The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (RMTC), opened in 1970, was designed by Number TEN Architectural Group (originally called Waisman Ross Blankstein Coop Gillmor Hanna) of Winnipeg.
Manitoba Theatre Centre was the first regional theatre in Canada and was founded in 1958 by John Hirsch and Tom Hendry. Hirsch went on to a distinguished career at Stratford Festival and other venues, while the Manitoba company thrived and inspired the development of regional theatre across Canada. The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre is recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada, both for the company’s influence on the development of Canadian theatre and as an expression of small-scale Brutalist architecture in Canada.
The principal architect for the 785-seat theatre was Allan H. Waisman FRAIC and the design architect was Robert Kirby, who worked closely with the artistic director of the theatre company, Eddie Gilbert. RMTC is one of only three National Historic Sites in Canada designated for the excellence of its Brutalist architecture. The other two are Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre for the Arts and Ottawa’s National Arts Centre.
The members of the jury praised the RMTC’s design for creating “theatrical intimacy between audience and actor.” The foyer includes viewing windows to the backstage area, where theatregoers can see all the aspects that go into a production. “It promotes an awareness and appreciation of the relationships between those behind-the-scenes, those on stage and the audience, a casualness of contact. It explores the social, the political, the material and the place as conditions for creativity and innovation.”
Architectural historian Andrew Waldron says: “A thrust stage, calm semi-private spaces, and public viewing of behind-the-scenes are only a few elements of how the architects introduced a more intimate and informal experience within a Brutalist space. These qualities have remained intact. Indeed, in contrast to other Brutalist works, the RMTC has retained its integrity with few alterations since construction. Its architectural integrity is a testament to its functional and material success.”
The nomination also notes how the building contributes to the two streets it faces, and the uniqueness of its auditorium design, with an irregularly shaped balcony extending over the orchestra and a flexible stage that can project and recess through the frame of the proscenium. Other notable features are continuous skylight on two sides of the auditorium and the high quality craftsmanship of the exposed concrete.