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Thistle Theatre began in 1994. After five years of dinner theatre put on by the Agricultural Society, there were keen people who wanted to do more theatre in the community and take on new artistic challenges. A group of twelve began formal meetings and appointed themselves as ‘steering committee’ for a community theatre group in Embro. They were Harold and Sharon Arbuckle, Chris and Nancy Cockle, Sue and Keith Garner, Nancy and John Hazeleger, Laurence and Mary MacKay, and Sharry and John VanderHorn. The committee obtained the Township of Zorra’s agreement to a proposal for rental of the historic Embro Town Hall, which had recently been refurbished to celebrate its centennial.The first year was a whirlwind of meetings and planning leading up to the opening production in November 1995.

A name contest was held with Ann and Dave Parker submitting “Thistle Theatre”. The logo design competition was won by Becky Dahl. Charter memberships were sold at $50 each. This seed money was used for initial improvements to the theatre. Before the first play had even been chosen, over 50 families had purchased charter memberships. In the end well over 100 were sold. The Town Hall had no sound or lighting facilities to use for a play and the ceiling was not sound enough to support a lighting bar. All these had to be rectified in time for the first performance.

And then it was opening night – November 8, 1995! The first play was “Perils of Persephone” by Dan Needles. With all the charter members in attendance, and a gala opening reception planned at the community centre, the ribbon was cut on stage and the show went on. The only hitch was that an early winter snowstorm came up, causing some people to hurry home afterward… and the Township plows were called out to keep the parking lot at the community centre open until after the reception ended.

Since 1996, Thistle has had their fall production adjudicated as part of the Western Ontario Drama League (WODL) festival. Adjudication has provided the group with many learning experiences to help grow theatre knowledge and skill. As a side benefit, WODL also gives annual awards and Thistle has won or been nominated for many of these year after year. With over 20 groups in the running, this is a strong achievement. Of particular note, the productions of “Music Man”, “1949”, "Fiddler on the Roof", and "Moonlight and Valentino" both received multiple awards and nominations. And year after year, the group has consistently received awards in the visual areas of set design and construction, and costumes.

Occasionally Thistle enters their production “in festival”, where five groups are selected to take their play to WODL Festival in March break. In 2004, their production of “Fiddler on the Roof” not only was selected to perform at Festival, but won several awards including Best Production, Best Director, Best Ensemble and Best Visual Presentation. The main reason for Thistle entering that year was that Festival was in nearby Woodstock. Winning meant we would represent Western Ontario region at the Theatre Ontario final festival in May… in Sault Ste. Marie! Over 90 participants – and all the sets, costumes, etc – all made the trek to the Sault. The community supported the trip and for the participants it will be a once in a lifetime experience. "Moonlight and Valentino" also made entry "into festival" receiving several awards and nominations.



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