received the Sam Payne Award from the Union of B.C. Performers which recognizes “humanity, artistic integrity and encouragement of new talent.”

One of Vancouver's most versatile actors--who often plays one of the bad guys--was a longtime theatre critic for CBC Radio's Afternoon Show before switching to print reviews for The Province. Jerry Wasserman, a professor of English and Theatre at UBC since 1972, subsequently became head of the university's Theatre and Film department. He has 200-plus acting credits that have included many of Vancouver's professional stages and multiple roles on TV programs such as X-Files and Smallville.

Offstage he has also edited Twenty Years at Play: A New Play Centre Anthology (1990). When the New Play Centre's artistic director Paul Mears took over from Pamela Hawthorn, he sought ways to celebrate and publicize the 20th anniversary of the organization, whereupon Wasserman suggested putting together 20 Years at Play, the first regional anthology of plays in Canada. Wasserman had appeared in the NPC's production of Tom Walmsley's The Working Man in 1975.

"I didn't want the book to be a museum piece," he said. "I wanted it to be living plays which are still in repertory." Some plays included were Tom Cone's Herringbone, Sheldon Rosen's Ned and Jack, John Lazarus' Dreaming and Duelling, Tom Walmsley's Something Red, Margaret Hollingsworth's War Babies, Betty Lambert's Under the Skin, Ian Weir's The Idler and Alex Brown's The Wolf Within. Previously published materials, such as Sherman Snukal's Talking Dirty, the most commercially successful B.C. play at the time, were not included in the anthology even though Talking Dirty went through six years of workshopping at the New Play Centre. Wasserman's only disappointment in assembling the landmark volume was his discovery that relatively few women had come forward to the NPC for playwrighting workshops at that time.

“By about 1980, partly because I was also working in Vancouver theatres as an actor, often in new Canadian plays, I found myself teaching mostly drama courses and eventually creating a course on Canadian drama," he has said. “That led to my decision to put together an anthology of modern Canadian plays, partly to save money for my students but mainly because it seemed time to recognize this lively artistic activity in print. Turns out a couple of other academics had the same idea: in 1984-85 three Canadian drama anthologies were published. But my Modern Canadian Plays is the only one that has remained in print, going through five editions in order to stay current, and expanding from 12 to 31 plays. It’s pretty cool that it has now been in print for 30 years, which may be a record for any Canadian literary anthology.”

Wasserman has a B.A. (Adelphi), M.A. (Chicago) and Ph.D. (Cornell). As an academic he specializes in modern drama and theatre history with particular interests in Canadian, American and modern British theatre as well as blues music and blues literature. With Sherrill Grace of UBC's English department he has co-edited Theatre and AutoBiography: Writing and Performing Lives in Theory and Practice (Talonbooks 2006). In 2006 he also edited the 400th anniversary edition of arguably the first North American play, Marc Lescarbot's Theatre of Neptune in New France, as Spectacle of Empire (Talonbooks $21.95), with the original French script, two modern translations and an extensive historical and critical introduction.

He grew up in New York City and suburbs, started college majoring in Engineering and ended up with a Ph.D. in English literature, specializing in 20th century literature and dramatic literature. He came to UBC in 1972 to teach modern British, with an emphasis on fiction, and his early publications were almost all on novelists: Conrad, Lawrence, Woolf, Huxley, Ellison, as well as Beckett, Rabelais and Shakespeare.

Jerry Wasserman is the instigator and overseer of Vancouverplays.com, a public service reference site about Vancouver theatre, started in 1998, produced, directed and edited by Jerry Wasserman, and designed, maintained and updated by Linda Fenton Malloy, a freelance web artist based in Vancouver.

DATE OF BIRTH: November 2, 1945

PLACE OF BIRTH: Cincinnati, Ohio



Modern Canadian Plays, Volume II – Fifth Edition (Talon, 2013) $49.95 9780889226791

Modern Canadian Plays: Volume I, Fifth Edition (Talon, 2012) $49.95 978-0-88922-678-4

Spectacle of Empire: Marc Lescarbot's Theatre of Neptune in New France (Talon, 2006). $21.95. 0-88922-547-8

Theatre and AutoBiography: Writing and Performing Lives in Theory and Practice (Talon, 2006). Co-edited with Sherill Grace.

