About a year after moving to Vancouver an educated but discouraged young theatre practitioner, I ended up at a performance of Ruby Slippers’ The Cat Who Ate Her Husband. I remember clearly thinking, “Shit. Theatre is fun. Who knew?! And sexy. And clever. And these artists are good.” I haven’t missed a Ruby Slippers Theatre production since then and, as a result, that same phrase has popped into my head over and over again. So while I haven’t been around to witness all twenty of Ruby Slippers Theatre’s years of surpassing expectations, I am lapping up the experience of witnessing where those twenty years have brought them.
So how did Ruby Slippers get here? How does an independent theatre company that started on the Fringe circuit in 1989 survive twenty years, with ever-expanding success, producing a huge list of successful productions that embody courage, heart, and brains? I thought it best to ask the woman who’s been there since the beginning, Artistic Director Diane Brown:
1. What was the situation that led to the birth of Ruby Slippers 20 years ago?
20 years ago, in 1989, the independent or alternative theatre scene was a wasteland here in Vancouver. We set out to create/produce the kind of theatre that spoke to us. In the spirit of ‘do-it-yourself’ (learn 3 chords and start your own band, as the punks used to say) we started our own company. Ruby Slippers Theatre actually started as a collective of young female artists from various disciplines. It evolved into a theatre company and we eventually incorporated in 1992.
2. What do you see as Ruby Slippers place in Vancouver theatre today?
Ruby Slippers Theatre has helped pave the way for the vibrant indy scene we see today in Vancouver. We continue to contribute to our community socially relevant theatre that is both entertaining and thought provoking, and to mentor and inspire younger artists.
3. What highlights stand out in your memory in the last 20 years of Ruby Slippers?
Helping to pioneer site-specific theatre in Vancouver with our Brecht in the Park series that ran from 1994 – 2001; bringing so much rich and resonant work from the Quebec theatrical canon to the west coast (the upcoming Life Savers by Quebeçois bad boy Serge Boucher, The Rehearsal, The Queens, The Winners, Down Dangerous Passes Road, The Leisure Society); having the courage to commission new Canadian works from relatively unknown artists, and the courage to produce so many premiere productions (The Cat Who Ate Her Husband, The Winners, Down Dangerous Passes Road.)
4. Looking back, what events made the largest impact on what Ruby Slippers has become?
Getting Canada Council operating funding changed the way the company operated, and thus how it’s artistic director operated. This modest but steady investment allowed us to create an infrastructure, leverage other public and private investments for the company, hire staff, make plans for the future. It allowed me to focus more on the job of artistic director and director of shows rather than splitting my time and energy with working at a bowling alley or bartending to subsidize the company, which I did for years and years and years.
5. Where is Ruby Slippers heading in the future?
We are expanding our programming (three shows next year in addition to our Femmes Fatales weekend). We are also looking to expand upon our current community outreach and mentorship initiatives through our Artist in Residency program, open rehearsals, workshops, talkbacks with artists, and free performances. We hope to create more opportunities for the community to interact with the work Ruby Slippers does.
I wonder where Ruby Slippers might be twenty years from now – the possibilities are inspiring. And wherever it lands, I will most definitely be in the audience to witness it.