Guild - September 2017 report

'The Studio Theatre, Salisbury - Our Local Phenomenon'
Guest Speaker - Hugh Abel

On a chilly September evening we were entertained to a pretty amazing account of how, when in 1952 a group of "wandering players" started performing plays in an old disused wine store at the back of the Milford Arms Inn, and later in many other venues, they eventually arrived in 1958 at the present site.  A lot happened between then and what you see today.  Our speaker, Hugh Abel took us through the journey with slides giving us some idea of what was involved.

In 1985 the club bought a couple of dilapidated old ATC huts which eventually were declared unfit for use and had to be demolished.  Next problem - how to raise the necessary money in order to start building a new theatre, having negotiated planning permissions etc. A unique solution was arrived at: invite members and friends to loan the money with the guarantee that it would be returned in 6 years with a 5% interest.  So, with grants and an anonymous donation of £21,000 work began. Those with talents, such as carpentry gladly helped with interior work and others with fund -raising.  In the meantime the long-standing tradition of open-air performances  continued with many favourite Shakespeare plays held at beautiful venues such as Durnford Manor, and in the winter temporary accommodation was found.

In 2006 the Studio Theatre as we know it today opened its doors and stages six productions a year and also has a thriving Youth theatre which produces at least one play each year. Other organisations regularly hire the building, Bishop Wordsworth's School for instance. The theatre receives recognition and support from a number of people connected with the arts. Rosemary Squires is their President and our local MP John Glen, the newly appointed Minister for Arts, takes a keen interest.  The late Sir Terry Pratchett  wrote enthusiastically after watching a performance of Going Postal.

An appeal is now out for £350,000 to enable a two-storey extension to be built providing proper dressing rooms, a rehearsal room and room in which to store props etc. A full programme is in preparation for the coming months including An Ideal Husband, Les Miserables and Jane Eyre.

I can't finish this report without mentioning their greatest acting achievement so far: in 2012 the RSC ran a National Shakespeare Competition alongside the All-England Theatre Festival's annual one-act play festival in which amdram groups could compete, the prize being an opportunity to perform at the Swan Theatre. Our own Studio Theatre won this prestigious award and duly performed their extract from Hamlet to an enthusiastic audience which included a coachload from Salisbury. Robin Simpson, Chief Executive of Voluntary Arts wrote: "This was a stunning performance - some of the highest standard amateur acting I have ever seen. It's hard to convey how thrilling the Studio Theatre performance was, played very straight without any tricks or gimmicks - just extremely well acted. A wonderful example of the heights to which amateur theatres can climb."

Daphne Ponsford

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