About 52 years ago, a group of local residents interested in establishing a community theatre tried to raise money to buy an old movie theater in St. Louis. They didn’t succeed, but tried again about six months later and this time were able to buy the Gem movie theater located on Mill Street in downtown St. Louis. The financial backers of the new community theatre were Ray and Nancy Christiansen, Frank and Joan Hamann, Judge and Mrs. Robert Sheldon, Dr. and Mrs. Jack M. Stack, and Alma Products Co.
For a short time, the community theatre group named the theatre Kensington Palace, but soon the name was changed to the Gratiot County Playhouse. The word “county” was used intentionally in the title to demonstrate that the playhouse belonged to not one town, but to all of Gratiot County.
The first production at the theater was a talent show. The first full-fledged play opened in 1968. The play, called Everybody Loves Opal, was directed by Davidson Hepburn, an Alma College English professor. Starring in the lead role was Helen Knowles of St. Louis. Twenty-five years later, Helen Knowles again played Opal in a reprise of the production to celebrate the theater group’s first quarter-century of play productions.
In 1996 the Gratiot County Players sold their two buildings in St. Louis and moved to the Strand movie theater in Alma, managing to offer three plays that year, in addition to moving.
Since 1970, the community theatre has offered at least one large musical production each year, along with dramas and comedies. In the mid-1980’s, when the Baby Boomer generation was young and vigorous, in one season the group staged three musicals, as well as two dramas, a comedy, and two children’s plays.
Over the past 40 years dozens of county residents have directed plays, hundreds have acted on stage and worked backstage, and thousands have attended the more than 235 plays. Of the hundreds of youth involved in the Summer Youth Workshop at the theatre, dozens have continued acting in college and in other community theaters, and a few have become professional stage and television performers.