Recently Completed PhD Dissertations by CATR Members

Thèses des doctorants complétées récemment par des membres de l’ACRT


In an effort to promote the research of CATR’s emerging scholars members, we present a list of recently completed doctoral dissertations. Dissertations in this list have been completed in the last five years and the list is updated annually.

Afin de promouvoir le travail des chercheurs émergents de l’ACRT, nous présentons une liste des thèses complétées au cours des cinq dernières années ; la liste est mise à jour annuellement.


Dr. James Ashby

Thesis: From the Inside Out, from the Outside In: Devising in Canadian Puppet Theatre

Date of Completion: August 2015


The ultimate goal of my dissertation is to address one deceptively simple question: Does the focus on the object in puppet theatre restrict the spontaneity and physical freedom that are so central to theatrical devising? Toronto-based Puppetmongers Theatre is my primary case study. Before I can begin to answer this question, I must chart a course through the history, practice, and theory behind each of the two axes of this study. These threads begin to come together as I identify a style of puppetry that is particularly compatible with devising: tandem puppetry. Practitioners of this style telescope the distance (semiotic and physical) between puppets and
themselves and foreground their role as actors in their own right. They are therefore literally in an ideal position to act on any spontaneous creative impulses that they might experience.
A devising performer is trained to respond to such impulses and to suggestions from others, but there is always a border between two principal spaces: that which is located within the body and that which is located without. This results in a kind of bondage, one from which the puppet theatre artist is freed. The puppet always exists outside of the live body or bodies onstage, even if only conceptually, such as when a performer “puppetizes” part of her body and presents it as a separate character. Manipulators therefore have, in one sense, considerably more control over wholly inorganic puppets than devising performers have over their own bodies, as they both see and control them from the outside. This power of control has its limitations, however, as while the body of the devising performer can react almost instantly to any impulse, the manipulator has an additional step to complete, as her reaction must be channelled through the puppet.
In the end, a spirit of (ultimately serious) play is necessary if one wishes to take full advantage of the “flexibilities” offered by devising: collaborative, narrative, design, movement, and space flexibilities. All of these are transformed once they pass through the object-centred prism of puppetry, and yet all still obtain in the world of devised puppet theatre.


Dr. Jenn Cole

Thesis: Hysteria: Potential Dramaturgies Toward a Portrait of Ambiguity

Date of Completion: July 2016


This work asks the question, primarily: what kind of performance is the hysterical attack? And what is the nature of hysteria in and as performance, as it occurred at the Salpêtrière in the nineteenth-century? The Salpêtrière hysteria project was a medical one, but also a theatrical one.
The hysteric’s public appearance was a continual ethical provocation, pointing not only to the vulnerability of her person, but the unstable position of her spectator. The hysteric points to the fraught and exciting nature of theatrical representation, continually drawing out dilemmas and unexpected dynamics of witnessing the suffering of others.
In the Salpêtrière documents, the gravity of institutional violence committed against female patients at the level of representation is undeniable. This thesis works to express the overt and subtle damages done to hysterical women in Charcot’s hospital: public and private bodily harm, sexual violation, dismissal, objectification, use, exposure, reduction. Simultaneously, the chapters seek to draw attention to the hysteric’s resistance to these phenomena. So often, it is simply by being herself that the hysteric points to the inherent weaknesses in these systemic modes of violence. Photographers were forced to new levels of technical innovation and flexibility in order to capture the hysteric’s fiercely mobile body. Terminology spun out an anxious series of words to try to negotiate her dynamism. The excessive exposure of her emotional, intellectual and sexual life in the Iconographie and on stage, framed by equally excessive empirical constraints, under scrutiny, ultimately reveals the uncontainable remainder of the hysteric’s personhood that slips from view, bringing the inadequacy of positivist and misogynist spectacle into relief.
Charcot created a unique mixture of drama and science in his transmission of his findings about hysteria. The hysteric made the medium express beyond expectation.
Ce travail pose la question, principalement: quel genre de représentation est l’attaque hystérique?
Et quelle est la nature du spectacle de l’hystérie, comme il a eu lieu à la Salpêtrière au XIXe siècle? Le projet de l’hystérie à la Salpêtrière était un projet médical, mais aussi un projet de théâtre. L’apparition publique de l’hystérique était une provocation éthique continuelle, montrant non seulement à la vulnérabilité de sa personne, mais la position précaire de son spectateur. L’hystérique indique la nature difficile de la représentation théâtrale, dessinant continuellement les dilemmes et dynamiques inattendues du témoignage de la souffrance des autres. Dans les documents de la Salpêtrière, la gravité de la violence institutionnelle employée contre des patientes au niveau de la représentation est indéniable. Cette thèse fonctionne pour exprimer les dommages manifestes et subtils causés aux femmes hystériques à l’hôpital Charcot: les violences corporelles publiques et privées, la violation sexuelle, le licenciement, l’objectivation, l’utilisation, l’exposition, la réduction. En même temps, les chapitres cherchent à attirer l’attention à la résistance de l’hystérique à ces phénomènes. Très souvent, il est tout simplement en étant elle-même que l’hystérique montre les faiblesses inhérentes à ces modes systémiques de la violence. Des photographes ont été contraints à de nouveaux niveaux d’innovation technique et de flexibilité afin de capturer le corps farouchement mobile de l’hystérique. Terminologie a filé une série anxieuse de mots pour essayer de négocier son dynamisme. L’exposition excessive de sa vie intellectuelle, sexuelle, et émotionnelle dans l’Iconographie et sur scène, encadrée par des contraintes empiriques et aussi excessives, sous surveillance, révèle en fin de compte le reste irrépressible de la personnalité de l’hystérique qui glisse de la vue, ce qui porte l’insuffisance du spectacle positiviste et misogynes en relief. Charcot a créé un mélange unique de drame et de la science dans sa transmission de ses conclusions sur l’hystérie. L’hystérique fait exprès le moyen au-delà des attentes.


