History

A Theatre for All Seasons 

By Colin MacLean

Part 1: 1965 – 1975

In 1965, Joe Shoctor, an Edmonton theatre obsessed lawyer/entrepreneur, sat in his office on 103rd Street idly looking at the Salvation Army Citadel just across the parking lot and wondered if there was a theatre somewhere inside that two-storey brick building.

Shoctor was a smart, blunt, self-made man who embraced his Jewish roots and never backed down from a fight. He went to his friends Sandy Mactaggart, Ralph MacMillan, and James Martin and persuaded them to join him in putting up $100,000 to buy the building. $150,000 more was spent on renovations. Joe, ever the optimist, told them they’d make a lot of money.

Well, they never really did make much money but if you asked Sandy Mactaggart later, they did share a great adventure. Much like Shoctor, Mactaggart was a self-made man. At the age of 11, he was evacuated to Canada during World War II and arrived in Edmonton in 1952. He liked what he saw. Mactaggart along with his partner, Jean de La Bruyere, another long time Citadel supporter, co-founded the development group, Maclab Enterprises. Maclab’s generous support of the Citadel continues today.

Citadel Founders Joe Shoctor, Ralph MacMillan, Sandy Mactaggart, and James Martin (below, left)

Mactaggart once recalled in an interview with the Citadel: “Joe was possessed by the idea that we should give the theatre a try. None of us knew anything about theatre and we certainly didn’t want to lose any money but Joe said we could build a good theatre for that money, and, you know, hire a few actors and raise the quality of theatre in Edmonton.” Joe was not to be denied.

The Old Salvation Army Citadel wasn’t a great theatre. There was no lobby. The 277 seats were shoehorned into a church. Actor Brent Carver, who first played the theatre in 1973 remembers: “If you exited stage left, you had to immediately turn left again or risk permanent injury by running into a solid wall.”

For the opening show, Shoctor selected Edward Albee’s biting Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The show had opened in 1962 on Broadway, split the critics, horrified audiences, and went on to be regarded as one of the classics of modern theatre. Woolf was full of four-letter words and raw emotions – elements that had seldom been seen before on an Edmonton stage. It opened on a cool evening – November 10, 1965. Many of the good grey burghers of Edmonton made for the exits during the intermissions. “We thought, possibly, never to come back,” laughs Mactaggart.

But it worked. It was the topic of conversation all over town. Letters to the editor. Joe was ecstatic.

The Citadel’s first artistic director was John Hulbert. Turned out, he was not what Joe wanted. Hulbert was a theatre academic from Pennsylvania and Joe wanted a hands-on artistic director. Despite a solid commercial first season of plays, the theatre attracted only 800 subscribers. Hulbert was followed by Robert Glenn, another American, but a good director who had a sense of where the theatre could go. He wasn’t much interested in Canadian theatre, but he did present a balanced repertoire including The Threepenny Opera and Albee’s obscure mind-bender Tiny Alice.

Joe Shoctor was no doubt the most ferocious theatrical fundraiser ever in Edmonton and he knew it would be a challenge to find a way into the hearts and wallets of Edmontonians. But in 1968, a rainbow appeared in the sky and at the other end – not a pot of gold but a short, dynamic leprechaun – a force of nature named Sean Mulcahy. He was a good director and a fine actor. He put the bums into the seats. Two people waiting at a bus stop? There was Sean talking up the Citadel. He worked the entire town – bingos, graduations, women’s groups, men’s groups, fancy balls, and talk shows. He was unavoidable, unrepentant, and absolutely charming – a Gaelic Harold Hill. We turned out to see what all the excitement was about and filled the house.

Sean Mulcahy, Artistic Director from 1968-73 (above, left)

Mulcahy was followed in 1973 by John Neville. Neville loved Edmonton. He was one of the great British actors of the western world. No patrician he – coming to bring culture to the colonies. He was born in the London slums. He wanted to produce Canadian plays. He became one of us. He became a board member of a local modern dance company. He became a Canadian citizen. He spread his mastery of text, his plumbing of deep emotions and technical wizardry with a voice like warm fog, raising the local theatre scene in doing so. He used local actors and directors: Walter Kaasa, Scott Swan, Tom Wood, Keith Digby, James DeFelice, Tom Peacocke, and many more.

