About the Westovians – History 

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The Westovians Dramatic Society and our Pier Pavillion have had a long and colourful history.

Click through the headings to learn more about our fascinating history.

The Westovian Xanax Online Canada was formed by the teaching staff at Westoe School in October 1912. The first ever production was of “Nicholas Nickleby” in 1913. The Society re-formed, in 1918, after some of the young ladies wished to enrol their men friends and some teachers did not think it ‘proper’. At the start they performed one play a year, with rehearsals in Westoe Secondary School and productions in any available venue. During the Buying Xanax Online Bluelightthe the group entertained the troops as an ENSA Unit of Northern Command.

 

Parkers cafe in Ocean Road and The Havelock Inn were rehearsal venues, with productions in Stanhope School Hall. Junior groups have been active since 1945 and Buy Xanax 2Mg Uk have taken an active part in the society since the late forties. The section still flourishes today.

 

In the early Alprazolam Where To Buy productions were staged in St Aidans Hall and later in the Pier Pavilion. “Can I Buy Xanax In Mexico” (21 Beach Road) was purchased in 1950 with a licensed bar fitted in 1968. In 1976 when the ‘Xanax American Express‘ was condemned, the lower floor was converted into a 60 seat theatre. After negotiating a lease with the council the Pier Pavilion was reopened in 1977 by under The Westovians control. Later that year a major rebuild was undertaken with a raked auditorium, new foyer and Box Office, reopening in November of 1977.

 

The house was sold in 1981 to help pay for the reconstruction of backstage dressing rooms and an upper floor general purpose room and wardrobe in the Pier Pavilion. Further upgrading took place in 1996 with a studio, new entrance and Green Room. In 2000 a new bar was added to the foyer, during the building work it was found that previously in 1949 an old air raid shelter had been used as part of the building. The concrete roof was found to be in danger of collapsing and necessitated urgent alterations, the bar finally opened in time for Christmas 2000.

 

Latterly a new ventilation system, Lighting packs and Consoles for lights and sound have been installed and new curtains, legs and flats have been bought.2010 saw further updating of the Lighting system and Sound systems including a repair of the Loop system while further estimates for replacing are sought.

Present day productions of the Westovian Dramatic Society are a far cry from the first production in the old Westoe Secondary School hall on an improvised stage with old red serge curtains, but progress has ever been the watchword and much of the present success is due to the pioneers of the past.

 

The stars of the first production included George Sylph, Jane Renwick, Robert Dinning and Billie Usher, then a schoolboy.

 

The season of 1921-22 saw the advent of Helen Charlton, Stella Newton, Winnie Parker, Ursula Reid, Doris Bain and Frank Ramsey, with Charles Hare and Harold Newton (schoolboys) pressed into service to take small parts in She Stoops to Conquer.

 

In the early days we gave one play per year which was rehearsed one night per week in the Westoe Secondary School.

 

Increased membership brought us Billie and Grace Charlton (our stage manager), Johnny Parker, Elaine Cervin, Norah Ord, George McIntyre, Norman Kemp, Ina Elles, Gilbert Collins, Madge Hunter, Helen Smedley, Reg. Smith, Gladys and Given Loman, Tom Forster, Duncan Balfour, Vera Johnson, Mabel Ellis, Bill Slee, Phillip Ward, Lander Burn, Harry D. Welch, Jean Craigie, Doris Sutton, Edith Forster and Ella Russel, Alf Golding, Washington Tate and Olga Kay.

 

When the British Drama League was formed we affiliated and found ourselves competing in One Act Play Festivals against such teams as the peoples Theatre, Durham Dramatic Society and the Sunderland Drama Club.

 

We also took part in the Newcastle Musical Tournament when medals were awarded to Helen Charlton and Lander Burn, Ella Russell and Tenerson Salkeld, Stella and Isabel Newton and Robert Dinning.

 

About this period we attended week-end Drama Schools at Hensham Settlement and gained practical knowledge from such well known names as Edith Craig, Margaret MacNamara and Norman Marshall. On one occasion George Sylph was awarded the prize for the mime ‘Getting into the bath’. I am sure he will still treasure the cigarette case presented by Edith Craig.

 

On two occasions we ventured to seek advice from professional producers and were spellbound at the technique of Charles Crabbe of Sunderland and Harry Hulbroth of the Denville Players. Incidentally, the experience gained by several of our members acting with the Denville Company proved very valuable. Some of us also enjoyed Walking on with Sir Frank Benson in Julius Caesar at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle.

