The Early Years
For more than a quarter-century, StoryBook Theatre Society has been part of the Calgary community producing quality children's theatre for children of all ages. StoryBook's story begins like many other non-profit organizations with a visionary. Ellie Tims was a Calgary schoolteacher who was passionate about live theatre. Every weekend, Ellie and her fellow teacher friends would sit around her dining room table and create the most amazing original plays. They would write for hours, wrestling storylines back and forth; doing rewrite after rewrite. One night, during one of these writing affairs, Ellie blurted out, "Why don't we produce these plays?" To Ellie's surprise her friends were ecstatic about the idea. A year later, in 1977, Storybook Theatre mounted its first production, "Buckskin and Chapperos".
In the Pumphouse
StoryBook Theatre began their first season with an impressive six shows -- a mix of original scripts and fairy tale classics performed at the Pumphouse Theatre. The connection between StoryBook Theatre and the Pumphouse Theatre actually began a few years before the launch of either organization. In the early 1970's, Ellie Tims' good friend Joyce Doolittle began working with a group of people to save the historic Pumphouse building from demolition. Their idea was to turn this historical site into a theatre where community groups could stage their productions. Ellie Tims quickly jumped on the chance to move StoryBook Theatre into this exciting new theatre space. Since then, the Pumphouse Theatre has been a home to StoryBook in more ways than one. In addition to staging productions, from 1985 to 1990 the Pumphouse became the home of StoryBook's offices, wardrobe storage and even set construction.
In 1995, StoryBook realized that the Calgary community was beginning to change. At the time, the productions StoryBook was producing were targeted for children aged 6 to 10. But as our city began to grow, so did the variety of children. New families were joining the Calgary community and other families were growing up. To enhance the experience for children of all ages StoryBook decided to revamp their productions. Spearheaded by then President Doug Easterbrook and strongly supported by then Artistic Director Craig Elliot, StoryBook Theatre moved from a six-play season to eight plays per season creating the Adventure Theatre and the Cookie Cabaret.
Cookie Cabaret and Adventure Theatre
The Cookie Cabaret is an unique form of theatre specifically designed for children ages 3 to 6, and of course, their parents. The Cookie Cabaret's are small-scale productions of children's favourite fairy tales including Jack and the Beanstalk, The Velveteen Rabbit, and Aesop's Fables. Even the theatre that houses the cabaret has been specially designed so that the children can sit on mats right in front of the stage while their parents are just a few feet away, sitting on chairs, where they can watch the show and their child. But there is more to a Cookie Cabaret than just the show; there are cookies! Calgary's own Crave Cupcakes has genrously donated all the cookies we serve at our concession.
The Adventure Theatre productions, for ages 6 and up, are full-scale productions complete with amazing sets, beautiful costumes and talented actors; everything you need to have the fullest live theatre experience. Some of StoryBook's past productions include: The Wizard of Oz; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Charlotte's Web; and Anne of Green Gables, to name a few.
Move to the Barracks
With these two new seasons, producing four shows each; StoryBook quickly began to run out of space. In a small industrial bay, StoryBook would have rehearsals for the Adventure Theatre and the Cookie Cabaret, administrative offices, wardrobe and set storage and board meetings.
Thus, in the winter of 2001, StoryBook took on one of its biggest challenges yet, the development of the Community Arts Centre. Located on the former Currie Barracks, in the junior officers mess hall, StoryBook began transforming the building into a viable community arts centre. StoryBook's part of the renovation was to create four rehearsal studios, The Easterbrook Theatre (home of the Cookie Cabaret), a lobby and box office area, as well as administrative offices for StoryBook's operations. However, StoryBook quickly realized that this was still not enough space, so they took on a portion of the lower level as well. Here they developed dressing rooms for the actors in the Cookie Cabaret, a props workshop, costume storage, and a commercial kitchen. The lower level also houses three independent dance studios, theatre groups, and their administrative offices. The Community Arts Centre has become an exciting beehive of community arts activity.
On the Move Again
In the summer of 2012 StoryBook moved again, this time to a shared space in the North West of Calgary, where along with their partners they renovated an old Community Centre into the new Beddington Heights Community Arts Centre. This became a new permanent home for StoryBook housing all the shows and progrmaming produced by StoryBook. In the winter of 2013 JP Thibodeau took over as Artistic Producer and brought with him a new but old vision for StoryBook. It was his goal to go back to the roots of StoryBook and elevate the level and scale of production to that of any other organization that has been in operation for more than 35 years. Over the next three years StoryBook reshaped itself in both the scale and quality of programming and producitons it offered. Through the inclusiion of working theatre professionals, StoryBook became the beacon for mentorship and partnering emerging artists with professionals, becoming the necessary bridge between these two worlds. As the work continued, so did the reputation and notariety of this organization with the community far and wide. StoryBook became one of the top Theatre for Young Audiences in Canada and in the 2015/6 partnered with professional organizations like Lunchbox Theatre, Forte Musical Theatre Guild and The Shakespeare Company to present the highest calibre productions it could. That same year StoryBook sold out 7 of its 10 productions and saw more than 40,000 patrons enjoy high quality family programming at affordable pricing. In 2016/17 StoryBook will officially become a semi-professional organization moving forward as a key player in the Calgary and Canadian Theatre scene offering affordable programming and even free programming through inititaves like the Ellie Tims Project.
That's a lot of stories...
From StoryBook's humble beginnings to today, where the theatre produces eight plays per season, offers year-round theatre schools, hosts a playwriting competition - including producing the play - and so much more. Storybook's success can be attributed to its volunteers. For every volunteer there is a story. Multiply these stories by 40 years and you have StoryBook's history. It's not a history that can be easily told, but it can be felt at every rehearsal, at every opening night, and it can be seen in the eyes of every child who sits in amazed silence watching the story unfold. StoryBook Theatre has not only been a part of the Calgary community but it has grown with the community and today is Canada's largest volunteer driver Theatre for Young Audiences.
StoryBook Theatre Society
375 Bermuda Drive NW
Calgary, AB - T3K2J5