Kirsty Johnston


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Mad auralities: sound and sense in contemporary performance (2022)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

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Empty house: real estate and theatricality in Vancouver's downtown (2020)

Vancouver’s spaces of performance are implicated in its real estate drama in ways that are unique to the city. Like characters in a play, these spaces embody and reveal dramatic urban tensions. This thesis looks at the material forces influencing Vancouver’s theatrical culture and uses a historically descriptive lens to understand that culture’s mechanisms of change. The three case studies at its core all hold space in Vancouver’s downtown neighborhood, and each one involves a distinct building, era, and socio-economic context. The first case study is focused on the dual venue of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and the Vancouver Playhouse, which opened between 1959 and 1963. Run by civic authorities, the complex maintained a dysfunctional relationship with the resident local regional theatre the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, which collapsed in 2012 just shy of its 50th Anniversary. The second study centres on the 1800 seat venue launched in 1995 by Garth Drabinsky’s Livent under the name The Ford Centre for the Performing Arts. Closing after three years due to Livent’s financial scandals, it was purchased in 2001 by Four Brothers Entertainment who established a Pacific Rim identity by programming a blend of European and Asian performance forms. After years of losses, the venue was sold again in 2012 to Westside Church, a local Evangelical Christian organization, and functions now as a church. The third case study is less concerned with a theatre venue’s real estate history than with a real estate development’s link to theatre history. It explores developer Ian Gillespie’s 2013 mobilization of the German modernist art concept of “gesamtkunstwerk,” literally “total work of art,” in relation to his building projects. The apotheosis of this work is Vancouver House, a condominium tower with a design inspired by a stage curtain, which uses theatrical means and metaphors to make sense of its place in the city. Looking at the accumulated impact of the three case studies, the thesis concludes that there is a kind of geopathological malady that infuses spaces of large-scale theatricality in Vancouver’s downtown that contributes to their failure to thrive and to their transformation into hybrid forms.

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Other story forms of aging: performing aging and old age in contemporary, professional Canadian theatre (2018)

This dissertation is a critical exploration of aging and old age in contemporary Canadian theatre. It investigates plays produced on professional stages in recent years, asking in what ways they challenge, complicate, and/or offer alternatives to deep-rooted, stereotypical decline stories of aging, as well as denaturalize other ageist narrative tropes, through aspects of their dramaturgy and/or production. Building on the emerging, but still limited, scholarly work at the intersection of theatre studies and humanities age studies, this dissertation contributes four case studies. Each has its own chapter and centres on one or two key plays. The plays address themes of aging and old age, and each contains one or more characters who have aged past midlife. All plays thematically address areas of concern within the field of age studies, such as age performativity, embodiment, age identities, temporalities of aging, aging female sexuality, age-related memory loss, intergenerational relations, and autobiography. Utilizing mixed research methods that vary across chapters, this study employs dramaturgical close reading, detailed performance analysis, reviews of critical press, analysis of archival video, and interviews with the artistic team of one production. Taken together, the case studies illustrate a range of theatrical mechanisms, both dramaturgical and performative, that function to represent age, aging and old age. At times these mechanisms re-entrench ageist belief systems, however, the unifying focus of the chapters, and primary contribution of this dissertation, is that they reveal age-conscious dramaturgies that resist the narrative of decline and other ageist stereotypes. The study’s most important original insights include: a theoretical expansion of Anne Davis Basting’s performative depth model of aging; expansion of Jill Dolan’s theory of utopian performativity as applied to autobiographical performances of aging subjects; and an approach to analysing how characters’ interactions with dramatic space, stage properties, and structures of time influence narratives of generational continuity or rupture and consequently narratives of aging and old age. In summary, the plays studied offer positive interventions that work to shift Canadian social imaginaries away from repressive understandings of aging and old age, and toward more expansive and socially enfranchising meanings.

