Timescape: History Plays and Isolation
Moving ahead almost fifty years from Denison’s Romance of Canada, Barbara
Sapergia has written several radio plays dealing with historic themes45 from 1980
onward. She, like Denison, notes that while history can provide inspiration for writing in
general, it can also provide restrictions to creativity. It all depends upon how history is
employed in the writing process. In a recent interview, Sapergia notes:
I do like working with historic stories. There are so many good ones. I don’t necessarily write them exactly as they happened, but history can provide a really strong spine to a story and it can provide compelling characters. You still have to make it your own.
I like to choose stories where there’s room to do that. For instance, if you’re going to write about Tommy Douglas, there are a lot of things that are fixed. Although there’s room for interpretation, your story and characterization have to conform with what people know. This can be very exciting, but can be rather confining if you’re used to making up the whole thing.
That’s why I’d often choose more distant periods or less famous characters (or fictional characters in a historical scene), because you have more freedom to play with it. This allows you to write the story that feels truest to you, rather than having to work around historical facts.
Sapergia prefers creating people to inhabit the setting of history. Where the History play
is best at conveying the playwright’s vision of the Hero, the history play is best at
highlighting characters’ lives and struggles within historical settings. Denison’s work for
the Romance of Canada advances the cause of History, i.e. Heroes to inspire a proud
nation. Characters in history plays, however, highlight the everyday heroics and
tragedies of everyday life in the past as freely re-created by the playwright.
Agriculture has always been a prominent force in Saskatchewan’s economy. It is
to be expected that stories of homesteaders and farmers are present in any collection of
radio plays based on Saskatchewan history. Many of these stories of settlement deal with
European Man encountering Western Canadian Nature.
for example: Old Crocks and Grandma’s Foot – further explored in the Bodyscape chapter.