In 1956, 13 talented theatre-lovers staged a production of "The Happy Time" at the then-Bedford Elementary School.
Now, 55 years later, the company they gave birth to, Westport Community Theatre, is an established element of the cultural fabric of Westport.
"Many could have chosen a professional career in the theatre, remarked Ruth Ann Baumgartner, a member of the WCT board and coordinator of the 55th anniversary gala.
To celebrate its 55th anniversary, WCT is hosting a cabaret-fundraiser on Friday at 7 p.m. at the , 44 Imperial Avenue.
The evening will feature songs and classic comedy sketches from the 1950s, WCT's formative era. WCT veterans. Tickets are $35 and include desserts from Westport bakers as well as a ticket to the opening of WCT's final production of its 2010-2011 season, "Sabrina Fair," on June 3.
Over the years, the theatre company has drawn upon diverse talents in the area.
Baumgartner said the celebration will afford the opportunity to reflect on the community's good fortune to have access to affordable, well-performed theatre.
"As we are more and more tied to computers and people on computers become our friends, it's really important that we maintain ties to the community in the arts," she said. "People within the community can participate in the making of art with the Westport Community Theatre."
In addition to the five staged productions of classics offered every season, Barmgartner pointed to the staged readings of more obscure works a serving a serious audience as a special contribution to the community.
In the current season, WCT presented "The Icebreaker," by David Rambo, as a staged reading.
Baumgartner described it as a challenging, lyrical two-character work that weaves intelligent talk about global warming with a love story.
"The Good Place" by Westport playwright Jim Gordon was also mounted as a staged reading.
"It's still in development, but the audience was very engaged," Baumgartner said. "These really challenging pieces open up that other dimension of theatre, to present edgy, disturbing, thought-provoking works that have a more narrow audience."
WCT runs on a skeleton budget, relying on the love of theatre of amateurs. The only paid positions are the stage designer and technician.
Its tickets are a bargain - the top ticket for a single performance is $20, with season subscriptions $80 for five plays. Membership costs $15.
The ambitious 2011-2012 seasons starts off in September with a new comedy coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the commencement of the Civil War. "Moonlight and Magnolias," by Ron Hutchinson, takes as its theme an event from Hollywood history: the marathon rewriting of the script for "Gone with the Wind" in 1939.
It'll be followed by "The Seafarer," a 2008 Tony Award nominee for best play, by Conor McPherson. Baumgartner, who also teaches English at Fairfield University, will direct.
Acclaimed Broadway comedy "A Thousand Clowns" and "Company," the Stephen Sondheim musical, will be staged as well as the drama "A Picasso," set in Paris during the German occupation in 1941.
As a non-profit corporation, WCT has a permanent home at the school - now Westport Town Hall - where it mounts five theatrical productions a year, in addition to a staged reading series for new works. Its 165-seat theatre replaced the school's gymnasium.
The gala features Priscilla Squiers, Fred Tisch, Rosanne Nelson, Kimberly Lowden, Ruth Ann Baumgartner, Rob Pawlikowski, Marguerite Foster, Randye Kaye, Jessie Gilbert, Larry Greeley, Linda Dilmore, David Victor, John Fatteross, Vic Terenzio, Joan Barere and others will perform. Bob Lasprogato's Uptown Jazz Combo will play throughout the evening.