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This September, Daryl Cloran brings energy – and now years of experience – to Edmonton, where he begins his new job as artistic director at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre.HUGO YUEN

The options for theatre-lover Daryl Cloran to hone his dramatic chops at his Sarnia, Ont., high school were limited to non-existent. So Mr. Cloran, then about 15, started a company, Theatrefront, with friends.

They rented the auditorium above the public library and presented ensemble works that transcended typical high-school theatre fare – for instance David Mamet's Bobby Gould in Hell and Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit as a double-bill. ("An evening of shows about hell!," Mr. Cloran now jokes.)

Mr. Cloran took Theatrefront with him to Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., then to Toronto, where he incorporated the company. Theatrefront went on to create international co-productions with theatre artists in Sarajevo and Capetown.

Mr. Cloran's youthful passion produced results – and global impact. This September he brings that energy – and now years of experience – to Edmonton, where he begins his new job as artistic director at Edmonton's Citadel Theatre.

It's part of a major shift in Alberta's theatre landscape, with the departure of two long-time, legendary artistic directors at the province's two largest theatre companies: Bob Baker at the Citadel and Dennis Garnhum at Theatre Calgary. Mr. Baker leaves the AD job at the Citadel after 17 seasons and Mr. Garnhum leaves Calgary after 11.

The departures come as Alberta's oil-reliant economy is suffering – and all that that implies for arts organizations: corporate funding, individual donations and subscription and ticket sales. The loss of the two veterans at a time of financial unrest may add to a feeling of instability, but what's waiting in the wings could instead be exciting.

The Citadel, founded in 1965, marked its 50th-anniversary season in 2015-16 – a good moment for Mr. Baker to make his exit (although he remains artistic director emeritus and will continue teaching and doing some directing).

Mr. Baker joined the Citadel in 1999 – a dream assignment for the Edmonton native and University of Alberta graduate. He had directed at numerous companies and worked as artistic director of Edmonton's Phoenix Theatre and then Canadian Stage in Toronto.

The Citadel job came with challenges. The company was in stable financial condition, but "the audience had dwindled and the excitement level around the Citadel had kind of flat-lined," Mr. Baker, 64, says. "So the biggest challenge was to grow the audiences, to set the bar really high quality-wise and to provoke and entertain – the things theatre is supposed to do."

Mission accomplished. Mr. Baker's tenure as artistic director is the longest in the company's history. Highlights include the establishment of the Academy at the Citadel; and productions such as the Citadel's own adaptation of A Christmas Carol – now an Edmonton holiday mainstay.

Mr. Baker was not part of the search committee for his replacement, but he suggested Mr. Cloran, artistic director at Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops.

Mr. Cloran arrived at WCT at a terrible time. David Ross, who had been running the company for some 25 years, died in 2009 of cancer. His replacement, Jeremy Tow, was diagnosed with cancer weeks into his tenure and died in 2010.

In Mr. Cloran's first three seasons, subscriber numbers went up by more than 20 per cent each year. His production of Mary Poppins became the best-selling show in WCT's history. He focused on new play development, increased co-productions and built up the theatre school. He's particularly proud of WCT's First Nations work, including Corey Payette's residential-school musical Children of God, which premieres in Vancouver next year and then goes to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Next year, WCT will stage the world premiere of Mr. Cloran's adaptation of Gail Anderson-Dargatz's novel The Cure for Death by Lightning. He will return to direct.

"It's been my baby," says Mr. Cloran from the office he's packing up in Kamloops. "It'll be my last show."

Taking over from Bob Baker is meaningful for Mr. Cloran, who cites as a pivotal experience a university trip to Toronto to see the Canadian Stage production of Angels in America, Parts I and II, directed by Mr. Baker.

"My mind was blown," says Mr. Cloran. "If you could go back in time and tell the little 20-year-old me that I was going to be able to inherit the theatre from this fantastic artist … it's pretty mind-boggling."

Mr. Cloran arrives in Alberta just as one of his mentors, Dennis Garnhum, is leaving the province. Mr. Garnhum is departing Theatre Calgary for the Grand Theatre in London, Ont. – his hometown and the place he first fell in love with theatre. (He was also married in that theatre, but has never directed a show there.)

Mr. Cloran assisted Mr. Garnhum at the Stratford Festival and at the Tarragon in Toronto; Mr. Garnhum served as a reference for Mr. Cloran's WCT and Citadel jobs. People joke that Mr. Cloran is a younger version of Mr. Garnhum – both have an infectious passion and articulate their visions with eloquence and exuberance. They've even been confused for one another. When Mr. Garnhum's new job at the Grand was announced, Mr. Cloran received more than one congratulatory note about his new gig in London.

Mr. Garnhum arrived at Theatre Calgary in 2005 from New York, where he was a freelance director.

"I came to Calgary with a full and utter belief that people are smart and curious and willing to go with anything if it's done well. We've made great strides at Theatre Calgary and I attribute it mostly to Albertans being very smart people. When you look at the Citadel and Theatre Calgary, they are two huge institutions with a huge audience base," says Mr. Garnhum, 48. "That speaks both to the work but also to the curiosity of Albertans."

Under Mr. Garnhum, Theatre Calgary has experienced healthy subscriber growth and a substantial increase in single-ticket revenue. He had the idea for and launched a new play development program; he partnered with Mount Royal University on its Shakespeare in the Park program, then took it over when their drama program was dissolved; it's now Shakespeare by the Bow.

He has presented seven world premieres – on the mainstage. They include his own adaptation of Timothy Findley's The Wars and perhaps his crowning achievement, last season's musical stage adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince – reworked from its inaugural staging in Belfast in 2011.

"A bunch of people came up to me during Little Prince and said, 'How are you ever going to top this?' And I thought maybe I need to leave now," says Mr. Garnhum, who was in early talks with the Grand at the time. "It was always a goal of mine to leave high."

Mr. Garnhum says he has not recommended anyone for the job, but hopes his successor is "someone with excessive creativity who will take them to new adventurous worlds. And the company is so solid that they can do that without concern," he adds.

"You can't come into Theatre Calgary with a plan to fix it; there's nothing to fix."

Mr. Garnhum has programmed the 2016-17 season and much of the following 50th-anniversary season. Shari Wattling, associate artistic director, has been named interim artistic director. She's unsure whether she will apply for the permanent position.

An Alberta native, she will stay the course, governed by a five-year plan. She'll focus on outreach and community engagement, partnerships and collaborations, training for young artists and meaningful ways to seek and reflect diversity.

The company is in solid financial shape, but subscription sales are tracking about 3 to 5 per cent behind where they were last year, so economic stability will also be a priority.

"We're not blind to the fact that this province is in a recession," says Ms. Wattling, who believes Theatre Calgary will likely face economy-related challenges to its audience base. "My job is to make sure the dollars they spend at Theatre Calgary feel valuable. That the moment they walk in until they leave is worth every penny."

At the Citadel, Mr. Cloran will continue focusing on new play development; First Nations content for the mainstage is an immediate priority.

"Ultimately we need to be telling stories from all kinds of different cultures on the stage. I want to be thinking about the Edmonton community … but I also want to be thinking nationally and internationally," he adds. "We should be partnering with companies across Canada, North America and around the world."