This article originally appeared in the Garland/Mesquite section of The Dallas Morning News on December 22, 1995.


By Michael R. Hayslip

The roots of contemporary live theatre in Garland run decades into the city’s past

Aside from the usual drama created by local preachers, politicians and school pupils, literary readings were common before the turn of the century. Eventually, certain organizations began staging periodic benefit performances of various types as fundraisers for other activities.

But in 1935 an aspiring group of local amateurs convened solely for a serious attempt with at least one adult play in the Garland High School Auditorium, then located on the site of the present Central School campus. Although few records are extant, surviving veterans of that company report that its produce/director was Joe Smith Dyer and that H. A. “Hap” Manzer created the sets. Beyond that, each remembered being in one play, but after 60 years none could compare titles to determine the exact number of productions. Mattie Nicholson Markley, however, remembers being blinded by the lights and falling off the stage of whatever play it was that she appeared in. Apparently, none of that troop was discovered by talent scouts or catapulted to stardom.

More than three decades later the city’s thespians raised the curtain for the Garland Civic  Theatre, a non-profit group founded in 1968 with the lofty goal of “enhancing the quality of life for the citizens of the community through aesthetic experiences related to the Theatre arts.”  News clippings show that within weeks after its February organizational meeting, promoted by Park Board Chairperson Vivian Yarborough, the Civic Theatre had acquired a part-time director from SMU’s drama department and was holding weekly workshops “to train its own actors, directors and technicians.” A bake sale in May of 1968 provided seed money for the troop’s July performance of “The Drunkard.”

As before, Garland’s aesthetic experiences of drama in the late 1960s occurred inside makeshift halls, which admitted adults for $1.25 and children for 50 cents.  “The Drunkard” played for two weeks in H. B. Allard-provided commercial space at 903 State Street, described by GCT President Charles Roberts as sufficiently “rough-hewn” that “anyone seeing the production will recognize the theatre’s needs.” Subsequently, performances of other selections were held in a Methodist fellowship hall, the Granger Annex and the “Little Theater in the Park,” a 75-seat Central Park structure destroyed by fire in 1982.

But persistence paid off, and by the late 1970s GCT had acquired full-time services of a paid executive director. With the opening in downtown Garland of the Garland Performing Arts Center in 1983, the group finally found a proper showcase for its performances. GCT is now the major tenant of the facility, which affords both a 195- and a 719-seat theatre.

Today, theatre lovers enjoy comedy, drama, musical and mystery performances, as well as theatre classes in Garland, on a year-round basis. Four of the plays each year are staged by the Children on Stage program of GCT, which features performers between the ages of 8 and 18, working under the guidance of adult theatre professionals. Counting from both sides of the stage, the theater operation currently involves more than 22,000 people from Garland and the surrounding area.

To encourage broad participation, the theatre board sets ticket prices to cover approximately 60 per cent of operating costs from its $300,000 annual budget. The remainder of GCT’s support is gained from grants and contributions from individuals, corporations and public agencies.

contemporary live theatre in Garland, Texas

Photo: (play cast only) courtesy Garland Civic Theatre.

In 1968 the Garland Civic Theatre staged its first performance, “The Drunkard,” featuring (l-r) Bob Thompson, Gary Record, Lewis Head (seated), Margo Hurley, David Alman, Deany Beale, William Salamon, Betty Wilhelm, Jo McMullen, and Carolyn Turnbull. The play was directed by Toni James, a drama student at the University of Texas at Austin.