Besides bringing his brilliance to a solid schedule of the classics (The Rivals, Much Ado About Nothing, Uncle Vanya) Neville was very aware of the box office lure of such commercial fare as Sherlock Holmes (with Neville brilliant as the great detective), Anything Goes, and How The Other Half Loves.

But the old Citadel had outgrown its roots and a shiny new theatre was forming in Joe Shoctor’s mind.

Part 2: 1975 – 1985

When John Neville arrived in 1973, to take over the reins of the Citadel, he said he had two main reasons to come to Edmonton. He wanted to see the Canadian North (and he did with the theatre’s outreach program, “The Citadel on Wheels”) and to develop a second space for edgy alternative theatre.

In 1975, he built a secret theatre. Neville knew Citadel producer Joe Shoctor would never okay the expense (to be fair to Shoctor – he had to answer to a Board of Directors). With a group of fellow plotters (including Margaret Mooney, who was, among other things, coordinator of drama workshops) they took over a small space in the Sovereign Building just down the street (Shoctor owned the building). They gutted the rooms, tore out the supporting beams and painted it black. “One of us was always looking out the window,” says Mooney. “If Shoctor came into sight, we would close things down. Everybody’d lie in the dark and hold our breaths until Joe was gone.”

Citadel Too, as Neville called it, was John’s baby and he spread the love around. He appeared on the small stage as Clov in Beckett’s Endgame. Michel Tremblay’s Hosanna addressed issues like gender, sexual identity, the acceptance of ageing, and overt homosexuality.

Jean-Pierre Fournier and Patrick Christopher in Hosanna, 1976 (above, left)

While the big theatre next door was benefiting from Dear Liar (with Neville and Dame Peggy Ashcroft), The Sunshine Boys, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, John was delighting in presenting small plays by Canadians Sharon Pollock and David Freeman. In 1976, about halfway through Neville’s reign as Artistic Director, the old Citadel had long since outgrown its original roots and Shoctor set his mind on a new theatre. The mountain he had to climb was the price tag of $6.5 million. He started with his original backers who were, mostly, still in the game. Sandy Mactaggart, thinking back to the “fortune” that Shoctor suggested they’d make on the Citadel, saw Joe coming. “After 10 years, we did manage to build up the return a bit and I was beginning to think that ‘Oh well, at least we’re going to get some of our money back’. Joe managed to persuade all of us to put all the profits back in. And he came back several times.”

  

John Neville, Artistic Director from 1973-78 (above, left)

The new Citadel under construction (above, right)

The formidable Shoctor money-generating machine was something to behold. Remembers David Bentley, who recently celebrated 50 years as a Citadel subscriber (and Board Member): “I know of two occasions when Joe sent a cheque, which he felt was not enough, back to the donor. I think there was some sort of comment that the donor obviously needed the money more than the Citadel did.” Shoctor brought the provincial government into the fold by securing hands-on help from theatre-loving Premier Lougheed and his energetic Minister of Culture, Dr. Horst Schmid, who successfully lobbied for grants. With Shoctor’s prodding, individual and corporate donors opened their hearts and wallets. The building was paid for before construction began.

Holding off a heart attack and putting his life in some danger, Shoctor was the driving force behind a brand-new, glass and brick palace located very near the spot where his immigrant father had run his chicken and junk stand.

David Bentley, F.C.A. (above)

The new theatre opened in 1976 with Romeo and Juliet. Brent Carver was a memorable Romeo; Juliet was a young and appealing Nicky Guadagni (with Tom Wood as Mercutio). The Rice Theatre saw productions of Sharon Pollock’s The Komagata Maru Incident and Rex Deverell’s The Boiler Room Suite.

