A Brief History of Stratton Theatre
By Andrienne Clark
The Grove Street Theatre in Fitchburg buzzed with excitement on the evening of February 17, 1925. Ushers passed out programs and escorted first-nighters (some in evening gowns and formal attire) to their seats. The hum of voices filled the auditorium and the audience settled back in their seats and waited for the curtain to rise.
Backstage a flurry of activity masked opening night jitters. Actors and actresses administered quick pats of powder to their grease-painted faces, paused before the mirror for a final costume check, or nervously whispered their lines. The properties chairman ticked off items from a list in her hand, assuring herself that every prop was ready. In the wings the stage manager waited for the signal to raise the curtain.
Then Miss Helen Stratton, the director appeared. Silence fell over the people backstage. Miss Stratton, head of the English Department at Fitchburg High School, was the founder of this fledgling company of thespians.
"Places please." She said, her voice breathless with excitement. Quietly actors and actresses filed onto the set. The curtain was about to rise on Act I of Mr. Pim Passes By, a comedy by A. A. Milne and the first production of the Fitchburg Amateurs' Workshop.
Today, the Workshop, now called The Stratton Players, stages plays in its own theatre, The Stratton Playhouse, located at 60 Wallace Avenue in downtown Fitchburg. The Playhouse is the fulfillment of Miss Stratton's cherished dream, but she never saw the theatre which bears her name. On September 15, 1929, she was killed in an automobile accident.
The playhouse was donated to the Workshop by another early benefactor, Mrs. Charles T. Crocker. The structure was formed by joining the McMaster Barn to the front portion of a house, with the same dimensions, which was about to be torn down.
Members of the Workshop opened their new home with a housewarming on January 14, 1932. For the next seven years they used it as a meeting and rehearsal hall. On January 4, 1939, the building was used as a theatre for the first time. Two one-act plays were presented: The Happy Journey by Thornton Wilder and The Queen! God Bless Her! 1877 from Victoria Regina by Laurence Housman.
The history of the Stratton Players is a distinguished one. It is one of the oldest community theaters in the United States and also one of the few which has its own theater.
The organization draws its members from all over the area, and has been known for over 60 years as a group which consistently presents quality theater for the enjoyment of the public and the membership.
Despite wars and depressions, The Stratton Players has endured. It continues to provide a creative outlet for men and women interested in any aspect of play production, whether it be acting, costuming, set design or construction, publicity, stage management, or tickets.