Modern Canadian Plays, Volumes One and Two. 4th edition. Talon, 2001). $34.95 0-88922-243-6

Twenty Years at Play: A New Play Centre Anthology. (Talon, 1990). $18.95

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2015] "Theatre"

Publication List (partial)
Info (2006)

“British Columbia Theatre” special issue of BC Studies 137 (Spring 2003), 130 pp. incl. “Introduction,” 3-4.

Twenty Years at Play: A New Play Centre Anthology. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1990. (346 pp.)

Modern Canadian Plays. 4th ed, 2 vols, 24 plays. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2000/01. (464 + 407 pp.)
3rd ed, 2 vols, 20 plays. 1993/94. ( 414 + 368 pp.)
1st ed., 12 plays, 1985 (412 pp.); Rev. ed., 1986


“’God of the Whiteman! God of the Indian! God Al-fucking mighty!’: The Residential School Legacy in Two Canadian Plays.”

Journal of Canadian Studies 39 (Winter 2005): 23-48.

“Monstrous Clowns: American Grotesques on the Canadian Stage.” Canadian Theatre Review 120 (Fall 2004): 33-37.

“Joan Macleod and the Geography of the Imagination.” Performing National Identities: International Perspectives on Contemporary Canadian Theatre. Ed. Sherrill Grace and Albert-Reiner Glaap. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2003. 92-103.

“Where Were You in ’52? Canadian Theatre on the Eve of Stratford,” Canadian Theatre Review 114 (Spring 2003): 6-10.

“Where Is Here Now? Living the Border in the New Canadian Drama.” Crucible of Cultures: Anglophone Drama at the Dawn of a New Millennium. Ed. Marc Maufort and Franca Bellarsi. Brussels: P.I.E.- Peter Lang, 2002. 163-73.

“Queen Bee, King Bee: The Color Purple and the Blues,” Canadian Review of American Studies 30.3 (2000): 301-16.

“’It’s the Do-Gooders Burn My Ass’: Modern Canadian Drama and the Crisis of Liberalism,” Modern Drama 43 (Spring 2000): 32-47.

“Where the Soul Still Dances: The Blues and Canadian Drama,” Essays on Canadian Writing 65 (Fall 1998): 56-75.

“Confessions of a Vile Canonist: Anthologising Canadian Drama,” Australasian Drama Studies 29 (October 1996): 197-205.

“Daddy’s Girls: Father-Daughter Incest and Canadian Plays by Women,” Essays in Theatre 14 (November 1995): 25-36.

"Büchner in Canada: Woyzeck and the Development of English-Canadian Theatre," Theatre History in Canada 8 (Fall 1987): 181-92.

"Huxley's Either/Or: The Case for Eyeless in Gaza," Novel 13 (Winter 1980): 188-203. Rpt. in Critical Essays on Aldous Huxley. Ed. Jerome Meckier (NY: G.K. Hall, 1996): 132-48.

"Mimetic Form in The Waves," Journal of Narrative Technique 9 (Winter 1979): 41-52.

"Watt's World of Words," Bucknell Review 22 (Fall 1976): 123-38. Rpt. in Twentieth Century Poetry, Fiction, Theory. Ed. Harry R. Garvin (London: Associated UP, 1977): 123-38.

"'And Every One Have Need of Other': Bond and Relationship in King Lear," Mosaic 9 (Winter 1976): 15-30.

"Embracing the Negative: Native Son and Invisible Man," Studies in American Fiction 4 (Spring 1976): 93-104.

"The Word as Object: The Rabelaisian Novel," Novel 8 (Winter 1975): 123-37. Rpt. in Towards a Poetics of Fiction. Ed. Mark Spilka (Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1977): 316-30.

"Narrative Presence: The Illusion of Language in Heart of Darkness," Studies in the Novel 6 (Fall 1974): 327-38.

"St. Mawr and the Search for Community," Mosaic 5 (Winter 1972): 113-23.

Introduction to Voices from Canada: Focus on 30 Plays. Ed. Albert-Reiner Glaap. Trans. Nicholas Quaintmere. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2003. vii-x.

Introduction to Joan MacLeod, The Shape of a Girl / Jewel. Vancouver, Talon, 2002. 7-11.

Introduction to George F. Walker, Somewhere Else. Vancouver: Talon, 1999. 8-9.

Introduction to George F. Walker, The Power Plays. Vancouver: Talon, 1999. 5-6.

