Theatre Passe Muraille
One of Canada's most influential alternative theatres, Theatre Passe Muraille (theatre "goes through walls") was founded in 1968 by director and playwright Jim Garrard, who started the company out of Rochdale College.
Its radical intention was create a distinctly Canadian voice in theatre. It was conceived in the notion that theatre should transcend real estate; that plays can be made and staged anywhere—in barns, in auction rings, in churches, bars, basements, lofts, even in streetcars; and it was interested in the idea that theatre need not be a vehicle of social change, but rather it should endeavour always to be a mirror to social change.
The company gained local notoriety when it was bafflingly charged with obscenity for the only mildly provocative play by American playwright Rochelle Owens, Futz (about a farmer who falls in love with his pig, but suffers the persecution of his intolerant neighbours).
Jim Garrard was succeeded by Martin Kinch who had the job of artistic director for a year with Paul Thompson as technical director before he went on to found Toronto Free Theatre with John Palmer and Tom Hendry.
It was under the Thompson's directorship in the 1970s that the theatre gained its national reputation. Thompson guided the company towards a distinctive style of collective creation with plays such as The Farm Show, 1837: The Farmer's Revolt and I Love You, Baby Blue.
Other notable productions produced at Passe Muraille include O.D. on Paradise and Maggie and Pierre by Linda Griffiths; Fire by David Young and Paul Ledoux; The Stone Angel, James Nichol's adaptation of the novel by Margaret Laurence; Judith Thompson's The Crackwalker; and Lilies by Quebec playwright Michel Marc Bouchard. The company also had a major hit in 2001 with Michael Healey's play The Drawer Boy, which was based on actor Miles Potter's experiences years before while living on a farm to research and develop Theatre Passe Muraille's collective creation The Farm Show.
Collective Creation at TPM
Thompson’s taking over the helm at Passe Muraille marked not only a turning point for the theatre but also a significant, even vital, step in the development of Canadian theatre as a whole. He brought with him the art of “collective creation,” a technique whereby plays were made by the actors themselves from their own experiences.
The use of collective creation at Passe Muraille began when Paul Thompson, John Palmer and Martin Kinch found themselves with lots of ideas for shows but no scripts.
It was a form that had no roots in English-speaking North America. “The collective-creation idea was inspired obviously by the Living Theatre,” said Paul Thompson, “but more closely by a company called Theatre d’Aujourd’hui…There were a group of actors who had come out of the French section of the National Theatre School and were doing some very good improvisationally written shows and that sort of got me excited.”
“As far as going into a locale, the idea came from stuff I had been reading about China,” continued Paul Thompson, “They went into areas and made stories about local heroes, they were traveling companies.”
The Farm Show is arguably the most significant collective creation in TPM’s history. In 1972, Thompson and a group of actors went out into farming country around Clinton in southwestern Ontario. They lived with the farmers, worked with them, watched them and learned their stories. Then Thompson, who had been raised in farm country, literally forced his actors to create a play, each being responsible for his or her own part. It was part of an idea that became a theme for later work to help Canadians find new terms for heroes; to move away from the Davy Crockett types. The impact of The Farm Show was guaranteed by the fact that the community the show was built around saw it first and went crazy about it. The show premiered in the very barn the actors used for rehearsals. It was a terrific success and was taken on the road.
Developing Canadian Theatre
Since its inception, Passe Muraille has demonstrated its commitment to cultivating Canadian voices by mentoring and providing space and support to emerging theatre artists and fledgling theatre companies, in order that they may create on their own artistic terms. In 1973, Thompson started a production-oriented "seed-show" programme. During his term, Clarke Rogers started a script-oriented New Works programme and most recently, current Artistic Director Andy McKim opened the theatre's doors to anyone with new ideas for Passe Muraille's new Five-minute Pitch programme.
Many successful alternative theatre companies developed within Passe Muraille's walls. Buddies in Bad Times, which is committed to supporting LBGT voices, the feminist Nightwood Theatre, Newfoundland's CODCO, Necessary Angel Company and the Blyth Summer Festival, amongst many others, all had their beginnings with TPM.
Many of the country's most respected performers, writers and theatre artists, including Eric Peterson, David Fox, Mary Walsh, Rick Salutin and Linda Griffiths, consider Passe Muraille their starting point. Artists such as Ann Marie MacDonald, Michael Ondaatje, Maria Campbell and Timothy Findley have all gone on to create original works that are considered Canadian classics.
Theatre Passe Muraille's 1975 production of "I Love You, Baby Blue" was seen by over 26 000 people before it was closed by the police. Charges brought against the theatre for "immorality" were thrown out of court for lack of evidence. However, the success of this celebrated production was profitable enough for the theatre to put a down payment on a permanent home. This was an important event, as to this day, still only a handful of non-for-profit theatres in Toronto own the spaces in which they perform.
The building was originally a bakery built in 1902 and has served several purposes over the decades. When TPM took the building over it had fallen under disrepair and large renovations were undertaken to bring the building up to the required standards.
A second round of renovations began in 1983, the most important additions of which were the building of a large cruciform opening in the floor of the second storey and the installation of a lighting grid. The theatre houses two stages: the "Mainspace" which seats 185 and the "Backspace" which seats 55.
The space was designated a historic building in 1977 by the Toronto Historical Board under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act, noting that, "the skillful use of brick and classical architectural design elements in the facade gives prominence in the neighbourhood" 
- Jim Garrard (1968-1969)
- Martin Kinch, John Palmer, Paul Thompson (1969-1972)
- Paul Thompson (1972-1981)
- Clarke Rogers (1982-1987)
- Brian Richmond (1988-1990)
- Layne Coleman (1991)
- Susan Serran (1992-1996)
- Layne Coleman (1997-2007)
- Andy McKim (2007- )
Chalmers Canadian Play Awards
2000 The Drawer Boy by Michael Healey and Alien Creature: A Visitation from Gwendolyn MacEwen by Linda Griffiths
1997 Stuck by David Rubinoff
1995 The Alistair Trilogy by Nadia Ross and Diane Cave
1993 A Play About the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo by Alisa Palmer and Hillar Liitoja and Stillborn Lover by Timothy Findley
1990 Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing by Tomson Highway
1989 Fire by Paul Ledoux, David Young and Otis Black Well
1986 Jessica by Linda Griffiths with Maria Campbell
- Taylor, Bill. "Theatre Passe Muraille- A Short History." October, 1982.
- Theatre Passe Muraille: A Short History
- With files from Theatre Passe Muraille, "The History of TPM from 1968-1996 Vol. III"
- "Topographic Map sheet 30M11". Atlas of Canada. Natural Resources Canada. 2006-02-06. Retrieved 2008-12-12.
- "About". Theatre Passe Muraille. Retrieved 2008-12-12.[dead link]