A version of this article ran in the Kennebec Journal on June 30, 2012 as part of their series, ” HALLOWELL: The way it was”under the title “Augusta Players continue as Gaslight Theater”
BY RICHARD BOSTWICK
The Gaslight Theater is a continuation of the Augusta Players, a Little theater the group with a long and respectable history in the in the Augusta area. Community Theater, involving residents of the capitol area has been around since 1937. The Augusta Players was formed in Augusta, Maine the fall of 1937 as an outgrowth of a women’s theater class held at the YMCA. Maybelle Tarr, the founder, directed the first show, “Arms and the Man” by George Bernard Shaw in the spring of 1938 and began a theatrical tradition in the Maine Capitol region. Performances were held at Cony High School in Augusta, and the Senior High School in Waterville, ME and later on in the Capitol Theater in downtown Augusta.
The Augusta Players have had many long term connections to Hallowell. The group was more of a social club, and the doings of the group and members had many column inches in the Kennebec Journal. The meetings were social events, with speakers, readings, and discussions of things dramatic. The meetings were held in a club house, originally on Church Hill Road in Augusta and later in the Bodwell Carriage House on Middle Street. From this base, the group performed in Augusta at the Capitol Theater in Augusta, The Little Theater in The Gardiner Area High School, and At Reed Auditorium in Hallowell. At Reed, The Augusta Players Performed “The Music Man” , “ Mrs. McThing” and “Our Town” These were the groups 105th, 106th and 107th performances. The troupe remained at the Bodwell Club House there until May of 1977 when financial problems and a $3000 oil bill cause them to give the club house up and store properties in many other places. Shortly after that, after having no set home, took up. In 1979, The Augusta Players took up residence in the Hallowell City Hall auditorium and started producing plays as the Gaslight Theater or, more legally, The Augusta Players Inc. D/B/A The Gaslight Theater.
The group holds the distinction of having the longest continuously performing theater group in Maine. Since the first show in 1938, the group has held performances every year, although records for the 1959 and 1979 seasons are missing. The group is still researching those years. The group has also performed fundraising shows such as a Dinner Murder Mystery at The Cohen Center and a musical revue, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” at Slates Restaurant in Hallowell.
The productions have been held in the Hallowell City Hall Auditorium, with a few in the past at Reed Auditorium, Hall Dale High School Auditorium, the old Cony Auditorium, and Johnson Hall in Gardiner.. The group performs current dramas and old favorites. The group performed the Maine Premiere of McNally’s “Lips Together, Teeth Apart “ and A, R, Gurney’s “A Cheever Evening”. The first performance after 9/ 11/01 was Wilder’s “Our Town”. Even though it had been planned a year earlier, this play, our 190th, was a fitting play to re-affirm the spirit of what being American is about. . Since it’s founding, the Augusta Players/Gaslight Theater have presented over 230 productions. In the spirit of “The Show Must Go On”, The group has cancelled very few performances. During World War II, founder Maybelle Tarr had to take over the male lead role when the actor enlisted in the military. The Gaslight Theater has cancelled some performances of “Vanities” in 1987 due to a flood. While the group has cancelled a few performances due to blizzards, they also have performed in a driving show storm to an audience of 4 patrons who arrived on skis.
Like the Augusta Players before them, The Gaslight Theater has been active in statewide community theater groups beginning with the Organization of Performing Arts in Maine (OPAM) and currently as a founding member of the Maine Association of Community Theaters (MEACT), where they have performed in all but one of the 15 One Act Festivals.
The focus of the group has changed over the years from a social club with a short run of 3 shows a year to a season of 4 to 5 shows with 6 to 8 performances each. The goal is to have a balanced season with a comedy, musical, a drama and a mystery or classic. Since 2001 the group have looked back at classics done by the Augusta Players, we did “Don’t Drink the Water” , “Bell Book and Candle”, “ My Three Angel s” , “Born Yesterday” and “The Mousetrap “ for a second time and “Arsenic and Old Lace” for a third.