Green Thumb Theatre was founded in 1975 to develop original Canadian plays for young audiences. Since that time, Green Thumb has emerged as one of Canada's leading theatre companies for young people, producing excellent material for audiences and artists, and contributing to the growing body of work evolving in this field. Green Thumb demonstrates a new excitement and potential for children's theatre. After 40 years, Green Thumb Theatre is still at the forefront of the Theatre in Education movement, using the emotional impact of live performance to educate and empower young people. We challenge our audience to re-examine their beliefs and prejudices and to define their feelings and aspirations. Green Thumb believes that young Canadians face the same scope of issues, problems, concerns and interests that adults do; however, many young people are disempowered from effectively confronting difficult or complex situations, a result of societal, systemic or cultural beliefs and discriminations. As Canadian society diversifies it is more important than ever that people respect each other and each other's differences.
In 1975 Gord McCall, John Carroll, Dennis Foon and Jane Howard Baker, a group of graduates from the University of British Columbia’s drama department, came together to create plays for the local community with a focus on entertaining children. They called themselves the Green Thumb Players Society. Founding Artistic Director Dennis Foon recognized immediately that the demand for what they were doing was high, and the company’s legal mandate was quickly changed from focusing solely on local productions to include touring performances to communities “throughout British Columbia, and around the world.”
More than 40 years later, we are doing just that. How does a theatre company focused on young audiences achieve such a lofty goal? For Green Thumb, the road to success has been paved with innovation. Early in the company’s history it became clear to those at the helm that what was missing from children’s entertainment was a willingness to dig deep and explore topics that are often left out of entertainment for young audiences, and that can also be difficult to broach in traditional classroom discussions. In 1979, Green Thumb made a major artistic breakthrough by producing Hilary’s Birthday, a play about a 10-year old girl and her divorced mother. This was the first time that a topic such as divorce had been presented in a school setting. Some educators were outraged; others were thrilled. By today’s standards Hilary’s Birthday is tame, but in 1979 it set the course for Green Thumb as a cutting-edge theatre company. Following the success of Hilary’s Birthday, the 1980-81 season saw the creation of Green Thumb’s signature piece New Canadian Kid by Dennis Foon based on a concept by Jane Howard Baker, which follows the experience of a new immigrant to Canada, and his efforts to fit into a new culture with a new language. The play utilized the clever theatrical device of having the Canadian characters speaking a type of gibberish (using familiar word roots) to highlight the frustration of not being able to understand or to be understood. It has been hailed as a quintessential play for young audiences and is recognized by theatre academics as the most produced Canadian play of all time.
In the 1980s, Green Thumb expanded its market to include secondary school audiences. A string of successes emerged from this period as Foon wrote Skin (racism in high schools), Liars (children of alcoholic parents), and Mirror Game (the cycle of abuse). Remaining committed to our youngest audience members as well, Green Thumb also commissioned the powerfulOne Thousand Cranes (effect of war on children) by Colin Thomas, Schoolyard Games (schoolyard conflicts) Not So Dumb (learning disabilities) andNight Light (children’s fears), written by John Lazarus. In 1988, Dennis Foon turned to freelance writing and Patrick McDonald was appointed the company’s second Artistic Director. McDonald brought with him a great deal of experience developing original plays as the longest-serving Artistic Director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa. He has continued the company’s emphasis on addressing issues, while developing new styles and production techniques, and fostering relationships with both emerging and established Canadian playwrights.McDonald has developed some of the company’s most seminal works, including Shape of a Girl by Joan McLeod.
In 2011 Joan was the recipient of the distinguished Siminovitch Prize – the highest award in Canadian Theatre. The Shape of a Girl (teen violence and clique dynamics) toured for four years and was the first play aimed at teen audiences to be presented by the renowned New Victory Theatre on 42nd Street in New York City. In 2009, The New Vic invited us back with Cranked (crystal meth addiction), a hip hop musical written by Michael P. Northey with beats and rhymes by hip hop artist Kyprios. Cranked was a smash hit success that played over 400 performances and closed at the iconic Sydney Opera House in Australia. Green Thumb has also ventured into non-touring theatre models, with a series of main-stage productions geared towards young adult and family audiences, often in partnership with other Canadian Theatre companies. One production of note produced under this model was the world premiere of Tough! by George F. Walker, which followed Bobby and Tina, a young couple living in poverty, facing the prospect of being thrust into unplanned parenthood. The show was incredibly successful, and has gone on to be produced by dozens of companies the world over. In 2011, in association with the Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto, Green Thumb produced Moss Park, a sequel to Tough! The show was subsequently presented by the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa. In 2016, a third installment in the Bobby and Tina saga, The Crowd, was premiered by Green Thumb in association with Studio 58’s professional theatre training program. This production was unique in that it was created specifically to be produced at a post-secondary training theatre program, with feature parts for more than a dozen emerging performers.
Other innovative collaborations over the years have included a tour exchange program with the California Theatre Center in Sunnyvale CA with their production of Most Valuable Player and Green Thumb's production of Night Light, the co-commission of Little Sister with Theatre Direct Canada, hosting Young People's Theatre of Toronto's production of Naomi's Road on tour in BC schools, and producing George F. Walker's Problem Child in repertory with Victoria's Belfry Theatre production of Featuring Loretta and the Vancouver Playhouse's Adult Entertainment. One of the legacies of Green Thumb Theatre's extensive script development has been a library of original Canadian works which are now produced throughout Canada and around the world. The company operates a playwrights' agency, representing writers for young audiences, and assisting professional, community and school groups with their programming.
As we continue the work of the last four decades, and adapt to the changing landscape of Canadian and global arts and culture, Green Thumb continues our commitment and mandate to create and produce entertaining, thought-provoking theatre for young audiences.
Each year we tour every school district in British Columbia, performing to more than 50,000 children.
We regularly tour across Canada and the United States, and we tour abroad with some productions.
We have created original productions subsequently staged by over 200 theatre companies worldwide and translated into Chinese, French, Spanish, Polish, German, Danish, Hebrew and Japanese.
In our 45 seasons of touring & main stage shows, we have performed over 15,000 times to over 4,000,000 people in every province and 2 territories in Canada, 36 states in the U.S., Ireland, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and Mexico.