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History

A History of Theatre in Annapolis Royal

by Peggy Armstrong, Playwright

With the production of The Theatre of Neptune by Marc Lescarbot in 1606, the waters of the Annapolis Basin became North America’s first stage. Lescarbot’s innovative spirit and flair for the dramatic provided a welcome diversion for the isolated little band of adventurers in Port Royal. In later years, this same spirit was reflected in the travelling troupes, Chautauqua performers and roving thespians that found appreciative audiences in the bustling seaport town of Annapolis Royal.

Established theatre came to Annapolis Royal in 1892 when eight local entrepreneurs joined forces to construct and operate the Academy of Music on St. James Street. Through varying degrees of success and failure, the Academy provided a venue for touring theatrical companies, lantern shows, local entertainment and musical presentations of all kinds. Eventually, seven of the initial investors sold out their holdings until Arthur M. King became sole owner of the property.

The advent of motion pictures found the Academy operating in a new dimension and under the new name of the Bijou Dream Theatre. Movie hungry patrons flocked in droves to watch films, catch up on the latest episode of The Lost City and enjoy the spirited renditions of the Annapolis Concert Band under the direction of Paul Yates. In 1921, the Bijou Dream fell victim to the raging fire that consumed almost half of the town’s business district. Moviegoers were devastated by the prospect of living in a town without a theatre. But they had not counted on the Corbitt property on Lower St. George Street and the construction of a brand new facility. Ten weeks later, King’s Theatre had risen, Phoenix-like, out of the ashes of the Great Fire.

A two-storey wooden frame structure, King’s was complete with stage, dressing rooms, orchestra pit and a seating capacity of four hundred. The house boasted a modern metal ceiling, hardwood floors and interior trim of Douglas fir. With office rentals on the ground floor, the Oddfellows Lodge and a dance hall on the second floor, the theatre was destined to play a vital role in the social and commercial life of the town.

The first public event at King’s Theatre was a political rally on November 26, 1921, with the Honorable George Murray, Premier of Nova Scotia, as guest speaker, December 15th of the same year was the red-letter day for movie buffs. The opening program featured Alice Brady in The Land of Hope and four reels of comedy, with music supplied by the Annapolis Royal Jazz Orchestra. After the death of A.M. King, the theatre was operated as a movie house by a series of owners. Time, however, was taking its toll. By the late 1970s the building had fallen into disrepair and left derelict.

In 1981 the building was purchased at Sheriff’s Sale by the Annapolis Royal Development Commission. With the assistance of an ad hoc committee comprised chiefly of members of the Annapolis District Drama Group, a concept was developed to assure the Town a cultural/entertainment centre with the emphasis on live theatre. In 1982 a completely renovated and revitalized King’s Theatre opened its doors to the public. The first major live production took place on March 24th and 25th when the Annapolis District Drama Group presented Ten Little Indians under the direction of Shirley Kerr. By the end of 1984 King’s had hosted upwards of two hundred live performances.

The theatre was run by the Development Commission with the aid of an appointed Board of Directors until April 1987, when the operation became the responsibility of the Town. The Board was expanded to twelve who worked as a committee of Council until January 1988, when the Board became the initial members of the King’s Theatre Society. As such they shouldered the burden for the policy making, operation and maintenance of King’s Theatre.

Needless to say, the development and stabilization of the King’s Theatre Society was an uphill and rocky climb for a small group of volunteers operating on a very slim budget. However, others soon rallied to the cause and in due course the King’s Theatre Society became a vital force in the life of the theatre and of the community.