Central Alberta Theatre was founded in 1970 from an amalgamation of Parkland Players and Red Deer Musical Theatre. C.A.T. is now one of the oldest amateur theatre groups in Canada. Our very first production was "Oklahoma" which was performed on the stage at the Red Deer Memorial Centre.
With only a few members and rehearsing out of basements and school gymnasiums the group initially focused its talents on presenting main stage productions at the Red Deer Memorial Centre. Properties, costumes and sets were stored in and around Red Deer, namely the basements and garages of various members.
Expansion into Dinner Theatre
Then in 1979 the group expanded into the realm of dinner theatre. The first dinner theatre "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" took place at the Red Deer Elks Club, in its old location atop Red Deer's south hill. During the early 1980s the season included two dinner theatres and one musical then in 1985 expanded to include three dinner theatre and one musical. C.A.T. had become a mainstay in Central Alberta.
It was also during this time the group finally recognized the need to find a permanent home, at least in terms of storage and rehearsal space. Warehouse space was rented and renovated down in the Riverside Industrial Park. C.A.T. now had its own workshop; storage for costumes, properties and sets; an office, a board room, a dance studio and rehearsal room.
While the group enjoyed having a place to call home they still needed to find venues to perform in. From 1970 to 1986 main stage productions were performed on the Red Deer Memorial Centre stage as well as the stage at Red Deer College and from 1979 to 1990 dinner theatres were held at the Red Deer Elks Club. With the opening of the Red Deer College Arts Centre in the fall of 1986 Central Alberta Theatre reveled in the new state-of-the-art facility. C.A.T. took part in the Grand Opening of the Arts Centre with a celebration of its past entitled "A Dish of Cream". With the public clamoring for tickets C.A.T. was forced to perform two shows in one day! This season also included a collaboration with the Red Deer College as the two groups presented "A Music Man" in the spring of 1987.
For the next few years Central Alberta Theatre alternated between the Arts Centre and Memorial Centre stages with a number of sold-out musicals including a repeat performance of "Oklahoma!" for their 20th Anniversary in the spring of 1991. While scheduling conflicts made it increasingly difficult to utilize the Arts Centre, C.A.T. again made the main stage at the Red Deer Memorial Centre its home.
In 1990 the Elks Club in Red Deer decided to get out of dinner theatres and Central Alberta Theatre was forced to find a new venue. A partnership was formed with the Black Knight Inn with the hotel making extensive renovations to accommodate dinner theatre in an old tavern space. The "Main Stage" became known as C.A.T.'s new home for dinner theatre with the staging of "Murder At The Howard Johnson's" in December of that year.
As part of its fund-raising endeavors C.A.T. decided to hold an extra dinner theatre in the Fall of 1999 by bringing back the very popular "No Sex Please, We're British". This sold-out show increased the number of dinner theatres produced that year to five and with its success the group permanently increased its dinner theatre season to include five productions. Unfortunately it was also during this time that the group found it was unable to continue its tradition of presenting main stage musicals on a yearly basis.
Taking on the Memorial Centre
Over the years there had been much talk about trying to find or build a permanent performance space. In 1993 the City of Red Deer was considering shutting down the Memorial Centre for financial reasons. After much discussion the members of Central Alberta Theatre voted to approach the City to take over the operation of the facility so in September of 1994 an agreement was made between the two parties and C.A.T. had a new home. Built as part of the A-20 military training camp this building underwent renovations in 1951 and was renamed The Red Deer Memorial Centre in memory of those who lost their lives in World War I and II. The Memorial inside the lobby, the auditorium and gymnasium cost the community $35,000. Since that time the city-owned Memorial Centre served as a public venue as well as supplied the public schools with event space. The gymnasium side of the facility was renovated and is operated by the Cultural Heritage Society.
It immediately became apparent it would not be feasible to operate the Memorial Central and continue to rent warehouse space. It also became apparent that the Memorial Centre could not house all of C.A.T.'s operations so alternatives to the warehousing had to be found. The group decided to take on a smaller financial commitments by renting space in the old YMCA building which was directly across the parking lot from the Memorial Centre. So while sets were being built in the small workshop behind the stage at the Memorial Centre the YMCA became storage and rehearsal space.
Since taking over the Memorial Centre the organization has increased the number of events held each year threefold and now offers a diverse season of arts, cultural and entertainment events. C.A.T. and the Memorial Centre proudly serve as a performance outlet for dozens of local performance and cultural groups as well as innumerable national and international artists. The group is also very proud of the fact they have gone back to their roots by bringing back the tradition of presenting main stage productions on a regular basis. By offering more diverse productions, such as the farce "Noises Off"; the drama "Brighton Beach Memoirs" or the family classic "A Christmas Carol", Central Alberta Theatre is committed to bringing Central Albertans a dynamic theatrical experience!!
In the summer of 2009, using its own funds as well as matching government grants, Central Alberta Theatre was thrilled to replace the aging auditorium seats in the Memorial Centre. The organization also launched a low-key "Best Seat in the House" fund-raising campaign where members and patrons are welcome to purchase a seat. These seats can be dedicated to a loved one or offer a C.A.T. memory.
A Place to Call Our Own - The CAT Studios
When it was discovered that the old YMCA building was to be demolished to make room for a housing development the members of Central Alberta Theatre were again forced to look for alternate facilities. It was during this time discussion was held about building an addition onto the Memorial Centre so the organization could be housed all under one roof. Again, the membership voted to take a giant step by entering into a building campaign.
After much hard work on the part of CAT-tracs, the fund-raising and building committee, the ribbon-cutting ceremony on what is now known as CAT Studios was held in the Fall of 2002. The venue directly adjoins the Memorial Centre and includes a huge workshop with storage space for sets and construction material; a tool crib; office space; kitchen; a member's lounge/green room; a board room; costume and properties storage; a cutting and technical room; a small dance/rehearsal studio; and two additional rehearsal studios, one of which can be utilized as a small performance space. While CAT Studios is now complete Central Alberta Theatre continues to enhance the Memorial Centre and its facilities. Since taking over the venue the group has made extensive renovations to the dressings rooms, lobby and facade; added state-of-art technical equipment and purchased new drapery.
In the 2010 Central Alberta Theatre reached two major milestones. The first was in celebrating its 40th Anniversary as a community theatre company. Celebrations included recognition of lifetime members, both at CATena! (the annual Season Launch) and at "Top Forty" (the annual fund-raising gala). Some of the volunteers have been with the organization since the beginning and are still active today! The anniversary was also marked with an amazing live auction event; special treats for patrons and a commemorative booklet.