When the theatre was finally built, Joe had his heart attack. It’s been said that the red in the bricks of the new Citadel was the red of Joe’s blood.

Peter Coe was a heavy hitter. In 1961, he had three hits running simultaneously in London’s West End: The Miracle Worker, The World of Suzie Wong, and Oliver!. He got the job of Artistic Director after sending Joe a handwritten note asking for it. In an interview shortly after he arrived, he said (echoing Nero) he wanted to bring “bread and circuses” to Edmonton. It was a forecast that, alas, proved to be true. He brought us bad Shakespeare (telling The Edmonton Journal, “In Shakespeare, the words don’t matter.”), Ron Moody (Fagin) in a Nazi uniform, and Glynis Johns (Mary Poppins) as an aging dipsomaniac. He cared little for finances and darn near broke the theatre. During his time, however, the Citadel did present a number of notable Canadian plays, including George Ryga’s The Ecstasy of Rita Joe and John Gray’s Billy Bishop Goes to War.

Peter Coe, Artistic Director from 1978-81 (above, left)

Coe spent little time in Edmonton and had a notable dislike of any other local theatres. He left before his three years were up, leaving the unfortunate, but lingering impression that the Citadel was the great ship of state and all the others were rowboats.

Canadian theatre guru Gerry Potter, who famously once stood outside the Citadel in a rainstorm with a sandwich board giving out pamphlets for Workshop West, his alternative Canadian theatre, put it into perspective when he called Joe Shoctor a “builder.” “The Citadel,” he said, “made us a real theatre town, calling attention to theatre in general and bringing theatre people to Edmonton.”

Part 3: 1985-1995

By 1985, the Citadel had established itself in the minds of Broadway producers as a great place to try out new shows – much to the delight of Citadel founder Joe Shoctor. Shoctor had always seen his theatre as a conduit to the big time. The track record of these shows was spotty and the reviews generally scathing. Hey Marilyn and Duddy sank, leaving few ripples. A little more successful was Flowers for Algernon, which had a short run on Broadway. Two vehicles for actor Roy DotriceA Life and Mr. Lincoln, began here and went on to moderate success.

And then there was Pieces of Eight – a musical take on Treasure Island. In November of 1985, it came prepackaged and New York took over the Citadel for a month. Tommy Banks (who was music coordinator) pointed out in an interview: “I can tell you the Citadel did not pay the complete cost of Pieces of Eight. A huge bunch of money came from someplace else to do that.” Probably from the New York producers who were much in evidence on opening night.

It should have worked. The music was written by Jule Styne (Gypsy and Funny Girl) who spent much of the month here. It was directed by Broadway vet Joe Layton and starred George Hearn as Long John Silver, just off his Tony Award winning turn in La Cage aux Folles. But the ship never sailed. In a later interview one of the backers observed forlornly: “Maybe we can repackage it, get Mickey Rooney and send it out across Middle America.”

Bob Baker was to observe about Broadway Joe in an interview years later: “Regardless of the merits of the productions, Joe was trying to get a new musical to Broadway from Edmonton. But the truth is most of them don’t make it. You have to admire the gumption and chutzpah.” And we must confess, we loved to dress up and be the first to see a Broadway bound musical. The shows gave the Citadel some of the biggest houses it had at that time.

Gordon McDougall created some controversy when he came here to guide the Citadel – he was yet another Brit. But he came with an impressive directorial record. He did present some Canadian plays (Jacob Two Two and Salt Water Moon) but mostly the shows were a catalogue of classics and contemporary works. He also coped with a severe lack of funding and instituted cutbacks in production.

In 1990, the L’Enfant Terrible of Canadian theatre, Robin Phillips, was declared – not Artistic Director – but Director General of the Citadel. After being featured as an actor in a number of films in Britain, he took over the Stratford Festival in 1974, and immediately elevated that dusty theatrical institution to international stature. He was a workaholic who put his stamp of style on everything from stage design to playbill ads. Phillips was a great supporter of Canadian talent and, to the horror of the purists, had his performers speak – not in the plummy tones of British thespians – but in their own voices. He had a formidable temper but actors loved working with him.

