History

Theatre Calgary traces its origins to the 1960s grassroots movement for local professional theatre. The company formed from the city’s two most prominent amateur theatre groups: Workshop 14 and the Musicians’ and Actors’ Club. Workshop 14 had been founded in 1944 by students of local theatre pioneer Betty Mitchell and took its name from Mitchell’s drama classroom at Western Canada High School. The Musicians’ and Actors’ Club (fondly known as MAC) began as a social club in 1963, with meetings held the basement bar of the derelict Isis movie house on 1st St SW, but members soon took to staging short plays and musical revues in the upstairs hall. Under the leadership of Kenneth Dyba, the two groups merged in 1966 as MAC 14. Then, on July 1st, 1968, MAC 14 became Theatre Calgary, the city’s first fully professional theatre company. Christopher Newton, who would later lead the Shaw Festival for more than two decades, was appointed Theatre Calgary’s first artistic director.

The new company performed in the Betty Mitchell Theatre at the Allied Arts Centre, a converted tractor showroom at 9th Ave and 8th St SW that later became known as the QR Centre. In its first two decades, Theatre Calgary presented a mix of classic and new plays, including premieres by Canadian writers such as John Murrell, W.O. Mitchell, and Sharon Pollock. In 1985, Theatre Calgary became the resident company of the Max Bell Theatre in the new Calgary Centre for the Performing Arts (now Arts Commons). In this striking new performance space, both grand and intimate, the company dedicated itself to large-scale productions of classics, period pieces, and musicals.

Over the past 11 years, has engaged in national and international collaborations with companies such as Soulpepper, the Shaw Festival, the National Arts Centre, and American Conservatory Theater, under the artistic leadership of former Artistic Director Dennis Garnhum (2005-2016). At the same time, Theatre Calgary’s FUSE Enbridge New Play Development Program has led directly to the world premieres of several new Canadian works on the Max Bell stage. The company has also deepened its commitment to Calgary’s theatre community, presenting an annual co-production in One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo and producing Shakespeare by the Bow, Calgary’s outdoor summer theatre festival starring emerging artists. Under the stewardship of Tom McCabe from 1997 to 2014, Theatre Calgary became a model of strong fiscal management in the Canadian arts sector, a tradition which continues under Executive Director Colleen A. Smith. As Theatre Calgary approaches its 50th anniversary, we aim to set a national standard for ambitious programming, passionate community engagement, and extraordinary productions.

In September 2016, Shari Wattling was named Interim Artistic Director, following Dennis Garnhum's departure. On March 13, 2017, Stafford Arima was announced Theatre Calgary's new Artistic Director, and on April 3, 2017, he officially joined the theatre. The Canadian-born Arima arrived at Theatre Calgary following a successful career in New York, where he most noteably directed the musical Allegiance on Broadway.