Richard Plant Receives the Associations First by dfhercbml



[The following is the speech that Denis Salter gave at the Association‟s banquet
during the conference in May 2002 at the University of Toronto.]

Dear All. I have the distinct pleasure of presenting a surprise tonight in honour of
my dearest friend. He, like me, has a somewhat lachrymose disposition on
occasions such as these, so please forgive us if we wind up crying before you. I
am here to present a lifetime achievement award, the first time that the
Association has ever presented it, to none other than Richard Plant.

Richard Plant has been a scholar of firsts. He wrote, under the supervision of a
wonderfully kind and thoughtful scholar, the late John Margeson, one of the first
dissertations on Canadian theatre history, at the Graduate Centre for Study of
Drama, here at the University of Toronto. He was one of the founding members
of a U of T-based research project on theatre history in Canada which led,
among many things, to the formation of the Association for Canadian Theatre
History, now the Association for Canadian Theatre Research. For the Association
Richard has served in what seems an endless number of positions: as member-
at-large, as Secretary, as Vice-President, as President, and as an all-round
supporter in so many ways of so many of the Association‟s initiatives. He has
published many important works, including Canada‟s Lost Plays, volume one, co-
edited with Anton Wagner (1978); the magisterial and indispensable
Bibliography of Theatre History in Canada (1993) with John Ball; and Later
Stages (1997), co-edited with Ann Saddlemyer. And, again with Ann
Saddlemyer, he was the co-founding editor of Theatre History in Canada (now
Theatre Research in Canada)—a journal that has set a gold standard for high
quality research, thinking, and writing about every conceivable aspect of theatre
in and about Canada. Meanwhile, he has helped out literally dozens of writers—
especially graduate students, struggling with their dissertations--in his role as a
quiet, firm, thoughtful, and inspiring editor; and he has served as a ghost writer
for all kinds of essays, chapters, and indeed even books, all of which are too
many to name and number here tonight. Finally... though with someone like
Richard there is never a „finally” 1987 the Association decided to name its
prize for the best essay in English published in a given year the Richard Plant
Award, as a companion piece, as it were, to the annual Jean-Cléo Godin award
for the best essay in French, and the Ann Saddlemyer award, given every two
years, for the best book in English or French.

And Richard is, of course, a teacher. I remember Northrop Frye saying
somewhere that all of his books are teaching books—I think Richard‟s books are
of this type—certainly I use them, again and again, as rich sources for my
students to consult in writing their essays and giving their presentations. He
joined the Department of Drama at Queen‟s University in 1978—the year of
disco, as his Chair, Tim Fort (also a distinguished Drama Centre graduate)
reminds me; and he has only retired from Queen‟s this year, after 24 years of
dedicated service. When I asked Tim for a copy of Richard‟s curriculum vitae in
preparing this little speech, Tim told me that he couldn‟t find one, and that there
might be a copy in the Dean‟s office at Queen‟s, but he wasn‟t too sure of that.
When I expressed incredulity—how can one function in the modern
bureaucratised-to-the-nth degree university without a CV, preferably one on the
web?—Tim replied in his usual laconic way: „we don‟t need a CV for Richard—
he‟s done everything that needs doing and much more than besides.”
“I have described what you might call the professional face of Richard Plant. But,
like any complex person, he has myriad sides to his nature. He has some
enduring personal traits which you might not know about but which have done so
much to define him and which have done so much to help others. He is, above
all else, a man who has the gifts of wisdom and generosity—gifts which so many
of us have received, often just at the right moment, even though we weren‟t
asking for anything at the time.

These gifts have taken many forms. Did you know, for example, that Richard‟s
wife, Susan, likes to bake muffins which he gives to the students in his graduate
seminar in Canadian theatre at the Drama Centre? Did you know that Richard,
in his spare time—and, frankly, he doesn‟t have too much of that—is the
indispensable, if unofficial, manager of the Blue Jays? Did you know that
Richard is a first-class cyclist? So far, Lance Armstrong has nothing to fear from
him, but if I were Lance Armstrong, I‟d look in my mirror now and then during a
marathon race, just to see if Richard happens to be gaining on him. Did you
know that Richard is a top-notch cross-country skier? I have had the pleasure of
skiing with him, with him kilometres in front, skating his way up a mountain, while
I have been taking a more leisurely route, many kilometres behind, pretending
that I am studying the bird life when in fact I am just gasping for wind? Did you
know that Richard is a walking encyclopaedia of sporting history; he could
probably tell you—but don‟t ask him now—how many goals Gordie Howe scored
in, say, his tenth season of professional hockey? And did you know that Richard
is the inventor of „carpentry therapy‟? This means that if you are fed up with the
routine of academentia, Richard invites you to his beloved cottage for a weekend
of rest and recreation—only you soon discover that recreation means that he
gives you a saw, a hammer, a bundle of nails, and indeed whatever tools you
need, as you help him with some chore that he has been meaning to do for
awhile: like replacing the roof on the cottage?

Now, in the classroom, Richard displays, if only unwittingly, some idiosyncrasies
which I have observed first-hand when he has kindly invited me to give a lecture
to his students and which I have heard about from his students, many of whom
are with us tonight. Like those of us who grow prematurely bald, he has
developed a kind of tic—whenever he is in a moment of profound thought, a
brown study as Charles Dickens might have described it—he likes to scratch at
his head, as though looking for the last hair amidst what can no longer be simply
described as a bald spot. Moreover, when faced with a play text of great
complexity, while elaborating a particular theoretical approach to the text‟s
meaning, he is apt furrow his brow, rub his left hand over it repeatedly, and then
say, as if repeating a mantra, “layered; yes, layered; this text is very very layered;
you see what I mean; it is very very layered; and it will take us a long time to sort
out its meanings.”

Now, when the Association‟s Executive, in its wisdom, decided to grant this first-
ever lifetime achievement award to Richard, the question arose: what shall we
give him? George Belliveau very kindly went out and bought something that, you
will see in a moment, Richard simply cannot do without. And then something
else of equal importance magically appeared to go along with it. Now, I want you
to look at this bag in which these gifts—how does one give gifts to someone who
is himself so gifted?—are, well, wrapped. Paula and I went out and bought this
[holds up a bag] pink bag and I am the one who is responsible for the, ahem,
wrapping. Paula thought pink was better suited to presents for baby girls, but I
convinced her that Richard would like pink, especially pink that tends to the hot
side of the colour spectrum. Now, Richard, would you please come up and
accept a modest, but heart-felt gift, on behalf on the Association for many years
of dedicated love and labour in the cause of Canadian theatre studies?
Richard then came forward, began thanking everyone, and, characteristically,
started to scratch his bald head and rub his furrowed brow. (Laughter all
around.) After much difficulty, he managed to open the rather over-wrapped bag,
and produced a pair of cycling gloves and a pair of cycling socks. The latter
were decorated in maple leaves, to mark the importance of „cancon‟ throughout
Richard‟s career. He tried to give a more elaborate speech, but he had to stop,
for those gathered continued to clap clap clap in his honour. After he left the
podium, first Louise Forsyth and then Stephen Johnson went up on stage to
deliver further encomia about Richard‟s life and career.

Denis Salter
McGill University

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