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Yellow Earth and Future Generation: Correlations in British East Asian and Asian Canadian Drama (2015)

Since 1995 and 2002, London’s Yellow Earth Theatre (YET) and Toronto’s fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company have been producing work under the identity labels of “British East Asian theatre” and “Asian Canadian theatre” respectively. Emerging out of different socio-cultural contexts, the companies have nonetheless produced plays that address similar themes around mixed-race identities, immigration, and the experiences of first- and second-generation East Asians living in Britain and Canada. Despite burgeoning research on Asian Canadian theatre and British Chinese culture—developments that echo the pioneering directions of Asian American theatre scholarship—studies have tended to focus exclusively on cultural work produced by East Asian artists within the national boundaries of America, Canada and Australia. Inspired by two emotionally charged events that I attended in Toronto and in London that drew attention to the parallels between ethno-national theatre produced in different western cultures, this thesis investigates the background, mandates, and key works of two leading theatre companies in order to compare their dramatic strategies. Using data from published and unpublished scripts, published reviews and interviews, archival video where available, and the companies’ press and public material through their websites, this thesis argues that comparing theatre companies across ethno-national contexts can reveal insights about how familiar dramatic strategies such as the absurd, fantastical, spectral, and audience interaction, have additional import in identity-centred work.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Standing powerfully in her own words: the poetic solo performances of Indo-Canadian Rupi Kaur (2020)

In this thesis, I examine the online performance work of Rupi Kaur from feminist,postcolonial and performance studies lenses. Where other studies have focused on the literaryqualities of Kaur’s poetry, especially in terms of its aesthetics and the debates these sparkamongst critics, I focus here on the transformative power of her poetry performances. Rupi Kauris a bold, unapologetic agent for progressive social change. In this thesis I explore how thepowerful imagery and themes of her written work combine with her online public performances.In particular, I analyze her choices about costume, facial expressions and bodily gestures, vocalintonations, Kaur’s use of rhythm and pacing along with other performative elements. Asanalyzing her entire oeuvre is beyond the scope of this project, I focus on two of her mostpublicly performed and well-known poems: “timeless” (2017) and “home (2017). I base myarguments about her performance choices on contemporary reviews from those who witnessedthese performances live and on close analyses of her public performances of theseaforementioned works during her 2016 TEDxTalk and interviews at CBC Q in Canada and TheTonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in the U.S.

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Reading Betroffenheit as postdramatic theatre: an analysis of Crystal Pite's collaborative work with the Electric Company Theatre in Vancouver (2018)

In this thesis, I examine Vancouver-based, Canadian choreographer and dancer Crystal Pite’s artistic approach as a dance theatre artist with a focus on her multi-award winner work Betroffenheit (2015). Pite founded her dance theatre company Kidd Pivot in 2002. Since then she and the performers with whom she has collaborated have created Lost Action (2006), Dark Matters (2009), The You Show (2010), The Tempest Replica (2011), and Betroffenheit, all while gaining international fame and attention. In this thesis, I am most interested in the latter. Betroffenheit was co-created with Pite and actor Jonathon Young, co-founder and artistic director of Vancouver’s innovative and multi-award-winning Electric Company Theatre. Pite’s choreography integrates theatricality, movement, music, Young’s autobiographical narrative and text, and visual design. For this reason, I argue that Betroffenheit brings together the predominant properties of what Hans Thies Lehmann has termed postdramatic theatre. It blends theatrical elements, dance traditions, spoken text, and other performance genres. While Pite has often been connected to dance theatre, I argue here that Betroffenheit can be generatively read as postdramatic theatre. In order to discuss the relationship between dance theatre and postdramatic theatre, I will focus on Hans Thies Lehmann’s Postdramatic Theatre. Most prominently, my study demonstrates how reading the performance as postdramatic theatre helps to highlight the production’s numerous theatrically performative elements. Through investigating scholarly articles, book reviews, national and international performance reviews, and interviews, I aim to provide a deeper understanding of how Betroffenheit productively trouble boundaries between dance and theatre.

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Making way: DramaWay's history, artistic praxis and contribution to Canadian disability theatre (2017)

This is a study of DramaWay – a Toronto-based company that facilitates creative arts programming for individuals with special needs. Founded in 1999, this company has grown and developed to provide a sought after service for the disability community in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). While there are other companies in Canada providing similar opportunities, I interrogate DramaWay’s distinctive approach within the broader context. More particularly, I investigate how DramaWay’s praxis contributes to the continuing development of disability theatre in Canada. Their work, I argue, merits more scholarly and critical attention than they have thus far garnered in the broader literature concerning disability performance in Canada and abroad. In this thesis I build from the insights of this broader scholarly field to provide an in-depth analysis of DramaWay’s history, artistic praxis and current educational infrastructure. Through my examination of archival materials, as well as information gathered through formal interviews with DramaWay’s artistic director, staff, volunteers and performers, I conclude that DramaWay’s praxis in presenting the talent of performers with special needs provides a unique and valuable contribution to disability theatre in Canada.

