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Keynote Lecture - April 2, 2011

Dr. Mark Tovey of Garrison Theatricals presented The First Stage: The Officers of the London Garrison and the Theatre Royal


Following the abortive march on Toronto by William Lyon Mackenzie and his followers during the Rebellions of 1837, Britain felt it was prudent to better protect its colonies in the Canadas. With Mackenzie still alive and agitating from the United States, and tensions rising at the border, the Imperial government took no chances. Troops were sent to seven strategic points in upper Canada: Toronto, Brockville, Kingston, Hamilton, Amherstburg, St. Thomas, and London - the last three of which were considered most susceptible to disaffection and incursion. Upon their arrival, they established large garrisons, and remained more than 15 years. Amidst reports of border skirmishes with the few self-styled Patriots foolhardy enough to cross the border, the London garrison waited for the major offensive. It never came. In the meantime, they established the Theatre Royal.

It was traditional for British garrisons in the Canadas to set up theatres wherever they went. Theatre helped to pass the time and maintain some semblance of the lifestyle the officers were used to in Britain. The military theatricals were performed between November and April. The late springs, summers, and early autumns were spent in cricket, racing, hunting, shooting, painting, and similar pastimes, leaving balls and theatricals for the deeps of the London winter.

Dr. Mark Tovey is currently producing a re-enactment of a 19th Century musical melodrama which will be directed by Joe Lella, and performed July 12-14, & 19-22 at the Fanshawe Pioneer Village in London ON. In partnership with the London Heritage Council, and based on extensive primary-source research from Mark's paper "The First Stage: The Officers of the London Garrison and the Theatre Royal" (London and Middlesex Historian, vol. 29), this production features an adaptation of Isaac Pocock's 1812 play The Miller and His Men, in a theatrical space similar to the one where it was performed in 1842: in a frame barn, surrounded by frame buildings. The play itself was adapted to be set in London, Canada West following the 1837 rebellion, and to include songs from Gilbert & Sullivan, who might be described as the team that took the musical melodrama to its apex. Paintings from the 1840s, painted by Officers stationed in London at the time, are projected as scene backdrops, and the broadsides advertising the show are based on careful research, and printed on a period press.

An award-winning playwright, Mark is the author of Play on Words, and the creator of a one-man theatre history show, How to Become Ridiculously Cultured in One Evening: A short revue of theatre from Pindar to Pinter. Directing credits include Janus, The Perfect Essay, The Illumination of Dr. Bucke, and The Importance of Being Earnest.

Mark's passions lie in understanding and documenting the mechanisms of social and cultural change. Mark did his Ph.D. in Cognitive Science in the Advanced Cognitive Engineering Lab at Carleton University, and will publish his second book this fall (The Reputation Society, co-edited with Hassan Masum, MIT Press, 2011).

Mark has recently spoken at Quantum2Cosmos, SubtleTechnologies, and Canada's Top 100 Green Employers. This spring Mark will give plenaries on the Garrison Theatricals project at the Canadian Museums Association Conference, and the Canadian Creative Cities Summit.