About Gladwin Area Friends of the Theatre
Gladwin Area Friends of the Theatre program got its start in 1979 when Carl Benander directed Barefoot in the Park on the racetrack of the county fairgrounds. With the success of the first show, it was suggested that he try a musical and, with the backing of the Gladwin Council for the Arts, The Music Man was presented to sell-out crowds. The early musicals became a summer must for many families and the casts ranged from sixty to the high of eighty-three local performers, plus the members of the orchestra and backstage crew. The early years were truly a community project.
The first four years were spent in front of the grandstands at the county fairgrounds and saw the performances of Fiddler on the Roof, and Carousel in addition to the two previously mentioned. After four years it was decided by Mayor Robertson that it would be better if the summer musicals were performed in the City Park, which is in the heart of this fair community. And so, our fifth play, Brigadoon, began the years at the Gladwin City Park.
With Brigadoon, though, we had a problem in that our performance site was close to the campsites, (by the tennis courts)and our evening rehearsals did not lend themselves to the quiet sounds of nature that most of our campers wanted. When the bagpiper joined the cast for performance week, it became the last straw for some of the campers. However, the show went on in front of capacity crowds and was enjoyed by most.
The following year our stage was moved behind the present Community Center for South Pacific. In 1985 the amphitheatre was constructed by the Gladwin High School Building Trades class, for the unbelievable price of $10,000.00 dollars, thanks to the generosity of many local businesses. With its construction our summer musicals had a permanent home.
Also, in 1985 our group produced the first dinner theatre show. Our performances of dinner theatre productions started at the Gladwin Eagles and then moved to the Queen of Clubs Pub (currently the VFW Hall on M-61) and finally in 1990 we debuted our first show, See How They Run, here in the Gladwin Community Building, which has been our home ever since.
Never content to rest on our laurels, we began producing dramas in 1997 with the presentation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Since ’97 we have been producing three shows a year for the community. This summer we will celebrate our 40th year producing shows.
In 2004 GAFT sought after and received a grant from the Midland Community Foundation. Those funds coupled with proceeds from our many fundraisers, business donations and memberships, enabled us to design and build our much needed scene shop. This storage area is located just west of our theatre at the Gladwin Community Building.
In 2005 GAFT added a youth theatre production to our season. The first production, A Christmas Carol, had a cast of over 35 children ages 5 to 16. It has been a wonderful addition and represents a great opportunity for the youth in our area. In 2008 our youth performance was 99% produced and operated by our young people. GAFTY(Gladwin Area Friends of the Theatre Youth), was also formed in 2008. Through participation in this group youth from ages 5-17 will learn cooperative organizational and theatre arts skills as they increase their passion for the theatre arts. The future of our theatre is in the hands of our youth.
In 2018 GAFTeen was created to give our teens an opportunity to grow in theatre that will allow them to transition to the main shows with more experience.
As GAFT continues to grow and bring performance arts to Gladwin County, we look forward to 40 more years with you.