In the fall of 1966, renowned Toronto Star theatre critic Nathan Cohen reported, “Susan Douglas Rubes has formed a new venture, Young People’s Theatre (YPT). Her first production, aimed at the 3-to-7 set, is The Looking Glass Revue to be presented weekends at the Colonnade Theatre” .Other YPT productions soon followed, including school tours of plays by Ionesco and Chekhov, weekday school performances and classroom visits by performers.
From the very beginning, Young People’s Theatre established its dedication to professional productions of the highest quality – classic or contemporary – from Canada and around the world, written just for children and the people who care about them.
YPT founder and producer Susan Rubes worked hard to develop quality new Canadian plays to stand alongside the best from around the world and was often quoted as saying “It’s for children – it has to be the best.” Now in its 49th year, Toronto’s oldest not-for-profit theatre continues to experience tremendous growth and consistently develops innovative productions.
Following a successful beginning in 1966, YPT became a well-established part of a vibrant Toronto theatre community by the mid-seventies. For its 1974-1975 Season, YPT produced plays at the St. Lawrence Centre, the Ontario Science Centre, and the Firehall Theatre in Toronto. In addition, the company had five plays touring in schools throughout the province, including one in French; a touring production of Inook and the Sun in the UK; co-produced plays with Theatre-in-the-Dell and Toronto Arts Productions, and sponsored special high school performances of plays produced by Toronto Workshop Productions. A 1975 article reported: “[Susan Rubes’] first challenge was to convince Toronto theatre folk that children’s theatre was respectable. ‘They all thought that kids’ theatre was what you did if you were unable to do anything else. They were timid.’ She managed to overcome that and YPT continues to attract the best Canadian actors, directors and designers for its productions.”
YPT opened its first production in its own building on December 22, 1977 – an adaptation of Laterna Magika’sThe Lost Fairy Tale. This new, permanent home at 165 Front Street East once housed the horses that pulled the Toronto Street Railway Company’s streetcars in the late 19th century. When the horses were retired in favour of electric power in 1891, the building became an electrical generating plant until 1906 when the company began purchasing power from Niagara Falls. In later years, the Toronto Transit Commission used the building as a warehouse before leaving it to sit empty and marked for demolition.
In 1977, Zeidler Partnership Architects renovated the existing building and the interior space was converted into a main theatre and a smaller studio space. The Toronto Historical Board awarded YPT the Award of Merit for its imaginative and sympathetic treatment of a landmark that might otherwise have been destroyed. The building’s industrial past can sometimes provide an interesting context for plays, as with Julia Tribe’s set design for Oliver Twist (1996-97), which evoked Victorian times and the Industrial Revolution. Over the years, the St. Lawrence development grew up around the new theatre, and the theatre found itself in the heart of a distinctive and vibrant family neighbourhood.
In 1979-1980, Ms. Rubes moved to CBC Television and Richard Ouzounian took over as Artistic Director for one season. In 1980-1981, Peter Moss moved to YPT from the Stratford Festival for his first of eleven seasons as Artistic Director. Mr. Moss was responsible for further renovating the building to accommodate a growing audience of families and schools: the seating in the Mainstage was increased from 300 to 468, a new sound system was installed (including a system for the hearing-impaired), and administrative, box office and backstage facilities were expanded.
As the Greater Toronto Area continued to grow during the 1980s, so did YPT. Now well-established in its own performance space, the theatre was able to accommodate growing audiences and focus on high production values and artistic standards. In 1987, The Canadian Forum magazine commented on YPT’s “vigour, energy and freshness.”
The 1991-1992 Season saw Maja Ardal take over as Artistic Director. A well-known stage and television actress, she brought with her several seasons of involvement with YPT as actor, director, and Associate Artistic Director. Ms. Ardal continued YPT’s strong commitment to the development of new Canadian plays, and introduced regular and ongoing new play workshops. Her other innovations included the WordPlay Festival play writing competition for teenagers, and the formation of an active Community Advisory Group. The renowned Drama School, in operation since the early 1970s, expanded from its downtown base into North York, to better serve the Greater Toronto Area.
In a submission to the Royal Commission on Learning, Associate Artistic Director Sally Han wrote, “we deeply respect our audiences and we make high demands of them. Our plays value the emotional and intellectual life of children, and we seek to further their understanding of the world experientially.” As The Toronto Star noted, “It’s no secret that YPT allows Toronto kids to see works of equal or even superior quality to those attended by their parents.”
In the spring of 2001, Artistic Director Pierre Tetrault and Managing Director Nancy Coy, along with the Board of Directors, announced that YPT was the recipient of a generous gift of $1.5 million. The donation was a gift from Mr. Kevin Kimsa in honour of his mother, Mrs. Lorraine Kimsa for her lifelong dedication to community theatre. In acknowledgement of this gift, YPT was renamed Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People until July 2011, at which time it returned to its founding name, Young People’s Theatre.
Allen MacInnis took over as Artistic Director of Young People’s Theatre in 2002 and continues to guide the artistic vision of the company today, along with Executive Director, Nancy J. Webster.
Since its creation, Young People’s Theatre has won critical acclaim, including 49 Dora Mavor Moore Awards and 13 Chalmers Children’s Awards for commissioned plays. In 1996, the company was also awarded the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the Arts. View a full list of awards received by YPT over the past 50 years.
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