Dr. Selena Couture

Thesis: χʷay̓χʷəy̓ and Stanley Park : performing history and land

Date of Completion: September 2015


This research demonstrates performance as a mode of knowledge transfer, cultural continuity and intercultural influence that connects people – Indigenous as well as settlers and newcomers – to land. In it I engage with performance studies theory in light of Indigenous conceptions of land, performance and place naming held within the hən’q’əmin’əm’ language, while using case studies to explicate histories based on archives and repertoires. Two of my case studies critically engage with the City of Vancouver Archives. The first deconstructs the use of reenactment to create an origin narrative of benevolent “whiteness” in settler society and the second examines possible Indigenous interventions in the archive through cultural restriction. A third study demonstrates how Aboriginal Tourism of BC’s Klahowya Village, located in Stanley Park 2010-14, presents an enterprise which asserts a connection to land while enabling some intra-nation Indigenous transfer of knowledge. In aiming to rectify the absence of Indigenous women in the archival work that I have undertaken, this work also features performance responses to contemporary theatrical works written and/or performed by Indigenous women in Vancouver between 2012 and 2016. Research methodologies include semiotic and phenomenological analyses enabled by an engagement with Indigenous research methodologies supported by language learning, interviews, as well as archival and field work. This research puts forth a careful examination of the influence of Vancouver’s first archivist, James Skitt Matthews, making note of limitations of the city’s archival collection with regard to Indigenous knowledge and activities. Through analyses of the performative knowledge contained within hən’q’əmin’əm’ and colonial place names this research proposes further critical consideration of existing Vancouver place names. I also develop two terms, grounded practices and eddies of influence, which are employed to create a fuller understanding of the significance of land, language and reciprocity, as well as the strategic and tactical methods through which the Indigenous peoples of this area have used performance to contribute to cultural continuation and the maintenance of Indigenous places.


Natalia Monika Elizabeth Esling

Thesis: Adaptive Sense-Making: The Effects of Sensory Modification on Audience Perception

Date of completion:

July 15, 2018


This study investigates contemporary immersive, participatory, and interactive performance to evaluate the affective and perceptual effects of manipulating audience members’ sensory experience. It takes as its starting point my subjective, phenomenological experience of a one-to-one performance that centred on holding hands, which prompted critical reflection about ways of systematically observing, evaluating, and categorizing discrete effects of intimate, sensory-focused dramaturgical strategies within a performance research context. By bringing into conversation knowledge from perception research, theory of mind, and performance studies, I establish a framework for investigating the relationship between artistic intentions and audience experience.

Building on established Practice-Based Research methods, my dissertation develops a distinct, experimental model for testing the effects of “sensory modification.” It is informed by eight artist interviews connected to seven different case study productions that foreground sensory experience. Through three sets of comparative one-to-one performance experiments facilitated by five actors, I gathered qualitative data from seventy-four volunteer participants about their physical, sensory, and affective experiences. These outcomes reveal trends in how audience members respond to sensory modification: it impacts their perception of properties of space, their attention to live versus recorded sounds, their body awareness, their relationship to the performer, and the quality of their affective and imaginative experiences.

