Few communities can lay claim to having a theatre group that dates back more than 140 years. But then few places have a thriving theatre scene like Hamilton does. For sheer longevity, no other community in North America can compete with Hamilton when it comes to local theatre. It’s home to The Players’ Guild of Hamilton Inc. which was formed a whopping 141 years ago.
When the group started in 1875, their major aim was to raise money for charity. They had some ups and downs over the years, and then in 1929 they found their foothold and re-established themselves as a players’ guild. Finding space to rehearse was often a challenge and at one time in the late 1930’s they were using a room beside a bakery where, legend has it, both the props and actors were often covered in a fine coating of flour.
Another turning point came when they moved into an old Victorian house offering cabaret style seating at 80 Queen Street South which is where they’re located today. Their secret for longevity, says business manager Carolyn Marshall, is rooted in their loyal volunteers and passion for live theatre. Many members have been with the guild for over 30 years, including Carolyn, who joined in the 1980’s. “I often think if I’m away from it long enough I’ll get cured but it hasn’t happened,” says Marshall, laughing. “Theatre is an addiction. It’s also the only thing I know of that all age groups can work on together. No matter what you’re interested in there’s a niche for you there in theatre, whether it’s sound, technical, lighting, costuming or acting. Even if you can just sew on a button.”
Marshall says the Guild looks for the type of productions that will have wide appeal, which is why they kicked off their 141st year with the following plays: “It’s Morning Now” (November -December) by local author Dermot Nolan, which looks at the life and death of Thomas D’Arcy McGee; “Steel Magnolias” (January – February); “Heroes” (April 2018) and “My Name is Alice” (June 2018).
Hamilton’s theatre scene also includes The Hamilton Theatre Inc., which may not be as old as the Players Guild but is just as lively. The Company formed in the spring of 1956 and came together after producing its first show called “South Pacific”. Over the next four years, they met in church basements and any other spot they could find to write and perform while they built sets in garages and old warehouses. Their staying power was a testimony to their passion for live theatre.
In 1960, The Hamilton Theatre Company incorporated and added an “Inc.” to their name. In the same year, with assistance from the City of Hamilton, they moved to the Old Firehall at the corner of Strathcona and Head Streets, which served as their home for the next 25 years. They relocated to their current location at 140 McNab Street North in 1987 and have been there ever since. The company has become known for its “Best of Broadway” plays and this year is offering up “Cry Baby, the Musical” (November 2017); “High School Musical” (February 2018); and “The Wedding Singer” (May 2018).
The group is particularly proud of the fact that, while musical theatre is a hobby for most, some of their members have gone on to star in movies, television and Broadway.
Hammer Entertainment is one of the youngest theatre groups in Hamilton, having formed in 2007, but they hit the ground running and now produce four musicals a year. Two years after forming, they moved to the Westside Concert Theatre on King Street West and four years later, in 2011, they began touring their productions to Niagara Falls.
This year’s line up of musical theatre productions by Hammer Entertainment include: “If/Then, the Musical” (October 2017); “The Last Ten Years” (February 2018); and “Little Mermaid the Musical” (October 2018). All shows are at the Citadel Theatre on Rebecca Street, except Ten Years, which will be at Laidlaw United Church.
Written by DENISE DAVY
Hamilton Theatre Inc.