Introduction to George F. Walker, The East End Plays, Part One. Vancouver: Talon, 1999. 7-9.

Introduction to George F. Walker, The East End Plays, Part Two. Vancouver: Talon, 1999. 7-8.

Hrant Alianak, Leonard Angel, Carol Bolt, Tom Cone, David Fennario, Brad Fraser, David Freeman, Sky Gilbert, John Gray, Ann Henry, Daniel MacIvor, John Mighton, Ken Mitchell, Sheldon Rosen, Djanet Sears, Jason Sherman, Drew Hayden Taylor, Paul Thompson, Tom Walmsley, Ian Weir in The Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. Ed. W.H. New. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2002.

David French, Betty Lambert, George F. Walker in The Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English. Ed. Eugene Benson and L.W. Conolly, 2 vols. London: Routledge, 1994. Rev. 2002 for 2nd ed.

Tom Grainger, W.O. Mitchell, Eric Peterson, Tom Walmsley in The Oxford Companion to Canadian Theatre. Ed. Eugene Benson and L.W. Conolly. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1989.

"Andrew Allen," Dictionary of Literary Biography 88 (Ann Arbor: Gale 1989): 226-27.

Michael Cook, Rex Deverell, David French, John Herbert, Margaret Hollingsworth, Patricia Joudry, Rick Salutin, Tom Walmsley in The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. Edmonton: Hurtig, 1988. Rev.1997 for Canadian Encyclopedia 1998.

"George Ryga," Dictionary of Literary Biography 60 (Ann Arbor: Gale, 1987): 320-24.

"David Watmough," Dictionary of Literary Biography 53 (Ann Arbor: Gale, 1986): 363-66.

Spectacle of Empire: Marc Lescarbot’s Theatre of Neptune in New France (Talonbooks $21.95)

Having appeared in more than 130 movies and television episodes, with roles in X-Files and Smallville, Jerry Wasserman has simultaneously reviewed more than 1,000 plays, mainly for CBC and The Province.

In addition, the New York-raised Wasserman, who came to Canada in 1972, has written and lectured extensively on American blues music and Canadian theatre while teaching English and theatre at UBC. His latest literary project is the 400th anniversary edition of arguably the first North American play, a masque performed on the Bay of Fundy by members of the colony of Port Royal on November 14, 1606, to celebrate the return of Samuel de Champlain from a voyage to Cape Cod. Spectacle of Empire: Marc Lescarbot’s Theatre of Neptune in New France (Talonbooks $21.95) includes the original French script, two modern translations and an extensive historical and critical introduction.

Born in Ohio in 1945, Jerry Wasserman is an ardent Canadian nationalist who set out to study engineering, but was soon waylaid by the arts. His education stateside, followed by his immigration north, has provided him with a unique perspective on his own secondary trade as an actor. “Canadian theatre became professional much later,” he says, “whereas modern American theatre has much deeper historical roots, beginning in the early 20th century with people like Eugene O’Neill. Canadian theatre doesn’t seriously begin until about 1967.”
Hence Wasserman has edited a collection of plays that emanated from Vancouver’s New Play Centre and he is fascinated by the obscure play that was written and produced by New France lawyer, historian and poet Marc Lescarbot.

First performed 400 years ago, Lescarbot’s paean to empire “transmuted the work of colonialism into spectacle” as a thanksgiving ritual to mark the safe return of Champlain and Sieur de Poutrincourt from a journey in search of a more temperate site for their colony. “We tend to undervalue the accomplishments of Canadian theatre artists, and here is a play that marks, in many ways, the beginnings of Canadian theatre,” says Wasserman, “[that is] if we exclude First Nations ritual performance.

“This is the first scripted play, written and performed on soil that became Canada. In fact, you could argue it was the first North American play. It certainly provides a point of reference or origin for Canadian theatre.”
Reprinted with a version of Ben Jonson’s The Masque of Blackness (1605), a contemporary English imperial spectacle, Lescarbot’s masque was also used as a tool to rally the troops, to get them through a difficult winter. “It’s important for us to understand that culture has always been a very important tool by which people measure the success of their lives and help themselves get through difficult times,” says Wasserman.

