The History of the Belleville Theatre Guild
In 2015/2016 we celebrated our sixty-fifth anniversary. Long live the Belleville Theatre Guild!
In 1951, a group of friends gathered at the home of Gladys and Bert Simpson to read a play for pleasure. They enjoyed it so much they decided they would form a group and perform it.
They met again that fall at the Dickens Tea Room in downtown Belleville to plan a public meeting in the Corby Library to form the group. Also present at that meeting were Mrs. Doyle, our first president and Elaine Jardine, a trained theatre director.
The “Voice of the People,” a play by Robertson Davies, was one of the first one-act plays performed. It went on to win the Eastern Ontario Drama League Festival and was invited to the Dominion Drama Festival in St. John’s, New Brunswick, the next spring.
The fifties were very successful, but eventually, television stole the heart of our audience. We struggled to stay alive with little money and no money or home to operate from. We found places that ranged from the third storey of a downtown building, to a donated room at the back of a building on Campbell Street to a vacant storefront at the East end Plaza.
In 1969 we acquired the use of the D.L. Storey Building on Pinnacle Street, which was formerly the Salvation Army Citadel, now owned by the City of Belleville. We are responsible for all operating costs of the building, including utilities, heat, repairs and maintenance, plus any improvements we wish to make. We renamed it The Pinnacle Playhouse and it has been the source of our success ever since.
The Playhouse has undergone many transformations, including the initial refit to a 126-seat theatre with a revolving stage. In 1982 – 83 the Belleville Theatre Guild, with help from our subscribers, community groups and local and provincial Governments, renovated the Playhouse to increase seating to 154 and to provide much needed production space both onstage and backstage.
In 2002, the Belleville Theatre Guild initiated its “Help Give Us A Lift” campaign to raise funds for an elevator addition with additional wing space, a new box office and a barrier-free washroom. A generous grant was obtained through The Ontario Trillium Foundation. The Guild’s building fund, which we had been saving for years for that type of project, provided the bulk of the remaining cost. The balance was raised through generous donations from businesses and individuals in the community. The most significant of these sponsors have their names encased in the BTG Walk of Fame on the sidewalk in front of the building.
The Guild also has an Annex, a warehouse space that houses, set pieces, props, costumes, a board room, a workroom for our set builders and rehearsal space for upcoming productions.
The Belleville Theatre Guild is proud to have provided quality community theatre. We have presented to the community a wide variety of plays, musicals and theatre-related workshops. We have brought theatre training to almost three generations through our outreach programmes to young people and those young at heart, primarily through the efforts of volunteers and on occasion paid professionals. The Box Office Staff and musicians for our musicals are the only area where we provide compensation for services rendered.
From 1968 to 1972, we were fortunate to secure the services of three successive resident Artistic Directors, who provided their expertise. The programme was funded through an Ontario Provincial Arts Grant. Richard Howard, Roy Higgins and Ted Bairstow offered much guidance and training to our Theatre Guild members.
The Belleville Public Library recently opened right next door to our jewel of a theatre. We look forward to a long and happy partnership with this organization in the future.
The Belleville Theatre Guild is the envy of many community theatres throughout Ontario and beyond. Over the years, many dedicated Boards of Directors have administrated this cherished organization and this tradition continues to the present time.