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Alice Munro wrote a 1970s play in southwestern Ontario — and continues to inspire regional theatre

Written by on June 6, 2024

This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.


Author: Taylor Marie Graham, PhD student, School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph

This week, I’m elated that my play Post Alice will be performed on the Blyth Festival Theatre’s stage as part of the Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story in Huron County, the Huron Tract on Treaty 29 territory in southwestern Ontario. This region is also known to some readers and writers as “Alice Munro Country.”

As a young girl growing up in Huron County, Ont., in the 1990s, I spent hours reading Munro’s stories. In the years since, I have remained a devoted fan of her work, particularly for her complex depictions of southwestern Ontario life.

I’ve also learned Munro herself was a playwright at the Blyth Festival Theatre in 1976. Munro’s connection to the theatre is an aspect of her life that I explore in my doctoral dissertation The Blyth Festival Theatre and the Imagined Rural Canada. Since Munro’s 1976 production, apart from my own play, Blyth has presented two other works in connection with Munro.

Some Munro roots in Blyth

Munro traces her ancestry back to some of the first settlers of the town of Blyth in the 1850s. She draws on this family and geographic history in her 2006 story collection The View From Castle Rock.

Munro once called her home region “the most interesting place in the world … endlessly fascinating.” She wrote many stories set in versions of her childhood home and the surrounding area — so much so it became a writerly obsession of hers.

In Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives, Robert Thacker, a professor of Canadian studies and English, describes Munro’s home as a “mysterious, touchable place.” From Vancouver and later Victoria she “recalled, imagined and detailed” that place in her stories. When she returned home in 1976, it was to “confront it anew with its surfaces and depths still there, resonant.”

Only known Munro play

It is certainly notable that the only known play by Munro, a Nobel laureate, remains unpublished and only available in the archives at the University of Guelph.

Munro moved back to Huron County from British Columbia just before the Blyth Festival Theatre was founded in 1975. The play How I Met My Husband was adapted by Munro and the Blyth company players from the short story of the same name from Munro’s 1974 book, Something I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You.

The story How I Met My Husband was also the basis of a television drama by Munro collected in The Play’s the Thing: Four Original Television Dramas (1974) edited by Tony Gifford. The local Blyth newspaper, in the lead-up to the show’s 1976 opening night, explained: “The play is adapted from a television production of the short story and has been expanded with added dialogue to lengthen it out to an evening’s entertainment.”

Discontented rural settler girlhood

As my research documents, the play stands out among the Blyth Festival’s early productions as the only play that presented the girlhood of a discontented rural settler.

The story follows the life of a teenage housekeeper named Edie who falls for an engaged pilot. As humanistic studies scholar Brian Sutton notes: “Edie’s entire relationship with Chris is rooted in secrets.” Chris agrees not to tell Edie’s employers she wore one of her dresses without their consent, and this secret is the basis of a bond that eventually becomes sexual.

Towards the end of the play, there is a heated discussion between women of different class positions about Edie’s pursuit of Chris. Edie later reflects on this discussion, saying “women should stick together and not do things like that. I see that now, but didn’t then.”

Munro’s work has been discussed in relation to class by a few researchers, including literature and culture scholar Katrin Berndt. Edie’s desire and frankness in discussing her desires reveals she is clearly discontent with the gendered and class-based restraints she encounters in society.

She ends up marrying the mailman, who is considered more working-class, so the play returns to the status quo. For a whirlwind climatic moment, however, some social structures are revealed as unjust.

More Munro-inspired productions

In 2008, playwright and actor Marcia Johnson — whose recent play Serving Elizabeth revisits Queen Elizabeth’s 1952 visit to Kenya from the perspective of Kenyans — reworked Munro’s short story Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. The play Courting Johanna focuses on the story of two Huron County girls in the 1950s who play an elaborate prank on an unsuspecting Scottish housekeeper.

Playwright Beverley Cooper also wrote If Truth Be Told. This play is inspired by the true story of Huron County residents who tried to ban Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women in the 1970s.

I’m honoured my play Post Alice falls in this lineage of productions. Understandably, folks have pointed out the new meaning the play’s title holds in light of Munro’s recent death.

‘Post Alice’

I originally wrote Post Alice in 2021 for the Here For Now Theatre Festival in Stratford, Ont., and the name emerged from the play’s decidedly post-modern style.

I had just spent the summer rereading Munro’s work for my studies and as part of an Alice Munro book club with some notable Munro scholars, including Robert Thacker and J.R. (Tim) Struthers.

Post Alice reimagines four of my favourite Munro protagonists. Also inspired by the hilarious Huron County women of my youth, the play’s characters are old friends who spend one night together around a fire reconnecting, telling secrets and ruminating about the true story of the disappearance of teenager Mistie Murray in Huron County in 1995.

Post Alice also references the history of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People in Canada (MMIWG2S). In an effort to support the call for more education about Indigenous histories from the Final Report on MMIWG2S, I invited non-status Algonquin and French-Canadian artist Terre Chartrand to consult on Post Alice.

Together we co-authored an article about our work with actor Heather Marie Annis, who has French, Scottish and Mi’kmaq ancestry. Annis reflected on inhabiting a character with Haudenosaunee family ancestry in Post Alice.

The original cast and crew of the 2021 production created a truly magical theatrical experience. I was humbled by the positive audience reaction and critical response to the 2021 Stratford premiere, as well as Talonbooks’s decision to publish the play with two of my other plays, Cottage Radio and White Wedding.

Mourning and celebrating Munro

Post Alice was born out of respect, love and admiration for Munro’s work. After speaking with festival organizers, I know they are doing everything they can to honour Munro at the festival this year.

I hope audiences can use this occasion to come together to mourn as a community of admirers of Munro’s work and celebrate the ways in which her impressive legacy will live on, inspiring readers and writers for years to come.


Taylor Graham received funding from the Ontario Arts Council.


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Taylor Marie Graham, PhD student, School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph, The Conversation