 

Other great names of the past include Harry Morgan, Dorothy Hunter, Billie and Robert Parker, Dorothy Bradley, Alf Jones, Temple Young, Wallace Coxon, Jim Scott, Dorothea Gibbs, Freda Lambert, and Marjorie Rippon.

 

Between 1923 and 1946 we used to have incidental music and we remember with gratitude, Isobel Forsyth, Fred Pickering, Ronald Lamb, W. Newton Lindley, J. Parnaby, The Majestic Orchestra, The Tyne Dock Orchestra, The Westovian Ladies Orchestra, The Westoe Secondary Orchestra, The Cadet Band, Mildred Ellis and Greta Boal.

 

In 1939 we started regular Play Readings in the County Hotel for non acting members. These were very popular and lasted several seasons.

 

During the War, from 1943 to 1945, we were invited to become a unit for entertaining the troops under Northern Command. We toured with the plays ‘to Kill a Cat’, ‘Suspect’, ‘The Late Christopher Bean’ and One Act Geordie Comedies. Our team included Harry Morgan, Lorna Atkinson, Steve Webster, Norman Park, Reg Winlo, Walter Oldroyd, Lucy Grimes, Madge Hunter, Mildred Ellis, Freda Lambert, Dorothea Gibbs, George Sylph, Jim Fell, Connie Falconer and Stella Newton. We had many interesting experiences and became masters of the art of adaptation.

 

Our first Members Evening was started in 1945 and later our Junior Section. It is interesting to see several of our original Juniors now seasoned troupers particularly Ian Carmichael and Helen Ironside.

 

In 1948 Angus McGill gave us the first Poetry and Music Evening. Later he gave us our first Pantomime which has now become an annual event.

 

As time went on, increased membership enabled us to give several plays in the season and we came to specialise in one Tyneside Comedy per year with the old wartime team Norman Park, Helen Charlton, Stella Newton, Freda Lambert and Harry Morgan. This team has now been augmented by new and enthusiastic members.

 

No record of the first 30 years could be complete without expressing gratitude to the long list of regular subscribing patrons we had in our earlier years, many of whom are still ardent supporters. We remember the late Mr. And Mrs. Parker (Caterers) who gave us free use of their café in Ocean Road for rehearsals, Mrs. Sylph who allowed us to rehearse in The Havelock Inn and Mrs. Coxon who put her home at our disposal for money making Whist Drives. Mention could also be made of the successful Bridge Drives run by Helen Charlton in the Dorset Café and of our successes in winning the Helen Chapman Trophy in the South Shields Drama Festivals.

 

The story of the last 20 years (1948 – 1968) will tell of new names replacing most of the old, of greater concentration on lighting under the capable direction of Wilfe Clarke and the construction of more elaborate sets under the influence of Alan Knox, Douglas Dryden, The Scraftons and a willing team. This could be the theme of a future programme.

‘Juniors’ have actively been around since just after the war in I945. Although there is no account of a named section as such, there is evidence that these young people took an active part in the histrionics of the Westovians from the late forties.

 

Edna Dawson (now Lawson), the remaining original ’junior’, joined the Westovians in 1946 and easilly recalls the prominent young members who joined about that time, namely Angus McGill, Bob Jennings, Jimmy Mitchel and his wife Norma, Vera Seagal, Jean Becke, Don Bolam, Gwen Talbot and Ian Carmichael. By 1949 Helen Robson (now Ironside) was a member, with John Ironside and Kevin Moore. John and Helen remember attending meetings of the Westovians in the Dorset Cafe, and rehearsal in the Havelock Inn, Stella Newton’s house (on best behaviour) and Wallace Coxon’s house.

 

In I950, there was an influx of ’juniors’, introduced by word of mouth. Helen introduced the twins Meg and Madge Robinson (now Hogg and Hunter) the twins introduced me. Other junior members included June Duncan, Betty and Dawson Douglas, Brenda Shaw and as the months progressed Jim Ironside, Ron Ainley and Ken Allen.

 

After the war and well into the fifties South Shields and District held a Drama Festival, in association with the British Drama League – for one act plays. They also had a Drama Coach Mrs. Veitch. Many of the juniors were involved in these festivals – I cannot recall any senior member taking part. A suitable one Act play would be chosen – usually directed by Stella Newton or Dorothy Morgan and finally bv Angus MeGill and entered for the Festival.

