Steven Bush

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Steven Bush was an actor and an acquaintance of Mary Rauton in Atlanta, Georgia. After immigrating to Canada he resumed his acting career and became well known in Canadian theatre circles. Although he lived at 218 McCaul Street for several years his interests lie beyond the Baldwin Street enclave.

In response the author’s questionnaire Steven sent a long account of his activities during the early 1970s. Steven’s account is summarized below. Steven Bush was interviewed in October 1978 for the Ontario Multi-Cultural Historical Society oral history project and further details about his early career in Canada can be found in that organization’s archives.

In the latter part of 1968 word came to Steven Bush in Atlanta that the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau smoked dope and that Canada was a fairly good place to go in case the Selective Service got heavy. Steven attended US President Richard Nixon’s Anti-Coronation festivities in Washington, D.C. in January 1969 and was shocked by the “proto-fascist” behavior on the part of some of the demonstrators. He decided to escape to Canada where he could “sort things out” while, at the same time, “avoiding a bit of heat from the Selective Service System.”

Mary Rauton, Colleen Anderson, Frank Tettermer and Steve Blossom rented the house at 218 McCaul Street only a few days before Steven Bush arrived in Toronto. Steven communicated with Mary and was invited to join them. “In early February, I (Steven Bush) arrived in Toronto on a bright, chilly afternoon. Mary Rauton and others welcomed me most graciously at 218 McCaul Street. In late February, I was invited to stay, rather than simply crash. I accepted enthusiastically and Frank Tettermer generously set to work putting up walls to make an actual room in the basement of the house.” Steven lived at the house for the next two years.

The next month Steven found work playing the role of his look-alike Abe Lincoln in the Toronto Workshop Productions version of “Mr. Bones”. Steven described “Mr. Bones” as a “neo-minstrel” show. Toronto Workshop Productions already employed Jack Boschulte and Mel Dixon, both American expatriates. Other theaters in Toronto, notably the Studio Lab Theater, also helped American exiles secure Landed Immigrant Status by providing them with job offers.

Steven was invited to work with the Toronto Workshop Productions Theater Company for the upcoming season. He also found some work in a TV film for OECA. By June Steven was sharing the house at 218 McCaul Street with Frank Tettermer, Marita DeGive, Steve Spring, Steve Blossom, Colleen Anderson, Colleen’s baby Seth and Ed and Sheila Street. That summer he enjoyed getting stoned and lying on the roof of the summer kitchen at 218 McCaul Street. He spent his time reading, writing and worrying about whether to stay in Canada or to return to the USA. He also thought a lot about his political and moral responsibilities. In August he visited Michael Meyer, Ruth Nichols and other friends who were renting a farmhouse and making candles somewhere near Allison, Ontario. At the end of August Steven’s good friends, Jim Bearden and Linda Certais, arrived from Atlanta in an old car that then sat in the garage at 218 McCaul Street for years. Jim Bearden quickly found work with Studio Lab and went on the road with a children’s show. Steve’s sister, Camille Bush, passed through Toronto on her way from Woodstock, New York, to Vancouver, British Columbia. That September Steve had the pleasure to perform “Mr. Bones” and “Che Guevara” with the cast of Toronto Workshop Productions at the Biennale de Venezia in Italy. Upon Steven’s return to Canada, Jim Bearden joined him and the cast of Toronto Workshop Productions in performances of Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest”. In January 1970 a play called “Daganawida”, opened at Toronto Workshop Productions with Steven Bush, Jim Bearden and Mel Dixon in the cast.

By 1970 Steven had “sorted things out” and embarked on two-year project to bring hard-hitting political theater to Toronto. The first project focused on the aftermath of a huge anti-war demonstration in Chicago. In March 1970 Toronto Workshop Productions opened its play “Chicago ’70”. The play was a theatrical collage of parts of the Chicago Conspiracy Trial transcripts, bits of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and a lot of rock and roll music. It was one of the first “collective creations” attempted in Canada. American expatriate Jack Boschulte sent up-to-the-minute transcript material from Chicago to the cast members in Toronto and they worked as quickly as possible to turn it into theater.

“Chicago “70” was based on the trial of the men who organized demonstrations at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in July 1967. The Chicago Seven Conspiracy trial was widely followed in both the United States and in Canada and became a “cause celebre” for the political Left. In April the Baldwin Street Gallery of Photography put together an exhibit of photographs from the demonstrations and some of the cast of the TWP play performed the Allen Ginsburg testimony from the Chicago Seven Conspiracy Trial at a concert of the Perth County Conspiracy at Town Hall in Toronto. The play based on the trial was a great success. In May the play was filmed and released under the title, “The Great Chicago Conspiracy Circus.” Toronto Workshop Productions took the play on the road and performed in New York City, at the Saint Lawrence Centre in Toronto and at the Wolfville Festival in Nova Scotia.

