While there have been countless church groups, schools and women's guilds sponsoring dramatic readings, concerts, lectures, films, singing and even whistling prior to the early 1900s, there has also been a long procession of established community theater companies. With presentations held at the The November Club, Balmoral Hall (above the Balmoral Spa), the Town Hall, church venues and school auditoriums, Andover has represented the theatrical arts for over 100 years.
Foremost, the theatrical community has participated in the town's milestone celebrations. In 1896 (the town's 250th anniversary) a "historic tableau" was presented with costumed actors who neither spoke nor moved. In 1946, the 300th anniversary, an "historical pageant" was held. For the 350th anniversary, Andover Community Theatre presented "Our Town."
The Andover Dramatic Club was active by 1911. To see the shows you had to become a member and pay a $2 fee. In October of that year, the Andover Dramatic Club decided to adopt the title of The Barnstormers for its official name. The Andover Townsman stated "its purpose is amusement and we feel that all residents of Andover should be a part of the organization." The casting policy of The Barnstormers was "to ask its active members to play alternatively important parts and very smallest roles, in that way giving each one opportunity to express the best that is in him, in giving the managers the chance to learn in what line each member is most successful, so that in time they could appropriately cast every play."
The Barnstormers became so popular they eventually extended their performances and allowed tickets to be sold to the general public. In 1914 and 1915 they held benefits for the Belgium Relief Fund. During World War I they scaled back their performances because a number of their key members had joined the armed forces. They continued to perform until 1926. On the announcement of their decision to disband, the Townsman published their entire 15-year performance history.
Over the next years it was mainly up to Punchard High School, Phillips Academy and Abbot Academy to provide the town with dramatic entertainment.
In the 1930s several smaller performance groups presented plays in various Andover venues. A new theater group called The Adventurers, A Community Theatre was formed in April 1936. A Townsman article described this group as "a new organization comprising the best of Andover's veteran thespians."
Andover Community Theater (ACT) was established in 1972. Their first show was the 1940 comedy, George Washington Slept Here, commemorating the alleged event of George Washington staying overnight in Andover. ACT would eventually work with the Department of Community Services which facilitated working within the school buildings. ACT also competed in the annual New England Theater Conference (NETC) and Eastern Massachusetts Association of Community Theater (EMACT) competitions. Andover almost always returned with a slew of nominations and awards. ACT disbanded in 2000.
Merrimack Junior Theater was established in 1987 performing two musicals a year, one for the younger children and one for the older children. This past spring, MJT announced they would be performing their last show, closing with a performance of the musical "Annie."
A new company, A Community Theater of Andover (ACT Andover), was established in 2008. It performs two main stage shows and two musical reviews each year. Their mission is "to entertain, educate and enrich the community through the dramatic arts." Andover can also choose between school, church and even neighborhood groups to round out their theater experience.
Apparently for the citizens of Andover, the show must (always) go on!
Andover Stories" is a weekly column told to celebrate the Andover Historical Society's 100 anniversary in 2011.