History of Persephone
Founded in 1974 by Janet and Susan Wright, and by Janet's husband, Brian Richmond, who was to become the theatre's first artistic director, Persephone Theatre has become a major force in Saskatoon's and the region's theatrical life.
It was by design that its founders named this theatre in the heart of the prairies Persephone. She was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of fertility and the fruitful earth with a fondness for things agricultural. A theatre so named would be capable of growth and change, like the changing seasons of Saskatchewan, reproducing classic and new plays alike.
For the 1974-75 inaugural season, the choice of the three plays defined the kind of theatre Persephone would become: a producer of excellent theatre chosen from as wide a spectrum as possible. Those three plays were a recent modern American hit, The Hot L Baltimore by Lawford Wilson; a classic, A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen; and a Canadian musical world premiere, Cruel Tears by Saskatchewan playwright, Ken Mitchell.
In its early years, Persephone faced many of the problems associated with establishing a professional theatre. In the first eight seasons between 1974 and 1981, there were no fewer than six artistic directors. Finally in 1982, the Hungarian-born Tibor Feheregyhazi was named to that position, where he remained until his death in July 2007. With his profound knowledge of theatre, his passion and enthusiasm for this most difficult of the arts, as well as an extraordinary gift of choosing playwrights and artists wisely for a Saskatchewan audience, Persephone enjoyed a long succession of popular and profitable seasons.
Another early problem was establishing a suitable venue for performance, rehearsal, and construction of sets, properties and costumes. Persephone’s first season was at the Mendel Art Gallery, and its second season at the University of Saskatchewan’s Greystone Theatre, before moving in 1976 to the St. Thomas Wesley Church hall on 20th Street West. However, when the church hall could no longer be insured as a safe venue for theatre, a new space had to be found. Negotiations were started with Westgate Alliance Church to purchase their building on Rusholme Road, and after extensive renovations, this served as Persephone’s home for 20 productive years.
In 2007, Artistic Director Del Surjik, returning to the city that launched his career, took over the helm and Persephone moved into their new theatre facility, the Remai Arts Centre on River Landing. A beautiful glass-front building in the heart of downtown Saskatoon, the Remai Arts Centre holds both a 421 seat mainstage theatre (Rawlco Radio Hall), and a 100 seat flexible second stage (The Backstage Stage: A Bill and Brett Wilson Project). Persephone’s seasons have grown to a six play mainstage series, a three play second stage series (The Deep End) and six productions for youth (including a provincial tour). Persephone Theatre supports the development and production of new work and local playwrights, such as the 2009/2010 season’s premieres of the hit drama. The Walnut Tree by Geoffrey Ursell, James O’Shea’s comedy Home Ice, and Bannock Republic by Cree playwright Kenneth T. Williams (the sequel to Thunderstick, on tour in 2010/2011). In its 35th season, Persephone celebrated the national canon with fourteen of the fifteen shows programmed in Persephone’s 2009-2010 season penned by Canadians.