To start at the beginning (A very good place to start!), the Society can trace its history back more than a century, to 1902 in fact. In those days the Society performed only one show per year, mainly Operas, hence the name. Not having a theatre of its own, the Town Hall was used for its productions. Once the Society restarted after the war, productions were moved to the Regal Cinema, where it continued to present an annual Opera or Operetta. In 1979 the Society became a Limited Company and a registered charity. At about the same time the Society became affiliated to NODA (National Operatic and Drama Association). Wells Operatic Society Committee both guide theatrical performances and manage the Little Theatre as a not-for-profit business. You can become a member of Wells Operatic Society, affiliated to NODA. We use the logo above as a trading name to cover all aspects of our work. We receive grants from various local authorities, such as Wells City Council and Mendip District Council. Some are received on a regular basis and some we request as a special one-off such as towards the cost of the wheelchair facility in the auditorium.
In 1979 The Society was offered the option to purchase the freehold of the present building from Mendip District Council. With a lot of hard fund raising by members of the Society and other Wells business people the building became our home and is known to all as 'The Little Theatre'. Previous to that the building was best known as the boy's building of Wells Blue Grammar School. The car park was of course the playground. Between the school's move to its new building in Milton Lane in 1964 and the purchase by the Society the building was temporarily used by a number of organisations, such as the Wells Library and even the Jehovah's Witnesses. When the Society purchased the building, considerable work was required to change the interior from rows of classrooms to space for the stage, auditorium, dressing rooms, etc. Later, the rear part of the auditorium was raised so that people in the rear seats had a better view of the stage. Over the years, an orchestra pit was created, with much breaking through concrete and digging, the stage right wings were added and the auditorium was given a total refurbishment. During this time we took advantage to also install floor level emergency lighting and provision of space for two wheelchairs. This work was assisted by a donation of paint by Dulux. The front of house toilets have been rebuilt with the addition of a disabled toilet. The bar has also been refurbished with the provision of a new floor above which has been used to re-house our extensive wardrobe. Other projects have included the refurbishment of the rehearsal room, the provision of better toilet and washing facilities backstage, the repair of part of the roof and the resurfacing of the car park. Work of this nature is costly and can only be done a bit at a time when the Society's finances allow. With the exception of a few very specialised trades, members of the society carry out almost all maintenance and refurbishment work in their spare time, saving us the cost of employing outside contractors. We are lucky to have such skilled and talented members who are prepared to donate their valuable time. If you have any skills and spare time to offer there are always many repair or improvement jobs to be done. Even if you can only wield a paintbrush please let the Theatre Administrator know. There is more to theatre than just performing on stage! Running our building, even before considering the cost of staging shows, costs in the region of £300 per week. This covers electricity, heating, telephone, and all the essential repairs and maintenance. As a theatre operating a licensed bar and open to members of the public during shows we have to comply with many legal and health and safety regulations. The building is regularly inspected by Mendip District Council and other bodies and must meet their requirements in order to keep our alcohol and public entertainment licences.
The whole raison d'être of the Society is, of course, putting on various shows. In recent years we have put on a number of productions each year. Typically we stage a major musical in the spring - our 'Spring Show'. This is seen as our 'showpiece' and is always the most expensive to put on. Sometimes an invited, outside director directs this. Costume hire, scenery construction materials, orchestra member's payments, royalty payments, and publicity and so on cost a lot of money. This has to be paid for out of seat ticket sales. The first night of our Spring Show is traditionally 'Civic Night'. The Mayor of Wells, who is our President, will attend with a number of his or her guests and also Patrons who receive complimentary tickets as part of their subscription attend. These people are treated to a buffet and glass of wine during the evening. Whilst not compulsory, many people choose evening dress for Civic Night. Later in the year the Society will stage a play, often directed by a Society member. A second musical type production is often presented in September and another play usually follows in October.A traditional pantomime is presented just before Christmas. This is always popular with the people of Wells and tickets are usually sold out early. As you can see, with such a busy schedule there is always something going on at the Little Theatre. Often one production will be being performed, whilst a second is being rehearsed and even another perhaps preparing for auditions, all at the same time! In the recent past a 'Youth Group' was formed for youngsters between 11 and 18 years old, which staged shows such as 'Bugsy Malone', and 'Bye Bye Birdie' with great success. Unfortunately, this group is no longer active, as we need dedicated adults to take on the responsibility of leading the group and to give encouragement to those who could be the future of the Society! We would be very interested to hear from any members who would enjoy this challenge.
Auditions and Rehearsals
Prior to any production, it is usual to hold auditions for character parts. A notice will be put up on the notice board in the Member's Bar giving details. There are special guidelines for auditions and if you are thinking of auditioning for a part in a show you should ask the show's director for a copy. The Director and/or Musical Director will choose sections of the script or songs to be used as audition pieces and prospective participants will be expected to at least be familiar with the pieces. Actual auditions are performed in front of the Director, Musical Director and sometimes Choreographer along with one or more independent committee members. The results are usually given on the same evening. For plays, auditions are often replaced by rather less formal 'readings' where people all sit together and read various sections of the script with the director. In this way the director will judge who appears to be best suited to each part. Rehearsals begin approximately three months before any production. The director will display a rehearsal schedule on the notice board. Expect to have to attend two evenings every week to begin with, rising to three or more closer to the production date. Weekends are not exempt either in the last week or so of rehearsals.
During a production
A production may involve maybe a dozen people for a play or up to forty for a musical or pantomime. However, no production can happen without a lot of other people 'behind the scenes'. Usually, the actual production team of will have been chosen before the auditions. The team consists of director, producer, stage manager, choreographer plus a stage crew of maybe up to five, lighting technician and assistants, props person and maybe assistant, wardrobe team, make-up team and lastly, but definitely not least, the prompt!
Friends of the Little Theatre
Friends of the Little Theatre give essential support to the success of the Society. The Front of House volunteers are the Society's link between the Theatre and the attending public. We need people to sell tickets in the box office, distribute publicity leaflets, sell raffle tickets, programmes, and sweets, and other people to assist the attending public to their seats. We need up to three people each night during a show to operate the busy bar and other people to sell coffees. If you have experience of working behind a bar please let us know. In all, you can see that for every person on stage there are probably four or five doing their bit to ensure a successful show.
We have had great success over the years, being nominated and winning a host of county and regional awards. The Roy Bevan Memorial Endeavour Award is presented each year to one of our members who have made a special contribution to the Little Theatre. We also make regular presentation to those members who have achieved the various NODA long service medals.
The Social Scene
Apart from our theatrical activities, there is an active social scene. Traditionally, about a week after the end of our Spring Show, we hold our Annual Dinner Dance. This is held at a local hotel and is always well attended. We have held Quiz Nights, Car Treasure Hunts, Curry Nights, New Year's Eve parties and walks. Again, any suggestions for social activities will be heartily welcomed.
Finally ...this is the beginning
You will have gathered life at the Little Theatre can be quite hectic at times, there is always something happening. Lots more information (forthcoming events, committee members, award results etc.) can be found on the notice board in the Bar. A bi-monthly NODA magazine and a monthly Spotlight magazine are a useful read, there is also a 'Theatre Handbook' that will give you more information, including the rules of the Society. Information about becoming a Patron can be obtained through our Patrons Secretary. Mostly though we hope that you have an enjoyable time with us, that's what its all about.