 

Starting in I948 and for five years, we won the Helen Chapman Drama Festival Trophy at least three times. A John Goldsworthy play in I948, Dark Brown in 1949 directed by Stella Newton and including Edna Dawson and Kevin Moore. In I950 after the influx of new ‘juniors’ we entered a play called ‘The Three Hundredth Performance’ directed by Stella Newton.. I was in it with Helen, John, Meg, Kevin Moore, Brenda Shaw and June Duncan and we won the trophy. We did it as an ‘in-house’? production and again for a Guild. In I95I we won with a scene from Twelth Night- ‘The Tricking of Malvolio’, Ron Ainley was Malvolio and it was directed by Angus McGill.

 

‘Juniors’ were beginning to express themselves musically too, I beleive, not really with the full aprroval of the ‘Seniors’. In 1956 and 1957, two ‘in house’ productions of reviews were performed, the responsibility of getting such a different type of theatre, off the ground was in the hands of Bob Jennings, who directed these with Vera Seagal as M.D. These would not be repeated until the mid sixties with a ‘Junior Revue’ which ran for 3 nights and included Jennifer Allen, Maureen Stokes, the twins, Geoff Davison, John James, Ron Ainley, Harry Deakin, myself and Bell Dixon on the piano. It was produced by John James and Geoff Davison.

 

Many of the ‘juniors’ moved on and away, the Angus McGill crowd, mostly to London and others just fell by the wayside. By the end of the fifties most of those who had joined in the forties were gone, with the exception of Ian Carmichael, Edna Lawson, Helen and John Ironside, Jean Becke and Alan Knox. Helen Ian and Edna came into their own with others like Ron Ainley, the Twins and myself. Ken Allen found his nitch back stage and I floated between being on stage to back stage depending on the play. Ken Dunn was making an impression by the late fifties and John James, Geoff Davision and Harry Deakin were with us too. All adults now and no longer juniors in the true sense and until our Junior Section was formed in the Seventies we had no age range within the society if a child was required in a play, so members children tended to be co-opted from members families, if they had a leaning towards theatre, such as Mark Johnson, Donna Cocking and Debbie Reay in ‘Speaking of Murder’, which I directed.

After the war productions varied between two to four per year with a highlight in 1952 of five productions. Most were held in Stanhope Road School Hall, as they had been from the late 1930’s, with pre-show and interval music on the piano by Jessie Hare and coffee in the interval supplied by the Ladies of the society and any announcements made in front of curtains by the House Manager.

 

In 1948 the G.&.S. society had obtained the use of St. Aidan’s Hall and the Westovians came to an agreement with the G.&.S. to use that venue for most productions starting in March 1949 with the production of ‘When we are Married’. Apart from the occasional show at the end of The Denville Players summer season this became the usual venue. St. Aidans was very cold and after a little difficulty over heating in the dressing rooms, with the then incumbent the Reverend Laws, the shows were transferred totally to the Pier Pavilion in 1959.

 

During this period Members Evenings were held in the Dorset Cafe in Ocean Road using the upstairs room with Christmas Parties in the Sea Hotel. Rehearsals up to 1950 were held in peoples homes especially those with large rooms. From 1950 with the purchase of Westovian House much time was spent by members and juniors in cleaning and re-decorating as well as the current productions of that time. In the early 1950’s a musical ‘Pretty Polly’ was written specially by Joe and Heather Ging and was the first taste of this type of production. A Pantomime was then written and produced by Angus McGill, who was on the reporting staff of The Shields Gazette as well as a Westovian member.

 

The first of the current range of pantomimes was Cinderella in January 1965 which was a re-run of Angus McGill’s earlier version, with Maureen Stokes as Cinderella, Jennifer Allen as Prince Charming, Jeff Davison and Harry Deakin as the Ugly Sisters, Ken Dunn as Buttons, Helen Charlton as Fairy Godmother and Maureen Ainley as the Apprentice Fairy. This was apparently done on a tight budget as the ‘coach’ turned out to be a pram pushed by Ken Denn and Alan Woodrow as ‘Steptoe and Son’ and as the curtain opened with Cinders in a pathetic scene scrubbing the floor, she was reduced to laughter, as the other curtain stuck closed, and Harry Deakin held it open while requesting a safety pin from the audience.

