The legacy of Rochdale College, Toronto’s greatest experiment and most infamous failure.
It’s 1969. The Vietnam War rages on. Apollo 11 lands on the moon. The Chicago Seven are indicted. Nixon is elected. Trudeau is in office. The FLQ bombs the Montreal Stock Exchange. And in Toronto, Rochdale College – an experiment in cooperative housing and alternative education – is about to become very famous for all the wrong reasons.
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by David Yee
Timms Centre for the Arts
March 25, 26, 28, 31, April 1 & 2, 2022
Preview March 24, 2022
Matinee March 31, 2022
(No performances March 27, 29 & 30)
Evening performances start at 7:30pm, Matinee performance starts at 12:30pm.
Studio Theatre will not be offering subscriptions for the 2021 – 2022 season. Alternatively, we are offering FLEX passes. FLEX passes allow you to redeem three tickets at a discounted rate. These three tickets can be used to three different productions or all ticketed to a single production. They can be redeemed in person at the Timms Centre box office or by emailing email@example.com.
Single tickets and FLEX passes will be available for purchase at least two weeks prior to the first performance of each production. We are encouraging purchases and/or donations to be made online HERE.
Single ticket evening : Adult $25.00, Senior $22.00, & Student $12.00
Single ticket matinee : Adult $20.00, Senior $18.00 & Student $12.00
FLEX passes: Adult/Senior $60.00 & Student $30.00
Discounted ticket prices:
Preview: All Tickets $5.00
Half price Mondays: Adult $12.50, and Senior $11.00 & Student $6.00
Seating is limited. Walk up sales are cash only. There will be no refunds.
This season the Timms Centre daytime box office hours will vary. On performance days, the box office will open one hour prior to curtain. At this time, in person box office sales will be cash only.
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We are happy to answer questions or inquiries about tickets and our 2021-2022 season by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or
Whitman, the central character in the play, says, “You know Howl was written in 1955. That’s … and I still see it today, still hear it, the things Ginsberg was … howling about. It’s still so heart-achingly present for us. It’s 1969.” Given the events in our world today, the irony of this staggers me. In 1969, I was in my sophomore year at the National Theatre School of Canada, “Wide-eyed and full of hope.” (Whitman again.) The utopian politics of Rochdale were my politics and served to shape all the years of my life, up to and including today.
Rochdale College (a free university) began in 1965 in a group of five houses known as the Campus Co-op Residence, which was on the margins of the University of Toronto’s grounds.
The college was named for Rochdale, a small textile manufacturing town in the northeast of England. The co-operative movement is said to have started there in 1844 when a group of individuals, The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, pooled their resources in an attempt to gain some small control of their economic lives in the face of the industrial revolution and its growing economic/capitalist power systems. They devised a set of principles called the Rochdale Principles, a set of principles of co-operation that still provide the foundation on which co-ops around the world operate to this day.
In 1968, a block long 18-storey concrete tower at 341 Bloor St. West opened in an unfinished state as an ambitious experiment in co-operative living and alternate education. It started as an idyllic sanctuary away from capitalism, the bastions of institutional thought, and the systems of dominant culture.
Rochdale began as an anti-authoritarian political mecca where people keen on love, peace, and the prospect of a higher consciousness swarmed to join the counterculture and the burgeoning grassroots civil rights movements. It became an epicentre for the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Gay Liberation Movement, the Black Power Movement, the rising of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Movement (Nishnawbe Institute)under the leadership of Wilfred Pelletier, and held Red, White, and Black (a counselling body for American draft dodgers and deserters). Its leaders and organizers were passionately engaged and committed to the ambitious undertaking to form a radical participatory democracy through co-operative living and learning.
The backdrop is the Vietnam War, the recent deaths of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy, the rise of the Black Panther movement, the Apollo 11 moon landing, the election of Nixon, Trudeau senior in the Prime Ministers’ office, and the rise of the FLQ and the bombing of the Montreal Stock Exchange.
‘Liberation’ was a key word, and ‘free’ was to be applied to all things: Free Love, Free Thought, Free Speech, Free Education, Free Health Care, Free Day Care, Free Choice (particularly as concerning the female body), and Free Food. Free the People from Nukes and War.
"A dramaturg is a member of the artistic team of a theatre production who is a specialist in the transformation of a dramatic script into a meaningful living performance."
(5) Michael Mark Chemers, Ghost Light: An Introductory Handbook for Dramaturgy, Southern Illinois University Press, 2010.
Continued from above
Dennis Lee, Canadian writer and poet, was key to the educational processes leading to a free, new learning initiative.
“What Rochdale is all about is having a system flexible enough to fit people, all kinds of people, rather than trying to make people fit a structured system inherited from somewhere and someone else. It is a place where people must create their own environment, make their own decisions … Educationally, people must learn how to learn so that learning becomes part of living, like sleeping or blowing your nose, and not something you do for a preordained period until you’ve acquired sufficient expertise in one field to go out and earn a living.” (Macleans) Rochdale College. The New Learning.
It was a hothouse for creative energies and artisan activities. The towers held a sculpture studio, painting, ceramic studios, fibre arts and carpentry workshops and studios, a film school that became the Toronto Film-Makers Co-op, and dance studios leading to Toronto Free Dance Theatre. It specialized in early childhood development, psychology, literature, and philosophy. It became affiliated with Stan Bevington and Coach House Press, and House of Anansi Publishing under Dennis Lee, and was the basement birthplace of Theatre Passe Muraille (Beyond Walls 1968) under the leadership of Jim Garrard. Judith Merril, a writer of speculative science, set up a library, the Spaced Out Library, to which she donated thousands of her personal books and periodicals. This collection was later donated to the Toronto Public Library, creating North America’s largest collection of sci-fi and fantasy.
Rochdale was populated at its inception by broad and overlapping categories of political activists, students from the University of Toronto, and hippies. The average age was twenty two. Its open-door policies soon led to an influx of ‘crashers’, dealers, and bikers. In a search for a viable way to self-govern, total freedom became the licence of chaos and anarchy. And the walls came tumbling down.
David Yee’s wonderful play is a satire that is poised on the verge of Rochdale’s fall from grace. It speaks in a humour-fueled way about protests, the difficult politics of community living, personal relationships, self-governance and actions for world peace.
Today, the building is the Senator David A. Croll Apartments, a property of Toronto Community Housing and houses seniors. I can’t help but wonder how many residents were original Rochdalians.
--Sandra M. Nicholls