Christine Brubaker (BA 1992) considers her acceptance into the National Theatre School of Canada after her undergraduate studies at the University of Waterloo and Conrad Grebel University College to be a pivotal moment. “It changed my path,” she shared. “It gave me the opportunity to do something I'd always loved but never been able to really conceive of doing.” At a crossroads while completing her Bachelor of Arts degree, Christine assessed the direction of education and noted, “administration was the thing I was supposed to be doing but drama was the love interest.” Leaning toward a less regimented path, Christine began a dynamic acting career that led to directing, and eventually a place within academics. She is currently Associate Professor at University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts. 

Christine directing a workshop

For Christine, the most rewarding part of theatre–making is the rehearsal, "when you're exploring and discovering with your cast.” She explained, “generosity is at the heart of it – everybody's making offers. You're navigating something together and there are these beautiful discoveries that make things you could never have imagined.” After a “very focused and intense period of study” at the competitive National Theatre School in Montreal, Christine established her career as a theatre artist, touring shows across the country. She eventually settled in Toronto, where she “started trying on the life of being a self-employed, independent artist – particularly, an actor,” which fulfilled her for many years.

Headshot of Christine Brubaker

Christine found directing to be a better fit during the stage of her life when she had young children at home. Acting contracts could be anywhere from six to twelve weeks, were sometimes out of town, and “it became harder to imagine leaving my family for that period of time.” Christine held her directorial position for over a decade before making a bold move from Toronto to Calgary, “strangely finding myself in an academic position at a university.” She remarked, “so at 50 years old, I became a professor – a stable career after decades of living from gig to gig.”

Reflecting on her time at Grebel, Christine noted, “I really valued this space that had community as a core force that kept pulling us all in together, because it made you feel like you belonged somewhere.” The value of care and the communal nature of the College stayed with her and have “informed how I approach my theatre practice and teaching,” she said. “I conceive every show I make as a small community.”  

Christine is the creator of many theatrical projects, including co-writing Henry G20, a modern take on Henry V, and has directed countless performances across Canada, including The Horse and His Boy, Smoke, Wilde Tales, and Elle. She has won two Dora Mavor Moore Awards for Performance, the 2014 Gina Wilkinson Prize for Direction, and the 2016 Ken MacDougall Prize for Emerging Director. Christine is currently working on a creative project that incorporates Augmented Reality into live performance. This model will significantly decrease the carbon footprint of typical theatre touring, because, as Christine explained, “there are a lot of elements in theatre that are environmentally questionable.” Through her work, Christine strives to answer the question of “how does theater become part of a regenerative process, where it brings and leaves something with each community that will help it thrive, without a massive carbon footprint?”  

Christine Brubaker and Erin Brubacher

7th Cousins: An Automythography was a particularly fulfilling project in which Christine was both a co-creator and a performer. The piece documented Christine and a fellow artist, Erin Brubacher’s, 700km trek that followed the footsteps of their Mennonite ancestors. Christine had met Erin during one of the many stage readings she hosted in her house in Toronto. They bonded over their almost shared name, “having a glass of wine, laughing, when we started pretending that we were related.” The friendship quickly transformed into a joint artistic venture, as “identity and name sharing often tends to be a kind of autobiographer.” She continued, “what we were interested in, however, were the stories we had read about the Bruba(ch)kers who had traveled from Pennsylvania to Ontario by foot. We thought, let’s do that. Let’s walk it.” Over the span of a 32–day journey, Christine and Erin met a diverse group of individuals who welcomed them into their homes for a night. Their expedition ended at the Brubacher House Museum, owned by the UWaterloo and operated in partnership with Grebel and the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario. They continued to share the story of their expedition by translating it into a work of documentary theatre, in addition to co-authoring a book.

Reflecting on her academic journey, Christine advised current students to “learn how to read, write, think, and be someone apart from your family.” She expanded, “everything is an opportunity at university, not just the classes and the grades, but also just being with people, building relationships and trust, challenging the structures that are being taught, and taking risks.” Christine encouraged students living at Grebel to “take advantage of all of the community learning that can happen and what it means to build one.” She concluded, “in fact, we are stronger when we are together."

By Natasha Forth 

Christine Brubaker (BA 1992) holds many titles, including actor, dramaturge, director, and educator. Her driven theatrical career has taken her to many stages across Canada, focusing on adaption and community building through theatre. She is Associate Professor at the School of Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Calgary, leading the Master of Fine Arts directing program. She lives with her husband and two children in Calgary, Alberta. 

Christine's story is part of Grebel's 60 Stories for 60 Years project. Check out our 60 Stories page for more articles in this series. If you would like to nominate a Grebel alumnus to share about their experiences at Grebel, please submit a nomination form.