BY RICHARD BOSTWICK

The Gaslight Theater is a continuation of the Augusta Players, a little theater group with a long and respectable history in the Augusta area.

Community theater involving residents of the capital area has been around since 1937. The Augusta Players was formed in Augusta in the fall of 1937 as an outgrowth of a women’s theater class held at the YMCA.

Maybelle Tarr, the founder, directed the first show, “Arms and the Man,” by George Bernard Shaw, in the spring of 1938 Performances were held at Cony High School in Augusta, and the Senior High School in Waterville and later on in the Capitol Theater in downtown Augusta.

The Augusta Players have had many long-term connections to Hallowell. The group was more of a social club, and the doings of the group and members had many column inches in the Kennebec Journal. The meetings were social events, with speakers, readings, and discussions of things dramatic; they were held in a club house, originally on Church Hill Road in Augusta and later in the Bodwell Carriage House on Middle Street.

From this base, the group performed in Augusta at the Capitol Theater in Augusta, the Little Theater in Gardiner Area High School, and at Reed auditorium in Hallowell. At Reed, the Augusta Players Performed “The Music Man,” “Mrs. McThing” and “Our Town.” These were the groups’ 105th, 106th and 107th performances.

The troupe remained at the Bodwell Club House until May 1977 when financial problems and a $3,000 oil bill caused them to give the clubhouse up and store properties in many other places. In 1979, The Augusta Players took up residence in the Hallowell City Hall auditorium and started producing plays as the Gaslight Theater or, more legally, The Augusta Players Inc. doing business as The Gaslight Theater.

The group holds the distinction of having the longest continuously performing theater group in Maine.

Since the first show in 1938, the group has held performances every year, although records for the 1959 and 1979 seasons are missing. The group is still researching those years. The group has also performed fundraising shows such as a dinner murder mystery at The Cohen Center and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” at Slates Restaurant in Hallowell.

The productions have been held in the Hallowell City Hall Auditorium, with a few in the past at Reed auditorium, Hall-Dale High School auditorium, the old Cony auditorium and Johnson Hall in Gardiner. The group puts on current dramas and old favorites; it has performed the Maine premiere of McNally’s “Lips Together, Teeth Apart” and A.R. Gurney’s “A Cheever Evening.”

The first performance after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 was Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” Even though it had been planned a year earlier, this play — the 190th — was a fitting play to re-affirm the spirit of what being American is about.

Since its founding, the Augusta Players/Gaslight Theater have presented more than 230 productions. During World War II, founder Maybelle Tarr had to take over the male lead role when the actor enlisted in the military. The Gaslight Theater has canceled some performances of “Vanities” in 1987 because of the flood. While the group has canceled a few performances because of blizzards, they also have performed in a driving snow storm to an audience of four patrons who arrived on skis.

Like the Augusta Players before them, the Gaslight Theater has been active in statewide community theater groups, beginning with the Organization of Performing Arts in Maine and currently as a founding member of the Maine Association of Community Theaters, where they have performed in all but one of the 15 One Act Festivals.

The goal is to have a balanced season with a comedy, musical, a drama and a mystery or classic. Since 2001, the group has looked back at classics done by the Augusta Players, including “Don’t Drink the Water,” “Bell Book and Candle,” “My Three Angels,” “Born Yesterday” and “The Mousetrap” for a second time and “Arsenic and Old Lace” for a third.

The focus of the group has changed over the years from a social club with a short run of three shows a year to a season of four to five shows with six to eight performances each.

Hallowell resident Richard Bostwick is general manager of the Gaslight Theater.

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