On October 17, 1974 The Village Players opened their doors for the first time. The Wedgewood Restaurant, on the north side of Bloor west of Jane, was the stage for our very first production, The Rainmaker, by Richard Nash. It was performed in the seventy-seat Banquet Room. A show program a few years later said this about one of the actors in that first show: “Jack Zimmerman is a professional actor who came to the Village Players for the production of The Rainmaker. Through a chain of events the father’s role was left unfilled a very short time before opening. Jack heard of our problem and came to help us out.”
Founding members of the Village Players Theatre Company:
General Manager: James “Sonny” Allinson
Promotion: George A. Rowland
Artistic Co-Ordinator: Barbara Kelly
Secretary-Treasurer: Patricia Allinson
Box Office: Agnes Bain.
The theatre was a success – so much so that they needed to find a new home to keep up with the demand for tickets. In 1977 The Village Players moved east along Bloor Street to 2190 Bloor West, just east of Runnymede, in High Park Place. What started out as an empty basement space with one light bulb, was soon transformed into a functional and accommodating theatre with the help of private donations, a bank loan, and Wintario.
The new premises opened on November 3, 1977 with Plaza Suite, by Neil Simon. [click here for the program cover and list of cast and crew] and followed with The Miracle Worker, Peter Schaeffer’s Black Comedy and Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. That season helped pay off the debt.
In 1980, we expanded again, this time due east, into the space now occupied by the Studio, costume and props rooms. We ended up with a 160-seat mainstage area, workshop, two dressing rooms, lobby / box office, and washrooms. Audiences continued to grow, as these two program notes indicate:
We apologize for any inconvenience caused, but due to the immense popularity of Sweeny Todd, for the first time in the history of the Village Players, the run has been held over and will now close on February 14. Therefore, Blithe Spirit will now open March 6th, one week later than scheduled.
~ program insert, February, 1981.
This year we decided to try something new – a one-time only, Sunday family matinee on December 1st. Well, word got out and the matinee sold out before the box office opened! S000… we scheduled another “one-time only”, (we use that term loosely now) matinee for December 8th, at 2:00 p.m. A new Christmas tradition perhaps? Time will tell.
~ from The Village Newsletter, November 22, 1991
Then (as now), the Studio space was used for rehearsing plays for the mainstage, but plans had always been to use it to bring audiences something different. On December 4, 1992, the Village Playhouse Backspace saw its first of many productions: The Wizard of Oz [click here for the program cover and some names you might recognize] The Village Players continued to stage plays in the studio Backspace (and rent space for outside productions) for several years. Plays included The Griffin and the Minor Canon, No Exit, Love Letters, Beauty and the Beast, and Salt-Water Moon.
From 2000 to 2007 saw Two Plays and a Slice of Pie – an end of season presentation of two one-act plays and refreshments. As well as being an audience-pleaser and fund-raiser, these evenings provided opportunities for actors, directors and producers busy at their day jobs. Plays were a combination of classics and new works by local playwrights.
The Playhouse has been the home of long-term rentals (Solar Stage children’s theatre being one example) and also of co-productions. Village Players teamed with Scylla & Charybdis Company in 1997 and 1998, and with Cabbagetown Players for children’s shows and the adult Valentine show No Sweetheart Required between 2002 and 2005.
The visionaries who founded Village Players and their successors have proved you don’t need to go downtown to enjoy great theatre. For over forty years Village Players have offered a wide range of entertaining works by international and Canadian playwrights – classics to tense thrillers to meaningful dramas to side-splitting comedies.
If you’d like more visual Village Players history, check out our Play Archive, our lobby walls and slideshow. Even our washrooms have a historical theme – the walls are covered with show posters.
For our 43rd season in 2016-17, we were proud to bring you an ALL-CANADIAN SEASON for Canada’s 150th birthday. The tradition of quality continued with our 44th season in 2017-18, our 45th in 2018-19, our 46th in 2019-20, and then Covid-19 put us in a holding pattern. But we will persevere.
The only way is up. We, the Village Players, evolved from meagre beginnings to the plateau you see today – the opening of a permanent theatre here in West Toronto. But, it is only a plateau, for our horizons lay much farther, our standards set much higher . . . Only you, our present and potential audience can make it happen-by sharing your knowledge, your talents and enthusiasm. We appeal for your involvement; no contribution is too small. Together, we can make it happen.
~ Cyndi Gordine, 1977