Valdosta Daily Times

July 15, 2013

Theatre Guild Valdosta at 25

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Taking the stage of what was then Valdosta State College’s Sawyer Theatre, the players performed Agatha Christie’s murder-mystery “The Mousetrap,” but they didn’t know how any of this would end.

Of course, they knew the play’s plot reveals that the police detective did it, but the newly formed Theatre Guild Valdosta had no idea in 1989 where the new dramatic organization would take them, or how long it might last.

No need for a spoiler alert here. Theatre Guild Valdosta and the rest of the region knows how this story has developed during the past quarter century. This week, Theatre Guild Valdosta celebrates 25 seasons of presenting community theatre for Valdosta-Lowndes County and South Georgia.

A 25th anniversary celebration will be held Friday evening, July 19, in the guild’s downtown home of The Dosta Playhouse.

The 25th anniversary season starts Aug. 1 with “9 to 5: The Musical,” a Main Stage season which will later include “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Dixie Swim Club,” and Neil Simon’s “California Suite.” In addition to these Main Stage shows, Gingerbread Players, the guild’s children’s theatre organization, will present “The Fabulous Fable Factory” and “Charlotte’s Web” during the 2013-14 season. Theatre Guild will present at least one smaller Stage II show, “I’m Not Rappaport,” likely in 2014, says Guild President Brenda Brunston, but will also present a revival of “Driving Miss Daisy,” starring the original Guild cast of Joanne Griner, Dr. John Gaston and Robert Hatton, directed again by Mary Helen Watson, the weekend after “9 to 5,” in late August. Though the Guild presented several performances a few years ago, this revival will mark the first time that “Daisy” has been performed in The Dosta Playhouse.

Originally, Theatre Guild wasn’t certain where it would present any of its shows. It wasn’t exactly the Theatre Guild yet either, but a small group under the umbrella of Lowndes\Valdosta Arts Commission. For “The Mousetrap,” in 1989, Valdosta State Theatre granted the use of its home stage of Sawyer Theatre to the guild.

Using “The Mousetrap’s” profits as “seed money,” these early players officially became the LVAC Theatre Guild. That first season, 1989-90, Theatre Guild followed its first production of “The Mousetrap” with “They’re Playing Our Song,” “Bus Stop,” “You Can’t Take It With You,” and “Auntie Mame.”

In the early years of the 1990s, the Guild continued presenting shows in various locations. In 1992, the guild found its home in what would become The Dosta Playhouse. It was a risky move. In the early 1990s, little remained of Downtown Valdosta’s busy past. With business moving to the mall, or other areas, or closing, downtown had become mostly a collection of empty buildings. The guild was prepared to occupy a spot downtown.

“In 1992, these vagabond players bought the old, dilapidated Dosta Movie House,” according to a brief Theatre Guild history. “At the time, 122 N. Ashley was ‘one shell of a building,’ with no seats, no heat or a/c, and not much of a roof. What it did have in abundance was opportunity.”

Even the seating was questionable. In those early years, audiences sat on hard benches. It was so strange having something downtown that a Valdosta police officer regularly stopped cars on show nights so visitors wouldn’t get hit crossing Ashley Street. A firefighter often stood guard in the old Dosta to ensure audience safety. Audiences might sit shivering in the winter and sweating in the summer.

Theatre Guild kept working and producing shows. By 1995, the group officially changed its name to Theatre Guild Valdosta. The change marked three hard years of renovations and repairs to The Dosta Playhouse.

As Theatre Guild continued establishing itself, the organization separately purchased the neighboring buildings of 118 and 116 N. Ashley St. “It was a red-letter day when a door was cut between 118 and the theater so that actors no longer had to go through the alley to make a stage entrance.”

In Theatre Guild’s 25th anniversary history, a passage reads: “Many people have made it possible for TGV to reach its 25th Season: the local banker who made a no-interest loan for the purchase of the theater itself; the owner of the three buildings who allowed TGV use of his empty space; architects who donated time and expertise; city and county governments, organizations and individuals who made donations from $1 to $300,000; businesses that donated materials and loaned set furniture; and ultimately, loyal patrons who purchased tickets.”

In the story of Theatre Guild Valdosta’s success, it’s no mystery who did it: The community did it. As for the ending, well, for TGV at 25, there’s no end in sight.

TGV 25th Celebration

Theatre Guild Valdosta celebrates 25 years, 25 seasons, with a public event.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 19.

Where: The Dosta Playhouse, 122 N. Ashley St.

Admission: Free and open to the public.