Theatre CalgaryCalgary's first professional theatre company grew from grassroots sources. In 1963, Don Boyes, Eddie Wong and Harry Pinchin opened the Musicians and Actors Club (the MAC) in the basement of the Isis, an abandoned downtown movie house. It was created to provide an environment in which music and theatre performers, as well as others involved in the arts in Calgary, could meet and interact socially. This built the artistic community necessary to support the expansion of the organization's mandate to include theatre productions.
The first play offered in the theatre upstairs, A Taste of Honey (November 1964), was a hit, and four successful seasons of contemporary plays ensued. The MAC became MAC 14 when it merged with Workshop 14, the venerable amateur company established by Betty MITCHELL. In 1967, Kenneth Dyba, who had directed several well-received plays at the MAC over the previous two seasons, was appointed artistic director for a transitional season of semi-professional theatre, and the company moved from the Isis to the more modern 500-seat Betty Mitchell Theatre in the Allied Arts Centre, the remodelled Union Tractor Building.
In 1968, Christopher NEWTON, a young actor with little directing experience from Stratford, Ontario, became artistic director. He and Fred Scot, president of the MAC 14 Theatre Society, renamed the company Theatre Calgary (TC). Theatre Calgary joined a growing network of regional theatres, pioneered by the MANITOBA THEATRE CENTRE and supported by the CANADA COUNCIL, whose mission was to provide Canadian cities with a varied season of professional theatre.
Theatre Calgary often encouraged playwrights. Newton wrote You Two Stay Here, The Rest Come With Me, with music by Allen Laing; Harold Baldridge's production of Back to Beulah began TC's relationship with W.O. MITCHELL, which continued under Rick McNair with premieres of The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon and The Kite. Sharon POLLOCK's Whiskey Six Rebellion and John MURRELL's Farther West also had TC premieres.
Caravan, a touring company for young audiences, was established by Don Shipley in 1970 and flourished under David Lander (1971-75). In 1977, Caravan became the Stage-Coach Players under Rick McNair, who wrote many scripts for the company. Napi, the First Man garnered international acclaim when it toured Wales.
The leadership of Theatre Calgary has changed frequently. Clark Rogers and Sharon Pollock each served for less than a season. Joel Miller and James Brewer were temporary acting artistic directors. Joseph Shaw became ill and resigned before he actually assumed his post. Some of the main custodians were Newton (1968-71), Baldridge (1972-78), McNair (1978-84), Martin Kinch (1985-91) and Brian Rintoul (1991-96). The efforts of the first three to encourage theatre for young people and new plays were largely abandoned in 1985 when the company moved to the 750-seat Max Bell Theatre in the Calgary Centre for the Performing Arts (now EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts), where the large stage and diffused seating arrangement encouraged productions of classics, period plays and musicals. One of the most popular plays with audiences is the company's annual production of A Christmas Carol.
Audience support, fundraising and grants have not always kept pace with the theatre's expenses. In 1996, Theatre Calgary was deeply in debt, but a public campaign for donations raised a million dollars and restored its financial credibility. The 1997 board chose as its new artistic director a relatively inexperienced young director, Ian PRINSLOO, who came from working with Newton at the SHAW FESTIVAL. After the time of Theatre Calgary's fiscal and artistic crisis, Prinsloo's eight-year tenure marked a major period of recovery and growth in TC's fortunes. He rededicated TC to doing classical drama, including new productions of Canadian classics, and committed to significantly raising the number of local directors, designers, playwrights and actors involved in the productions.
Between 1997 and 2005, Theatre Calgary's subscriber base was rebuilt from 3600 to 8600 and the $1.2-million deficit of 1996 transformed into a $2.4-million trust fund, aided by seven years of surpluses. When Prinsloo departed in 2005, he left the theatre in good financial and artistic shape for his successor, Dennis Garnhum.
Dennis Garnhum, an Ontario native with directing experience at Shaw and the STRATFORD FESTIVAL, has declared that he intends his five-year term to build upon and enrich the foundation established by his predecessor.