English Professor Dr. Robin C. Whittaker Receives Wallace and Margaret McCain Course Release Award

Dr. Robin Whittaker

English Language and Literature professor Dr. Robin C. Whittaker is the recipient of the Wallace and Margaret McCain Course Release Award. Whittaker plans to use the course release in the upcoming academic year to complete his manuscript Alumnae Theatre Company: Nonprofessionalizing Theatre in Canada


The Wallace and Margaret McCain Course Release Award was created in 1997 after the McCain family made a generous donation to St. Thomas University to pay for a three-credit-hour course release in support of faculty research.  


Alumnae Theatre Company: Nonprofessionalizing Theatre in Canada


Dr. Whittaker uses primary sources, commentary written by theatre critics and journalists, and interviews with company members to chronicle the first 100 years of Alumnae Theatre Company’s trendsetting theatre programming. In doing so, he provides a historical view of the rise, impact, and wane of “nonprofessionalizing” theatre in Canada. He examines how theatre companies find audiences and affect their social and cultural environments.  


Founded in 1918 at the University of Toronto’s University College to raise money for the war effort, Alumnae Theatre Company is now North America’s oldest women-run theatre company and Canada’s second-longest-running theatre group.


“In the roaring twenties, Alumnae introduced Toronto theatre-goers to the latest British and American comedies at Hart House Theatre and their ‘alternative theatre’ at UofT’s University College. Decades of nationally recognized successes at the Dominion Drama Festival led to full houses in Toronto presenting modern European, American, and Canadian plays at their ‘Coach House’ theatres. Today, their New Ideas Festival and Fireworks Festival give world premieres to extraordinary new works,” says Whittaker.


“At the heart of this research are many interviews with long-serving and influential Alumnae members as well as over 21,000 documents digitized for this project, including show posters, production photographs, press releases, and board meeting minutes dating back over a century. I’m grateful that many of the photographs and other images will appear in the book, creating a visual record for many of the plays programmed by the ‘ladies of the Alum’ over the decades.” 


This work extends theatre studies nationally and internationally as the history of this influential nonprofessionalizing theatre company presents the opportunity to revisit contemporary, radical, and new play practices during the past century, as well as to re-examine how arts companies reimagine historic buildings. Alumnae Theatre Company: Nonprofessionalizing Theatre in Canada will be the first book-length scholarly study of nonprofessionalizing theatre practices in Canada.


Dr. Robin C. Whittaker teaches dramatic literature. His research focuses on Canadian theatre, particularly Canada’s nonprofessionalizing theatre practices.