Theater for children has always been an important aspect of the Guild. In the very early years of the Guild, rehearsals took place in the homes of members and the kids were frequently seen peeking down the stairs and around corners to see what was going on. Many of those children became Guild members in their adult years.
In 1949 a small group of women realized the need for live theater for the school children of Dearborn. As a result, a Children’s Theater Committee was formed which included Shelby Tufts, Margaret Poosch, Jessie Shillinger, Ursula Jackson, Minota Flemming, Barbara Crowell, Elizabeth Bryan, and Perll Dayne. Their activities continued for nine years and grew from nine performances in the first year to 65 playing to 25,000 audience members in the last season. Performances were done all over Southeast Michigan and from as far away as Adrian. Tickets sold for 25 cents and much of the group’s proceeds was used to help pay off the bonds on the buildings.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a Junior Showcase program featured performances by Junior and College members of the Guild. This program gave the Guild’s young members an opportunity to actively participate in the allied arts of the theatre.
At the 1991 Dearborn Homecoming, the Guild brought back the orphan chorus of 1989’s Annie to perform. Watching them sing and dance, Lisa Andres, Kim Donovan, and Penny Link dubbed them the Guildlings because they were the “smaller side of the Guild.” Realizing that the Guild had a plethora of young, talented children in its ranks, Lisa Andres founded the Guildlings youth theater program, as we know it today. The first such production, Once Upon a Time, hit the stage in February 1992, and the rest, as they say, was history. This program concurrently served two important ends: (1) fundraising and (2) giving back to the community by fostering a love of theater in our children.
The program was very successful. Lisa Andres wrote the scripts, music, and scores for all Guildling productions between 1992 – 2005. A total of 15 productions (including a reprise of Sleeping Beauty in 1997, once in February and once in July) were produced on the Guild’s stage by the production team of Lisa Andres, Kim Donovan, and Corrine Fine. Don Andres, Lisa’s talented husband and stage construction crew chief, narrated almost all of these shows. Many Guild families were represented (both parents and children) in these productions, making indelible family memories, let alone Guild memories. These productions have produced over $60,000 of revenue during that 14-year inclusive time span, all of which was reinvested into the Guild’s facility.
One hilarious highlight was during 2000’s Little Red: a Rollicking Frolicking 50’s Phenom, Lisa’s fractured fairy tale version of Little Red Riding Hood. Before a Friday night performance, the Guild sustained a power outage due to some high winds and storms. John and Mary Calder brought in their personal generator and some high-beam work lights. We offered to reimburse any patrons who wished to leave, but nobody took us up on that offer. The “show went on” in front of a raucous audience, and it was one of the best shows of the run … and a lasting memory for the cast and crew to this day.
Hopefully, the Guildlings program is now a permanent part of the Guild and its efforts to offer children, tweens, and young adults opportunities to participate in the allied arts of the theatre.