The Players Guild of Dearborn was organized in 1927 after a University of Michigan alumnae group and the Men’s Club of Christ Episcopal Church had cooperated in the production of a play to raise funds for the construction of the Women’s League building on the Ann Arbor campus. Members of both organizations formed the nucleus of the Guild.
The first play, The Prince Who Wore a Red Feather in His Cap, was presented December 30, 1927 at the old Dearborn High School. The cast included Gordon Eldredge, Fred Black, Mrs. Herman Kalmbach and Mr. and Mrs. Harry Snow.
Eldredge became the first President of the Guild, Clara Snow the first Vice President, and Russell Mills the first Secretary-Treasurer. Membership totaled 120 by the end of the first year. Among the early members were Richard DeCoursey, Ivadel Moore and Mr. and Mrs. Lans McCloud. Henry and Clara Ford often attended the plays.
Beginning in 1927, the Guild staged its plays in the new Dearborn Masonic Temple. Auditorium, clubroom, kitchen, set construction and storage facilities were enjoyed. It is reported fellowship reached its peak during the Depression years at the Temple. At that time, audience members had to be personally invited by a Guild member to attend a show. And new members were taken only when recommended by an established member and approved by the Guild. Membership was limited to 300, creating a three to eight year-long waiting list of prospective members. This membership practice was in effect until the 1970s when it was finally decided to open membership to everyone.
The Guild was forced to move to the auditorium at Eloise Hospital at Michigan Avenue and Merriman Road in 1940. It is said morale was at a low ebb during the 1940s because the Eloise auditorium was unavailable except on production nights. Meetings and rehearsals were held in homes, and sets were constructed and painted in garages and vacant buildings, then transported to the auditorium for performances.
The site of the Guild’s theater was acquired in 1947, and a workshop was built on it that same year. The theater was constructed in 1949. Dr. Floyd Arnold, then President, conducted a bond sale to raise the necessary money for the construction of the theater. More bonds were sold for the addition of the clubroom in 1953. All of the bonds were retired with interest by June 1963, years ahead of schedule. With the removal of obligations to the bondholders, new bylaws were adopted in October 1963, and an elected Board of Governors was solely responsible for the affairs of the Guild.
Another bond sale was conducted in July 1969 for the purpose of renovating the theater, installing a new lighting system for the stage and providing an air circulating system. With the renovation of the theater, the 1969-70 season offered, for the first time, reserved seats and patron season tickets for our audiences. The new lighting deck provided the desired flexibility for lighting and sound effects that are so essential in play production.
In June of 1993, President Brad Pfeifer proposed a committee be formed to investigate building an addition onto the present building to allow for first floor restrooms with handicap access, increased costume/prop storage, and an office. The Renovation Steering Committee, with Brad as Chairman, began meeting on a regular basis and raising funds through member contributions, contributions from our loyal subscribers and local businesses, 50/50 raffles, sales of popcorn, and an auction in April 1996. The ground breaking ceremony was held on September 24, 1995 and the addition was completed and a ribbon cutting ceremony took place in May of 1996 on the opening night of the Guild’s production of Dames at Sea.
In 1999, President Dave Reynolds began a major building renovation project that was split into three phases. Reynolds selected Bob Walker and Richard Moore to chair the committee. Phase I successfully added a handicapped west entrance to the facility, as well as a relocation of the office space. This phase was completed in 2002 under the additional guidance of President Paul Vandevert. Phase II, which began in May 2005, consisted of a teardown of the original shop and an expansion to roughly five times the original shop floor space. This addition afforded the Guild with additional rehearsal room and storage space while constructing a new state of the art shop at stage level. The addition allows the Guild to produce more extravagant shows.
Recently, the Board gathered under the guidance of President Mike Moseley to determine the future needs of the organization. With many subjects presented, the organization selected to proceed with two projects. You are witnessing the first – that of a major revision of the Players Guild of Dearborn website. The new site provides user friendly access and allows for ease of ticket purchase, membership news, and easy updating of information. The second project returns to the age old theme of building renovation. Phase III, planned during the 1999 project, intends to offer a handicapped east entrance to the facility and a new box office. Noting comments from our patrons, we seek to replace the seating in the house to improve sight lines and provide comfort to those we cherish. Know that as we continue our sage of “This Old Theatre,” the building renovation will not end with the completion of Phase II, but will plan, conduct, and complete other renovations on a continuum.
After almost 85 years in Dearborn, the Guild has become a fixture in the community. Many of the patrons have been coming to productions for decades. We have 52 Honorary Members who have been with us for at least 25 consecutive years. A few of these folks have been active in the Guild for more than forty years. Some of them remember when actors such as George Peppard (Breakfast at Tiffany’s and TV’s Banacek and The A-Team), Chad Everett (TV’s Medical Center), and Tom Skerritt (Top Gun, Steel Magnolias, and TV’s Picket Fences) made very early debuts at the Guild. Longevity of its members is what gives the Guild its rich history. And their collective experience makes it possible to create quality performances year after year.