This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

The NAC's new Arts Alive website offers engaging digital programming and free resources for schools and home learning. Visit the new website.

Produced by National Arts Centre Théâtre français
© Bernd Uhlig
Seen from stage left: hall, seats, stage with set, and backstage area, Russian Army Theatre in Moscow, 1994.

Title: Orestes

Playwright: Aeschylus


Director: Peter Stein.

Professional Theatre Production

There are similarities in the way Canada’s French-language theatre companies produce plays, but there are also differences, depending on each company’s age and budgets. In any professional production, there are several stages leading up to performance.

The Theatre's Season

The artistic director, often assisted by an artistic committee, decides what productions will make up the theatre’s program each year. The season is chosen to fulfill the company’s artistic commitment and its audience’s expectations. To select a season the director must read an impressive number of plays, both new and old. The director often encounters local scripts at public or rehearsed readings staged by the Centre des auteurs dramatiques (CEAD). Sometimes a playwright or director will suggest a play for the artistic director’s consideration.

Once the scripts have been chosen, the theatre must find directors and design teams to stage them. Generally, the director chooses the designers who will work on a production. However, the theatre’s artistic director has considerable influence, and to a lesser degree, so might the playwright.

Guest company? Co-production?

Major theatres like the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde (TNM) and the Trident have their own space and produce the plays that make up their season. Others, like the National Arts Centre (NAC) French Theatre and the Cercle Molière, stage their own productions but also host productions by touring companies. Such touring companies are said to have been invited to a theatre. Some theatres offer entire seasons of guest productions. Occasionally some works are staged as co-productions in the theatre where they play, or they may spend several days there as part of a tour. Sometimes an institution and a company that has been invited several times develop an artistic affinity. The two parties then agree to form a relationship in which the company is termed a resident company. Although guest or resident companies (e.g. the Théâtre PàP at Espace Go), are answerable to the institution that hosts them, they often enjoy great freedom with the artistic content of their productions. Co-productions between a theatre and a smaller company are also frequent. Sometimes institutions in two different cities may co-produce a show.

Production Schedule

Once the theatre’s season is chosen and the dates are set, the production manager works out the schedule for each production and sets the deadlines for each team. The schedule tells the set and costume designers, the music, sound and lighting directors, the make-up designer, the actors, singers and musicians (if any) what deadlines they must meet. These people are not the only ones who must keep to this schedule. The production manager, the assistant director, the communications officers, those responsible for subscriptions (season tickets) and the theatre’s administrator must also organize their work to fit into this schedule.

The First Reading

The first reading is an important event in the production of a play. All the craftspeople involved in the production gather to listen to the actors read the script aloud for the first time. At this time, the director presents the basic concept of his or her direction. The initial contacts are made among the actors, the script, and the various designers; ideas begin to sprout. This stage is equivalent to the birth of a theatrical production. There may be a hiatus between the reading and the full start of the rehearsal period to allow the actors more time to think about their characters.


In the rehearsal hall, the actors start by working at the director’s table, where the director discusses the issues in the script they are going to stage. This is when the actors start getting acquainted with their roles and the director explains his or her concept of the characters and the play as a whole. The dramaturge may attend or take part in this phase. Next the play’s various scenes are broken down so that the director can work only with the actors needed in each scene. The scenes are played again and again, until the actors find the manner, tone and intention that suit their characters and the situation. The director and cast usually have six to eight weeks to rehearse.

The designers attend rehearsals at various times throughout the rehearsal period. The costume designer takes the actors’ measurements. The sound designer plays for the actors the music that will accompany them. The set designer shows them the maquette or model of the set on which they will be working. Depending on the directorial choices, fight coordinators, and singing, diction and dance coaches provide special training for the actors.

Design Work

Some theatres (e.g. TNM, NAC) have material and equipment on hand for designers to use. If this is not the case then designers need to rent, buy or construct the items they need. Few theatres in Canada are as fortunate as the National Arts Centre, which has space onsite for constructing costumes or building sets. Generally, these jobs are completed in workshops outside the theatre, with the help of the valuable specialists who work there.

Promoting the Show

As the artists prepare the production, a whole team works to promote it. Communications and marketing officers see to media publicity (newspapers, television, radio, Internet), and take care of producing posters, flyers and programs. The administrators and the communications director have worked for a long time on many applications for grants and sponsorships to obtain the funds needed to produce the shows. Others have worked to develop the audience and manage subscriptions (season ticket sales). There are a huge number of administrative tasks to be done in a theatre and each one is vital if the season is to run properly. There are press attachés making sure the productions have good coverage in the media by contacting journalists and setting up interviews with the director and the actors. When a production is popular with the audience or the critics, the run may be extended or there may even be a revival.

Transfer to stage

When the cast and crews move into the auditorium, the designers’ work joins the actors’ work on the stage. Once the lighting and sound levels are set, the company is ready for the technical run-through. This is when the work of the various designers is tested. Fortunately, opening night is still one or two weeks away. All the artists and technicians working on the show use this time to polish the details and solve any problems. At the dress rehearsal, the actors play the piece with the final version of all designs. This is the final test, the last chance to experiment before opening night.

Grant Sources

Most professional theatres in Canada are private, non-profit organizations; they are eligible for grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and provincial bodies such as the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, the Ontario Arts Council or the New Brunswick Arts Board. Some cities and municipalities such as Montréal, Québec City, Caraquet, Ottawa and Toronto have bodies which subsidize the arts.


Canada Council for the Arts


Alberta Foundation for the Arts

British Columbia

British Columbia Arts Council

Theatre grants programs:


Manitoba Arts Council

New Brunswick

New-Brunswick Arts Board

Culture and Sport Secretariat, click on Program for Professional Arts Organizations (PDF format):


Ontario Arts Council

Search for theatre grants:


Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ): [website in French]

Grant programs for theatre:


Saskatchewan Arts Board