Historically, Mennonites were not particularly noted for their love of theatre. In the earliest years, the Mennonites who lived in the Netherlands and Germany, as well as those who later set up in colonies in southern Russia, had neither a theatrical tradition nor a notable playwright. How was it then that a group calling itself Winnipeg Mennonite Theatre (WMT) was founded and came to flourish in Winnipeg?
WMT can trace its roots to young Mennonites within those Russian colonies who placed more emphasis on literature and the arts when they took up university studies in Moscow and abroad.
The 1920s saw the immigration of these students to Canada. As early as the 1930s a group of Winnipeg Mennonites began presenting plays for Mennonite audiences in small halls and church basements. One of the largest and most enthusiastic of these groups attended the first Mennonite Church of Winnipeg and called itself, Jugendverein, or the Young People's Group.
From 1946 to 1966, Jugendverein productions took place once a year at the Playhouse Theatre and were performed in German. For a variety of reasons, Jugendverein productions ceased. Over the next six years, a core group of individuals who had been involved in the Jugendverein realized an audience still existed for theatrical works that appealed to the Mennonite and German communities in Manitoba. These individuals together with other theatre-minded people from various Mennonite churches and from within the larger German-speaking population, banded together to found the Winnipeg Mennonite Theatre in 1972. Its stated purpose was to provide good theatrical performances, both serious and comic, in both the English and German languages.
Good theatrical performances require hours of rehearsal, and WMT has been blessed with its own rehearsal space. WMT first rented a studio space in "The Loft" on the fifth floor of a downtown warehouse. The Ross Avenue studio not only contained a large rehearsal space and set construction area, but was also home to our collection of flats, props and costumes. These studios have witnessed countless hours of rehearsals, meetings and planning. Currently WMT is renting space in a large warehouse which caters to the arts community.
These homes within Winnipeg's core area have produced plays staged by volunteers (actors, directors, stagehands, makeup artists, costume designers, set builders and all of the other behind the scenes players), most of whom hold down full-time day jobs, but meet on evenings and weekends in order to create theatrical experiences comparable to those produced by professionals.
With the dedicated assistance of these countless volunteers and the generous support of individual businesses and government grants, WMT has staged many great performances reflecting a wide range of interests. From its founding in 1972 to the present, WMT has established a fine tradition of theatre. This tradition has enabled WMT to attract participants and audiences in large numbers from many denominations and groups included in the broader community.