Past, present and future with the president of the Belleville Theatre Guild
The idea for the Belleville Theatre Guild was born back in 1951, when a group of friends decided to perform a play in their own backyard for an audience seated in the lawn.
When a more public group was formed, one of the first plays they did was a one-act called The Voice of the People, by Robertson Davies, which won the Eastern Ontario Drama League Festival that year.
In 1969, the Pinnacle Playhouse, formerly the D.L. Storey Building, became the guild’s home.
Now, the Belleville Theatre Guild has reached 65 seasons of shows.
Current president Moira Nikander-Forrester said she joined the guild in 1984.
At this time, the Pinnacle Playhouse had just undergone a renovation to increase the 126-seat theatre to 154, as well as adding more production space on and offstage.
Since then, she has acted, directed and filled numerous positions on the board.
“It’s been a very slow, steady growth,” said Nikander-Forrester.
She went on to describe how she was there through all the ups and downs at the guild.
“It was at its absolute hay day in the ‘90s but then our audience started to be older and older. We started losing people. They couldn’t drive there anymore, they started going into nursing homes (and) some of them passed away. A lot them (have) passed away now, like the founders of the theatre.”
She said the theatre guild hit its all-time low four years ago.
“Half empty houses every night,” she recalled.
However, Nikander-Forrester said there’s been a significant rise once again.
“Our early audience that we had started to die off. But now, these past four years, after hitting our all-time low, I’ve seen our numbers every year starting to look back up… one year it went up 10 per cent, and then the next year it went up another 15 per cent. So they’re really coming back now. We’re reaching a whole new audience base."
The audience numbers may be up, but there seems to be a majority of grey hair attending the Belleville Theatre Guild's shows.
Gaining younger people is important, Nikander-Forrester said.
"The older audience stops coming after awhile because they die. It’s always good to keep getting in new people. It’s a human fact people die, no getting around it! And that’s the bare honest truth. We need to get people (who are) younger coming. And we are,” she said.
Nikander-Forrester said she is hopeful for the future.
“I’ve seen this over and over. People leave, but there’s always someone there to take their place. And I see our audience building back up. So no, I’m not worried. I’m watching things evolve as they always have."
Future plans for the Belleville Theatre Guild include a new addition to the Pinnacle Playhouse, Nikander-Forrester said.
“Very soon we’re going to be constructing a new façade in the front entrance. It’s going to have a canopy, it’s going to have electronic signs; it’s going to be more ‘up there’ like the Empire Theatre’s kind of setup,” she said.