Fonds MSS 123 - Prairie Theatre Exchange fonds

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Prairie Theatre Exchange fonds

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  • Multiple media

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11.9 m of textual records and other materials.

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Administrative history

The origins of the Prairie Theatre Exchange can be traced back to the closing of the Manitoba Theatre Centre's drama school in 1972. The school had achieved considerable success offering recreational drama classes but by the early 1970's it was a financial burden that MTC, saddled with a rising deficit caused by recent expansion, could no longer afford to keep open.

When the announcement was made in the summer of 1972, a group of students, parents and other interested Winnipeggers formed a committee to investigate the possibility of opening up a new independent theatre school. This committee became the basis for the first board of the Manitoba Theatre Workshop. Its first chairman was the lawyer Charles Huband whose son David had been a student at the MTC school. Colin Jackson, a former teacher at the MTC school, was appointed as the Workshop's first director.

The Manitoba Theatre Workshop opened for classes on 9 October 1973 in the old Grain Exchange building at 160 Princess Street. This historic structure, which had been empty since 1964, was leased from the City of Winnipeg for $1 a year. Extensive renovations were made with the aid of a $12,000 Opportunities for Youth (OFY) grant.

Like its predecessor, the Manitoba Theatre Workshop's classes were designed for "enthusiastic amateurs" rather than aspiring professional actors. MTW's primary goal was "to make theatre arts accessible and sensible to as many young people as possible." Operating on the philosophy that "involvement, or contact, with the arts is necessary for society", the Workshop hoped to dispel the notion that drama was the exclusive domain of the elite.

In 1973-74, its first season of operation, the Workshop had an enrolment of 210 full-time and 100 part-time students. An infusion of grant money in January narrowly averted a potential financial disaster and allowed MTW to hire additional staff and organize touring programs for the province's schools.

The Manitoba Theatre Workshop initially devoted a large proportion of its resources towards the promotion of drama in both the school system and the larger community. It provided workshops for both teachers and students as well as serving as a resource for corporations, hospitals and other organizations interested in theatre and theatre education. In an effort to reach a wider audience it became involved in the production of "Let's Go", a CKY television program that featured MTW students doing improvisational exercises around a central theme. The Workshop also took over the sponsorship of the annual Junior & Senior High School Drama Festival from MTC.

Many of these activities had to be cut or severely curtailed for the 1975-76 season as a result of CKY's decision to produce "Let's Go" by itself and the decision of the Department of Education to drop its funding for the Drama Festival. The Festival was re-introduced in 1978 and in January 1979 the Manitoba Drama Festivals was incorporated as an official body supported by lottery monies. The festival was expanded the following year to include community theatre groups as well.

In keeping with MTW's educational mandate, its theatre productions were generally oriented towards a younger audience. The Workshop's first shows were student-produced cabarets designed as fundraisers. Canada Council grants were used to establish a puppet troupe that eventually went off on its own in 1976 as the Manitoba Puppet Theatre.
The first adult productions performed at MTW were presented by Confidential Exchange, a studio theatre group of local actors formed in 1974. Their December 1975 production of "Sandhills" was the first show produced at the Workshop under a full Actor's Equity contract. This show was part of the Workshop's first full season of alternative adult theatre, consisting of three Confidential Exchange productions and four touring productions. MTW's formal relationship with Confidential Exchange ended in August 1976 and the group disbanded soon afterward.

The 1977-78 season saw the introduction of The Neighbourhood Theatre (TNT), the province's first professional children's theatre company. Under the artistic leadership of director Deborah Baer Quinn, TNT presented three seasons of high-quality children's and youth theatre. An emphasis was placed on using original and locally-produced material and many of the shows were collective collaborations of the director and actors. A full subscription season was offered for the first time in 1978-79.

The Manitoba Theatre Workshop also hosted numerous touring productions and promoted concerts by popular children's entertainers such as Raffi and Fred Penner.
In September 1981 the Manitoba Theatre Workshop officially changed its name to Prairie Theatre Exchange, signalling a new direction for the company. Gordon McCall succeeded Deborah Quinn as artistic director and David Gillies was appointed as the company's first playwright-in-residence.

