Reason #96 of '101 Reasons Why I Heart Edmonton'

Citadel Theatre

By Emil Tiedemann

Bernard Engel, of the University of Alberta’s Drama Department, starred in and directed the premiere of Edward Albee’s timeless Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? during opening night on November 10, 1965, back when the Citadel Theatre was located in the now defunct Salvation Army citadel. 

“The 277 theatre patrons who flinched in their new soft seats 50 seasons ago while George and Martha hammered each other ferociously onstage,” wrote the Edmonton Journal’s Liz Nicholls in 2015, “were in on the birth of something big: a city-changer; the country’s biggest, most secretive, most splendidly appointed, most idiosyncratic regional theatre; a national cultural institution.” 
 
Outside of the Citadel Theatre in downtown Edmonton.


Of course, the audience had no idea at the time, but Edmonton-born Citadel founder Joseph “Broadway Joe” Shoctor (1922-2001) probably did. Known for his all-consuming and excessive leadership of everything that went on within the walls of the Citadel, right down to the actors who hit the stage, Shoctor bought the real estate that housed the original Citadel, pooled some funds to renovate it, and then hired a staff to run it, and then purposely chose Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to inaugurate it, because “I knew it would shock Edmonton.” 

John Hulbert, all the way from Pennsylvania’s Allegheny College, served as the theatre’s first Artistic Director, bringing in everything from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Tennessee WilliamsThe Glass Menagerie to Lawrence Roman’s Under the Yum-Yum Tree and William Inge’s Come Back, Little Sheba to the Citadel that very first season. 

In 1976, the theatre uprooted and moved downtown onto a corner of Sir Winston Churchill Square, where it has remained since, in the now iconic glass and brick building with the luscious greenscape that has got to be the coolest pavilion in all of Edmonton. 

The new $6.5 million playhouse right in the middle of downtown would eventually grow to include five unique performance spaces (Shoctor Theatre, Maclab Theatre, The Club, Zeidler Hall, Lee Pavilion/ Tucker Amphitheatre) that put on about nine plays for over 110,000 people each season, making it one of North America’s largest not-for-profit theatres. 
 
The Maclab Theatre is just one of the venues at the Citadel.


And the Robbins Academy at the Citadel just so happens to be Canada’s most comprehensive program for creative development in professional theatre, setting them apart from other theatres across the country. 

The Citadel is, and always has been, focused on giving back to the community, and not just in the form of world-class productions of some of the most beloved plays ever written: they allow more than 100 different organizations to utilize their space for all kinds of events; they donate hundreds of tickets each season to nonprofit groups for use in fundraising or simply for clients and volunteers to take in a show; and every year, the cast of A Christmas Carol collects food and monetary donations for the Edmonton Food Bank, coming up with some $700,000 since the tradition began. 

“To me, from its inception, the Citadel has provided the foundation for artists and artisans to lay down some roots here, live, raise families,” executive director Penny Ritco said in an interview with the Journal. “And whether it’s the young artists we train, exchange with artists who come and work here or are in co-productions, we’ve had an impact on the rest of the country...with Joe’s international aspirations, his drive to bring international artists here and take shows elsewhere, the Citadel was never going to be an average regional theatre.” #citadeltheatre

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