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Back-in-the-Land: Space and Anglophone Canada's Professional Farm Theatres (2016)

At Anglophone Canada’s four professional farm theatres, performance often foregrounds relations between beings and landscapes in unusually rich and striking ways. In this thesis I argue that the success of these theatres lies largely in their ability to connect audiences affectively to the specific natural environments of their performance sites or regions, and to embody the stories held within these respective rural spaces. More particularly, they share the stories of two land-hungry eras: the settling of what is now Canadian soil by European colonizers, and the transformation of farming culture since 1950, including the back-to-the-land movement of the nineteen sixties and seventies. Four questions guide the analysis. What do the histories, geographies, mandates, programming and other artistic choices of these farm theatres reveal about each theatre's relationship with the land on which they perform? Do the theatres share any common impulses? What distinguishes their efforts and aesthetics? How does the land itself perform? Research presented in this study builds from spatial thought in theatre studies, archival research on the four theatres and their histories, inquiry into the material history of the theatres’ sites, and performance analyses of select productions. More particularly, I provide close readings of a single night’s offering in each theatre’s 2013 season. This includes, Peter Anderson’s Head Over Heels at the Caravan Farm Theatre near Armstrong, B.C.; the collective creation Beyond The Farm Show at the Blyth Festival Theatre in the village of Blyth, Ontario; Andrew Moodie’s The Real McCoy at 4th Line Theatre in Millbrook, Ontario; and both Shakespeare’s As You Like It and the Iliad by Fire by Ken Schwartz (from Homer) at Two Planks and Passion in Canning, Nova Scotia. The thesis brings together research that demonstrates how the material evolution of Canada is deeply tied to farming. It charts how the theatres considered here are similarly connected, and posits a new field of agro-poetics, to which these four companies’ respective aesthetic innovations and animations of sites are contributing.

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Broomsticks and barricades: Performance, empowerment, and feeling in Wicked and Les Miserables (2014)

The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between empowerment, feeling, and performance by analyzing the act 1 finales from two Broadway musicals: “Defying Gravity” from the 2003 production of Wicked and “One Day More” from the 1987 production of Les Misérables. A genre of performance in which feelings, of empowerment and otherwise, are generated and circulated in amplified ways, the Broadway musical provides a productive site to investigate the relationship between empowerment and feeling; moreover, both “Defying Gravity” and “One Day More” are signature numbers frequently associated with empowerment. To complete my analyses, I use an interdisciplinary approach which combines theatre and performance studies, affect theory, and social science-based arguments about empowerment in order to demonstrate how affect theory gives us valuable language to analyze the constellation of artistic elements which contribute to the numbers’ affective power. Building from this work, I suggest that both numbers perform empowerment by emphasizing power and change, two characteristics which have been highlighted as essential in empowerment scholarship. Ultimately, I argue that sensations of empowerment become the primary point of connection between stage and auditorium through performance.

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Forum theatre, technology and desire : an investigation of Headlines Theatre's online broadcasts (2011)

This thesis investigates Headlines Theatre Company’s use of simulcast online video broadcasts of their forum theatre events through two case studies, Here and Now (2005) and after homelessness... (2009). I consider the place of these broadcast’s within Headlines’ Artistic Director David Diamond’s particular practice, Theatre for Living (TfL) and its aim to create community-based dialogue. Through digital performance theorist Steve Dixon’s four categories of interactivity, I explore how the online viewer’s participation in the forum event is filtered via the use of web-actors, and the complications this has had for the broader TfL mandate. I analyse the web-actors’ function using Dixon’s concept of “The Digital Double”, to explore how the role they have in the forum event is akin to that of avatars. This analysis draws primarily from David Diamond’s published works, personal journals and reports following each production as well as recorded broadcasts of the two case-study performances. Read together with current scholarship of performance and digital technology, I argue that these case studies suggest how technology both has and has not served the TfL mandate and consider how Headlines’ practice is complicated by simulcast online video broadcasts.

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