The Grey Wellington Theatre Guild was founded on August 4, 1974. Its first production was “An Evening with Mark Twain,” a one-man show featuring the guild’s founding member, Patrick Smith. In its infancy the guild was based out of Mount Forest, with rehearsals being held at member’s houses, the local high school and above a grocery store. Shows were performed at the Mount Forest High School until 1979, when the guild began renting the Harriston Town Hall Theatre. Their gala opening on November 3rd featured a special guest star: Canadian actress and comedian Dinah Christie. Already anxious to make the most of their new home, the guild put on three full scale productions the next year. The building itself had been used for school plays, movies, and a judicial court since its origins as Harriston’s Town Hall, but it sat empty for several years before the Guild assumed control of it. Since then, various improvements have been made to the building, including new seats, wiring, lighting, sound equipment and aesthetic upgrades, as well as the addition of extra staircases, dressing rooms and an elevator. The Grey Wellington Theatre Guild has been a non-profit charitable organization since 1980.
Since its inception in 1974, the guild has produced a multitude of different plays and performances. While they have skillfully performed a great number of comedies and dramas, their enduring successes have always been musicals. Since their first musical in 1984, Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, the Grey Wellington Theatre Guild has put on such crowd favourites as Annie, Grease, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof and Leader of the Pack. Due to the immense difficulty and commitment that musicals require, the guild prefers to stage them every two years, leaving plenty of time to pursue other genres. Plays like The Odd Couple, Melville’s Boy, The Cemetery Club, On Golden Pond, Cake Walk, Amorous Ambassador and No Sex Please We Are British have proved to be an exciting challenge for actors and a rewarding experience for audiences. Scripts are chosen based on the recommendation of a reading committee, as well as audience appeal, availability of rights, and the difficulty of casting and staging the play.
Typically, the guild has three or four productions every year: one in the spring and fall, a youth production during the summer, and the occasional Christmas show. The theatre is also host to a number of Minto Dance Academy events and other concerts throughout the year. The guild is a member of Theatre Ontario and has ties to a number of other amateur theatre groups – including Norwell District Secondary School’s drama program – supplying them with costumes and sets, as well as working to promote their plays and events.
The Grey Wellington Theatre Guild is an entirely volunteer-run organization. Actors, stage crew, ushers, ticket sellers, costumers, and other volunteers devote their time and energy to staging the guild’s frequent productions. The board of directors, which is also run by volunteers, is in charge of choosing scripts and directors, theatre maintenance, wardrobe, publicity and sponsorship, as well as organizing rehearsals and other events. The guild aims to be financially self-sufficient, making back expenses on current productions and financing future ones, though they sometimes apply for government grants and subsidies to fund larger restoration projects or equipment upgrades. The majority of their revenue is made through ticket sales.
In an effort to provide children and youths with new experiences in theatre, the guild stages frequent youth productions. These productions offer local youth the opportunity to build confidence, learn teamwork and most of all have fun. In order to include as many children as possible, these plays often have large casts with many small roles and a lighthearted or comical tone. Quickly becoming a summer tradition, the guild’s youth productions are extremely popular with both children and theater-goers. The largest challenge is in finding suitable scripts to produce, a struggle that has been overcome lately through the dedication and ingenuity of young guild member Megan Raftis. Tired of reading dozens of inadequate play scripts every year, Megan was challenged to write her own instead. The result, Amy May Runs Away, was staged in August 2011 and provided a unique theatrical experience for over twenty young actors. Megan continues to write and direct plays for youth, supported by her fellow guild members, children eager to participate, and parents excited to see their children experience new opportunities.
The Grey Wellington Theatre Guild works hard to produce professional stage productions for everyone. They believe that local theatre helps to connect and enrich our community as well as provide untold opportunities for community members to volunteer and contribute to Minto’s cultural history. For them, theatre is way to build friendships, challenge ourselves and most importantly, have fun.