Discovery Theatre

In June of 1968, four discussion leaders met with directors Charlotte Tansey and Eric O’Connor to explore the possibility of launching a discussion course initiative in Toronto. At the time, continuing education was attracting renewed interest across Canada, with a number of adult education opportunities emerging in universities throughout the country. In Toronto, Rochdale College, a student-run alternative education cooperative, had recently opened its doors, providing free university courses and communal living spaces in an 18-storey residence on the edges of the University of Toronto’s downtown campus. Emboldened by the openness and enthusiasm of the Toronto scene, TMI met with founding directors of Rochdale to look into the possibility of collaborating. During those first few months, Rochdale became the launching pad of the Toronto chapter, with TMI making use of the College’s resources nd facilities for discussion groups.

Soon enough, Rochdale’s permissiveness and experimentalism proved to be too radical for TMI’s burgeoning group, and an appropriate meeting space was resolved through the generosity of the chaplain of the University of Toronto’s Newman Centre, Peter E. Sheehan, who had displayed genuine enthusiasm and confidence in TMI’s project. Early discussion courses, dubbed “inquiries” by the members, were held in the chaplaincy’s White Room. And in 1969, trained directors Mel and Therese Mason would inaugurate the Discovery Theatre for Adult Inquiry in Toronto, named, according to Mason, in reference to the “drama in which we all participate in our coming to know in a time and space.” In its first year, approximately 36 people registered in the two courses offered, namely “Man’s Roles” and “Joy in the Millennium.”

Though under the auspices of TMI, Discovery Theatre was originally conceived of as a distinctly local initiative, with reading and discussion courses intentionally designed by and for Toronto members. Perhaps in an effort to develop their own identity in line with the TMI pattern of adult liberal education, Discovery Theatre obtained an independent charter with most of its early participants becoming founding members. These included: Joanne Aitken, Madeleine Byrnes, Raymond Byrnes, Yolande Byrnes, Dierderik D’Ailly, Barbara Daprato, Clarke Daprato, Peter Jones, Felix Karpfen, Ann Kostuik, Melbourne Mason, Therese Mason, Philip McKenna, Barbara Mulroney, Donald Mulroney, Eileen Murphy, Imre Nemeth, and Marion Webster.

With time, interest in Discovery Theatre grew to the point where discussion courses were offered outside Toronto in Chatham, North York, Etobicoke, Ottawa, and Mississauga, and attracted notable Canadian figures like Abraham Rotstein, Lionel Rubinoff, William Kurelek, and Philip McShane.

In 1989, Discovery Theatre celebrated its 20th anniversary before officially closing its doors in 2011.