 

The prime reason for starting pantomimes on a yearly basis was, as now, to pay the bills. Profits from plays had been eclipsed by £163.17 raised in a Jumble Sale held at Westovian House, A fact that Helen Charlton in ‘Lady Bracknell’ fashion was wont to note. The running costs of the society, particularly since the purchase of the house were outstripping income and the coffers were bare. This was also caused by the more professional outlook of the society at this time with better sets, not just curtain ones and hiring of costumes which needed to be paid for and which had not previously been a problem.

 

John James the then chairman had called an extraordinary meeting to discuss the problem after Midsummer Night’s Dream made a loss of 17 shillings, even though the show had been a success from the production point of view and the costumes and set excellent More productions were needed that were up to the standard that had already been attained, but also needed to be profitable, and as five productions had been successfully presented in 1966 and again in 1968 this was the beginning of the six Senior productions per year in 1969 which apart from minor hicupps has been the norm ever since.

 

1967 saw the start of alterations to the house with a Green Room Club with bar upstairs, a committee room and properties cum costumes room in the attic as well as re-decorating the rehearsal room downstairs. After much work to get planning permission before the actual hard work could begin the scheme came to fruition and was shown to advantage in 1968. The sixties saw the Pier Pavilion being used more and more by the society as the number of professional shows diminished and members like Ken Dunn and Alan Woodrow became part of the Amateur Stage Council Management Committee which liaised with the council entertainment’s staff for bookings at the Pier Pavilion. This led to a lease to the Amateur Stage Council in 1972 who then ran the theatre on behalf of the South Shields Council until 1975. During the early seventies and up to 1977 when the Pier Pavilion was condemned all sorts of money-making schemes were tried, a number of jumble sales were held in the house which turned into family social events, most of the children became young Westovians under the tutelage of Maureen Stokes and Michael Gallagher presenting such shows as ‘Joseph’ in house.

 

Ray Spencer was one of the juniors and became the pantomime comedian, a position he held until he left the society. At this time with thoughts of owning a theatre, the committee decided, after many past midnight meetings, that it would be a good idea to restructure the society to help efficiency. This was done by having a Production Committee with chairman and vice chairman who would also serve on an executive committee and together with it’s members could look after the productions. A Business Committee to look after the fabric of our buildings together with the provision of facilities for productions with a chairman and vice chairman also serving on the executive committee.

 

Thus the executive, comprising of these 4 members and the officers, would ratify the two committee decisions and co-ordinate policy. Also this was a time of revival in competing at Drama Festivals, from 1976 to 1979 at Tynemouth Priory Theatre, where Michael Gallagher won a commendation and Roger Morgan the Sid Bilton Trophy for best male actor. We also competed at Consett in 1979 but with the responsibility of now running our own theatre we stopped in 1980. It must be said that certain members drove us all mad pushing for the re-furbishment in 1976 together with Alan Woodrow and the committee, but the results spoke for themselves and later the second phase in 1981 gave us better back stage facilities, even if they now seem antiquated. Ken Allen was at it again, pushing for extensions in the early 1990’s, and the studio opened in 1996 together with the new entrance, workshop and disabled facilities and has been seen as an asset Some of the problems encountered in the production of plays were remembered by Helen Ironside such as teaching Eddie McNamee to play the piano for ‘And a Nightingale Sang’ in 1984, using sticky letters on the keys, also helping Maureen Stokes to play a tune on the harp for The Exorcism in 1982.

 

During this time we have had many notable social events, fancy dress, beetle drives, treasure hunts as well as the established annual dinner dances. These have been arranged by many people over the years who have taken time away from productions, or as well as, to give much pleasure to members of the society. Iris Johnson started, what is now the annual Carol Night, in Westovian House with Edna Lawson accompanying the ‘Carols by Candle Light’ for the first year and then Brian Main and George Green played the organ and the following Year the Salvation Army Junior Band took over and have been with us ever since.

 

Mention must be made of what became ‘The Annual Ogle Barbecue’ and it’s associated Cricket Match which Barry and Ann hosted for a number of years and enjoyed by us all. We have had fund raising events, Bingo, Blind Cards, Darts matches, Jumble sales, Weekly number draws which probably are not known about by newer members as we now concentrate on productions to raise the cash to pay the bills, but I am sure if the need arose the spirit would still be willing to pull the stops out. Having said that, like all societies, more new members are needed especially bringing skills that can be utilized such as woodwork, painting, dress-making, retailing, publicity – the list is endless for a Theatre Society which needs so many talents as well as new acting and production talents to carry on to the next century.