My engagement with this topic is ultimately dramaturgical in nature. The value of my observations lies in extractable utility, where key discoveries can be used in both creation and analysis of performance. Through its focused articulation of process-oriented methodology and outcomes, this study presents a robust and multifaceted approach for accessing knowledge about the complex dynamics of contemporary, sensory-focused performance. This inquiry is timely for its consideration of how we think critically about alternative ways to perceive artistic work and how the physical presence and activity of audiences generates and informs innovative experiential performance.


Dr. Heather Fitzsimmons Frey

Thesis: Victorian Girls and At-Home Theatricals: Performing and Playing with Possible Futures

Date of Completion: 2015


During the long nineteenth century, amateur, juvenile at-home theatricals were a popular pastime in English middle-class homes.  The scripts, the process of “getting-up” a play, and opportunity to perform a variety of historical, fairy tale, and “Oriental” characters offered young people, especially girls, opportunities to act agentically, to explore alternate identities, and to imagine possible futures for themselves that went beyond the conventional expectations for Victorian girls.  These performances were especially potent in the mid- to late- nineteenth century because at that time social, political, legal, education, and career opportunities for girls were frequently challenged and gradually changing: at-home theatrical experiences encouraged and enabled girls to push at the increasingly porous boundaries that contained their daily lives.

I focus on English scripts (1850 and 1910) published for the young people’s home market, related fiction and newspaper articles, and a range of diaries, letters, memoirs, playbills, and juvenile newspapers written by children for their families.

Methodologically, following Doreen Massey (2005) and Rebecca Schneider (2005), I adopt a fluid conception of space and time in order to employ late twentieth and twenty-first century scholarship on girls, especially in drama education settings (Gallagher 2001; Hatton 2013; Neelands and Nelson 2013).  Although girls today cannot speak for located Victorian middle-class girls, recent experiences help to inform how nineteenth-century girls’ performer and spectator experiences might have stretched their imaginations regarding desirable identities and futures.

I lean on the following theoretical lenses: Jill Dolan’s “utopian performatives” (2006); object and thing theory (Robin Bernstein 2011; Bill Brown 2001; Andrew Sofer 2003); feminist reinterpretations of Orientalism and connections between adolescence, race and theatricals (Nancy Lesko 2012). The analysis demonstrates that playwrights used their scripts as vehicles to challenge and discuss contemporary socio-political issues, and through theatricals girls could expand their imaginations regarding their identities and their own futures.


Dr. Sarah MacKenzie

Thesis: White Settler Colonialism and (Re)presentations of Gendered Violence in Indigenous Women’s Theatre

Date of Completion: March 2016


Grounded in a historical, socio-cultural consideration of Indigenous women’s theatrical production, this dissertation examines representations of gendered violence in Canadian Indigenous women’s drama. The female playwrights who are the focus of my thesis – Monique

Mojica, Marie Clements, and Yvette Nolan – counter colonial and occasionally postcolonial renditions of gendered and racialized violence by emphasizing female resistance and collective

coalition. While these plays represent gendered violence as a real, material mechanism of colonial destruction, ultimately they work to promote messages of collective empowerment, recuperation, and survival. My thesis asks not only how a dramatic text might deploy a decolonizing aesthetic, but how it might redefine dramatic/literary and socio-cultural space for resistant and decolonial ends. Attentive to the great variance of subjective positions occupied by Indigenous women writers, I examine the historical context of theatrical reception, asking how the critic/spectator’s engagement with and dissemination of knowledge concerning Indigenous theatre might enhance or impede this redefinition. Informed by Indigenous/feminist poststructuralist and postcolonial theoretical perspectives that address the production and dissemination of racialized regimes of representation, my study assesses the extent to which colonialist misrepresentations of Indigenous women have served to perpetuate demeaning stereotypes, justifying devaluation of and violence – especially sexual violence – against Indigenous women. Most significantly, my thesis considers how and to what degree resistant representations in Indigenous women’s dramatic productions work against such representational and manifest violence.