The new Prairie Theatre Exchange would offer adult as well as youth and children's programming with the aim of becoming the province's second fully professional theatre company. Its extremely successful first season in 1981-82 was highlighted by a production of George Ryga's "The Ecstasy of Rita Joe" in which all the principal native roles were played by native actors. This fact aroused nation-wide interest and the show was featured on the national news telecasts of both CBC and CTV as well as in a number of other national media outlets. After its Winnipeg run was completed, the show was taken on a five-week tour in southern British Columbia.

An all-Canadian season featuring five world premieres, three of them by Manitoba playwrights, was announced for the following year. This emphasis on local plays, however, proved to be unpopular with the public and resulted in a $20,000 loss.

A new artistic director, Kim McCaw of Saskatoon's Globe Theatre, was brought in for the 1983-84 season. He outlined a new "populist" policy for the PTE that emphasized the production of "contemporary, committed, socially connected work." Under McCaw's direction, the company enjoyed several remarkably successful years and gained a reputation for producing contemporary plays dealing with timely issues. By 1987 it had solidly established itself as the province's younger and hipper alternative to the more conservative Manitoba Theatre Centre. The headline of an article in the 26 June 1987 issue of the Globe & Mail proclaimed: "Prairie Exchange is hot, elaborate theatres are not." For the 1986-87 season PTE announced a balanced budget of $1.2 million, the first time that it had gone over the $1 million mark.

By 1987 it was also obvious that it was no longer feasible for PTE to remain in the old Grain Exchange building. Although the building's historic charm and relaxed atmosphere had become one of the theatre's main selling points, it was simply too small to support a major repertory company.

In November 1987 the PTE announced that it would be moving into a 2100-square-metre space on the third floor of the new Portage Place shopping centre. Kim McCaw defended this somewhat unorthodox juxtaposition of culture and capitalism as a move that would help to bring the arts from the fringes to the centre of the city. Construction began in March of 1989 and the first public performance in the new state-of-the-art 364-seat theatre took place on 12 October 1989.

The new quarters were also designed to accomodate the PTE Theatre School which by the early 1990's boasted an enrollment of well over 400 students. PTE has also continued to offer workshops through the public schoo system as well as curriculum workshops for teachers. In December 1988 PTE was approved as a Teaching Centre by the University of Manitoba.

In 1991 the Quebec director and playwright Michael Springate was named as the PTE's new artistic director, replacing Kim McCaw. Springate's emphasis on the staging of new plays by unknown writers resulted in a drop in attendance and he was replaced in 1995 by Montreal-based freelance director Allen MacInnis. MacInnis announced that a concerted effort would be made to increase attendance by appealing to a wider audience. His first full season as artistic director, 1996-1997, was highlighted by an elaborate staging of "My Fair Lady" and the hosting of the extremely popular touring production "2 Pianos, 4 Hands".

Custodial history

A1992-030 was donated to the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections in 1992 (A.92-30). An official presentation was made on June 1 of that year.

A2002-034 was donated to University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections in 2002.

Scope and content

At this point the collection's records are largely limited to the theatre seasons from 1973-1974 to 1981-1982. This period includes the eight seasons during which the organization was known as the Manitoba Theatre Workshop and its first season operating as the Prairie Theatre Exchange.

The administrative and production files have been grouped together by season. In certain cases, events that generated a number of files were given their own separate series. These include the 1977 Summer Theatre Project, the 1979 Playwright Search and the 1980 and 1981 Drama Festivals.

The files in the seasonal series document the various activities undertaken by the Manitoba Theatre Workshop, including its theatre classes, educational outreach programmes, school tours, TV productions and the provincial drama festivals. Most of the seasonal series also contain files of press releases and press clippings as well as other promotional material. The many files dealing with grant applications and various aspects of fundraising are evidence of the Workshop's constant struggle to stay afloat financially.
Production files dealing with individual shows are arranged chronologically at the end of each seasonal series. These files contain equity contracts, production and rehearsal schedules, correspondence, programs, promotional material and, in some cases, the script. Most of the major productions produced or hosted by MTW/PTE during its first nine years of existence are represented but the holdings are not exhaustive. For a complete list of productions, the researcher is advised to consult Peter Spencer's 1983 thesis "The History and Contribution of the Manitoba Theatre Workshop/Prairie Theatre Exchange".