Under Phillips’ benign, if somewhat erratic and profligate leadership, the Citadel’s energy level rose. His theatrical know-how was vast and his talent towering. He brought in plays by George E. Walker, Gratien Gélinas, and John Murrell and gave us the first of the Wingfield rural comedies. He also was a hit man for Canadian entrepreneur Garth Drabinsky, who flew him around North America in his private plane to doctor his various productions.

In 1991, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest, Aspects of Love was in trouble. The show was an intimate salon opera overproduced in epic proportions in the West End and Broadway, because, well, that was what you did with Lloyd Webber shows (Cats and Phantom of the Opera). Drabinsky brought it to Phillips and the Citadel. The road show was failing – smothering in its own unwieldy bulk. It took 16 trucks to carry it from town to town. The master director took it back to its intimate roots and gave it a brilliant, atmospheric (and simpler) production. Edmonton audiences felt they were part of the adventure and turned out in record numbers. In fact, Phillips’ new concept made its production budget back in Edmonton before it left for a long run in Toronto and then on the road.

Upon Phillips’ death on July 25, 2015, actor Brent Carver (most recently seen at the Citadel in Evangeline), who worked with him at Stratford and at the Citadel (Cyrano de Bergerac and Richard III) remembered; “He was a great director and a master of this thing called theatre.” Bob Baker told the Journal: “With Robin, it was all about psychological underpinning, the humanity of the characters. He made the characters feel relevant; they became people, not actors.”

Before he left Edmonton in 1995, Phillips gave us memorable productions of Man of La Mancha (with Edmonton singer Susan Gilmour as Aldonza, which was produced here and then went on to Toronto); The Beggar’s Opera, and, finally, The Music Man, as the Citadel entered its fourth decade.

Part 4: 1995 – 2005

In 1995, Duncan McIntosh, who was the first Canadian-born and trained artistic director, came to the Citadel. After the wild, creative (and expensive) joy-ride of the Robin Phillips years, it was a time for retrenchment, which meant that McIntosh’s first challenge was to tame the unruly budget.

McIntosh squeezed his budgets and managed some opulent, but mostly inert, musicals. He kept up a steady flow of classics. In 1995, he offered a very young Stewart Lemoine a stage for The River Princess and the Frozen Town. Local playwright Raymond Storey saw the world premiere of his South of China in 1997. (It was the first premiere of a Canadian play at the Citadel in 17 years.) Director Jim Guedo electrified audiences with his brilliant production of Angels in America: Part II. But they were islands in a Sargasso sea of mediocrity.

There was a sense of waiting for something to happen. Audiences were drifting away. Subscriptions were down to 6,500.

During those years, in faraway Toronto, a theatrical comet was flashing through the sky. Director and ex-Stratford actor, Edmontonian Bob Baker, had taken over Toronto’s biggest theatre – the faltering Canadian Stage Company. It was carrying a $2.7 million debt and audiences were fleeing. With fiscal restraint and artistic integrity, Baker slowly turned the behemoth around. Audiences returned with attendance numbers leap-frogging. The debt was retired. Baker piloted the theatre for eight exhausting years. He then retired to his home in St. Mary’s, Ontario to put himself back together.

One day, the phone rang. It was Joe Shoctor on the other end. In his usual brusque manner, Joe asked: “I hear you’re looking for work …”

Before all that, back in 1983, we found ourselves (along with a CBC television crew) doing a “Michael Jackson” on the roof of the Kelly Ramsey building in downtown Edmonton. We were, literally, howling at the moon. It was a werewolf party – a fundraiser for the new Phoenix Downtown. Under Bob Baker, the Phoenix Theatre, with its season of out-there, edgy, zany plays, made for great television (unlike the Citadel fundraiser that was going on that same night up the street).