 

The Juniors had been left, at the beginning of the eighties, up in the air with only the pantomime for any hope of stage work, until Carrie Wilson started arranging workshops at regular meetings together with social events such as Barbecues on the beach each summer. After Carrie could no longer take them, there was the usual hiatus until they were started up again with regular meetings in 1994 thanks to who managed to conscript Dale Meeks and Karen Stothard to help. Since then they have had a least one production per year and often two and once again are over-subscribed. Then Michael Gallagher took up the challenge of the Juniors as he did in the 1970’s. Latterly Graham Overton has taken up the challenge.

 

The greatest change from those early years is the amount of work now needed to support amateurs, presenting productions in a professional manner, whilst the need for directors and actors to present eight shows per year has certainly made much work for the Production Committee. During all the time the society has been in existence, there have been dramas off stage as well as on, but this is to be expected with talented and hard-working extroverts who perform or produce artistic masterpieces for the public eye. Having our own theatre has shown the need for the Business Committee, not only keeping the building in good repair but also providing more modern facilities for those acting in the shows. What we need for the next century are more members to carry on the work of their predecessors to keep the productions rolling for another 90 years.

Before 1950 the society had rehearsed in the Dorset Cafe, the Havelock Inn and in private homes, notably those of Stella Newton and Wallace Coxon. So certain that were stored all over the town, mostly in members homes. 21, Beach Road was purchased as a Headquarters and was renamed ‘Westovian House in 1950. This was due in no small part to Charles Hare the current chairman, at that time, also a Director of The Tyne Commercial Building Society who knew the housing market. There was much discussion and argument the previous year, from members who thought the burden would fall on only a few and some members who were needed to be Trustees responsible for the repayment of the mortgage. However the sale went through, by a majority vote and members rallied round to renovate and clean the new headquarters.

 

Jim Gray remembers joining the society at this time as a Junior aged 15 and spending great periods of time in company with the other juniors and senior members clearing out and cleaning. He describes the building as in almost it’s original condition from 100 years before, all pre war papers and varnish. The two downstairs rooms were knocked into one, to provide rehearsal space, the old fireplaces removed and gas fires installed. The kitchen which had originally been a breakfast room was full of wall cupboards and was left in its condition for many years serving to provide tea and coffee from a boiler or if only a few people a large kettle on the gas stove. He remembers his introduction to the semi-basement, from the kitchen down steep steps to a warren of rooms, originally the servants quarters in times of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, but not used as such for decades, because it was in great need of clearing and cleaning.

 

Overlooking the front garden from a semi-basement window was a living room which, could be entered from stone steps down and through a door under the main steps up to the front door. This room-corresponded in size to the front lounge upstairs. There was a wide corridor, which lead to a kitchen under the dining room which had a huge black leaded range in it, a shallow sink and wooden draining board and a coal house off. Numerous rooms and stores extended to the back of the property and what would have been a large bedroom, still with the corner fire place in it. The basement was used as a flats, property store and a place to build and decorate sets, which when finished, were transferred to St Aidan’s Hall, or in later times to the Pier Pavilion.

 

The basement was never really cleared until the front was let to Dr. Funnell who turned it into a surgery and the back finally cleared when the house was sold in 1981. By then the front rooms had been The Beacon Snooker Club, The Bowler Hat Club and finally O’Briens. There were actually hundreds of objects stored everywhere in the basement and perhaps thought useful for some future play. There were flats, doors, Victorian and other fireplaces grates, various pieces of furniture and suites, chairs, carpets, curtains, china, pots and pans, prancing horses, urns and Grecian ladies made of iron, books and many other pieces, including at least four marble clocks standing on the mantle piece. There was also a grandfather clock, which was moved about over the years ending up in the garage. Nearly all went into skips during clearances in the mid seventies but the grandfather clock lasted until we sold the house and was seen on many sets over the years.

