History Of Newtown Amateur Dramatic Society
On Friday, 7th of September 1934, a group of people gathered together at the recreation office, Community House, Severn Place, to discuss the possibility of forming a society which would be solely devoted to the interests of drama and presenting plays to the public.
All of those present had been involved in one way or another with public performances of plays with their church groups and other organisations such as the Welsh Society, but this was the first time that a Dramatic Society was formed.
It was resolved that the name of the Society should be the Newtown Amateur Dramatic Society. The meetings of the Society were held in a room at Community House, a building purchased and adapted for use by various voluntary organisations in the town by the Montgomery County Recreation Association, and room number 5 at the top of the building was ‘home’ for many years for the society.
View our early history in pictures here.
View the early years of Powys Theatre in pictures here.
The first play performed on the 14th, 15th and 16th of March 1935, was ‘The Barretts of Wimpole Street’ by Rudolph Beiser and this was performed at the Victoria Hall (situated on the site now occupied by Ladywell House). The hire charge for the hall for the week was £17.10s.0d and prices of admission were 3s.6d., 2s.6d. And 1s.0d. The Newtown Welsh Society assisted by lending scenery free of charge and the Newtown Orchestra performed before the play and during the intervals. Application had to be made to the Customs and Excise Department for exemption of entertainment duty. The total taking for the first performances were £134, expenditure £93, with a profit of £41.
During the early years, in addition to rehearsals for plays, fortnightly meetings were held which took the form of play readings, talks on matters pertaining to the stage, social evenings such as whist drives, etc. and during these early years, and indeed throughout the 66+ years, the society has organised visits to professional companies in Stratford on Avon, Birmingham, Liverpool, Chester, etc. During the next two years scenery was purchased from the Welsh Society, some floodlights were acquired and grey velvet curtains were made. These curtains have been in use up to the present day and latterly used to curtain wardrobe storage units.
In February 1937, a very exciting event occurred. The B.B.C. produced a dramatic feature on radio dealing with the history of Newtown in relation to the Woollen Industry and members wrote and acted a dramatic sketch which took up 25 minutes of the programme. In 1938, members made a complete set of scenery flats which were used up until the purchase of new flats, with help from the lottery funding, in 2001.
Despite difficulties during the war years the society continued to function by holding regular social meetings and acting as hosts to travelling companies that visited the town sponsored by the Arts Council. We also helped the Education Authority’s Youth Service in the organisation of Drama Festivals and although it was difficult to present plays owing to members being away in the forces, in 1944, with assistance from members of the forces stationed in the town, two One Act Plays and a feature called ‘A Living Newspaper’ were presented at the Regent Cinema and the proceeds were handed over to the Red Cross.
After the war the society continued to hold monthly social meetings. A Play Reading Circle was formed, Brains Trusts were held, Lectures on Make-Up and Lighting were arranged and all this stimulated interest and attracted new young members. The first public performance was a selection of One Act Plays held in December 1947, and the first full length play ‘A Soldier for Christmas’ was presented at the Church House in May 1949, and from that date until we moved to the Powys Theatre, the society presented two plays in Newtown very year. However, it was always the aim of the society to acquire their own premises and members worked hard for many years travelling throughout Wales taking these plays to Drama Festivals, with a great deal of success, for the prize money received enabled us to build up a fund with which we eventually purchased a disused Army Hut near Crescent House and members themselves converted this into a comfortable rehearsal and clubroom with facilities for storage of scenery. More scenery was built and all the sets were prepared for the plays which were presented at the Church House and later at the old Drill Hall. The Crescent Playhouse (The Hut’) was our home until 1968 when we were able to lease the old Llanllwchaiarn School from the Parochial Church Council. Again members had to ‘turn to’ and work tremendously hard to convert the premises to make an up to date and comfortable theatre with seating for approximately 100. Walls were knocked down, doorways bricked up, new ceilings erected, lighting and sound equipment installed all to the high standards demanded by the Fire and Licensing Authorities. This was all the work of the members themselves.
To make full use of the building and to meet the higher costs of administration of a Theatre a new approach had to be made. We had to increase output by presenting four productions each season. We set up a Theatre Club, limited to 480 members, who have priority booking for all productions. We have been able to attract professional touring companies and through the generosity of friends and Theatre Club members and the hard work of Society members we have been able to extend our wardrobe and we provide a much needed service to local drama groups by being able to lend costumes and properties. The first production at Powys Theatre in October 1969, was ‘The Late Christopher Bean’ by Emlyn Williams and since then we have gone from strength to strength presenting a variety of plays and some musical entertainments.
We have extended the building to provide dressing room and workshop accommodation; we have converted old derelict buildings into a large store room for scenery and furniture and in 1978 we were able to negotiate with the Parochial Church Council to purchase the premises. Most recently, major structural work was undertaken to improve the auditorium, foyer and disabled access inside and outside the Theatre. Also a brand new toilet block was built to replace the original ‘lean to’ facilities.
The last 36 years since we have been running Powys Theatre have been exciting ones and very busy ones, but none of this could have been done without the enthusiasm of the society members and the financial support received from The Parochial Church Council, the Newtown Town Council, the Welsh Church Acts Fund, the North Wales Association of the Arts and the Mid-Wales Development Board. We also owe a great deal to the enthusiastic support from Theatre Club members, both for our productions and our never ending money raising efforts. We look forward with enthusiasm to the new millennium.
(Information provided by Mrs. Marjorie Meredith.)