StoryBook Theatre -
welcoming audiences since 1977
The Early Years
For more than a quarter-century, StoryBook Theatre Society has been part of the Calgary community, producing quality family 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 Theatre
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. At the time, the Pumphouse Theatre was 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 was a unique form of theatre, specifically designed for children ages 3 to 6, and of course, their parents. The Cookie Cabarets were small-scale productions of children's favourite fairy tales, including Jack and the Beanstalk, The Velveteen Rabbit, and Aesop's Fables. The theatre that housed the cabaret had been specially designed, so that the children could sit on mats right in front of the stage, while their parents sat just a few feet away, sitting on chairs, where they could watch the show and their child. But there was more to a Cookie Cabaret than just the show: there were cookies! Calgary's own Crave Cupcakes generously donated all the cookies served at our concession.
The Adventure Theatre productions were staged for ages 6 and up, 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, four shows were produced for 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, 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 housed three independent dance studios, theatre groups, and their administrative offices. The Community Arts Centre had 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. Along with their partners, they renovated an old Community Centre into the new Beddington Heights Theatre Arts Centre. This became a new permanent home for StoryBook, housing all the shows and programming produced by StoryBook.
In the winter of 2013, JP Thibodeau took over as Artistic Director, and brought with him a new, but familiar, 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 years, StoryBook has reshaped itself, in both the scale and quality of programming and productions offered. Through the inclusion of working theatre professionals, StoryBook became the beacon for mentorship, partnering emerging artists with professionals, becoming the necessary bridge between these two worlds. As the work continued, so did the reputation and notoriety of this organization, with the community far and wide.
StoryBook has became one of the top Theatre for Young Audiences in Canada, and in has partnered with professional organizations like Lunchbox Theatre, Forte Musical Theatre Guild, and The Shakespeare Company, to present the highest calibre of productions.
In 2016/17 StoryBook officially become a semi-professional organization. Moving forward as a key player in the Calgary and Canadian Theatre scene, StoryBook Theatre began offering affordable programming, and even free programming, through initiatives like the Ellie Tims Project.
Since then, StoryBook has consistently sold out its shows, and has seen more than a million patrons enjoy high quality family programming, at affordable pricing.
So Many Stories...
From StoryBook's humble beginnings to today, where the theatre produces multiple plays and musicals per season, offers year-round theatre schools, hosts a playwriting competition - including producing the play - and creates original productions, 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 rich 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 vital part of the Calgary community, but it has grown with the community, and today is Canada's largest volunteer-driven Theatre for Young Audiences.