A Short History of Theatre Ancaster 

How We Got Started

Ralf Hakenberg, Al Croxall and Gord Conroy directed and produced a decade of very successful musicals for high school students at Ancaster High School beginning in 1982. Each year, they involved anywhere from 100 to 200 students in all aspects of the productions.

Theatre Ancaster originated in Ancaster’s bicentennial year, 1993, under the auspices of the Ancaster Arts Council.  With the co-operation of Ancaster High School and the former Wentworth County Board of Education, we showcased three original Broadway Reviews - titled Broadway Hits Ancaster, November, 1993; Puttin’ on the Hitz, February, 1995; and The Magic of Broadway, in November, 1996.  In November 1995, we staged Jesus Christ Superstar.

Our Status and Mandate

In the spring of 1997, Theatre Ancaster became a separate entity.  We are incorporated as a non-profit community theatre with federal charitable organization status.  Our stated purpose as a community theatre is
 *To present excellent quality live music and theatre events and related attractions
*To organize support for such events
*To promote musical theatre among the youth and adults of Ancaster and the surrounding community.”

Our First Production as Theatre Ancaster

In November 1997, we presented our first production as Theatre Ancaster: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. In November 1998, we highlighted Ancaster and area singers and dancers of all ages in Sing For Me: A Tribute to the Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.  In April/May of 1998, we presented our first Spring show, Perfectly Frank: The Songs of Sinatra.

Since then Theatre Ancaster has presented some 50 plus shows for the community. In 1999, we added a summer theatre program for young people and then expanded to include fall and winter youth theatre companies. In 2013, we added a new Theatre Ancaster Chorus for adults who love to sing and perform but who find the commitment to a full production difficult. We continue to perform for special occasions and events within the community, and play a role in musical events at our home base, The Old Firehall Arts Centre.

Educational Work with Young People

From February to June, 2000, 2001 and 2002, Theatre Ancaster completed a contract with the Hamilton-Wentworth District Board of Education.  Each year secondary school students, under the direction of Gord Conroy and Al Croxall, researched, wrote and presented a forty minute stage presentation aimed at persuading senior elementary and secondary school students to consider careers in the skilled trades.  This project was funded by the School Board, the Apprenticeship Branch of the Ontario Government, and by Human Resources Canada.  Each year, it was presented to 6000 - 9000 students at more than twenty-five schools and to the public.

In 2003 and again in 2004, a new project was undertaken from September to February each year. It featured the production of short videos on careers in the entertainment industry, health sciences, transportation, and the skilled trades and was presented to more than ninety classes of students in grades 7 and 8 by senior high school students trained in role playing and group presentation techniques by Conroy and Croxall.

In 2009, Theatre Ancaster again partnered with The Hamilton Wentworth District School Board to establish a new program for the performing arts. It is a co-op education program for interested arts students from various Hamilton High Schools which features Theatre Ancaster as the co-op employer. ArtSMART took place at Hill Park Secondary School until the closing of the school in June 2014 and has now found a second home in MacNab Secondary with its newly renovated Auditorium. ArtSMART is led by Theatre Ancaster personnel, in particular Sam Frisk, working in partnership with the staff at MacNab.  Students receive a full semester of arts programming in music, dance and acting with options for tech work, costume and set design and creation. The featured show in 2009 was Into the Woods, followed by Seussical in 2010, involving some 30 plus students from a dozen area high schools. Since then, the program has featured Once Upon a Mattress, Beauty and the Beast, Shrek and Oliver in May-June 2015 and grown to include some 40 plus students yearly.

The Old Firehall Arts Centre

In 2003, Theatre Ancaster and The Hamilton All Star Jazz Band began creating an Arts Centre at The Old Firehall on Wilson Street in downtown Ancaster. The first phase of the project featured new heating and air conditioning, rehearsal space for the two arts organizations, and a small performance space for 75-100 people to showcase both local talent and working professional musicians on the weekends.  The project was roundly supported by Ancaster Councillor Murray Ferguson, and funded in part by The Ontario Trillium Foundation. In 2012, a partnership between Theatre Ancaster, The Ontario Trillium Foundation and Mohawk College renovated the upper level of the Old Firehall…electrical upgrades, more efficient use of available space, new kitchen and laundry facilities, new flooring and cupboards… the partnership rejuvenated an old, tired facility to a fresh, bright modern teaching and rehearsal space.

Gala Opening

Our Gala Opening Concert at The Old Firehall Arts Centre was October 26, 2005. The refurbished Old Firehall was filled to overflowing as singers from Theatre Ancaster combined with musicians from The Hamilton All Star Jazz Band under the leadership of Russ Weil.  A new stage, lighting and sound system welcomed the audience. In May 2013, we celebrated the completion of the second story renovation.

Theatre Ancaster’s Summer Music Theatre Programs for Youth

Young people have always been a part of all our Broadway shows. We have chosen our Broadway shows to make sure an intergenerational cast was possible. In 1999, we began our first summer theatre program for young people. It featured singing, dancing, and acting and as far as possible, developed team play, caring, leadership and responsibility in as many aspects of theatre work as was possible.  That philosophy has been maintained as the program expanded.

Theatre Ancaster’s successful summer arts and musical theatre camp program operated from The Old Firehall for the first time in the summer of 2005.  The program which began in 1999 with two sessions has now expanded to include The Jitterbugs, a camp for Pre School children, and three older camps for youth, a Junior Program, an Intermediate, and a Senior program.  Students from 3.5 to 15 are now involved.  Some 400 youth are now involved yearly. All camps provide excellent teacher leaders in drama, music and dance.  Sam Frisk is our Director of Youth Programming.

Recognition for Our Programs

Theatre Ancaster Theatre Ancaster recently received its third grant from The Ontario Trillium Foundation to help complete the renovation work upstairs at The Old Firehall. This grant was for $74,500.

In 1995, Theatre Ancaster founding directors Al Croxall, Ralf Hakenberg and Gord Conroy were honoured by The Town of Ancaster for their services as educators and musical theatre directors who enriched the community with their work. The same three individuals were also honoured as Paul Harris Fellows by Rotary International in June 2003.

Before Ancaster’s amalgamation with Hamilton, similar honours were awarded to both Doris Holder, a tireless leader and volunteer with Theatre Ancaster and other organizations, and to Tina Rath for her work as choreographer for Theatre Ancaster and teacher of dance in the community. Dan McGuire was honoured for his work in sound.

In April 2015, Theatre Ancaster was featured in the magazine Neighbours of Ancaster which celebrated the theatre company’s contributions to the cultural and creative educational life of both adults and youth in the arts and entertainment within the community.

Ongoing Community Work

Theatre Ancaster often provides musical entertainment, using a small group of performers, to community, charitable, and private functions. Many of its young performers have performed at Heritage Days Celebrations and for community events such as the Weekly Farmers’ Markets during the summers.

Theatre Ancaster has provided more than $150,000 in improvements and support since 1997 to the Theatre Auditorium at Ancaster High School as part of its partnership agreement with the school and the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board.
Theatre Ancaster is a lead partner in the Memorial School project with other arts organizations to renovate and expand the building to include more space for the arts within the community. The project is championed and guided by Councillor Lloyd Ferguson and by Bob Wilkins former Heritage BIA President.