 

On the mezzanine floor, there was a huge bathroom still containing the iron, free standing bath, toilet and wash basin. First floor front became the committee room, with original fire place, it had a large Edwardian table in the middle and a set of matching chairs set round it. It also housed a beautiful dresser with glass cupboards above, which held the past Westovian scripts. First floor side was the wardrobe, shelved and ‘cupboarded’ out and the first floor back eventually became known as the ‘ junior room decorated by Jim himself. The attic was shabby and housed various trunks, wood crates and boxes all filled with beautiful original clothes, from Victorian times through to pre war.

 

The cast rehearsed in the downstairs double room with the stage marked out in chalk on the floor until the weekend before a play started when everything needed was transported to the venue. The set was erected for the first on stage rehearsal on the Sunday with the Dress rehearsal Monday and the show then on stage.

 

In 1968 planning permission was sought and alterations were made providing a rehearsal room downstairs a Green Room and licensed Bar upstairs and a costume store and committee room in the attic. During the time problems were encountered at the Pier Pavilion in 1976 The downstairs rehearsal room was converted into a 60 seat ‘theatre’ for small in house productions whilst refurbishment was in progress at the ‘pier’. In 1981 the house was sold to help pay for the second stage at the Pier Pavilion which reconstructed back stage dressing rooms and made a new upper dressing room cum general purpose utility room.

The then South Shields Corporation, at the instigation of Alderman Gompertz, converted the old Sea Side Shelter in Pier Parade into a small community theatre in 1948, to mitigate the loss of the Queens, which had been destroyed by bombing, in 1941. THE PIER PAVILION was opened on Whit. Monday 1949 and for the next few years presented seasons of Repertory and Concert Shows. In later years after The Denville Players left it was used mainly by amateur groups under the auspices of the Corporation Entertainment Committee. In 1972 the South Shields Amateur Stage Council was given the lease and for a year or two local societies used the facilities, sparse as they were, but it was mainly the Westovians who hired the theatre. The Amateur Stage Council gave back the lease to the Council in 1975 and there were problems obtaining a theatre license in 1976, as much work was needed to conform to new theatre regulations, most important a fire curtain at a cost of £7000 was needed. During this time Westovian productions had to be in Westovian House or in hired premises such as the Boys Grammar School. In January 1977 the Westovians took a 21 years lease and installed a fire curtain, a license was granted and it was nearly! business as usual.

 

Westovians were back in The Pier Pavilion in time for the by now annual pantomime but productions were presented under difficult conditions and the other alterations stilt had to be made. Mention can be made of the heating system prevailing from the 1948 conversion, gas heaters fitted to the tops of the pillars in the auditorium which gave heat at the expense of hearing the play. You either froze in winter and watched the action, hearing every word or you were warm trying to hear over the noise of those heaters. With the help of `The Job Creation Scheme’ and aid from Tyne-Wear M. C. and by our own fund raising efforts, after the July show the theatre was gutted, and all the work was done by the November deadline. John Ironside acted as Clerk of Works and Barry Ogle through his firm paying the wages. A new ‘theatrical’ heating and ventilation system was installed, which worked effectively, if you could stand the explosion every time it cut in during a production, but only if it worked! In winter it often couldn’t light due to the mists or icing of the igniters. The deadline for the official Re-opening of Pier Pavilion Theatre with a production of ’ Who Saw Him Die?’ and took place in November 1977, was just met by the cast and a few stalwarts, spending the day before the show, clearing up and finishing off, the painting of the set. Still the show went on and the theatre now had a raked auditorium, fire curtain, and a new foyer with bar and coffee bar and very importantly a lighting and sound box. The theatre now had an efficient and safe Light Dimmer replacing the old on stage `Lethal Contraption’. The Westovians were now settling into their new accommodation, as well as Westovian House, Though it was generally agreed that we might not be able to keep two establishments. In 1981 it was decided to start stage 2 of the refurbishment, that is to renovate back stage facilities with new dressing rooms, and an upper room as extra dressing room space for pantomimes etc. To assist with this cost, the house in Beach Road had to be sold, with the exception of the garage at the back of the House. This was used for storage of large props and sets. At the time this phase was finished it was thought the facilities were the best! (How ideas change)

 

At this time, to reflect the change in the name of the society, and the fact that we were now hiring it out to other societies and organisations the theatre was renamed ‘The Westovian Theatre’ with Pier Pavilion as the first line of the address to remind patrons that we were still active. In between extensions and building work much was done on a yearly basis, improving decor, new carpets, lights, sound systems galore!, props stores and costume cupboards the list is endless and of course always will be as long as the Westovians exist which presupposes that new members are forthcoming.