Dr. Kim McLeod

Thesis: Theatre, Performance and Digital Tools: Modelling New Modes of Political Engagement

Date of Completion: April 2016


This dissertation investigates how theatre and performance artists use new media tools to facilitate political engagement. The chapters cover a diverse range of performances—from interventions in video games to mobile phone walking tours to theatre productions that use social media. In contrast to the dominant narrative of intermedial theatre and performance studies, when analyzing these examples I consider intermediality as a political rather than solely aesthetic mode. By explicitly connecting intermedial approaches to political performance—and acknowledging how these two concepts are already always conjoined—this dissertation works to expand how we might think about intermediality as a lens that covers digital practices as both form and content. I also consider the value, challenges and dangers of asking spectators to interact with performers and digital tools in order to model new modes of political engagement, and question how various artistic choices impact the ways that audiences are activated through these new technologies. As the examples range in form, content and location, this dissertation traverses numerous intermedial modes and political topics—a multitude of approaches that challenge any singular or simple understanding of how intermediality functions in contemporary theatre and performance.
Although there is wariness about overstating the role of new media in creating concrete political change, examples such as the Occupy movement reveal how political discourse is now intricately linked to the digital. In this dissertation, rather than simply reinforcing cyberutopian or cyberpessismistic views regarding the political impact of digital communication, I investigate socio-political contexts and analyze the motivations and receptions of specific projects. I consider a number of questions, including: How are new media performances influenced by the potentially democratizing nature of digital interactions? How do performances integrate with iii digital media to investigate the ways we connect—or fail to connect—as publics? How does performance also address exclusions related to the digital? Who is the ‘we’ in the intersubjective relations produced by intermedial performance?


Dr. Ian McWilliams

Thesis: Saskatchewan Town Hall Opera Houses and Community Performance (ca. 1883-1913)

Date of Completion: February 2014


The construction of public spaces is just one mechanism by which a community builds and continually negotiates the idea, or mythos, of its identity. Communities, through their dominant groups (including economic, social, political, and religious), seek to adopt a dominant narrative regarding common community ideals and aspirations. Communities in Canada’s “new” West of the late 19th and early 20th centuries provide good examples of such community building where the construction of public spaces went hand in hand with the negotiation of collective ideology and identity. In particular, Town Hall Opera Houses (constructed early in the development of numerous Saskatchewan towns) were central to the formulation of community mythos and community capacity to achieve collective aspirations.
Public spaces (specifically Town Hall Opera Houses) and their associated performative events are explored paying particular attention to negotiations of community mythos. What possible defining or constructive roles are played by performative events in communities seeking self-definition – culturally, morally, and economically? To what extent do such performances contribute to the cultural, social, and economic hegemony of their communities? What do performance spaces mean to their communities (socially, economically, architecturally, and artistically)? Connected to these questions are recurring themes of settlement and progress, boosterism, enculturation, “civilizing,” British Empire loyalty, gender and generational dynamics, ethnicity, and settlement and immigration. Central to these mythos negotiations are questions of who is included and who is excluded. Delving into such mythos-negotiations allows for the exploration of events as they connect to ideas such as space and place, sense of place, appropriation, substitution, effigying, and other-ness. Prince Albert and Qu’Appelle are good examples of communities in which the settler-mythos being negotiated reflected more widespread desires to fulfil a perceived destiny within Canada’s “new” West. Within these two communities, three sites of interest are the main focus of this study. The first site, Immigration Hall in Qu’Appelle, is atypical as a Town Hall Opera House form, as it was essentially appropriated by community members to serve as a town hall from 1886 until 1907 (when its replacement, the Qu’Appelle Town Hall Opera House, was completed). The second site of interest to this study, Qu’Appelle’s Town Hall Opera House, was a more typical, purpose-built Town Hall Opera House structure. The final site of interest is the Prince Albert Town Hall Opera House. Built in 1893 and in steady use throughout the period of this study, the Prince Albert site provides a contrast to the two Qu’Appelle sites. The period of main interest to this study will be (approximately) the three decades leading up to World War One – a time of dynamic changes for Saskatchewan, its communities, the prairies, the British Empire, and indeed the world.


Dr. David Owen

Thesis: Performance through an Avatar: Exploring Affect and Ideology through Narrative in Videogames

Date of Completion: January 2016


Videogames are a major source of popular cultural narratives surpassing even Hollywood films. Videogames, however, cast the player as the active agent within the narrative as opposed to film, television, and traditional theatre where the separation between performer and audience is clearly demarcated. This dissertation investigates the affective potential of videogames realized through the relationship of the player and the avatar within the game world. Specifically, I look at the avatar as an affective conduit for the player, how the feedback between the player and avatar creates a cybernetic relationship, how this relationship changes the player, and how this change potentially augments the player’s interpretation of reality—virtual and otherwise. It is through this changed (and augmented) interpretation of reality that socio/political ideological meanings—intentional or not—may be absorbed by the player. Ethnographic research conducted with six volunteer participants combined with my own autoethnographic research into several recent popular videogames is intersected with theories of affect, embodiment, and ideology. My findings suggest that experience with the virtual realities of game worlds is one step removed from actual experience. Since videogames are composed of representations, the ideological positions embedded within those representations are not simply presented and understood like traditional theatre, film, and television, but are embodied by the player through the avatar as (nearly direct) experience. Theatre, film, and television have rich critical histories and this study of the player’s performance through the avatar as an affective conduit and receiver/transmitter of ideology joins the growing critical body of work regarding the newer storytelling medium of videogames.


