Nestled in the heart of Windsor, the Windsor Light Music Theatre (WLMT) stands tall, not just as a theatre, but as a beacon of art, culture, and community engagement. For three-quarters of a century, this institution has intricately woven itself into the fabric of Windsor’s cultural milieu, and with every passing year, its story becomes richer, more nuanced, and ever expansive.
The journey of WLMT is not just about its seven decades of existence. It’s a chronicle of dreams realized, of challenges conquered, of an undying love for the performing arts, and of a community that came together to celebrate its shared passion for music and storytelling.
In the vibrant aftermath of World War II, when the world was reconstructing itself, Dr. John H. L. Watson embarked on his own mission of creation. In 1948, he founded The Windsor Light Opera Association.
His goal was ambitious yet pure: to offer Windsor-Essex County an avenue to dive into the enchanting realms of musical theatre. Watson’s vision was realized sooner than anticipated. A year later, the curtains rose, lights shimmered, and the stage was set for the troupe’s first performance, “The Pirates of Penzance.” The performance was not just a play; it was a declaration of the theatre’s lofty aspirations and an indicator of the mesmerizing spectacles that were yet to come.
Amber Thibert, WLMT’s enthusiastic Marketing Chair, is not just an office-bearer but also a keeper of its treasured lore. As she walks through the corridors, each wall, each prop seems to whisper tales of yesteryears to her. “Every corner of this theatre holds a memory,” Thibert remarks with a glint in her eye. “From the initial days at John Campbell Public School, where our first ensemble of 43 talented performers put on a show, to the grand spectacles we host today, WLMT has journeyed through time, evolving and reinventing itself, but always keeping its core spirit alive.”
However, as with any great tale, WLMT’s journey was dotted with trials. The nascent years of the theatre were marked by financial challenges. The dedication of the early members shines through tales of personal sacrifices they made to keep the theatre’s dreams alive. “Every dime and dollar mattered,” shares Thibert, echoing the stories she’s heard. “It wasn’t uncommon for members to contribute from their personal savings. Their commitment was more than financial; it was an emotional bond, a testament to their faith in WLMT’s vision.”
But WLMT’s story isn’t solely about art; it’s about the people who make it and those who come to celebrate it. Over the years, the theatre has been more than just a platform; it’s been a crucible where raw talent was molded into excellence. Thibert, her voice filled with pride, recalls, “We have seen many budding artists grace our stage, some of whom have gone on to shine on bigger platforms. Craig Ramsay, Danielle Wade, and even our Mayor Drew Dilkens started their illustrious journeys here. It’s an honor to have been a part of their stories.”
As years turned into decades, WLMT continued to be a space where art converged with community aspirations. It’s not just a theatre; it’s Windsor’s living, breathing testament to the timeless allure of music, drama, and shared human experiences.
As the hands of time moved, so did the pulse of Windsor’s community. What started with operettas in WLMT’s initial years began giving way to more vibrant, contemporary Broadway-style productions by the turn of the millennium. Sensing the winds of change and the need for resonance with the younger generation, the theater underwent a major transformation in 2007. Retaining its core spirit, yet mirroring the evolving tastes of the community, it rebranded itself as the Windsor Light Music Theatre.
Within the annals of WLMT’s illustrious history, there are names that shimmer with an exceptional glow. Among them is Gus Gervais, the first president of WLMT. Thibert’s eyes light up at the mention of Gervais. “Gus wasn’t just a figurehead, he embodied WLMT’s spirit. During the fledgling years, when challenges seemed insurmountable, Gus stood tall, exuding positivity and fortitude, guiding us through the storm.”
This institution has always been a master of metamorphosis, showing remarkable adaptability without ever losing sight of its foundational ethos. Thibert, with a hint of pride, says, “Our repertoire is vast. We’ve embraced classics like ‘My Fair Lady’ with the same fervor as we have modern masterpieces such as ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’ It’s our duality – paying homage to our legacy while simultaneously embracing the new, that keeps our heart beating strong.”
However, even stalwarts face challenges. The onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill, and WLMT was no exception. “The world of arts suffered immensely,” says Thibert, her voice laced with emotion. “Suddenly, our stages were empty, our seats vacant. The very soul of our revenue, ticket sales, vanished overnight. But in these dark hours, the Windsor community became our beacon. Donations poured in, sponsors stood by us, and governmental assistance proved pivotal. It was a testament to the bond we’ve nurtured over the years.”
With the 75th-anniversary gala looming at St. Clair College Centre for the Arts on October 14th, 2023, there’s an electric air of anticipation. “This isn’t just an event. It’s an embodiment of our legacy, a celebration of our continued relevance, and a forward-looking promise of the wonders we’re yet to unfold,” muses Thibert.
Then, there’s the matter of WLMT’s relocation to 2491 Jos St Louis Ave. Far from being a mere change of address, it epitomizes their journey. “This space will be our new sanctuary. Here, we’ll delve into cozier productions, embrace the charm of cabaret nights, and foster learning through workshops,” she shares with infectious enthusiasm.
For newcomers yearning for the thrill of theatre, Thibert ‘s counsel is profound in its simplicity. “The world of theatre is vast. Not everyone is destined for the stage, but there’s magic behind the scenes, waiting to be discovered. Embrace it.”
The crescendo of excitement is tangible as WLMT also readies itself for its November magnum opus, “The Sound of Music.” Set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Austrian Alps, this timeless tale chronicles the journey of Maria, a spirited young postulant who finds herself serving as governess to a widower’s seven children. As she introduces them to the joys of music and the world outside their strict home, she also finds unexpected love and faces the looming shadow of Nazi occupation. This cherished classic, which combines heartwarming stories with unforgettable melodies like “Do-Re-Mi” and “Edelweiss”, will be hitting the Chrysler Theatre stage from Nov. 17 – 26, 2023.
Through the ebb and flow of time, through triumphs and trials, Windsor Light Music Theatre stands as a testament to Windsor’s vibrant spirit. In theatre, as they often say, the show must go on. For WLMT, it’s not a mere continuation; it’s about scaling new heights, setting benchmarks, and ensuring the enchantment of theatre is passed down, echoing through generations.
For more, visit www.windsorlight.com.
A WLMT ad from 2015.