Charitable Choices: Val Lieske of Fire Exit Theatre

Fire Exit Theatre boldly marries faith with artistic expression, embodying a mission of hope, challenge, and change. This dynamic company serves as a crucible for both seasoned and emerging artists, cultivating a community that resonates with vibrant creativity. The stage becomes a sacred space where faith converges with the artistic, fostering an environment that sparks meaningful conversations and provokes transformative thought. We had the opportunity to speak to Val Lieske, founder of Fire Exit Theatre, to learn a bit more about their mission.

Fire Exit Theatre

Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.

Fire Exit Theatre exists to artistically explore the world through the lens of faith. Our mandate is hope-challenge-change. We produce vibrant, meaningful community and a satisfying creative experience for developed and developing artists.

What problem does it aim to solve?

Bad stories. Stories that tell us that life doesn’t mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose. That if it feels good, it must be okay. That it’s everyone for themselves. That art is simple entertainment to be consumed and forgotten. These are not our stories.

When did you start/join it?

23 years ago I met with a small group of people and started dreaming this into existence. We are now in our 22nd season of Telling Stories That Matter.

What made you want to get involved?

Again, too many bad stories being told. As a person of faith, I also was reading scripts that had the word “God” in it and so the theatre companies weren’t going to touch it and also had the word “damn” in it, so I couldn’t produce it at my church. So these brilliant, beautiful stories would fall in the crack. I wanted to see them…so decided I needed to produce them.

We believe deeply that art should explore the dark to showcase the light. We don’t produce hopeless art. Not that it all has a “happy” ending, but we think putting more hopelessness out in the world only makes people more apathetic. I am also deeply in love with the arts community in Calgary. I want to hire them. I want to work and play with them. I want to highlight their voices and hear their stories. They are truly changing culture.

What was the situation like when you started?

A whole lot less expensive. Our current venue has more than tripled in cost. That with the cost of lumber, fabric, insurance, paint…makes it very difficult to even come close to breaking even with ticket sales. I also feel more people we just more engaged with the arts community. Since Covid, we haven’t been able to convince 100% of our audience to put their pants back on and come back!

How has it changed since?

Venue space is very limited and very expensive. Grants are harder to get. Audience wants to watch Netflix.

What more needs to be done?

Would love to see the government help subsidize venue spaces to bring down the cost for everyone. Calgary is doing a 100 million dollar renovation to our arts centre, but no local artist can afford to rent there.

How can our readers help?

Go back to live performance! Watch jazz music in clubs (and buy a t-shirt), visit art galleries, buy season tickets to the ballet, listen to live poetry, and take your kids to the theatre (they’ve seen enough Disney, I promise). I don’t think people fully understand that if our audiences don’t come back we are going to collectively lose our culture.

Do you have any events coming up?

We are about to announce the winners of our annual new play competition – Scripts on Fire. Plus we have two shows left in our season: “Cantata: Rumours of my Crazy, Useless Life” by U of C professor, Clem Martini. And “Outside Mullingar” by John Patrick Shanley.

Where can we follow you?

Website | Instagram | Facebook

PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

Corps Bara Dance Theatre


About Emilea Semancik 84 Articles
Emilea Semancik was born in North Vancouver. Emilea has always always wanted to work as a freelance writer and currently writes for the Vancouver Guardian. Taking influence from journalism culture surrounding the great and late Anthony Bourdain, she is a recipe author working towards publishing her own series of books. You can find her food blog on Instagram: