Theatre in Vancouver: Our History on Stage (55+)

Vancouver has a vibrant theatre scene—diverse companies, exciting festivals and an array of theatre buildings. But has it always been this way? How did our city get to this point in its theatre history?

Together we’ll look back at the story of theatre in Vancouver, concentrating on the last 60 years. We will explore the birth and death of theatre companies, what plays were produced and who the predominant playwrights were. We’ll also trace the buildings where it all happened. Using a variety of supporting materials—including play excerpts, newspaper stories and journal articles—we’ll discuss the changing face of Vancouver as reflected on our city’s stages.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Vancouver 6 Sarah Ferguson $120.00 14 Register

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Describe the development of Vancouver theatre over the past 60 years
  • Discuss how Vancouver’s evolving social and political viewpoints have been reflected on stage
  • Identify Vancouver’s main theatre companies and festivals

Learning methods

You will learn through a combination of lecture and in-class discussion. For Liberal Arts Certificate for 55+ students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: Vancouver’s theatrical history

To understand Vancouver’s contemporary theatre community, we need to look back at its beginnings. From road shows and vaudeville to resident stock companies, Vancouver established a lively theatre scene in some impressive buildings which reflected its rapid development into a dynamic urban centre.

Week 2: The 1960s: Hello Canada

The birth of a distinctly Canadian theatre happens in the 1960s and Vancouver is front and centre in our burgeoning national theatre identity. With the creation of the Vancouver Playhouse, the Arts Club Theatre and alternative companies, Vancouver artists are beginning to believe that they don’t have to look elsewhere for work.

Week 3: The 1970s: Growing the community

A growing theatre audience encourages even more theatre artists to start producing work. The number of theatre companies explodes along with the production of plays written by Canadians. The federal government is providing financial support and it feels as if you can do anything on stage.

Week 4: The 1980s: Recession and regeneration

Economic recession and the end of free-wheeling government subsidies leaves theatre companies struggling to survive. The Fringe Festival provides ad-hoc groups an opportunity to produce work with little outlay and the development of co-productions splits costs among many companies to help theatre soldier on during this decade.

Week 5: The 1990s: Big ideas

The 1990s bring three new players to the game: theatre impresario Garth Drabinsky tries to expand his empire by building the Ford Theatre for touring Broadway musicals, Christopher Gaze continues Vancouver’s colonial traditions by establishing Bard on the Beach, while women fight to take centre stage with the creation of the Women in View theatre festival.

Week 6: A new millennium

Not surprisingly, a new century brings upheaval. We say goodbye to a mainstay of Vancouver theatre and hello to a new perspective. As the Vancouver Playhouse Company closes its doors, the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival welcomes the new millennium with an attitude that crosses the traditional performance boundaries and embraces interdisciplinary work from across Canada and abroad.

Books, materials and resources

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

Academic integrity and student conduct

You are expected to comply with the Simon Fraser University’s Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Policies. Please click here for more details. Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety, and freedom from harassment and discrimination.

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