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Newmarket Stage Company

Newmarket has a very intriguing theatre history, especially in the 1970s and early 1980s, when two community theatre groups existed in town – the Newmarket Theatre Centre and the Old Town Hall Players (formed 1981). In earlier installments, I gave the history up to 1981. When the Newmarket Theatre Centre decided not to return to the Old Town Hall once renovations were complete, it set the stage for another community theatre company in Newmarket. Read on ….

As mentioned, when NTC decided not to return to the Old Town Hall, this led to the creation of the famed Old Town Hall Players. The OTHP formed in 1981 while the Old Town Hall was being renovated with this Ontario Wintario grant. The OTHP was formed by then Mayor Ray Twinney, Lynda (Gray) Fraser and Sam Twinney. Vivian Luesby came on the scene several years later. By all accounts, there was some misunderstanding with the NTC over the new theatre at Fairy Lake and Mayor Twinney became the patron of the OTHP.

Due to constant changes in the opening date of the Old Town Hall, the first play by OTHP did not open until April 1982. Lynda (Gray) Fraser has a plaque from the Town that recognizes her as the Founding President of the Old Town Hall Players from 1981-1983. Gary Tyas of Toronto was brought in by Lynda as Artistic Director. Mayor Ray Twinney urged Lynda to put an advertisement in The Newmarket Era for members of this new group and 60 people showed up.

The first OTHP executive included Lynda as President; Kathy Wheatley as Vice-President; Carol Green as Treasurer; and, Roy Green handling publicity.

The first play by OTHP was Arsenic and Old Lace, starring John McFadyen (News Director at CFRB at the time) as the escaped criminal and Ray Austin (the morning DJ on CKAN Radio in Newmarket) as Dr. Einstein. The cast included Roy Green, who was news director at CKAN at the time, longtime thespian Kay Valentine as Aunt Abby Brewster, Noreen Aldridge as Elaine Harper, and Eleanor Whibley as Aunt Martha Brewster.

The OTHP rehearsed this play for approximately six months, waiting for the Old Town Hall to be finished renovations. Although renovations weren’t complete, the play did go on stage in March 1981, with the official opening of the renovated Old Town Hall held October 23, 1982.

The OTHP put on plays that always ran for two weeks, with opening night always free for seniors. Over the years, OTHP put on special performances for various charitable organizations. These plays were reviewed by the renowned Ruby Haskett, wife of the legendary long-time Sports Editor of The Newmarket Era, George Haskett.

The OTHP’s next play was the comedy Lovers and Other Strangers, which hit the stage in October, 1982. It was directed by John McFadyen and starred Diane Haskett as Brenda and Ray Austin as Jerry. In 1983, the NTC returned to the Old Town Hall under the direction of Ray Burdon as Artistic Director. Their premiere was Boeing Boeing, a comedy. Ray brought the idea of a British Pantomime to NTC and the tradition of performing a British pantomime each season was born and for the next few years, the Old Town Hall stage was full of laughter as the late British actor Alan Cox performed as the Dame.

In 1984, NTC and OTHP were both performing at the Old Town Hall and both theatre groups alternated dates throughout the year. Each performed three plays per season. For example, during this time, the NTC did Doctor In The House, with John Dowson as the surgeon Sir Lancelot Spratt, his younger brother Charles in the lead in his first role as Simon Sparrow and also the late Peter Stanton in the role of Richard Grimsdyke also in his first role. It was directed by the talented Gillian Rourke.

During this time, OTHP had some memorable performances, such as The Night of January 16th, written by Ann Rand, and starring the late John McFadyen, Noreen Aldridge, Faye Longhurst, the late Chuck Cino and Gillian Rourke, among others in February and March of 1983. This play was notable as it picked the jury from the audience and the ending changed depending on the verdict. Also notable is Noreen Aldridge replaced Lynette Braks in the lead role. It had a cast of 20 people.

The OTHP 1983-1984 season included Design for Murder; Curious Savage; and Tribute. Design for Murder opened November 10, with Kay Valentine as Director. Curious Savage opened February 23, 1983 and starred Ray Austin as Hannibal, Kay Valentine as Mrs. Savage and Diane Haskett as Lilly Belle. That year ended with Tribute starring Lynda (Gray) Fraser and Chuck Cino.

Official Formation of the Newmarket Stage Company

Realizing that one group of 100 would have better negotiation opportunities than two groups of 50, NTC and OTHP began the amalgamation process in 1993. It was completed in 1995 with the Newmarket Stage Company being formed.

Stay tuned to find out when the Very Useful Theatre Company was born and why and also the early evolution of the Newmarket Stage Company, which is still quite active today!!!!