Hoping to continue the momentum created by “Chicago ‘70”, the THOG theater project was formed in July 1970. THOG was based at the Bathurst United Church on Bathurst Street. George Taros, Jim Bearden, Linda Certais, Gary Stephens, Anne Bannister Stephens and Steven Bush were among the Americans involved in THOG. The next month Rick McKenna and Steven Bush wrote the first draft of a play based on Shakespeare’s play “Richard 3rd.” The play was about US President Richard Nixon’s life and the “demented hallucinogenic political visions of the authors”. It was first called Richard 3rd Rate but was later changed to Richard 3rd Time.

During the fall of 1970 THOG sponsored a series of all-day Sunday music and theater festivals at the Bathurst Street United Church. The range of material performed included readings by Milton Acorn, music by the band called the Perth County Conspiracy and skits and music drama pieces by THOG that emphasized both psychodrama and political satire.

In December 1970 Peggy Florin arrived from the United States and moved into 218 McCaul Street. Steven’s parents, Ruth and Vestes Bush, also came to visit for the holidays. Steven was a strict vegetarian so Pat Wilson and Neil and Anne Walsh volunteered to prepare Christmas dinner for everyone in the house, including Steven’s parents. By February 1971 Steven was holed up in a house on a hill in Uxbridge, Ontario, writing a radio docudrama about colonialism and preparing his version of “Hamlet”.

In March the script for THOG’s “Hamlet” was complete and rehearsals began. George Taros, Jim Bearden, Linda Certais, Gary and Anne Stephens, Dan Hennessey, Bill Penden and Steven Bush all volunteered their time for the production of “Hamlet” was well as the ongoing THOG Music and Theatre Festival. The Festival continued on frequent Sundays at the Bathurst United Church. THOG also took the time to perform a skit satirizing Toronto City Hall and to sing some songs from “Hamlet” and chant in front of the Greenspoon Corporation’s construction office during a “City is for the People” demonstration at the St. Jamestown redevelopment project. Between May and August 1971 THOG performed “Hamlet” in a former Sunday school room, now called the New Theatre, at Bathurst United Church. A total of 21 free performances were given. The Hall Switchboard handled seat reservations and performance information and Crawley Films, Ltd. made a film of the play.

In August 1971 Steven Bush and Peggy Florin left 218 McCaul Street and moved to the house at 198 Beverly Street. They traveled to western Canada for a brief vacation and to see Steve’s sister, Camille Bush in Langley, British Columbia. Upon their return to Toronto in October they realized that THOG had become increasingly divided by its three primary tendencies: psychotherapy, political activism and professional performing art. Steven commented that, “It was a microcosm of what was happening in the counterculture movement at that time.” In February 1972 a fire gutted the house they were living in and Steve and Peggy were graciously invited to move into the new Rochdale College until they could find other accommodations.

That winter, along with many other community groups, THOG applied for and was awarded a Local Incentive Program (LIP) grant. “The money heightened the existing contradictions (within THOG) and “proceed to kill us off.”” Meanwhile THOG continued its involvement in Toronto civic affairs. April 1972 demonstrations at the US Consulate on University Avenue to protest the visit of US President Richard Nixon and his reception by the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau inspired THOG and the Inner City Puppet Theatre to bring large “Uncle Fatso” and “Death” puppets to the demonstration.

However, by late April, it was clear that THOG had failed to complete the project it had proposed to do to get the LIP grant. It had proposed to write a cartoon history of Canada from a radical working-class perspective, including music and puppets. “We did a few performances but they were a very pale shade of what had been imagined and promised. We had failed to solve a number of key political questions, among them being the correct relationship between leadership and collective effort. I think that this is a rock on which a lot of the movement foundered.” In May Steven Bush, Peggy Florin, Bill Peder, Linda Certais and Jim Bearden moved to the country near southern Georgian Bay to pursue Primal Therapy and to reflect on their experiences with THOG.

As the THOG project wound down, events outside Toronto that were to have a profound impact on the American exile community were occurring. In June 1972 US District of Columbia Police arrested five men inside the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel and in July 1972 AMEX Magazine organized a conference in Toronto on the subject of amnesty for US draft dodgers and deserters. However for some in the American exile community, the summer, fall and winter of 1972 was a period of introspection, nature worship, simple living and domesticity. Steven Bush spent the latter part of 1972 writing radio plays and film scripts from his own political perspective.

The Canadian left was elated when in October the Liberal Party of Canada won a plurality of the popular vote in a Federal election but failed to win a majority in the House of Commons. This forced Pierre Trudeau to form a coalition with the New Democratic Party to continue as Canada’s Prime Minister. In November Steven cast an absentee ballot in the US Presidential election for Senator George McGovern and wrote an appeal supporting McGovern that was published in the “Guerilla” newspaper in Toronto. Despite the enthusiastic support George McGovern received from the peace movement, Richard Nixon easily won re-election to the U.S. Presidency and on December 18 ordered intensified bombing of North Vietnam. Meanwhile fewer than 24,000 American troops remained in Vietnam. In March 1973 the last U.S. ground troops left Vietnam and the U.S. armed forces become an all-volunteer force. Military conscription ceased. Nixon’s continued bombing of North Vietnam alienated the rest of the world and further embittered the American exile community in Toronto.