Dr. Jessica Riley

Thesis: Tracking Dramaturgical Influence: Lessons from the Archive Urjo Kareda 1982-1986

Date of Completion: August 2015


What difference does a dramaturg make? While recent publications on dramaturgical practice have begun to recognize the subjective and even creative influence of the dramaturg, this turn has been largely restricted to the field of production dramaturgy. When it comes to new play development, particularly of text-based, single-authored scripts, dramaturgical influence remains a fraught and under-examined subject. Drawing on original archival research, this dissertation examines the nature and implications of developmental dramaturgy as it was practiced by influential Canadian dramaturg Urjo Kareda. Chapter one lays the groundwork for this study. Engaging with and troubling the received narrative of Kareda’s role in Canadian theatre history, this chapter draws on Kareda’s published writing and interviews as well as a range of extant archival records in order to reconstruct the subjective tastes, priorities, and preoccupations that informed his dramaturgical practice. Building on this foundational sense of Kareda’s dramaturgical sensibility, subsequent case studies examine the influence of Kareda’s feedback on three scripts developed in the first four years of his artistic directorship at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre: Rachel Wyatt’s Chairs and Tables (1983-1984), Don Hannah’s The Wedding Script (1984-1986), and Judith Thompson’s White Biting Dog (1982-1984). These studies track each playwright’s negotiation of Kareda’s comments and questions through dozens of drafts (including, crucially, those marked up by Kareda), revealing the often unacknowledged and unexamined contributions of dramaturgical feedback to the trajectories of script development. Supplemented by interviews with the playwrights, these case studies offer the first archive-based analysis of the processes and influences of developmental dramaturgy, identifying new ways of thinking about the role and practice of the dramaturg. Each study intervenes in ongoing debates about approaches to developmental dramaturgy in Canada and internationally, evolving an argument for the recognition of the dramaturg—often idealized as occupying a neutral and non-prescriptive position of service to the playwright—as a shaping, creative force in new play development.


Dr. Jacqueline C. D. Taucar

Thesis: “Acting Out(side) the Multicultural “Script” in Toronto’s Ethno-cultural Festivals

Date of Completion: September 2016


This thesis articulates the promising disruptions of the Canadian multicultural “script” that a Brechtian dramaturgy of ethno-cultural festivals critically practices, and also draws attention to the fissures in scholarship and in the official record through which these festivals often tumble into either obscurity or reductive characterisations. Within the framework of performance studies, this thesis adapts Bertolt Brecht’s dramaturgical approach to interrogate the ways in which Toronto’s largest ethno-cultural festivals—in particular, Toronto Caribbean Carnival Festival (1967-present), Toronto International Festival Caravan (1969-2002/2003), and the Taste of the Danforth (1994-present)—produce, perform, and negotiate the plurality of contrasting and contested meanings of the Canadian multicultural “script.” Enshrining the values of multiculturalism as part of the performance of Canadian identity, this “script” was developed in stages by the Canadian Government after the Second World War, and was institutionalised in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) and the Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1988). I employ Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt, gestus, and historicisation to denaturalise and make visible the often unnoticed discourses of power, that shape the presentation of ethno-cultural identities at festivals, for further examination and questioning. In doing so, I illustrate that the ways in which ethno-cultural festivals operate are not just fixed within understandings of the official multicultural “script,” but rather can, and do, change over time.
Organised around three meditations of performativity, this thesis examines how material objects like food, physical and metaphoric spaces, and performing bodies at festivals create, perform, and present multicultural identities that play into normative understandings of the multicultural “script” as well as opening the possibility of their resistance through performance. In addition to the existing critiques of commoditisation at ethno-cultural festivals, my work on the performativity of food opens up a dialogue about the other ways that the multicultural “script” contributes to the management of diversity in the nation. Foregrounding the discursive practices of space at ethno-cultural festivals, my study illustrates the ways in which access to, or displacement or exclusion from, space is a performance of power. The performing body in ethno-
cultural festivals has counter-hegemonic potential that can interfere and disrupt the safe representation and consumption of the multicultural “script” that discursively reinforce unequal power relations.