Introduction: Isolation, Radio Drama, and Saskatchewan
Atwood cites the battlefield, the Tower and the scaffold as means by which one can die
via history. She contends that this contrasts the death of the typical Canadian literary
hero, who often suffers “death by accident. … The victims may acquire a certain stature
by their courage and dignity in the face of death, but the deaths themselves are senseless
and accomplish nothing” (166-7). The Canadian hero dies, but for little or no good
reason. I would add that before the hero dies, he or she must struggle with terrible
Some Saskatchewan radio playwrights have held on to images of death, cold, and
isolation longer than some may deem necessary. The era of settlement that gave rise to
such stories is long past. That playwrights still find value in such stories in the 1980s
could be a reflection of location, climate, and economics. For a contemporary voice of
Saskatchewan radio drama I turn to Kelley Jo Burke, the current spoken-word producer
for CBC Saskatchewan’s Gallery7 and a playwright of note in her own right.8 Kelley Jo
Burke, when talking about things Saskatchewan playwrights have tended to write about,
compares Saskatchewan writing to writing from other “frozen steppes” around the world.
Burke admits that part of the darkness shaping some playwrights’ vision is a result of a
persistent local mythology of the isolation and dangerous climate of Saskatchewan that is
also highlighted in settlers’ stories. “The people who came here would often only have
one person to talk to for twenty miles around them and those people became, not the
incidentals they become in urban literature, but necessities of life” (interview).
7 Most of plays studied were produced in the era of Burke’s predecessor, Wayne Schmalz. Schmalz published two books related to Saskatchewan radio history and his work as a drama producer for CBC Saskatchewan radio: On Air: Radio in Saskatchewan and Studio One: Stories Made for Radio. Both were of great help to this thesis.
8 Besides being the current spoken-word producer for CBC Sasaktchewan’s Gallery, Kelley Jo Burke is a poet, playwright, director (stage and radio), and documentarian.