YPT Drama School History
Just four seasons after Young People’s Theatre (YPT) was founded by Susan Douglas Rubes, the YPT Drama School was established in 1969, now celebrating its 50th year.
Then called the Theatre School, its original faculty members included professional actors and members of Toronto’s Homemade Theatre: Phil Savath, Barry Flatman and Larry Mollin. Later, in the 1970’s, the Drama School began running classes under its own banner with the guidance of director Garry Schellenberg.
Throughout the 1970’s, drama classes were held at various locations in Downtown Toronto, including the Rehearsal Hall at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts and the Homemade Theatre (4 Maitland St.). By the mid-70’s, programming expanded to include special classes for adults. In the 1981/82 Season, Peter Gallagher took over as Director of the Drama School, and remained in this role for the next 26 seasons. Subsequent Directors of the Drama School include Ellen Hitchcock, Isaac Thomas and the current director, Liz Pounsett.
Drama School programming continually expanded and explored new avenues throughout the 80’s and 90’s, with courses in Shakespeare, playwriting, after-school drama classes, film making, and a camp taught by YPT’s technical staff that covered design, construction, sound and lighting.
The Drama School broke new ground during the 1992/93 Season with a weeknight theatre course for adults that focused on personal development through drama. Playtime and drama for little ones in JK and SK was also created, while a conservatory class for Gr. 12/OAC helped prepare students contemplating a career in theatre.
By 2000, the Drama School’s reach extended even further into the GTA, with classes offered in North York (Edithvale Community Centre, and now Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts), Mississauga (The Living Arts Centre), Pickering (Pine Ridge Secondary School) and Etobicoke (Assembly Hall). In the Fall of 2016, classes were added at O’Connor House in Scarborough to provide a more accessible location for students living in the east end.
Throughout the 2000’s, efforts were made to introduce students to new and exciting ways to experience drama. This included a special program with the Toronto Zoo that blended dramatic arts with the world of plants and animals. Senior students worked as a group to create a production based on challenges in the natural world, culminating in a performance for visitors at the zoo.
From 2006 to 2008, with the help of the Metcalf Foundation, the Drama School established a program, unique in Canada, for Grades 11 and 12. This new Drama Ensemble gave ten students the opportunity to train with like-minded young artists from across Toronto. While in residence at the Drama School, students rehearsed and performed a professional production in YPT’s Studio Theatre as part of the theatre’s season playbill.
Today, the Drama School is bursting at the seams, with more than 1,800 students annually, and classes offered after school and on weekends throughout the Fall, Winter and Spring, as well as March Break and Summer Drama Camps. Programming has extended to the theatre’s youngest patrons, with Baby Drama Time. And this season, students can look forward to a fantastic new class, Tell Me That Story Again, in which they will learn about the Indigenous tradition of oral storytelling. Students will explore how art, movement and dance can be woven to create meaningful stories, while developing depth and confidence in their own imaginations.
Since its inception, the Drama School has continually made accessibility a priority. In the last five years alone, it has provided more than 450 student bursaries and distributed close to $100,000 in bursary funds. Over 50 years, many celebrated careers were inspired and nurtured by the Drama School, with famous alumni including Drake, Kiefer Sutherland (24, Designated Survivor) and Giacomo Gianniotti (Grey’s Anatomy).
YPT’s interest-based Drama School sessions continue to offer a safe and creative place where young people can develop their drama and social skills. The Drama School embodies YPT’s vision: to have a positive impact on the emotional, social, and intellectual development of young people. Professional theatre artists and educators continue to provide a thrilling environment full of theatrical innovation and creative personal development. Here’s to 50 more years!