Ellen Chorley

Top 40 Under 40 2013

Photography Curtis Comeau

Age: 29

Job Title: Artistic Director and Founder of Promise Productions, Artistic Associate at Northern Light Theatre

Why She’s Top 40: She’s using theatre to teach children important life lessons – and earning awards along the way.

What Do You Like Most About Edmonton?: “The people are just so great and I feel like it’s such an open atmosphere to meet people. People are so willing to start a conversation with you. It’s such a vibrant and exciting city to live in. It really has a very small-town feel in a big city.”

Ellen Chorley was only 20 years old the first time she wrote a children’s play, at the suggestion of a friend. “I loved every second of it. I sat down to write it and didn’t stand up until it was done,” says Chorley.

In fact, she loved it so much that, two years later, she founded her own children’s theatre company, Promise Productions. She followed that up by starting the Snowglobe Festival of Children’s Theatre. She keeps her company running smoothly, all while writing, producing and directing anywhere from one to five Fringe shows a year (including the 2013 children’s play, Princess Confidential), and writing and performing in the burlesque theatre company she created. Plus, she works as an artistic associate for Northern Light Theatre and the high school curator for the NextFest Emerging Arts Festival.

So what attracts this single 29-year-old woman with no kids to children’s theatre? “I think that children’s theatre is a really great way to start a conversation with kids about lots of stuff. I think it’s a really great way to present learning opportunities through stories,” says Chorley. “It allows kids to make a connection with a character and learn about certain topics or discover things they haven’t really thought about yet.” She even tackled the topic of death in her play, Murielle, for which she won two Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards: Outstanding Independent Production and Outstanding Production for Young Audiences.

A playwright since high school, Chorley has done her fair share of interesting theatre research for her craft. She took pole-dancing lessons, which led to the formation of the Send in the Girls Burlesque theatre company. And one of her most memorable jobs for Northern Light Theatre included spending months tracking down old pornography magazines and ripping out full page spreads to decorate the set of Stephen Massicotte‘s play, Pervert. “We’re living in a time when there isn’t a lot of paper porn anymore; it’s all on the Internet,” says Chorley. “I ended up having to do newsletter posts asking people to give us the porn in their closest.”

So how does she go from writing about princesses to collecting porn or dancing in a burlesque show? “It seems like they are miles apart and, of course, the audiences are very, very, very different,” Chorley says. “But the way I see it is I am mostly concerned with telling a story. Often the stories I tell are about love, loss, regret and secrets, and these themes come up in both writing for kids and adults.”

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