Baker, with his seeming ability not to need sleep and driving creative force, had taken over the moribund Theatre Three and was pursuing a mandate of producing controversial, social-issue plays aimed at young, urban audiences. The productions were strikingly theatrical and hugely entertaining. Tom Wood was Sister Mary Ignatius. There was a production, at once focused and anarchic, of Torch Song Trilogy. B-Movie: The Play remains to this day one of the funniest evenings I have ever spent in a theatre.

And then, after five years, Baker looked at his options running a small theatre in Edmonton and decided it was time to look for a bigger canvas. After a period of freelancing and developing an impressive career as a director-for-hire, came the subsequent success of Canadian Stage, leading to the fateful phone call from Joe.

The expectations Baker faced when he arrived at the Citadel were huge. The staff had to get used to his intense style of leadership. It took a bit of patience to accommodate a boss who would phone at all hours of the night.

Baker’s faithful followers in his Phoenix days didn’t really continue their interest in theatre after Bob decamped, so there was that group to be reactivated. Baker wanted to bring the intimacy, the funk, and the hands-on feel of a small company to a huge world-class production machine.

Baker rang that bell when he reopened the Rice Theatre with Ben Elton’s stark, bloody Popcorn on October 23, 1999. “Bob’s Back!” sang his long-time supporters. Upstairs on the mainstage, he opened with Steve Martin’s gentle, funny Picasso at the Lapin Agile. That production featured mostly local actors, establishing that Baker’s Citadel was serious about supporting local talent. That year, Tom Wood directed a superb A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the Rice, Baker’s production of The Little Shop of Horrors looked like it would run forever. In 2000, the Baker/Wood team launched their perennial Christmas card to Edmonton, A Christmas Carol. Baker gave us Art and John Ullyatt plumbed decadent depths as the M.C. in Cabaret.

John Ullyatt in the 2000 production of Cabaret (above, left)

Director Wood demonstrated that The Sound of Music was more than just Austrian treacle, and Baker renewed his alternative theatre credentials with an abrasive The Shape of Things. In the 2004/2005 season, Baker began a series of classic American plays with his pungent, southern fried Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and then hit us with a strikingly original production of West Side Story. Vern Thiessen’s Shakespeare’s Will began a life that has taken it to many stages since Geoffrey Brumlik’s 2005 Rice Theatre production.

Not everything worked. Steven Sondheim’s Into the Woods proved too dark for a Christmas Show and Measure for Measure and Sister Ignatius failed to find an audience. But there was no doubt that artistic excellence and audience numbers were substantially up. And a new decade was approaching, when new audiences would continue to turn up, new artistic horizons would be searched, and a financial problem proved to be the catalyst for a whole new direction for the Citadel.

Part 5: 2005 – 2010

Said Citadel Artistic Director Bob Baker in 2005, repeating and reinforcing an oft-quoted mantra: “I like to think that if you come to the Citadel, you never know what you’re going to get.” In his 17 years as Artistic Director, the Citadel has offered shows big (Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, A Christmas Carol) and small (John Ullyatt, brilliant, in two one-man shows, I Am My Own Wife and Billy Bishop Goes to War); serious (August: Osage County) or uproariously funny (One Man, Two Guvnors, Spamalot); family oriented (Mary Poppins) or peppery alternative (The Shape of Things). “Our audiences are very sophisticated and demand a wide variety of theatre,” says he cheerfully.

In that year, Baker had every reason to feel optimistic about his theatre. His well-oiled production machine was the envy of every theatre in the country – just ask the many travelling shows that have played on any of the Citadel’s stages. Artistically, Bob’s unerring sense of returning to the author’s intent while locating the humanity of the characters guaranteed freshness to each of his productions. Actors who were cast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast observed that Bob kept insisting they were “not playing Disney animated characters but real people with real emotions.” Cardboard characters that for years had peen pasted on a flat poster of Rydell High became flesh and blood in Bob’s 2003 production of Grease. The two ill-starred lovers Tony and Maria provided a beating heart at the centre of all that high-energy dancing and street level smarts of West Side Story.

