Bretta Gerecke

Top 40 Under 40 2009

Photography 3TEN

Age: 39

Job Title: Resident designer, Catalyst Theatre

Why She’s a Top 40: For earning national recognition for her award-winning theatre designs

Bretta Gerecke’s job, as her friend once described it, is “giant crafts.” The award-winning stage designer laughs at, but doesn’t refute, that simplified definition of her profession.

“In a world of visuals, everyone around us is telling a story. Everything is inspiring,” she says. Although Gerecke has worked with the Citadel Theatre, Edmonton Opera, The Canadian Stage Company and Calgary Opera, she is best known as the resident designer at the Catalyst Theatre. It’s there that she works with a team of three other designers to create mood-perfect sets that take audiences to new worlds, and keep actors comfortable in their own. “[The designers and I] laugh a lot, and I think that’s also a good indicator of how the work is going,” she explains, as she sits in a busy coffee shop.

Just as Gerecke, a 13-year veteran in her field, attempts to humble herself by acknowledging her team of “genius” artists, a friend walks by her table and proclaims, “Bretta is brilliant.” It’s a truth already known by her team and the national theatre community: She has been honoured with 15 Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards, bestowed on local theatre professionals, and in 1998 was named as Enbridge Emerging Artist, a provincial award. The biggest honour came in 2006, when Gerecke was short-listed for the Siminovitch Prize. “I was unbelievably shocked and thrilled,” she recalls. The national award is a mid-career prize given every three years for one individual’s artistic growth. While she didn’t win the $100,000 prize, she says: “Let’s be honest, what I do is not about making money. It’s more about the passion, excitement and challenge.”

Although her heart is in the right place, it’s hard to ignore what that much money could buy, especially when the chance to have it comes around a second time. Just last month it was announced that Gereke was shortlisted for the Siminovitch Prize again, and if you’re reading this after November 1, she may have won already.

It’s a pretty decorated career for any theatre professional, but especially for one who had planned on becoming an architect. Instead of designing buildings after moving to Edmonton from Winnipeg 15 years ago, she discovered her creative energy excelled in Edmonton’s theatre community, a place, she says, where there are no creative boundaries. “There’s a very vibrant theatre community [here], and a very challenging theatre community,” she explains. “There’s also a lot of opportunity here to grow and improve yourself.”

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