Entertaining, Educating, and Engaging Through Theatre Arts Since 1925

Grand Rapids Civic Theatre is an integral part of Grand Rapids’ history. Founded in 1925, the organization has been a staple of entertainment and education in this community for generations.

I have the unique privilege of getting a ‘backstage tour’ of Civic Theatre a couple days a week as their part-time Marketing Coordinator. It’s been amazing to be able to work among the dedicated staff and volunteers who are the life behind the productions you enjoy.

To help share some of the behind the scenes fun, here are 10 things that you might not know about the Civic Theatre.

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1 – Volunteers are the Heart of the Civic Theatre

Over 750 volunteers generously book over 60,000 volunteer hours at the Civic each year. Civic Theatre is known for their performances so it’s a surprise to many when they find out that the actors are not paid. All of the talent that you see on stage are volunteers from the community. The next time you are at a show, keep an eye out…you might just recognize someone from your neighborhood!

Civic Theatre

2 – The Building you now Recognize as the Civic Theatre has its own Rich History

You can’t tell from the outside, but the theatre is comprised of 4 separate buildings (Wenham Building, Bodsford Building, Hull Building, and the Meijer Majestic Theatre) that were engineered to become one.

Out of the four buildings, the theatre itself is the newest, being established in 1903. The maze of buildings that Civic Theatre calls home goes up 6 stories. The theatre was originally built as a touring house for groups who traveled across the country and also used to be a movie house with two screens.

Grand Rapids Civic Theatre

3 – Props, Props, and More Props

With all of the shows that they have done over the years, Civic Theatre’s properties department needs 6 storage areas to house all of their props. They try to use props that are as authentic as possible.

For example, for the show 9 to 5 featured office equipment from the 60’s and 70’s including IBM typewriters and adding machines. Sharon Hayes, Properties Coordinator, said that the holiday shows are the most challenging but also the most rewarding to work on. She listed Christmas Story, Mary Poppins, and Beauty and the Beast as her favorites to find and create props for.

Grand Rapids Theatre

4 – It’s a Non-Profit Organization

Being a community theatre, the Civic relies on the community to attend their shows and donate so they can continue operating. The majority of Civic Theatre funding comes from donors; this includes businesses, organizations, and individuals that contribute to the bright future of this Grand Rapids staple.

5 – The Very First Show…

The very first play to hit the Majestic stage was Teahouse of the August Moon in 1979. Since then, hundreds of other productions have graced the Civic Theatre stage from entertaining musicals to hard-hitting dramas.

6 – Robert Fowle is the man Behind the Beautiful Costumes you Enjoy

A common highlight for the audience is the costumes. Costume Designer Robert Fowle has been with Civic Theatre for 39 years. He works with a crew of volunteers who help bring patterns and fabrics to life for all the actors. Fowle said his most complicated costume to date was Mama in Hairspray.

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7 – The Civic Theatre is the 5th Largest Community Theatre in the Country

With 9 mainstage productions, over 1600 students educated per year, and thousands of patrons attending shows over the course of a season, Civic Theatre has become known nationwide for their high-quality performances and their work in the world of theatre education.

8 – The Play Selection Process Isn’t an Easy One

It’s always exciting when a theatre announces their next round of performances. While some might think this is a quick process, much goes into selecting a season. A myriad of factors is considered including number of roles for men and women, schedule and availability (for each show you have to get rights from the publishing house), current events, audience interest, and ensuring diversity and inclusiveness in the topics. This process can take months of preparation and even years of planning as they try to create a road map of shows they would like to do in the future.

9 – The Civic Theatre is a School, Too

A huge aspect of Civic Theatre is the School of Theatre Arts. The school has classes and special programs year-round to engage people of all ages in theatre. From improv workshops to a performance that travels locally, the school plays an influential part in the continued success of Civic Theatre.

If you attend a performance, make sure to pay special attention to your playbill where they notate any actor that has taken classes in the school.

10 – The 2018/19 Season has a Special Surprise…

Earlier this year Civic Theatre announced their 2018/19 season. They have everything from Disney favorites Little Mermaid and Newsies to an Agatha Christie mystery that will keep you guessing. Speaking of guessing, their new season also has a surprise musical. They can’t release the name of the show until later this summer – do you have any guesses?

To learn more about Civic Theatre, visit www.grct.org.

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