THE YOUNG THEATRE started life at St. Alban's Church Hall, North Harrow, Middlesex on Sunday 12th January 1964. Founded by Ian R. Wallace, this new group — for young people aged from nine upwards — was originally called The St. Alban's Junior Drama Group and established the concept of being a drama group for young people - run by young people. In 1966 the group was renamed and this all-important concept incorporated into THE YOUNG THEATRE's first written constitution which also set out the group's principal Aims and with the support of its first President, John H. Howden, the group quickly established itself and prospered.
On 31st May 1970, THE YOUNG THEATRE expanded when a second group was formed at Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire by Ian R. Wallace and Aviva Wiseman. Based at The Burnham Hall and actively supported by its first President, Anne, Lady Burnham, this group also quickly established a reputation for high performance and presentation standards, before moving to the newly created Curzon Centre at Beaconsfield in 1974.
Unfortunately, the Harrow group, which had moved to the Harrow Arts Centre at Harrow Weald in September 1978, sadly ceased operations in 1983. However The Young Theatre (at Beaconsfield) continued to maintain its unique concepts, and it remained financially independent; being entirely self-funding. By the time it closed in 1983, nearly 400 young people had been members of the Harrow group.
Over the years a number of constitutional changes were introduced at Beaconsfield to reflect and respond to the changes in the social and educational demands being made on young people, but the group continued to operate that overriding all-important principle, with all executive decisions still remaining in the hands of the members through an Executive Committee, chaired by the Group Director. This committee, which comprised members elected at the Annual General Meeting from across the whole age range of the group, was guided by Mentors, including an Artistic Director and a General Manager - both of whom are elected by the membership and had to be aged over 21, but, although both attended the Executive Committee meetings, neither of them had voting rights (!) - and so The Young Theatre remained very much a theatre group for young people - run by young people. Whilst all those involved with The Young Theatre were unpaid and therefore amateur, a totally professional attitude was expected from everyone.
By September 2010, over 900 had been full members at Beaconsfield! Many of those involved in both these Young Theatre groups went on to have careers in the theatre, film or tv professions. Ex-members were encouraged to remain in close contact with the group and where possible to return for the shows and to pass on their skills and experience to the next generation of members by becoming a mentor, directing a production, running workshops or just being available to help and advise. Thus “closing the circle” and playing an integral part in the continuing success of The Young Theatre.
Since its formation in 1964, The Young Theatre regularly premiered original plays and musicals, many of which were written by those directly involved with Young Theatre. It remained extremely proud of its heritage and the high standards to which it had aspired throughout its existence. Highly successful over the years at local drama festivals, The Young Theatre (at Beaconsfield) also performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and organised two tours along the South Coast.
But it was in 2004, the 40th anniversary year of its formation, that The Young Theatre achieved its biggest success when The Young Theatre (at Beaconsfield) not only won the All England Theatre Festival (becoming the first youth group to win this competition against adult groups from all over the country), but also then represented England at theBritish Final Festival of One Act Plays with their production of Ball Boys where, up against adult groups from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, they became the first youth group ever to win the British title. THE YOUNG THEATRE had indeed become “The Best of British”.
As you read this, be reassured that The Young Theatre is alive and well and goes from strength to strength! The Young Theatre (at Beaconsfield) dropped “(at Beaconsfield)” in early 2012 but continues there as The Young Theatre. As this Archive holds all the historical information for the long-closed Harrow group as well as for Beaconsfield, we will still make the distinction.
On the occasion of the group's 50th birthday on the 12th January 2014 we gathered a number of ex-members’ memories.
Tim Hill, Webmaster YTArchive, July 2012.