Comedy, Dance and Theatre
Operatic society celebrates 100 years
by Sue Pomeroy
Bridgwater Amatuer Operatic Society is celebrating 100 years of performance. The society's vice chairman, Sue Pomeroy, talks about where it all started.
The society closed during the world wars
In 1907 in Bridgwater, a public meeting was called inviting people to form an operatic society. A small committee was then elected and Bridgwater Amateur Operatic Society was born.
The members decided to perform an operetta in the following year. The choice of show was simple- there were few shows available for amateur performance, other than the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, so in 1908 ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ was performed for ‘Two Grand Performances’ in aid of Bridgwater Hospital.
It is difficult to appreciate how a cast of 40 ever performed on the Bridgwater Town Hall stage. The main acting area was just an alcove where in current productions we store scenery and props; not only was there very little depth in which to play, but the width was also very narrow.
The Orchestra comprised of 18 members and this should have made it impossible for the singers to be heard, but apparently people in those days had no difficulty in making themselves heard by natural means; an enviable state of affairs because now we offer radio microphones to all principle cast members, even when using a much smaller orchestra.
Over many years, the Town Hall has undergone enlargement and improvement as a theatrical venue, but the stage still causes difficulty for us when using commercially produced scenery.
Following the first successful production more followed until the curtain fell in 1914, at the start of the First World War.
The curtain rose again in 1920, and a revival of ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ ensured the future success of the society in the town.
The society’s fortunes fluctuated with succeeding years. The late 20s and 30s saw the depression tighten its screw and although the society continued to perform with notable artistic success, audiences dwindled and the Society declined.
In 1934 the depression and the spectre of war again closed the curtains, sadly, this time for many years.
The society has won various regional awards
In 1949 the Society, like the phoenix, rose again with a production of ‘No No Nanette’. The audience at the Town Hall totaled 3,449, an enviable number by today’s audiences. The budget for the show was £480 and the takings at the box office totaled £788.00, a very successful result.
Every decade since, has been notable for BAOS. Years of enthusiasm, of effort, of worry, of decisions, golden and hopeful years that now bring the society to it’s centenary.
1963 saw the first production of the evergreen ‘Songs from the Shows’ paving the way for raising funds and introducing new and talented people to the magical world of the musical.
Adventurously, the Society purchased its own clubroom in 1964, a dilapidated structure on a small plot of land. This gave us the opportunity to improve the productions by principally using it for rehearsals but also making and storing our own scenery and costumes.
Although renovated and improved, eventually a decision was taken to rebuild. Using funds raised by the members and a small loan, 1989 saw the completion of a brand new, purpose built headquarters.
The members who have worked hard towards the success of BOAS are too numerous to mention, but special mention should be made of the partnership in the 70s and 80s of our current President, Bill Young and Brian Buttle, now a professional director and Bristol Old Vic Theatre School lecturer. Together they produced numerous shows as musical director and director and they helped the society achieve its current standing in the world of amateur theatre.
The past 100 years has seen the Society present in excess of 125 shows. The winning of major regional awards for productions of Carousel, My Fair Lady. Gypsy, Cabaret, Godspell, West Side Story and Sweeney Todd were proud and memorable occasions, but all productions must be recognised for the amazing team effort that produces every show.
With the increase in the number of activities now available for young people, BAOS is fortunate to maintain their interest and commitment.
Bridgwater, well known as a carnival town, has very talented people, many of whom join the society and perform with distinction. Over the years we have had the good fortune to produce many professionals who started their musical career in the ranks of the chorus, notably Chris Harris, the well known entertainer and pantomime dame, Louise Plowright of Les Miserables, Mamma Mia and ‘Eastenders, Steve Paling, a well known dance captain and Daryll Forkin, a tenor who has achieved notable success across Europe and at Glyndebourne.
We commence our 100-year celebrations in April with a revival of the first production ‘The Pirates of Penzance’, this time given the modern treatment as befits the Broadway version, followed by ‘Showtime 100’ in August and the autumn’s special version of ‘Carousel’.
A May Ball and a December Centenary Party for all past and present members, should secure the future and perhaps the celebration of BAOS 200!
last updated: 28/11/07