Although there had been various groups performing amateur theatre in Tillsonburg from time to time in the past, Theatre Tillsonburg was not formally established until 1981. Our first production, Come Blow Your Horn, was performed in the fall, of the same year. Since that time, it has quickly grown around a solid core of persons determined to make live theatre a strong force in the cultural life of Tillsonburg.
The groups worked (like most amateur groups) under terrible conditions, performing in between basketball matches in the local high school gym. In the early 1970’s performances were moved to the newly built community centre which offered improved seating. However, while the ambience was somewhat improved, the technical conditions made every production very difficult. The Centre was built without the input of the theatre group, so that the performing area left a great deal to be desired. The architects, in an effort to make the hall multipurpose, failed to make it very good for any purpose. It was not unusual to have to remove the furniture and props from the stage every night, so that the area could be used the next day by some else.
The group took a major step forward in organization and in permanency, when it was incorporated as a non-profit corporation on November 12, 1986. This was followed by the successful application for charitable tax status in 1987, enabling us to give tax deductible receipts for donations.
Theatre Tillsonburg has always striven to grow and develop the quality of its productions, both from an artistic and a technical standpoint. With respect to training, we have taken full advantage of the week long Theatre Ontario summer courses. We have hired a professional director to direct one of our productions as an object lesson in the art of directing to the other participants, and we have had seminars on lighting and sound, make-up and costumes.
Although we are a relatively young group, our lighting and sound systems are the envy of many older established community theatre groups. To us, these systems epitomize our quest for excellence in theatre, and demonstrate what can be accomplished with motivation and some hard work. But the turning point came in 1987, when audiences complained that they couldn’t see the children very well in the production of “Annie”. Members of the theatre group, realizing that audiences were dwindling because they were becoming less tolerant of the poor sight lines, determined that they needed a building of their own.
Fortunately, at that time, a building became available at reasonable price. The group, led by Tom Heeney and Denis Noonan, met with representatives of the Rotary Club and the Hungarian Association, and the Hungarian Hall became the new home of Theatre Tillsonburg. After a “name-the building’ contest open to the public, the building became known as the Otter Valley Playhouse , situated on a lovely country site on Potters Road. Money was raised through private and corporation donations, along with provincial grants. The building was substantially refurbished with volunteer labour, and officially opened in November 1990, with a lavish production of “Man of La Mancha”.
Since then, work has continued in our efforts to make our building become more like a theatre. Work has continued in the “Green” room, with the placing of mirrors for rehearsal, make-up tables, a costume area and a props room. In the fall of 1998, we were able to pave the parking lot and create a more pleasing way of entry into the building for patrons and theatre members. In the spring of 1999, we refurbished the cast and crew bathrooms and added some working lights to the stage. We also upgraded our sound system with a new sound board.
Since 1989 Theatre Tillsonburg has consistently provided four shows a season; three are our regular season and the fourth, our Teen Theatre which allows teenagers to learn by doing. We also provide a very popular Summer Camp for pre-teens. We like to train our members from an early age!
Our patrons love farce, musicals, comedy and murder mysteries and we are happy to provide high quality amateur theatre both on and back stage. The Otter Valley Playhouse, is also rented out to professional musicians, performers and productions, which like to perform in a smaller more intimate venue, in our 150 seat auditorium. Our goal is to continue improving our group and the playhouse, and continue to contribute to the cultural life and enrichment of our community. All are welcome on both sides of our curtain. Come, play with us!