The Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance (now the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance, or GVPTA) grew out of an informal meeting of theatre managers, called in response to the newly elected NDP government’s position on funding for the arts. The main thrust was a populist one in which the funding was earmarked for social recreation rather than professional efforts.
As a result, the Theatre Alliance was formed in 1976 as an activist group with a political agenda, in the belief that there could be strength in numbers and unity. The success of the Theatre Alliance in this arena led to the formation of the Alliance for Arts and Culture in 1986, an umbrella organization serving the entire Metro Vancouver arts community. The Theatre Alliance was incorporated in 1987 and by 2000 had grown to encompass theatre companies from across Vancouver, leading to its name change.
One of the earliest endeavours of the GVPTA was a city-wide media campaign highlighting the arts. This successful campaign led to a series of promotional initiatives designed to benefit the theatre community as a whole, including the establishment of the theatre directory columns and ads in the two daily newspapers. Other initiatives included the Vancouver Theatre Guide (now an online searchable database of all theatre activity in Metro Vancouver), the Frequent Buyer Card, which provided an incentive for theatre patrons by offering a free theatre ticket for every five purchased at full price, and Casting the Net, which started out as a weekly email bulletin announcing opening and ongoing productions.
For the first decade or so of its existence, the GVPTA relied on volunteer labour to achieve its goals. Funding was sought for special initiatives, but the administration of the organization was volunteer-based and overhead costs were covered by membership dues. As the scope of the organization’s activities increased, a part-time administrator was hired to assist with operations.
As the organization entered its second decade, a new initiative was undertaken to produce an awards ceremony that would highlight and enhance the value of the local professional theatre scene. The Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, named for one of Vancouver’s theatre pioneers, were first presented in 1983 at the Arts Club Theatre, celebrating the season’s accomplishments with fourteen awards. A separate society was formed in 1997 to take over the producing of the awards, but the GVPTA remains involved through the administration of the Patron of the Arts Award and the Career Achievement Award.
Over the years, the GVPTA acted not only as an excellent advocacy service for the theatre and arts in general, but also provided a forum for the discussion of mutual concerns. The MAKING A SCENE conference was developed in 2000 to provide a structured opportunity for the community to gather to discuss global issues, as well as to explore topics specific to areas of theatrical production and administration.
In 2003, Susan Stevenson became the first Executive Director and began to expand the scope of the GVPTA’s operations. A workshop series was introduced in the 2004-2005, offering a diverse range of professional development opportunities for theatre professionals. The first World Theatre Day celebration was held in 2005 and grew into a month-long series of theatre events designed to raise public awareness of the artform.
Sue Porter became the GVPTA's first full-time year-round Executive Director in 2008, and established the GVPTA’s presence online with a new website, online Theatre Guide, and active presence in social media. During Sue's tenure, the GVPTA was also granted charitable status by the Canada Revenue Agency in 2009 (Charitable registration #13398 6455 RR0001).
The role of Executive Director of the GVPTA was held by Eleanor Stacey from 2011-2014; Dawn Brennan was Director from 2014-2016; and Kenji Maeda became Executive Director in early 2017.