Coming back to the Theatre Tillsonburg’s Otter Valley Playhouse for the 30th/40th anniversary celebration on Saturday was a special experience for Denis and Anne Noonan.
“It is amazing to have a theatre that is this successful,” said Denis.
Now living in the Muskoka region, the Noonans were there when the Potters Road building north of Tillsonburg was purchased by an enthusiastic and expanding theatre community.
“Tom Heeney and I were the instigators and the fundraisers for the theatre back in the old days,” said Denis, recalling years of Otter Valley Playhouse fundraising.
“I think we had it paid off within about three years. We had a lot of volunteer labour…”
“And we got some grants and some good contributions from local companies,” said Anne.
“We’ve been around since then and there are a lot of theatres that are suffering financially,” said Denis. “But this one has been very successful. The fact that after the pandemic they can still be viable – it’s amazing.
“It was a lot of fun.”
“I think it’s because they have a lot of people who have stuck with it, who were here when we were here,” said Anne. “And they’re still doing it.”
“Like the Beecheys, right from the beginning,” Denis nodded. “And the regulars who are here year after year.”
They remember the days before the Playhouse.
“We moved here in 1980 and did a lot of theatre at the community centre. And it was such a pain to set up and take down.”
And expensive, Anne added.
“We weren’t making any money,” said Denis, who was a teacher at Glendale High School. “And small crowds.”
They never thought the Otter Valley Playhouse would still be home to a vibrant theatre community 30 years later.
“No,” Denis smiled. “A lot of people thought we were crazy when we thought up the idea.”
“I think, just before we left town (’93), we had a ‘burning the mortgage’ celebration,” said Anne. “We left town, but we followed it at a distance and you just never knew it would grow like it did. They paved the driveway, then the next year more renovations. And they managed to do three or four shows a year pretty much.”
“And children’s theatre,” said Denis. “They did very well.”
A special presentation was made to Peter and Laurel Beechey Saturday recognizing their 30/40 years of contribution to Theatre Tillsonburg, which was founded in 1981 and moved to Otter Valley Playhouse in 1991.
“We have two wonderful volunteers who have been very, very important to us and who have served at Theatre Tillsonburg literally since it opened,” said Charlotte VanRoestal. “They have touched every aspect of our theatre and we are very pleased to say that both Laurel and Peter Beechey are going to be awarded the Ontario Service Volunteer Award for their leadership and their volunteerism here at Theatre Tillsonburg. There will be an opportunity for them to receive their awards from the Ontario government, but we’re not sure when or what that will look like yet.
“It’s very important that we do that (recognize the Beecheys) because that sends a message to all of you here,” said VanRoestal. “It sends the message that your role is important and that your role as a volunteer is integral to what we do here at Theatre Tillsonburg.”