Robinson: Tribute to Third World Players

Joanne Robinson


Each year Flo’s Seniors honours a person or group that has contributed to the community; this year we honour The Third World Players.


The theatre group Third World Players / Le Théâtre du Tiers Monde was founded in November 1978 to stimulate interest in the cultural heritage of immigrants from the Third World. The founders were Lloyd Stanford, Karl Gordon, Jennifer Hosten-Craig, who had ‘floated’ the idea to Lloyd Stanford, Ricardo Smith, and David Craig.


The first production, Slices of Life, mounted with the assistance of the Penguin Theatre, in April 1979, set the tone of the multi-lingual and multicultural repertoire that has been characteristic of the group. The selections made by Karl Gordon included works in French, Haitian creole, standard English, and Jamaican patois. This was followed, that summer, by a one-hour TV special based, in part, on that material, entitled Accents Shakespeare Never Knew. The 1980 Salute to Jamaica, presented in collaboration with the University of Ottawa’s Department of Community Affairs, was also multi-lingual and included a memorable production of Karl Gordon’s one-act play Uncle George.  

Other notable productions over the ensuing years included: the world première of Roderick Walcott’s Cul de Sac, directed by the playwright and presented in collaboration with Carleton University’s Faculty of Arts;  A Multi-Cultural Theatre Festival, featuring La Repeticion by Anton Arrufat, Red Oleanders by Rabindranath Tagore and L’anglais tel qu’on le parle by Tristan Bernard, staged at Carleton University, in mid-July 1984; another production of “L’anglais tel qu’on le parle” for  the Festival of the Arts put on by Celebration Arts Ottawa;  a repeat  presentation of “Red Oleanders”,  in October  1984, this time in collaboration with the university’s Asian Studies Committee;  a week-long run in  summer 1983 of Karl Gordon’s Old Man of the Village at the Great Canadian Theatre Company’s ‘space’, reprised in September 1987 at the Ottawa Technical High School;  the August 1986 production of Gordon’s Sometimes It Does (in which the renowned Canadian actor/playwright and director Andrew Moodie made his stage début); Marcus Garvey: The Power of his Words, staged at the National Library, on February 28, 1995.


Since November 1980, in addition to its stage work, the group has broadcast, on CKCU-FM, a regular programme called Third World Players Present featuring rehearsed readings from Third World literature as well as interviews with writers and literary critics from the Global South, including those resident in Canada. These broadcasts have included: a series of ‘literary portraits’ of Argentina,  the Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Cuba, Guyana, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Pakistan, Sri Lanka & Trinidad and Tobago; seasonal themes like summer and autumn; festive or religious occasions like Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas; special topics like “ stories for the young”, “women in Third World literature”, “female writers of the Third World”, “great Black writers”; important literary events like the presentations of the “Poetry of the Americas” made by the embassies and high commissions of the countries of the Americas, the Canadian  Commission for UNESCO and Library and Archives Canada in 2003 and 2006 to mark international poetry day.  The programme has also often served as the radio launch or preview of works by many a writer as well as ground-breaking anthologies like Cyril Dabydeen’s “A Shapely Fire: Changing the Literary Landscape of 1987”, Luciano Diaz’s 1992 intercultural anthology of poetry “Symbiosis”, and Eddy Garnier’s pioneering bilingual (French/Créole)  2006 haiku collection  “Gerbe en germes : Pake Grenn”.           


It is significant that through these broadcasts and its stage presentations, Third World Players has introduced the radio audience and the general public to the work of four Nobel Prize winners from the Global South before they became laureates, namely, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Gabriela Marquez, and Derek Walcott, as well as Michael Ondaatje, long before his Booker and the Governor General’s awards. The programming has included some African radio plays, aired with the permission of Germany’s Deutsche Welle, as well as several programmes produced in collaboration with Radio Mona at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. Some of the local writers featured over the years include members of the group of Chilean writers in exile. Third World Players was invited to contribute to the collection that was made of the literary output of those writers in Canada as part of “Projecto Adrienne”, the exchange programme between the National Library of Canada and the National Library instigated by then Governor General Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson. One of the most distinguished of these writers, Jorge Etcheverry, has been a member of Third World Players from the early 1980s. 


Third World Players have also participated in cultural evenings and other special presentations by several organizations including the Ottawa Branch of the Royal Commonwealth Society, the Jamaica (Ottawa) Community Association Inc., CUSO, Focus on Black Women, NCARR, as well as groups or government departments observing special occasions like Martin Luther King Jr Day or Black History Month in the National Capital Region. The troupe has also been guest readers of the writers’ groups Sasquatch and El Dorado, and has appeared on a community Christmas TV special.     


Given the aim fixed at the group’s founding, Third World Players have been particularly pleased to help introduce outstanding writers to schools and to the public. These initiatives include: the invitation, extended jointly with the Ottawa Branch of the Royal Commonwealth Society, The National Library and the Commonwealth  Society, , in 1989, to Derek Walcott to conduct workshops for the Ottawa School Board and to read at the National Library and the Commonwealth Club; an invitation to Jamaica’s Mervyn Morris, in 1991, to conduct workshops for the Carleton Board and to read at the Ottawa Library; and collaborating with publishers to present an Ottawa stage launch of Olive Senior’s “Discerner of Hearts”, at the National Library, in 1995. The latter two endeavours resulted in memorable broadcasts as well.  The impact of the appearances on the students—manifesting evident pride in cultural heritage – and members of the public of Third World origins in these instances was visible.

The theatre group has also staged solo or collaborated in significant book launches at Library and Archives Canada, notably Jennifer Hosten’s “Beyond Miss World”, in October 2008, and Rachel Manley’s memoir of her grandmother Edna Manley entitled “Horses in Her Hair”, in November 2008, in collaboration with the Jamaica High Commission. Moreover, in September 2012, TWP took part in the Canadian celebration of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence with the presentation “Celebrating Jamaican Literary Excellence”, which featured readings by prize-winning authors Olive Senior (winner of the 1987 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize), and Rachel Manley (winner of the 1997 Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction).  

Three other ‘catalytic’ effects of TWP’s stage and broadcasting efforts are worth mentioning: very early, the troupe encouraged  Caribbean Voices through joint presentations, supported the ‘inter-cultural’ drive of groups like El Dorado, and also provided opportunities for several talented actors, directors and producers to ‘showcase’ their skills on stage, radio and, in some cases, on film.

Some broadcasts are available as ‘podcasts’ on the CKCU-FM Web site at

A special thank you to Mr.  Lloyd Stanford (President), for this overview.  Stay tuned for Part 2

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