Audiences were increasing and, by 2008, Bob could tell the board that subscriptions were up to 10,000. A Christmas Carol, which was originally expected to run a couple of years (if only to make back the original money invested) had become a beloved Edmonton tradition and a money machine for the theatre. Demonstrating that you don’t always have to look elsewhere, the Citadel developed a pool of local stars – this in an institution that used to import most of its casts. The group included John Ullyatt, Susan Gilmore, Réjean Cournoyer, Andrew MacDonald-Smith, Jan Alexandra Smith, Julien Arnold, Tom Wood, James MacDonald, Beth Graham, et cetera. Baker’s philosophy is: “I look first locally – and then I look beyond.” Observes Citadel Executive Director Penny Ritco: “I think that’s a reason why so many of our brightest and best have not fled elsewhere. A lot of talented people have stayed – and grown here.”

Ritco was an old friend of Baker’s from his Stratford acting days and, for a number of years, they had, individually, braved the chilly Toronto theatre scene. She was a seasoned producer of theatre and film and, one day, hearing of an opening at the Citadel, phoned Bob to say “Hello.” They discussed her applying for the Executive Director position and shortly thereafter, she was appointed. So began the onset of a smooth-running, long-time relationship born in theatrical heaven. Baker, like many of artistic temperament, has been known to be volatile and upon occasion when his vision was not happening on stage, to be – ah – loud. In 2008, he jokingly admitted to Liz Nicholls: “I have been known to express my impatience forcefully, but not in the longest time. I’ve mellowed, I guess.” “He’s demanding but not unreasonable,” says Ritco. “He’s very much a team player.”

In this decade, Baker’s Citadel moved beyond the image of the big, brooding brick playhouse on the hill. The Artistic Director has merged the Citadel’s various training offshoots into one entity – The Citadel Academy has become Canada’s most comprehensive program for creative development in professional theatre. It includes The Eldon and Anne Foote Theatre School, which has been training young people for 50 years; the Young Companies program, which offers advanced training for 16 to 21 year-olds; and Play Development, which provides playwrights with the opportunity to collaborate with some of Canada’s most celebrated writers.

Don’t forget the jewel in the crown: the Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program, which trains emerging and established performers, is already spreading its influence across the country like waves in a pool. It has certainly elevated our theatre-going experience, as performers who have already spent five weeks honing their skills in Banff have brought their cohesive company here for such memorable productions as Tom Wood’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, The Three Musketeers, The Penelopiad, etc. In 2016, the company presented West Side Story.

But just outside the imposing brick and glass of the theatre, Edmonton was changing. A new downtown was beginning to form. There was a new life in the air. Baker knew if his theatre was going to continue, he would have to reach out and plug into that new energy.

Part 6: 2016 and Beyond

The imposing bust of Citadel founder Joe Shoctor on the second floor of the Citadel gazes over the theatre he built. It has been a long, 50-year road from that original theatre shoehorned into a stone Salvation Army Citadel to the vibrant theatrical institution where each season more than 100,000 patrons attend shows.

In an interview, Bob Baker, who is stepping down after an illustrious 17 seasons as Artistic Director, summed up his years in words that might easily have been framed by such distinguished predecessors as John Neville and Robin Phillips: “I always felt a responsibility to the patrons who bought the tickets. We have to keep earning the right to have people come and feel really great about the experience. You have to listen to the audience.”

Under Baker, the Citadel has laid down a set of tracks that avoid the pitfalls that yawn before other theatrical companies. Observed acclaimed British director Richard Eyre (Hamlet, Mary Poppins) to a conference investigating why audiences were failing in England: “We have to acknowledge that theatre companies have a finite life span and that few manage to sustain artistic ardour beyond seven years.”

