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The Redlight Theatre was Toronto’s first professional feminist theatre company, operating from 1974 to 1977. Diane Grant, Marcella Lustig, and Francine Volker, who were actors and playwrights in Toronto’s alternative theatre scene, founded Redlight Theatre to give women artistic, technical and administrative opportunities in theatre. Grant, Lustig, and Volker served as Co-Artistic Directors and the theatre was run by a combination of hired staff and volunteers.
The Redlight Theatre mounted a wide range of productions addressing feminist topics such as the women’s history, gender stereotyping, and abortion. It produced original plays and commissioned work from playwrights such as Carol Bold and Margaret Hollingsworth. The Redlight Theatre’s most acclaimed production was What Glorious Times We Had written by Diane Grant, which told the story of Nellie McClung and the suffrage movement in Manitoba. What Glorious Times We Had premiered in 1974 and toured Canada for International Women’s Year in 1975. Other notable productions include Entrances (1974) written by Marcella Lustig and Francine Volker, Strange Games (1975) by Elinore Siminovitch, and Queen of the Silver Blades (1976) by Susan Swan and Margaret Dragu. The Redlight Theatre also sponsored Cleo Laine’s first concert in Canada.
In 1975, Redlight Theatre created the Playwrights Workshop to encourage women to develop professional skills in writing for the theatre. Plays that emerged from this workshop include Inside Looking In by Joann MacIntyre, Lies My Mother Told Me by Gay Claitman and Nancy White, and 10,000 Hellcats in Deepfreeze by Suzette Couture, Marcella Lustig, and Jacqueline Swartz.
Established with a grant from the Local Initiatives Program, the Redlight Theatre also received funding from The Secretary of State, the Canada Council, and the City of Toronto. The theatre never acquired sufficient funds to secure a permanent location so productions were staged in various venues, including the Matador Club, the Bathurst Street United Church, the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, and St. Paul’s Centre. After three seasons, the Redlight Theatre closed due to lack of funding in 1977.