The history of Dunnville and Area was published by the District Heritage Society and notes that live theatre was being produced by the Dunnville Dramatic Club in 1891. They were preparing to take a play entitled “A Miller’s Daughter” on the road to Cayuga and Smithville.
In 1973 a group of college students had just gained access to a small government grant and planned to bring live theatre to Dunnville. The students used their contacts within the Dunnville community and produced the theatre’s first play, “The Drunkard” by Raymond Hull.
The theatre group, then known as Haldimand Community Theatre, didn’t have a home for their productions so they performed at the Central Park Bandshell on August 3 and 4, 1973. It was produced by student Tina Wigle and directed by Frank Norris; the cast included John Hanna, Eve Meredith, Isabel Shirton, Selma Hanna and Edward Geary. A key addition to the cast was Frank Lalor, who was the son of one of Dunnville’s early industrial and political leaders. He worked at the CBC and lived in the large family home on broad street that was known as the Lalor Estate. The group held board meetings in Lalor home and Frank provided some furnishings to be used as props at the bandshell.
With a desire to become more formal, the group started drafting a constitution and bylaws. They also renamed the theatre group as Dunnville Community Theatre in 1974. The constitution was created and laid out. The Constitution which appears in the Minutes of December 1973 states the reason for the theatre’s existence , which remains the same today: “The purpose of the group shall be the fostering of interest in the living theatre through the study, making and production of good plays”
The degree of professionalism which is carried on to this day was instilled by Frank Norris. Interest in theatre took off and in one short year, live theatre established itself firmly in Dunnville. The original students who created the idea were no longer involved.
New members continued to become involved and in 1978 a local author named John Hearn became an important figure in the group. As an author, he wrote a one act play called “Leona” which was performed by Dunnville actors at the One Act Drama Festival in Oakville in 1980. It won the Special Adjudicator’s Award. Another new member who moved to town was Pat Morris who, in 2010 became the most longstanding member of DCT. Not knowing anybody in town she decided to join the theatre group and was instrumental in assisting other theatre members with productions.
In 1979 DCT became involved in the Mudcat Festival. DCT did and does about two plays per year. It has also carried out workshops and other activities.
In 1982 DCT found a long-lasting home. The theatre reached an agreement with the Dunnville Optimist Club for use of it’s hall at the corner of Cedar and Main Streets – just a stone’s throw away from their start in the bandshell of central park. The plan was for the group to store props and costumes in the hall basement and hold it’s productions on the ground floor, however, the theatre’s performances moved to the more suitable top floor so that stage setup could be erected for rehearsals without disturbing other users of the hall. Dinners, for dinner theatre’s nights were served on the main floor. The Dunnville Community Theatre’s respected association with the Optimists spanned almost three decades. In the fall of 2015, after renovations to the building were complete and inspections by authorities of the upstairs space were completed, it was deemed that the space was no longer suitable to DCT’s needs.
In the early 80’s DCT joined Theatre Ontario, held director’s workshops and hired a professional director for one of it’s productions. As the 80’s wore on, interest in the theatre started to falter, particularly among it’s core members. The theatre went on a “hiatus” sometime around 1988. No productions were done in that year or the next.
In 1990 something wonderful happened again! Live productions were back. New members joined and great productions were performed. “Monkeyshines” was the first performance after this long hiatus at DCT. It was amazing how many people were interested were interested in live theatre in Dunnville. They missed it and enthusiasm was well received as volunteer theatre members put together more ambitious shows such as “Wisteria Bush (Summer ’91)”, “Exit Who (Fall ’91)”, “Steel Magnolias (Fall ’97)”, “Sylvia (Spring ’02)”, Waiting for the Parade (Spring ’98), “Weekend Comedy (Fall ’00)”, “This Year, Next Year (Fall ’04)”, “Blithe Spirit (Fall ’05)”, “Thorn (Fall ’07)”, “The Long Weekend (Spring ’08)”, “What I did Last Summer (Fall ’08)” and many, many more.