After the notable success of the 50-year celebrations of last season, and the promise of Baker’s audience-pleasing new season, that canard can be laid to rest. We can regard the Citadel’s achievements as a pretty impressive catalogue continuously suffused with the stuff of Eyre’s “artistic ardour.”

The Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program is Baker’s creation and continuing love. “I think the formation of the Academy is the thing I am most proud of. Theatre is an ephemeral art. We remember shows like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Cabaret, Beauty and the Beast, and so on. But those memories are a pole shadow of the live experience and are a fading legacy. In Banff, we’re developing new artists that will have a future in our industry and create a lasting legacy.”

Another problem facing Canadian theatre is that few young actors get cast in marquee roles before their thirties. As Holger Syme of the University of Toronto put it in a recent blog: “Theatre needs youth, on stage and in the audience. Theatre is an art of the now and an art that constantly has to reinvent itself. It needs the spark of youth.”

I suppose if you want to go back far enough, you can point out that, as a precocious youth still shy of 20 years, Brent Carver used to regularly be featured at the old Citadel, leading up to his memorable role of Romeo launching the “new” Citadel building. But, in regards to the Citadel’s view of young performers, some very lucky Edmontonians get a rare chance to see tomorrow’s stars in full flight. The cast of West Side Story, who has just completed the Citadel/Banff Centre Program, got together and in the best tradition of “let’s put on a show” gave an invited audience in The Club a demonstration of why Canadian theatre probably won’t have to worry about the lack of young people on Canadian stages. It was a memorable night of big voices, charismatic performances, and committed youth.

Wait ‘till you catch young Eva Tavares as Maria in a performance of West Side Story.

Says Penny Ritco, the Citadel’s Executive Director and long-time ying to Baker’s yang: “Somewhere, Bob came up with the realization that we could become a facility that can provide a home for other types of organizations – like Catalyst and Rapid Fire Theatre. They have proved to be a perfect fit for us.”

“These companies are all bringing new audiences into the theatre,” says Baker. “The audiences begin to attend other Citadel performances and suddenly it’s no longer the elite Brick Fortress because the drawbridge is down and the Citadel is open for business. That’s why the big sign out in front was so important. We’re saying, ‘Look world – we’re not that institution anymore.’”
The city around the theatre is exploding and the Citadel has been changing with it – over 100 organizations took advantage of the Citadel’s facilities last year.

“I can see more people coming to the building because it’s, well, inviting,” says Ritco. “The building is a gold mine for the community and we’ve blown the doors off and opened it up.”

And then there’s The Club and the Beyond the Stage season, in the intimate space that was once the Rice Theatre. Created out of a financial challenge, and generally featuring cabaret-style performance, it has taken on a vibrant life of its own. “The Club has established its own identity,” says Baker. “It’s getting a momentum all of its own. I think it led to some reinvention around here.”

Observes Anne Nothof, author/editor and self-described theatre addict: “I think the Citadel has brought a world of theatre to Edmonton – and did it courageously and ambitiously. It helped us to understand who we are. If it can maintain that kind of balance – of supporting the local and telling community stories while enabling us to see into a wider world of theatre and art, I have great hopes for its future.”

For 50 years the Citadel has been a curious place – a wizard’s cave of wonders where the unexplainable, fantastic, tragic, and comic are all routine.

If you listen today, you can still hear echoes of George and Martha arguing about the child that never was. Big Daddy bawls of “mendacity.” On an Easter morn, 15,000 Canadians throw themselves at a previously impenetrable wall of German soldiers at Vimy. Willy, once again, drives that tired, red 1928 Chevy to Hartford. Juliet is united in death with her Romeo, the wind changes to the East and Mary Poppins is blown into Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Scrooge finds the joy of Christmas, Dr. Frank-N-Furter walks with Tony Kushner’s Angels and Don Quixote walks with God.

“I think I’ve given my successor something to work with,” says Baker. “We have momentum.” And echoing something that Joe Shoctor might have said 50 years ago: “My advice to the next Artistic Director – be bold!”