The story of Little Theatre of Bedford is filled with as much drama as many of the plays it has produced over the last three and half decades. Today’s audiences may forget or not even know the remarkable story of the founding of Little Theatre, the tragedies of its past, or its amazing accomplishments.
Little Theatre of Bedford, Inc. started in 1960 as an idea from the Bedford Chamber of Commerce. Sensing deeply the need for more cultural activities in the area, the chamber approached several civic leaders to see what might be done.
Meetings were held and Little Theatre was born, with activity directed that first year by the organization’s first officers. They were Ted Sell, president; Janet Jenner, vice-president; Anna Gaines, secretary; and Avahnelle Parham, treasurer. Members of the board of directors were Alice Houston, Dr. Paul Bagby, Morrell Turner, Edna Miller, Jeanne Osborne, William E. Shirley, James Eckert, Lavonne Tosti, and Joe Myers.
Auditions for the first play were held in late summer 1960, with the first rehearsals held at St. John’s Episcopal Church. The cast then moved to the Presbyterian Church to rehearse until the stage and set crews completed their work in the building donated by Indiana Limestone Company, just in time for a single dress rehearsal on stage before the play opened!
A member of the cast of that first play, The Curious Savage, recalled the excitement of the play and its reception by the people of Bedford.
“We opened Thursday for a scheduled three performances, but the demand for tickets was so great we had to come back for yet one more performance—and we played that S.R.O. (Standing Room Only).”
Obviously, the people of Bedford were hungry for Little Theatre’s offerings, and the theatre continued to feed them for the next thirteen years. Following the last production of the 12th season, tragedy struck.
On June 4, 1972, a young arsonist set fire to the theatre building, completely destroying it. Many wondered whether the organization would survive such a disaster. It would mean virtually starting all over, as all the sets and costumes were also consumed by flames.
However, Little Theatre was not dead yet. “The Show Must Go On” was a battle cry heard from members who sought to raise $25,000 from the community to build a new theatre facility. Through the help of city government and a grant from the Lilly Foundation, within two years the goal had been met and a new theater constructed. In the meantime, the group produced one season of shows (1972-73) at the Bedford High School auditorium and then did not have any shows for the next two seasons.
In December 1975 the new and present facility opened with a production of “Finishing Touches.” Since that time, more changes have taken place. In 1979, the first musical, “The Pajama Game,” was produced. In 1994, a fourth show in the summer was added to the regular season of shows. In the late 1990s, Little Theatre of Bedford, Inc. received another grant from the Lilly Foundation of nearly $100,000 for renovations to the theater. After a local fund drive, construction of a nearly quarter million dollar addition to the theater, including handicap accessible restrooms, new workroom and costume storage, and enlarged lobby and box office area was completed in 2000, just in time for the organization’s 40th anniversary.
The organization is still very strong and alive, working hard through the support of its volunteers to meet the needs of the next century.