A Brief History of The Civic

From 1929 to the present The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre has been at the forefront of community theatres in America. From its beginning it has been praised by the public and its peers as one of the outstanding examples of just what can be done with a "Civic" or community theatre.

What started as a tiny band of people producing a few plays in Lincoln School auditorium in the summer of 1929, has grown to be one of the premier community theatres in the country.

Founders of the theatre included Dorothy Dalton, Norman Carver Sr., Howard Chenery, Arthur Kohl, Frances Hall Kohl, Paul Fuller and Louise Carver. Their contributions to The Civic helped to set the stage for many years of high artistic quality and performance.

In its long history, the Civic has managed to survive the Depression, become a major cultural institution in southwest Michigan and is still a leader in the ranks of community theatre.


Some of the highpoints in the Civic's history are as follows:

  • 1931 - The Players move into their permanent home at the South Street location. The theatre was state of the art for the time. Its elegant house and surrounding spaces added greatly to the performances within.
  • 1933 - Norman Carver Sr. was instrumental in forming the Michigan Little Theatre Enclave (later to become the Community Theatre Association of Michigan).
  • 1941 - The Civic was asked by the publishers of Stage Magazine to present a production of one of their plays on Broadway.
  • 1945 - An Intern program was created. It was the first of its kind in the nation. The first intern was Betty Ebert, who later married Jack Ragotzy. Together they founded The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Michigan.
  • 1945 - In order to support the war effort, the Civic began touring productions to outlying communities. This outreach program was an important part of the Civic's mission during the war years.
  • 1949 - The Imaginary Invalid was staged in an arena style setting. Audience members sat on the stage, surrounding the action. This venture gave a hint of what was to come with the Carver Center.
  • 1950 - The Civic staged its 200th production The Madwoman of Chaillot.
  • 1952 - Norman Carver was elected to be the first president of the newly formed National Organization of Community Theatres.
  • 1953 - The Civic celebrated its 25th anniversary.
  • 1956 - The tradition of opening the season with a musical began a tradition that continues to this day.
  • 1958 - The Civic Auditorium Trustees built an annex to the auditorium. This new facility, built one block south of the auditorium, was needed to give the players much needed shop and storage space. It also provided a multi purpose space that was used as a second performance area for experimental productions. It also was used as office and rehearsal space for the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. The trustees honored their manager of 30 years, Norman Carver, by naming the facility after him.
  • 1958 - James Carver joined The Civic staff as a Production Assistant.
  • 1960 - The Civic was the first community theatre in the nation to present A Raisin in the Sun.
  • 1969 - The Civic entered its first AACT festival. Due to an accident during the performance they were unable to complete their performance. However because of the quality of the performance they were given an Honorary Mention.
  • 1974 - James Carver was promoted to Managing Director of The Civic.
  • 1983 - Fools, having won first place in State and Regional AACT/Fest competition, went on to represent The Civic at the National Festival. It was voted second place in National Competition. This Civic production represented the United States at an international theatre festival in England.
  • 1989 - The Civic presented its 500th production Our Town.
  • 1994 - The Civic produced Dancing at Lughnasa. This was another festival entrant, winning State, Regional, and National Competitions. They also received recognition for both the outstanding performance of the actors as well as design of the production.
  • 1995 - A Capital Campaign was undertaken to fund a complete renovation of the Civic Auditorium as well as the construction of the Suzanne D. Parish Theatre. New electrical systems, rigging, stage flooring, and seating were installed in the auditorium as part of the renovation. Furnishings were reupholstered, and walls received a fresh coat of paint.
  • 1996 - Ground breaking took place for the new Suzanne D. Parish Theatre. It was built next to the Carver Center.
  • 1997 - Dancing at Lughnasa traveled to Monaco, representing the United States at an international theatre festival sponsored by the Princess Grace Foundation.
  • 1997 - James Carver retired from the Civic.
  • 1998 - August of 1998 brought the opening of a multi-million dollar state of the art arena style performance space. In addition it doubled the shop space as well as giving the ever-growing Civic much needed storage space.
  • 1999 - The Civic's production of Forever Plaid won first place in State and Regional AACT/Fest competition. The "Plaid" company represented Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ohio at National competition in Memphis, Tennessee.
  • 2000 - The Kalamazoo Civic Players and the Kalamazoo Civic Auditorium merged to form the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre.
  • 2003 - The Civic's production of Visiting Mr. Green won first place in AACT/Fest competition and traveled to Wisconsin.
  • 2004 - The Civic celebrated its 75th Anniversary with a Gala Reunion Concert, which featured former volunteers that have gone on to careers in regional theatre, film, and opera as well as on Broadway and television.
  • 2005 - The Carver Center was expanded to include a new costume shop as well as new rehearsal and classroom space.
  • 2005 - The Civic hosted AACTFest 2005, the national theatre festival. Over 500 theatre lovers from around the world traveled to Kalamazoo to see some amazing community theatre productions, attend workshops and make new friends.
  • 2005 - The Senior Class Reader's Theatre program was launched with a semi-staged production of Ladies of the Corridor. The SCRT is comprised of veteran performers (age 50 and older) who perform learned, but not memorized, lines.
  • 2006 - As part of the newly created Artist-in-Residence program, Broadway performers Ron Schwinn, Jerry Dixon, Peg Small and acclaimed author Alma Bond shared their skills and insights with the Civic staff, guest artists and volunteers. They also played an important role in our community outreach, teaching classes and leading group discussion.
  • 2007 - The Civic was chosen as the first community theatre in the country to present a pilot production of the Tony Award winning musical Avenue Q,. A little bit naughty, and a whole lot of fun, this provocative show broke all attendance records for the Parish Theatre.
  • 2012 - The Civic created the Academy of Theatre Arts. With its' development, educational programming was expanded to include offerings for students as young as three years old through adulthood.
  • 2013 - Theatres from around the state came to Kalamazoo to participate in the Community Theatre Asociation of Michigan's 2013 Festival, with the Civic hosting. The Civics' production of The Imaginary Invalid was one of ten productions presented during the three day festival

Throughout its history, The Civic has served the community in a meaningful way. The future promises to be filled with opportunities, and we invite you to be a part of our continuing legacy.


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