 

1996 saw the garage cleared and sold to help pay for the latest additions at the theatre. These were a studio cum rehearsal room with adjacent workshop, new entrance and box office. The current theatre regulations had made disabled access a priority, so a new outer ramp together with a ramped vestibule from the box office to the foyer was built and a toilet large enough for wheelchairs included. This toilet which had to be built to legal specifications, ‘shrunk’ after plastering and guess what? a wheel chair would not negotiate the door when the surrounds were fitted, and it had to be re-built. If you think that the problems with the toilet should not have happened, read on. Ken Allen walking round the building site one day and admiring the roof, which was being fitted noticed that it was too low according to the specifications! The roof had to come down the walls built higher and the roof refitted. To cap it all a lorry carrying the special metal roof cladding was stuck at the bottom of a steep hill for a number of days, due to bad weather. In the end it was finished after nearly a year instead of the three or four months expected. There was never an official opening due to the need to keep productions going to increase the finances, which had been severely depleted.

 

2001 saw a new bar in the foyer which was a long time arriving and over budget but opinion appears to agree it is an asset to the Theatre.

 

2005 saw a new Digital Lighting System with new board and Stage Packs and to complement this a new Sound Board and resited Speakers! New Curtains, Legs and Flats were bought with a new ventilation system going through installation processing.

 

2007 was the year we installed a new air circulation system with no moving fans and operated by the wind and electronic heat sensors.

In the fifties, sixties and early part of the seventies sets were made up entirely of flats, wobbly, flaky flats with the light shining through cracks, because in those days we didn’t paper them. These flats were wood framed and covered in canvas and even now have not all been replaced, and not until the advent of papering sets with wallpaper were the light cracks hidden from the audiences. When Jim Gray joined the society he recalls that the set was roughly designed by the director the entrances, exits, windows and fireplaces etc. being noted and then it was up to the stage manager to sort the rest out. The original fifties back stage team comprised of, Wilf Clarke the resident electrician, very good at keeping wires in sockets with matchsticks, Alan Knox sharing stage management with Wilf, Doug Dryden and Winnie and Jimmy Scrafton the scenic set building artists and friendly but slightly ‘aloof’ from those acting, some things never change!

 

The facilities at St. Aidans were basic, the lighting archaic and dangerous the dressing rooms very large but a long way down under the hall and very cold. At the time though they seemed such an improvement on other halls used in past productions which is why the Pier Pavilion seemed such an improvement apart from the small Dressing Rooms, now there was space at the side of the stage!

 

Times change and now the scenic side is taken care of by Yon Lawson, Anne Allen and Geoff Ramm and helpers. The set building now a more substantial task by Chris Allen, Neil Hales, Ken Allen, David Millar and helpers, with members sharing props and costumes for different shows.

 

Some things though, never change the certain ‘aloofness’ still raises it’s head from time to time and throughout all types of work involved in running a Theatre Society as in many walks of life, ‘The Willing Horse’ carries on until pensionned off or goes ‘sick’.

 

The lighting packs and lights have changed out of all recognition over the years and as the society strives to continue improving productions. Looking back the present facilities would have been marvellous to those older members in the fifties. Yet in 1977 when the first phase of building was done and only back stage was slightly spruced up, these facilities seemed quite good and after the 1981 phase when the Dressing Rooms were enlarged and fitted out, consensus was the improvement was staggering. Now as the Millennium beckoned they seem small, tacky and in great need of renovation. This just shows how far the society has come in the last 80 years or so.

 

Even after the 1996 extensions with a rehearsal studio, workshop etc. storage is still at a premium there seems to be no space at the side of the stage, we cannot fly sets and set pieces wouldn’t it be nice to have more space? or a Fly Tower. Though I have to say that ‘Political Correctness’ seems to be going mad when you now have to have four foot wide gantries and a lift so that wheel chair persons can be accomodated to work backstage, I personally think ablebodied members often think twice about working up aloft.

 

The lighting console, computerised though it was and the Sound Desk, both of which would have gladenned Wilf Clarke’s and his predecessors hearts now seemed dated. So as theatre in general and the Westovians in particular constantly move on to more complicated productions and we strive to keep up, we renewed our Lighting and Sound Systems in 2005. So it is the size of our theatre. which now limits the choice of production material.