In 1934 a group of friends from East Aurora led by Mr. and Mrs. Ward Knowles began a drama club. No one really knows what motivated them, but it is easy to assume they attended the Erlanger Theatre in Buffalo to see live theatre and their conversations would have often touched on acting, directing and the production of plays. Meeting at each others homes to read plays was a natural outcome of this interest. When exactly they decided to memorize lines, add props, and decide who should direct, no one will ever know. But whenever that happened, we are in their debt for beginning a long and wonderful flirtation with the stage!
The Formative Years
Our first piece of equipment was a set of portable footlights and our first production was held in the old high school auditorium (now the Main Street School) in 1935. The show, Take My Advice, was directed by Mrs. Harold R. Rich and according to sources, was very well received. For 15 years, plays were produced either at the Masonic Hall, the American Legion Clubhouse or the old high school.
In 1938 we launched the first Patron Drive to establish a fund for procuring a permanent theatre.
We incorporated in 1941 and began summer productions that year at the Roycroft Pavilion inside Hamlin Park. The Pavilion was just that - an open air structure. Henry J. Weiland and his enthusiastic volunteer crew spent that summer constructing a twenty-four foot stage. The space was cramped and the "stage left" entrance was a step-ladder leaned up against one wall. The actors often competed with (and lost to) the roar of frequent freight trains and the giggles of the local youngsters peeking in the unshuttered windows.
In 1950 we received permission to remodel the Pavilion for year round use. Through ticket sales, private donations and generous discounts from local merchants, we completed the project at no cost to the village. In 1953 the rededication of the Roycroft Community Pavilion was the highlight of the Independence Day celebration. Just as the original dedication had been fifty years before when Elbert Hubbard, on behalf of the Roycrofters, had presented the structure to the village. At last, 16 years later, Aurora Players, Inc. had found a permanent home!
In 1956 a new era began when we produced our first musical, The Merry Widow. The positive reviews from that show have added musicals to almost every one of our seasons since. The 1960's saw the birth of ProjectSTAGE as a medium to provide the youth of our community an avenue to develop their skills and their love of the theatre. To further support their interest, the 1970's saw the creation of an annual scholarship for local high school students in support of their pursuit of a theatre or arts-related degree. The 1970's also saw more structural changes to the Pavilion using special funds available from the village with construction services provided by BOCES students aided by volunteer professionals. This addition added a costume storage loft, a cast "green room", two cast member bathrooms and another dressing room.
The Legacy Continues
Aurora Players, in cooperation with the village, continue to maintain and improve the Pavilion. In 2004, a new light booth addition behind the audience seating area provides our stage crew greater control and flexibility with stage lighting for shows. And in 2008, our 15 year capital improvement fund-raising campaign was concluded with the opening of our new two story atrium lobby. This Roycroft inspired space provides our patrons with inside concessions, two new handicap-accessible restrooms and a ramp into the auditorium, an expanded coat room and an enlarged ticket office. The new costume sewing room and storage room provide much needed space relief, while a new sprinkler system brings the historic building up to code for the 21st century. The new lobby is a tremendous community achievement and many are responsible for its success. But we can't rest on our laurels just yet!
Future improvement plans once the funding is secured will include air conditioning, lobby carpeting, a new proscenium, updating the auditorium seating and décor plus more mundane necessities such as additional insulation and upgrading of electrical services.
We thrive because of the dedication of our members and the support from our community. With no remuneration except for the applause of the audiences and the respect of our peers, our volunteers provide hundreds of hours each season creating, maintaining and improving this organization and the shows we produce. And with your continued support we hope to provide you quality live theatre productions for years to come!