In 1949, University of Alberta drama professor Robert Orchard, with the help of Elizabeth Sterling Haynes and other University staff and students, created a 149-seat theatre in two deserted World War II quonset huts. The quonset huts, placed side by side, contained between them a stage, auditorium, workshop, drama offices, and foyer. Studio Theatre was established as a "laboratory" for students taking courses in the Drama Division. It provided a first-hand opportunity for students, teachers, and drama technicians to practice their craft and hone their skills. The following excerpt, printed in a 1961–1962 Studio Theatre production program, echoes this sentiment:
"Studio Theatre is the producing organization of the Drama Division, University of Alberta. The aim of the division in all its work is to teach living theatre, and to present a rich stage experience through the medium of important historical and contemporary plays."
Early participants in Studio Theatre included Robert Orchard, Gordon Peacock, Bert Pullinger, Frank Glenfield, Elizabeth Sterling Haynes, Don Pimm, and Tom Peacocke. Studio Theatre was operated by the staff of the Drama Division of the Department of Fine Arts, and the Division offered a Bachelor of Arts in Drama. As well, students in the Faculty of Education could elect drama as their major field of study, and a six-week summer session in drama was established. The first play produced on the quonset stage was Henry IV, and starred Robert Orchard and Gordon Peacock. Studio Theatre operated out of the quonset theatre quarters for eight seasons, producing over 40 full-act plays, numerous one-act plays, and offering two world premieres and six Canadian premieres. Studio Theatre actors won a regional drama festival in 1953 with their production of Othello. However, increased enrollment at the University of Alberta meant that the land occupied by the quonset huts was needed for an expanding University building program, and the huts were torn down in May of 1958. Without another building to go to, the Drama Department announced that the ninth season for Studio Theatre would be cancelled.
In fact, a ninth season of production did occur because of an offer of space made by the Faculty of Education. Studio Theatre was provided with the use of a remodelled auditorium and with classroom space in the Education Building (E.A. Corbett Hall) until permanent theatre space was built. Although the University drama community in 1959 was very optimistic that permanent theatre space would soon be a reality, Studio Theatre ended up operating out of Corbett Hall for 30 more years. Productions were viewed as very much 'community' events. Drama students, staff, alumni, and guest performers and directors from the local community and beyond were all featured on the Studio Theatre stage. Studio Theatre performed out of Corbett Hall through June of 1989, winding up its fortieth season anniversary with Michael Frayn's Benefactor just prior to the closing of Corbett Hall for renovations on June 17, 1989. The announcement was made that Studio Theatre's new home for the following two years would be the Myer Horowitz stage. Again, forecasts of length of time at the site were underestimated, and it was not until 1995 that Studio Theatre moved to its new home in the newly opened Timms Centre.
Studio Theatre continues to provide Edmonton audiences with a varied and unique theatre experience. It also continues to serve as a showcase for students graduating from the professional training programs in acting, directing, design, construction, and costuming. Many of the people who gained experience on the Studio Theatre stage have gone on to establish careers in the theatre world. As Edmonton Journal drama columnist Liz Nicholls wrote in a tribute article about Studio Theatre:
As the second half-century begins, no theatre in this theatre town can claim to have lived outside the web of Studio connections. The spirit of adventure that's been engrained in every Studio season, right from the start, is contagious.
Edmonton Journal, Thursday, October 1, 1998