Miscellaneous and cumulative files that could not easily be placed into a seasonal series are grouped together near the end. The final series is a collection of scripts representing the productions staged by Prairie Theatre Exchange. The title "script" is somewhat misleading since most of these files also contain programs, rehearsal schedules, production notes, blocking diagrams and other related documents. The scripts themselves are usually extensively annotated.

The collection includes records of the Prairie Theatre Exchange (known as the Manitoba Theatre Workshop until 1981) encompassing theatre seasons from 1973 to 2001, particularly those of the 1980s and early 1990s. Included are administrative papers, such as minutes, correspondence, legal and financial records, as well as publicity material, newspaper articles, show programs and posters, production scripts, notes, schedules, plans, drawings and set designs. The photograph collection consists of 91 photographs, 3 contact sheets, 1 slide, and 43 negative strips. The tape collection consists of 14 audio tapes. The electronic media series consists of 10 computer diskettes.

Administrative and production files have been grouped together by season. These files document the various activities undertaken by PTE/MTW, including its theatre classes, educational outreach programmes and school tours. Most of the seasonal series contain files of Board of Directors minutes, correspondence, finances, press releases and press clippings as well as other promotional material. Production files dealing with the season's shows (mainstage and touring productions) are arranged chronologically at the end of each seasonal series. Records in these files include programs, schedules, promotional material and reviews.

Miscellaneous and cumulative files that could not easily be placed into a seasonal series are grouped together. These include files which continunue over multiple seasons, regarding PTE/MTW buildings, tours and activities, as well as reference materials and a large group of subject-files (accumulated by PTE) regarding the organization's "early history".

The third series consists of records from the prompt books of PTE's Stage Managers (and sometimes Assistant Stage Managers). These contain rehearsal schedules, production notes, blocking diagrams and annotated scripts, show reports, tour itineraries, notes regarding set, costume, sound and lighting cues, as well as other related documents.

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Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition


A1992-030 is organized into 5 series:

Administrative and Production Files
Cumulative and Miscellaneous Files
Photograph Collection (PC 133)
Tape Collection (TC 85)

A2002-034 is organized into 7 series:

Administrative and Production Files
Cumulative and Miscellaneous Files
Production Prompt Books & Scripts
Photograph Collection (PC 133)
Tape Collection (TC 85)
Electronic Media (EL 8)

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Restrictions on access

A1992-030 has no restrictions on access.

A2002-034: the following files have been restricted:

Box 1: Folder 4, 11, 18
Box 2: Folder 10, 14, 17
Box 3: Folder 3, 7, 12, 13, 16
Box 4: Folder 2, 13
Box 5: Folder 2, 11
Box 6: Folder 3
Box 7: Folder 6, 15
Box 8: Folder 4, 16
Box 9: Folder 3, 13
Box 10: Folder 3, 10, 11, 12
Box 11: Folder 4, 9
Box 12: Folder 7, 8, 9, 10, 13
Box 13: Folder 5, 16
Box 14: Folder 2, 4, 6, 7, 9
Box 15: Folder 9, 15, 20
Box 16: Folder 4
Box 17: Folder 2, 5, 6, 7, 8
Box 18: Folder 1, 2, 3, 8, 10
Box 19: Folder 4, 7, 8
Box 20: Folder 3, 6, 7, 10, 13
Box 21: Folder 3, 4
Box 38: Folder 2

Please contact the archives for any further information.

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A finding aid can be downloaded from the fonds-level description by clicking on the “Download’ link under “Finding Aid” on the right hand side of the screen.

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The finding aid for A1992-030 was created by Don Kroeker (1997). Encoded by (October 2002). Revision History: July 26, 2005 - MSS 123, PC 133, TC 85 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
Revised by N. Courrier (September 2019).

The finding aid for A2002-034 was created and encoded by Madeleine McLuhan-Myers (2008). Revised by N. Courrier (September 2019).

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