Bay City Players Celebrate 100th Season

A Timeline & History of Michigan's Longest Running Community Theatre Company

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre,   From Issue 848   By: Robert E Martin

03rd August, 2017     0


1917—first plays presented. Two classic one-acts by two classic writers: ‘Riders to the Sea’ by John Millington Synge and ‘The Twelve-Pound Look’ by Sir James M. Barrie. At the time, of course, they were major contemporary writers and shows.  Shows were directed by Mrs. J.D. Grinnell, who we credit as the founder of Bay City Players.  She went on to direct many more shows over the next years.  In the first years, programs consisted of one-act plays, usually performed in peoples’ homes.

1923—December’s shows were presented at the Masonic Temple.

1925—the first full-length 3-act play was Edna Ferber’s ‘Minick’ in December 1925 at Trinity Parish House, which was the home of shows for the remainder of the 1920s.

1930s—one-acts were still the most common shows until the mid-1930s, and shows were performed on only one evening. Performance spaces included Ridotto Auditorium and the Masonic Temple.

1931—The Theater Guild became the Bay City Players.

1934—BCP presented Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’.

1936—Players hosted the 3rd Michigan Little Theater Conclave. We’ve hosted state conferences and competitions frequently since then, most recently the ActFest State competition in February 2017.

1938—George Kelly’s ‘The Torchbearers’ is the first show to have a weekend run on November 21-22.

1940s—the Consistory was home to productions for most of the decade. Several shows were in support of war relief efforts.  It was a decade of big Broadway hits that made their way to community theaters everywhere, including BCP. Starting with ‘The Night of January 16th in 1940. Players performed classic shows such as Tovarich, Skylark, You Can’t Take It With You, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Rivals, My Sister Eileen, Room Service, Blithe Spirit, Angel Street, Laura, Stage Door, Dear Ruth, Life with Father, and An Inspector Calls. George S. Kaufman was our playwright of the decade with seven shows produced.

Oddly, the biggest hit was apparently a melodrama called Pure as the Driven Snow; or, The Working Girl’s Secret, which was produced twice, in 1942 and in 1944!

1950s.  After playing in a couple more locales around town, Players finally bought its own home in 1955: The Pines Theater at the corner of Columbus and Sheridan, which is still our home today. The former movie house has gone through many renovations, with the latest completed in 2015.

It was another decade of Broadway hits, including Ten Little Indians, The Glass Menagerie, The Heiress, The Philadelphia Story, The Little Foxes, Born Yesterday, Stalag 17, Rebecca, Dial ‘M’ for Murder, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, The Mousetrap, The Desperate Hours, Witness for the Prosecution, The Shrike, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Mr. Roberts—lots of drama and suspense!

1960s.  In 1961 ‘The Boyfriend’ is the Players’ first big musical.  Now that we had our own stage and an orchestra pit, a major musical became part of every season. Some of the biggest were staged during the Sixties, including Rodgers and Hammerstein’s big four of South Pacific, The King and I, Oklahoma and The Sound of Music, plus Damn Yankees, Kismet, and My Fair Lady.

1963 November 22— the evening’s performance of Arthur Miller’s tragedy Death of a Salesman is cancelled after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

1964 - Neil Simon’s first of many shows at Players was Come Blow Your Horn in. He had two shows in our 50th season 1967-68: The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park!

1968 - The original mortgage for purchasing the theater was paid off!

1969 - The infamous crash of a vehicle into the front of the theater resulted in remodeling of the façade.

1970s.  It was a decade of great shows, featuring classic comedies like Blithe Spirit and The Importance of Being Earnest, major dramas like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Crucible, and A Doll’s House, musicals like The Music Man and Annie Get Your Gun, and six more of Neil Simon’s seemingly endless string of hits.

1970 - In partnership with the YWCA, Players founded Youtheater, guided by long-time volunteer Dorothy Arnett. This program for elementary and junior high age students started with 38 students, and now serves about 150 each year.

1974 -  The auditorium was remodeled for the first time, with the orange seating that was in use until 2015.

1975 - Bay City Players was the first amateur group in the country to perform the musical 1776. About 4000 people attended the show’s ten February performances.

1980s.  A successful decade of hits – six Tony winners, one Pulitzer winner, six Neil Simons, and twelve big musicals, including our first original musical RSVP Jerome Kern, conceived and arranged by Kevin Cole and Leeds Bird, and our biggest show ever - Annie, which will close out our 100th season in 2018.

1990s.  Success led to an ambitious three-phase renovation project on the building, which enhanced our ability to stage shows and create a better ambiance for the audience.

1992-93 -  Those audiences enjoyed Players 75th anniversary season, including revivals of Kiss Me Kate,  Fiddler on the Roof, The Mousetrap, The Odd Couple, and The Little Foxes.

1992 -  Phase 1 of renovation saw Players tear down the little house behind the theater that had served as storage and a makeup and dressing room and build a 5000-square foot backstage area with set, prop, and costume storage as well as men’s and women’s bathroom/changing rooms and a makeup room.

1996 -  Players begins the Stages of Discovery program, a summer theater program for Bay County young people. The first summer production was Anything Goes in August 1996.  In the years since, Stages productions have won several awards, and the program has evolved into an intensive three-week workshop in which participants explore all aspects of play production in order to mount a show.

1998 -  Phase 2 of renovation expanded the theater eastward with a new larger lobby, office space, kitchen, and rehearsal room.

2000s. In 2007-08 Players’ 90th anniversary season opened with another original show: A Shine on Your Shoes, written and arranged by Leeds Bird and Kevin Cole with music and lyrics by Howard Deitz and Arthur Schwartz. There were four shows by Michigan authors: Anatomy of a Murder based on the Robert Traver novel, The Vast Difference by Jeff Daniels, Like Mother Like Hell by Rikki Schwartz, and Duck Hunter Shoots Angel by Mitch Albom.

2010s.   Players continue to produce a strong variety of shows, from record-breaking hits Les Miserables and Mel Brooks’ ‘The Producers’ to innovative shows like The 39 Steps and Spamalot plus classics such as All My Sons and Born Yesterday

2014 - Phase 3 of the renovation is completed, as the auditorium is revamped with new seating and décor.

2015 -  RENT is the first of a series of edgier summer shows, continuing with Jesus Christ Superstar in 2016 and HAIR which runs July 27-30, 2017.

2017-18 - Bay City Players celebrates Season 100.



Please login to comment



Current Issue


Don't have an account?