George Ryga, one of Canada's most prolific and powerful writers, was born in 1932 in Deep Creek, Alberta, of poor immigrant parents from the Ukraine. At the age of 16 one of his teachers encouraged him to enter a creative writing competition run by the Banff School of the Arts. The work he submitted won and he got a scholarship for the school sponsored by the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire. Unfortunately, his scholarship was revoked due to an anti-war poem he wrote. Afterwards, he worked in radio but was also forced to leave this job because he made speeches about the trial of the Rosenbergs. He worked several jobs and meanwhile wrote a lot of poetry and prose. In 1962 his first play Indian was produced on television. Ryga is a social commentator in most of his plays. His work drifted between clumsy messaging and vivid and thrilling theatricality. During his career Ryga wrote about 190 plays, two cantatas, five screenplays, two long-playing albums, three novels, and a book of poetry. George Ryga died of stomach cancer in 1987 at the age of 55 in Summerland, British Columbia. His memory was publicly honoured at the BC Book Prizes ceremony in 1993.
The ecstasy of Rita Joe (1967)
In 1967 George Ryga soared to national fame with the play The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. The play is a drama in two acts. The premiere was at the Vancouver Playhouse in November 1967, directed by George Bloomfield. In 1971 Rita Joe was adapted as a ballet by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Gratien Gélinas also translated it into French and it was presented at the Comédie-Canadienne. Seminal in the history of modern Canadian theatre, this play recounts the story of a young aboriginal woman who comes to the city only to die there. However, the villains of the work are not so easy to find: the violence of white culture is to blame, to be sure, but so is the patriarchy of Native culture. The structure is often clumsy and cinematic...