The Ecstasy of Rita Joe

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe Study Guide

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe is a play in two acts by Canadian playwright George Ryga. It is a play of significant cultural and social importance, which has been used by Indigenous activists as a means of forcing dominant structures to face the reality of prejudice against Indigenous peoples in Canada. The play follows Rita Joe, who moved to the city in pursuit of opportunity, but discovers that she is unable to access the things necessary to live a comfortable life.

The play was first performed at the Vancouver Playhouse in November 1967 and was directed by renowned director George Bloomfield. It was the first high-profile Canadian play that addressed the brutality visited upon the Indigenous peoples of Canada by white settlers. The impact of the play is made more effective by its structure, which does not follow a chronological sequence of events, but consists of tableaus presented to show the individual acts of brutality an Indigenous person experienced over the course of their life.

Following its initial performances in Vancouver, the play went on to open at the Studio Theater at the National Arts Center in 1969. It has also been adapted to be performed in other genres, including a ballet by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company. It has also been translated into French and performed across the province of Quebec.

Ryga himself was an unlikely playwright, having never progressed further than sixth grade. The son of Ukrainian immigrants, he grew up in an impoverished environment but always understood the value of education. He continued to educate himself despite being unable to attend traditional school. He won a scholarship to the Banff Academy of Fine Arts, and began to write passionately, producing first poetry, and then plays. The Ecstasy of Rita Joe is considered to be his greatest work. Since 2004, the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature has been awarded to a British Columbian writer whose work displays significant themes of social awareness.