The Opening Act – Background

The Opening Act

Canadian Theatre History, 1945-1953

Photo of Susan on the day the book came out

A photo of me taken by photographer Seema Shah
on the day the book came out

From the day I decided to write The Opening Act, or it decided I was going to write it, this book took thirty-four years to be published. The years in between were often ones of hope and exhilaration, the kind that comes from being so immersed in a project you love that nothing can sway you from your course. But those years were also filled with despair and frustration because a few times it seemed as though the book was going to actually be published only to have it yanked away from me as a publisher backed out. Some publishers felt I had bridged both academic and mainstream markets and were concerned it would not sell in either. They were wrong that the two worlds could not be simultaneously represented but it took a while to prove.

The book is somewhere between history and biography, helped considerably by all the interviews I had with important actors of the time such as Christopher Plummer, Joy Coghill and Jean Louis Roux . My writing style in the book is what I would call “relaxed,” somewhere between history and biography, almost as though I were sitting next to someone on a sofa telling them the story. I always felt I was ahead of my time but that never made the journey any easier. Suddenly, in 2003, my writing took off and I wrote seven books in five years. Four of the books were published and two of them were all set and ready to go to press when that publisher went bankrupt. Another story for another time and probably not one that is unusual for any writer. The seventh book I wrote as a private commission (see No Regrets in Main Menu) for a family and it turned out to be a regular book length manuscript that they made into a beautiful looking book. I also started to read recent theatre history books and add to and edit The Opening Act which at that time was called Everyman Had Its Day.

The Opening Act was the last of the eight books to be completely edited and published even though it was really my first book. How did the project start? I had been a newspaper reporter for five years at the Ottawa Journal but had been gone from there for a couple of years and living in Toronto where I had unsuccessfully tried to get into professional theatre. I hoped that would be my life’s work at one point so the groundwork for this book (writing and acting) was always there. I also wanted to write a book and was always looking around for a Canadian subject, never seeing the one right in front of me.

My father, Floyd Caza, was a professional actor from 1946 to 1952, ironically almost the exact time frame of my book.  A couple of years after I left the newspaper and days after dad’s death at 55, I was sitting on the floor of their living room going through his papers when five yellowed newspaper clippings dropped out onto the floor. It is still a marvel to me that those few pieces of paper actually evolved into this book. There was a small bio on him and four reviews from plays Dad had appeared in with the Everyman Theatre and the Ottawa Stage Society. They were from 1946 to 48. I thought perhaps they were amateur productions but I looked at the names from the reviews and was stunned to see actors that I recognized well – Christopher Plummer, Arthur Hill, Ted Follows and Murray Westgate. I was really intrigued very quickly because I knew they were all professional actors. Dad had never talked much about his time in the theatre. He did not seem to think it was a big deal. It took his death for me to find out that it actually was. It happened very quickly as I sat there on the floor with the clippings in my hand. All these fireworks went off in my head and I KNEW instantly not only was there a book in there somewhere, I was going to write it. Of course that was only the beginning of an incredibly long journey but that is how The Opening Act was born.

Excerpt from Chapter Thirteen, The Earle Grey Players and Stratford:

It may have seemed to many of those inside the magnificent Stratford tent on that humid July 13 in 1953 that, as Alec Guinness playing Richard III spoke of “the winter of our discontent,” theatre had finally been born in Canada. The truth was it was much more a coming of age than a birth. Without all the post-war struggles to bring professionalism to Canadian theatre, there would have been no Stratford, no cast of Canadian actors to make up the bulk of the company that trod the boards so tentatively that first summer. . . . . They did it for love of the theatre, because most were compelled to do it, and because some dreamed that it would one day bring them to a place in time such as Stratford.

The story of The Opening Act: Canadian Theatre History, 1945-1953 is one of how the people in theatre reached that “place.” It was a life of challenge, opportunity and hard work. That post-war period in Canadian theatre was also a time of hope, enthusiasm and most of all determination – “Having survived the war . . . if someone wanted to be an actor, a writer or a painter, by God they were going to do it. . . . What you chose to do, you didn’t do lightly,” Joy Coghill said.

The book is a history but also a biography (or many biographies) and I planned it that way from the beginning. One reason it took so long to make it into print was because I bridged both worlds (academic and mainstream) and so it took a while to find a publisher with enough vision to see how well that worked. It was (is) a fairly big book. It was in fact quite a bit bigger when I started but certain things had to go to make it more manageable. It was still a big book when finished and I am grateful to my publisher, Ronsdale Press, for agreeing to leave in as much as they did.

The Opening Act: Canadian Theatre History, 1945-1953 can be purchased directly online from the publisher at ronsdalepress.comor Chapters, Amazon at  and other sites.