Wasserman’s own involvement with theatre has helped him get through difficult times. When he entered university, he found he could not do physics, thus ending his dream of working in the NASA program. Around this time, he met and became enamoured with a woman involved in theatre. Having never acted before, Wasserman auditioned for, and earned a role in Leave it to Jane, a 1930s musical, and toured around Europe for two months. He later earned his doctoral degree in English. Given his experience and connections, Wasserman could probably write more about American drama, but he’s happy focusing on theatre north of the border. “There are plenty of people to advocate for American culture, and I don’t think it needs my help,” he says. “But I don’t think there are enough Canadians who support Canadian culture, and it’s much more important for me to work on the Canadian side.”

In addition to editing books about Canadian drama and teaching young Canadian acting students, Wasserman supports local theatre on his website, www.vancouverplays.com. He started the site in 2004 when his CBC reviewing gig ended, and he decided to put reviews and other theatre information onto the web. With Sherrill Grace of UBC’s English department, Wasserman has also co-edited Theatre and AutoBiography: Writing and Performing Lives in Theory and Practice (Talonbooks $29.95). As well, his two-volume anthology Modern Canadian Plays, now in its 4th edition, has become the standard text in its subject area.

“I think part of my job is to raise consciousness that Canada has an interesting history, maybe even a ‘sexy’ history,” he says, “one worth knowing about. If you know history, it helps form your knowledge about contemporary life.” Wasserman is currently working on a book dealing with how Canadian theatre always struggles with the seductive power of American culture. “It’s almost impossible to avoid comparing yourself to a country right beside you with a population ten times bigger,” he says. “But we are getting on with it. In the last 20 years, there is a lot less worrying about how we measure up than there used to be. I think that’s a good thing.”

All of which probably won’t interest most Canadians as much as the fact that Jerry Wasserman appears with Will Smith in I, Robot.

Neptune 0-88922-549-4; AutoBiography 0-88922-540-0

John Geary is a Vancouver freelance writer.

[BCBW 2006]

Fifth editions of Modern Canadian Plays
Publisher's Promo (2013)

In the expanded fifth edition of Modern Canadian Plays, Jerry Wasserman showcases an even broader range of Canadian drama than in previous editions.

The plays in the first volume date from 1967 to 1991, and outline an indigenous Canadian drama emerging from its colonial roots to celebrate a rising nationalism.

The plays in Volume One include:

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, George Ryga (1967)
Les Belles Soeurs, Michel Tremblay (1968)
Leaving Home, David French (1972)
Sticks and Stones (The Donnellys, Part One), James Reaney (1973)
Zastrozzi, George F. Walker (1977)
Billy Bishop Goes to War, John MacLachlan Gray with Eric Peterson (1978)
Balconville, David Fennario (1979)
Blood Relations, Sharon Pollock (1980)
Drag Queens on Trial, Sky Gilbert (1985)
Bordertown Café, Kelly Rebar (1987)
Toronto, Mississippi, Joan MacLeod (1987)
Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), Ann-Marie MacDonald (1988)
Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, Tomson Highway (1989)
Lion in the Streets, Judith Thompson (1990)
Life Without Instruction, Sally Clark (1991)

ISBN 13: 9780889226784 | ISBN 10: 889226784

Plays in Volume Two range from the emerging theatricality of Robert Lepage and Ex Machina’s Polygraph, first produced in 1988, to the complexity of urban race relations in Kim’s Convenience by Ins Choi, first produced in 2011. New or updated introductions and playscripts in the newest edition include:

Polygraph (1988) by Robert Lepage and Marie Brassard
7 Stories (1989) by Morris Panych
Never Swim Alone (1991) by Daniel MacIvor
The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum (1995) by Wendy Lill
Counter Offence (1996) by Rahul Varma
Problem Child (1997) by George Walker
Harlem Duet (1997) by Djanet Sears
Street of Blood (1998) by Ronnie Burkett
The Shape of a Girl (2001) by Joan MacLeod
Tempting Providence (2002) by Robert Chafe
Scorched (2003) by Wajdi Mouawad
The Adventures of Ali & Ali and the aXes of Evil (2005) by Marcus Youssef, Guillermo Verdecchia & Camyar Chai
Age of Arousal (2007) by Linda Griffiths
BIOBOXES: Artifacting Human Experience (2007) by Theatre Replacement
The Edward Curtis Project (2010) by Marie Clements
Kim’s Convenience (2011) by Ins Choi

ISBN 13: 9780889226791 | ISBN 10: 889226792