By 1973 the US President’s involvement in the Watergate Break-in surfaced in the news media. In July Rick McKenna and Steve Bush were commissioned by Toronto Workshop Productions to revise the play “Richard 3rd Rate (3rd Time)” for a fall production in Toronto. They spent a very busy few weeks rewriting the play and taking a crash course in “Nixonology” and the Watergate break-in. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a Chilean General named Pinochet overthrow the government of Chile and killed the elected President, Salvador Allende, in September 1973. Steven wrote letters to government officials in Canada and the US urging them to block recognition of the new military junta in Chile.

Steven Bush and Peggy Florin left Toronto in October for Newfoundland to research a film script about the "genocided" Beothuck Indians. While they were in Newfoundland, Steven’s play “Richard 3rd Time” played at Toronto Workshop Productions with a fair degree of popular and critical approval. Steve said he was “moderately gratified but would have been happier if he would have been able to stage it two years earlier.” While the play was in production, U.S. President Richard Nixon was under investigation for covering up the Watergate break-in of 1972. Nixon was forced to release his secret White House tapes but Congress found that the tapes had been altered.

By 1974 Steve Bush, like many other American exiles, found that, while they were still interested in exile politics, their interest in events south of the border was beginning to wane as they watched the US drift further and further to the Right. Even activists like Steven were gradually becoming Canadians and lost their primary identity as American expatriates. However Steven continued to speak out against the war when he could. In April 1974 Philip Berrigan and several Vietnamese spoke at a rally in Toronto to denounce the treatment of political prisoners and dissidents in South Vietnam. Steven’s friends Cedric Smith and Terry Jones played some music and Steven read a few poems. He and Rick McKenna collaborated on a play for television and on another for the stage. Peggy Florin, Steve’s longtime companion, left for Vancouver to work with the Anna Wyman Dance Company. In November the magazine “Performing Arts in Canada” published a play by Steve Bush entitled “Once A Giant”. It was an allegory of Canadian-American relations and “the possibility of deliverance from the militaristic mentality”.

In August 1974 U.S. President Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment. The new US President issued a pardon to his former boss and offered clemency to the draft-dodgers and deserters. Steve Bush considered participation in the Ford Clemency Program but decided to apply for Canadian citizenship instead. Steve was living in Newfoundland, acting and directing for the Mummers Troupe when he received Canadian citizenship in the fall of 1975.

In 1976 Steve was involved in another theater project called The King Lear Expedition. The King Lear Expedition involved American expatriates Steven Bush, Anne Bannister, Bill Peden, Gary Stephens and George Taros. Later Chris Hallgren, formerly of the Hall, joined the group. Guertej Singh of 3HO was the group’s yoga teacher and spiritual advisor. (Guertej Singh was formerly Ted Steiner of the Red, White and Black American exile organization.) The King Lear project continued through April 1976. In February most of the cast of the King Lear Expedition participated in a demonstration outside of the Art Gallery of Ontario. They were protesting the use of artists’ work to legitimize the Reid Paper Company. The Reid Paper Company was held responsible for the mercury pollution of the English and Wabigoon Rivers in northern Ontario that poisoned and deformed entire Native Canadian communities.

In April 1977 Open Circle Theatre in Toronto produced the theater play “Lovejoy’s Nuclear War” about a man named Sam Lovejoy who sabotaged nuclear equipment in Massachusetts. Steven wrote the play in collaboration with fellow expatriate Sylvia Tucker. Steven’s friend Gary Stephens played the title role. The play was performed in repertory with another play, “Westroy Hotel”, written by American expatriate Chris Halogen. The program was titled “Double Exposure”.

In November 1976 Jimmy Carter was elected U.S. President. By 1977 he had issued pardons to those few draft-dodgers who still had outstanding arrest warrants against them. Steve Bush was free to travel and live in the United States but he chose to live in Toronto. He continued to write, direct and act. In 1982 he founded and then co-directed the Mixed Company Theatre in Toronto and from 1988 until 1992 he was the Artistic Director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. He eventually joined the faculty of the University of Toronto where he is a senior lecturer. He continues to direct live theatre at the University of Toronto, perform for CBC Radio and speak-out against war.

After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 Steven lent his support to American military personnel who deserted and went to Canada. He helped organize a march against the American occupation of Iraq in the spring of 2005 that attracted a large crowd of people including a small number of American exiles from the Baldwin Street community that included Mary and Randy Rauton, Michael Ormsby and Janice Spellerberg.

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