The Village Players are opening their 100th season with a production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

The Village Players are opening their 100th season with a production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

Photo by Joseph Lease


Celebrating 100 years with the Birmingham Village Players

By: Mary Genson | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 2, 2022

BIRMINGHAM — The Birmingham Village Players have much to look forward to this year as they celebrate their 100th season.

What is now known as the Birmingham Village Players began with an idea by a high school student named John W. Gafill in 1922.

He decided that what Birmingham was missing was a theater group, so he talked to his parents about it, and they recruited the help of their friends.

Within months, a local private drama club was formed in 1923.

The first production was on March 23, 1924, at the old Community House in Birmingham, which was an old farmhouse at the time.

To set the scene, they pushed the pool table out of the way, strung up wire and put sheets over it for curtains, and even made lights out of washbasins that they drilled holes in.

The first show was a single-night performance of  “The Maker of Dreams” on a Wednesday night. After this performance, the Village Players gained several new members.

For the first couple of years, they did performances at the local high school. In 1926, they decided they needed their own building and worked with architect Wallace Frost to make this idea a reality.

“Within two years of forming, we had our own theater,” Birmingham Village Players Historian Tania Velinsky said.
This project was funded by a loan from a local bank. Every member gave a five-year pledge towards this loan, and it was completely paid off within five years.

Velinsky notes that the location of the Birmingham Village Players was not initially as good as it is now. At the time, Woodward  Avenue was just railroad tracks. One would have to go across the railroad tracks into a neighborhood to get to the theater.

Throughout most of the Birmingham Village Players’ history, they were more of a social club that put on plays than a community theater.

As time went on, things started changing, and they fully became a community theater around the late ‘80s or early ‘90s.

“Anyone can walk in and come in and audition for our performances as long as they are completely vaccinated for COVID at the moment,” Velinsky said.

The Birmingham Village Players is proudly the third oldest community theater in Michigan and one of the oldest in the country.

 

Recent renovations
The Village Players are doing renovations on the inside and out of their building to celebrate 100 years.

“The renovations at the playhouse are ongoing and they have been going great, and a lot of people have been stepping up to help out,” said Steve Sussman, the former president of the Birmingham Village Players.

Among the renovations are new curtains in a cabernet color, murals in the interior and exterior, a large TV in the lobby, and new paint and photos of old shows on the walls.

“We are planning on other things as well as the donations come in, but those are the things that are definitely happening as of this time,” Sussman said.

While the building has undergone renovations and additions over the years, the original entrance is still intact.

“We have preserved that as part of our history,” Sussman said. “As we have continued to grow and improve the playhouse over the years, we have kept that as a reminder of our roots.”

 

The 100th season
“Our shows are featuring something old and something new,” Sussman said.

The opening show for the season is the 1940s classic “Arsenic and Old Lace,” by Joseph Kesselring Sept. 9-25.

Friday and Saturday shows will begin at 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees will start at 2 p.m.

This story revolves around ​​a set of lovable sisters who have a dark secret and an interesting array of relatives and friends.

“It is a hysterical dark comedy with a lot of action, suspense and surprises,” said director Joseph Vercellone. “I’m really happy that we were able to put it on here for the season because it ties in the past of Broadway to where we are today as Village Players, and allows us to showcase some of the history of community theater in a way that it can still connect with audiences.”

Vercellone said he approached this show as he thinks any show that has been around for this long should be approached. He looked for ways to keep the production fresh and bring it up to modern standards.

One way they did this was by broadening the diversity of the play by casting women in some traditionally male roles.

“It will, hopefully, attract some new people and new faces, not only to the cast itself, but in the audience who are coming to see their loved ones and those who otherwise would not have that opportunity,” Vercellone said.

This show will be followed by “The Addams Family.” This family comedy will run Oct. 28- Nov. 13.

“Harold and Maude, The Musical’’ will be making its community theater debut. The Birmingham Village Players Show will run Jan. 13- 29, 2023. This musical is based on the 1971 film with the same name.

For one night only, the Village Players will be performing  “The Maker of Dreams,” on ​​Feb. 18, as an homage to their first-ever production.

After that, Ken Ludwig’s comedy “Lend Me a Tenor” will be on the stage March 10-26, 2023.

The season will conclude after the Village Players perform Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” May 5-21, 2023.

Individual reserved seats and season tickets are available for purchase. Tickets can be bought by calling the box office at (248) 644-2075 or online at birminghamvillageplayers.com.