Theatre community gathered to celebrate PTE’s 50th anniversary

By: Eric Ducharme

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Prairie Theatre Exchange (PTE) hosted an “Evening of Memories” event on Thursday, Nov. 24. Former leaders, staff, board members, and supporting artists reunited to reflect on the five-decade journey.

Prairie Theatre Exchange, Winnipeg’s second-largest theatre company, was created in 1972 when the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre announced it would be closing the Manitoba Theatre School.

The theatre originally ran out of the Grain Exchange Building on Princess Street. PTE now operates out of the third floor of Portage Place, just a 15-minute walk from RRC Polytech’s Exchange District Campus.

Haanita Seval has worked at the theatre company for 25 years. Seval recalled the opening night at their new space at Portage Place, 33 years ago. Construction of the space had fallen behind schedule, and railings were still being painted three hours before the doors were set to open.

“Opening night is opening night. We were all buzzing around trying to take care of last-minute fixes and touches,” Seval said.

That evening, the lobby doors opened on time and the community poured in to celebrate and enjoy a performance of The Village of Idiots on the brand-new stage.

“It was a night of pure love that I will never forget,” Seval said.

Prairie Theatre Exchange decorated its Gendis studio with archived memorabilia to celebrate their 50th anniversary on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. (Eric Ducharme)

PTE decorated one of their studios with costumes and memorabilia from their archives to create an inspiring walk through the theatre company’s history.

Festivities continued into the weekend with a PTE social held Friday evening and a brunch mingle on Saturday afternoon. The weekend of celebrations brought together past and present artistic directors, actors, production, teachers, and staff. Many had not seen each other in over 20 years.

Andrew Gehrs-Whyte has worked at PTE for five years. He said it was nice to see everyone gather after the pandemic.

“The pandemic has been hard on the theatre,” Gehrs-Whyte said.

Seval said there is a sense of history being made by reaching the 50-year milestone. The theatre has five premieres planned for this season: three by local playwrights and others by artists in the early stages of their careers.

“PTE began with people who said ‘yes’ to new challenges and overcoming barriers, and we’re saying ‘yes’ to this day,” Seval said.

PTE’s 50th season is already underway. To celebrate its anniversary, PTE is offering students $15 tickets for select seats to any of this season’s performances.