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Memories of The Young Theatre
EARLY MEMORIES … THE FIRST MEETING …
What do I remember about that very first meeting on January 12th 1964? Well, there are a number of memories … predominantly chaos … confusion … and a seething mass of chattering, excitedly expectant young people … but all of it being tinged with an element of great sadness.
During the course of rehearsals for the modern Nativity play that I'd written that year for the St.Alban's Junior Sunday School - " It Is More Blesséd " - the young people involved had become very keen that their involvement in drama could continue - but not the way it happened in school, with the teachers doing all the "exciting" bits - they wanted to "be in charge" themselves … and get involved in all aspects of putting on a play.
And it was their ambition that gave birth to the idea of a young theatre group.
One of those helping me with the Nativity play was Carys Tyer, an 16 year old aspiring actress, (and a very good one!) with whom I was acting that Christmas in a production of "The Man Born To Be King" that was touring round various churches in Harrow raising money for charity.
The evening before the final rehearsals for "It Is More Blesséd", she and I had taken part in a performance at a church in Harrow - and tragically she had been killed in a car crash on her way home.
We had managed to get through the performance of the Nativity play (with some difficulty I might say) but it had made us all even more determined than ever that the youth drama group should be set up.
The Sunday School Superintendent, John Howden, gave us his support, which was vital in overcoming the scepticism of the PCC, and we got the official go-ahead — provided it was a "church organisation" — so we held that meeting on 12th January 1964 in St. Alban's Church Hall. It was originally thought (especially by the PCC!) that it should be for members of the Sunday School - but somehow it's terms of reference got a little bit stretched (!) as siblings and "close friends" also got included!
After an initial period of "What the hell are we doing?!" … somehow, out of the chaos and confusion there emerged some semblance of order … and with the support of a number of people, Penelope Worsfold (who had been Carys' best friend), Patricia Maskell (a fellow Sunday School teacher) and my brother Martin, we managed to put in place plans for the group and its first production. A nominal "committee" was organised …and I offered the group the choice of two alternative plays that we could possibly do in the May of that year. These were explained - talked about - and then a vote taken … with "The Magic Mirror" selected, subject to me finding ways of increasing the size of the speaking cast!!
Having made that decision - there was a real sense of excitement about what we had done. We had set up was a group of young people who were going to run a drama group themselves (with a little help and guidance!) - and at that time, that concept was something new. In those days - it was adults on the whole who organised and ran things… the thought that children/young people could do these things for themselves was approached with deep suspicion - a suspicion that was to continue for a number of years until it became obvious that, given the right support and guidance, young people were more than capable of organising and running things for themselves.
In September 1964, at the first AGM, John Howden became the group's first President, and I presented the group with two trophies - the Carys Tyer Memorial Cups - to be awarded, for outstanding commitment, to the members contributing most to the overall activities of the group during the season. It's significant that The Young Theatre in Beaconsfield still presents a Carys Tyer Memorial Cup each year to a member aged 14 or under.
MEMORIES OF YT…
Being the little brother of Ian Wallace, and it being a very long time ago, I am not sure how objective my memories of the inception of the Young Theatre are… but I think I can certainly concur with my brother's memory of chaos and confusion!! I became a founder member of the Young Theatre mainly because Ian was my older brother and consequently I felt there was a reasonable chance of getting all the good parts!! But of course it was also because, as those of you who know Ian will appreciate, I was given very little choice in the matter!!!
I was 14 at the time (Ian was only 21 extraordinarily) and I think I may have been seduced by the bright lights and the promise of fame and fortune (in the form of amazingly detailed reviews in the Harrow Observer!! — where have those days gone?). I seem to remember playing to audiences of around 300 (or is that just in my dreams?)
The history of the Young Theatre is well-documented so I guess it is the personal memories that are likely to be of most interest… which is a shame really because I do not have too many of them… I have no real recollection of how I came to be involved in and to love amateur theatre — again I suspect that my big brother's influence played a large part in that process. But I do remember Sunday afternoons (when we would meet) with great fondness and I recall the excitement that being involved in the total theatrical process generated in me. The impact that it has had on my life has been incalculable, even to the development of my final career — as a training consultant and not as a professional actor — although there are a vast number of similarities in these two professions!!! My skills (!?), such as they, enabled me to build a thriving business which formed the bedrock of my subsequent life.
I say this, not to try to engage you in my life — about which I am sure you have no interest - but to draw attention to the fact that I am probably typical of most of the young people who became involved in what was, at the time, a very rare organisation — a real theatre group for young people. There are many well-documented examples of ex-members who went on to professional acting careers — but for every one of those, there are probably many others who, like me, have had their lives shaped to a large degree by their experiences in the Young Theatre.
I am determined not to praise my brother too highly, for obvious reasons, but looking back, I am astonished at his total determination and enthusiasm for the "project" that became YT — at the tender age of 21!! And yes, I know I have now given away his current age — but much of that enthusiasm still exists so I am sure he will not mind.
He had to contend with members failing to arrive for rehearsals because they had had better offers — family outings, new boy/girlfriends — or because they forgot!! We are fickle creatures in our teens. I would like to be able to say that Ian met all these challenges with great good humour — but I was asked for my memories — and one thing I certainly recall is that the words "Ian" and "good humour" could never in honesty be used in the same sentence!! I can remember many frustrated outbursts — mostly aimed at me on the way home from those Sunday afternoon meetings!!!
Yet, despite it all, I loved my time with YT — all too short a time as I grew past the maximum age in a matter of 4 years — but somehow it seems to have been so much longer!! It enabled me (and the other members) to gain a level of self-confidence that I would never have otherwise had, an understanding of what real teamwork meant, a sense of making a positive contribution to the world and a lifelong commitment to making the world a happier and more fulfilling place for young people. I have now had three children of my own - who were able to join and enjoy a youth theatre group and gain the same skills and qualities - because of my experience with YT (needless to say I ended up running this youth theatre group for a while!!! — and guess who I got to direct some of their shows!!) — and I will be eternally grateful…
Thank you, Young Theatre — and happy birthday — 50 years and still Young!!! The similarities to Dr Who end there I suspect!!! Or maybe not!!
How YOU could help with this part of the Archive!
If you were a member of The Young Theatre - at either Harrow or Beaconsfield - we will be delighted to hear your memories of your time with the group. That's productions or any YT activities! Please get in touch with us and share this with any other ex-members you know. We want to hear from everyone!
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