Guest Blog: Alan Warmby – Celebrating 100 years of Woodhouse Musical Theatre Company

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In the dark days of 1919, just after the First World War, a likeminded group of members of Christ Church Woodhouse in Huddersfield decided to ‘put on a musical show’, the show was Princess Ju Ju and Christ Church Woodhouse Amateur Operatic Society was born.

Exactly 100 years later, Woodhouse Musical Theatre Company is in the middle of rehearsing for its 97th show – Our House, the Madness Musical, on at the LBT March 19th – 23rd.

Our House rehearsal image
Cast rehearsing for Our House

During its 100 year history Woodhouse Musical Theatre Company has, understandably, seen a multitude of changes, not least of which is to its name.

In the late 90’s Christ Church Woodhouse Amateur Operatic Society moved its base from Christ Church Woodhouse to a variety of rehearsal venues and consequently felt it appropriate to lose the ‘Christ Church’ part of the name and become Woodhouse Amateur Operatic Society.

Considering the cost of putting on a show (sometimes as much as £30,000) the company then dropped the ‘amateur’ part of the name.  Finally, considering that the shows that Woodhouse were performing (Chicago, Little Shop of Horrors, Buddy, Witches of Eastwick, Footloose, Grease etc) were not in the slightest bit operatic the company changed its name to Woodhouse Musical Theatre Company.

Woodhouse Musical Theatre Company

Woodhouse has performed in a variety of venues, notably initially Christ Church School, Deighton School and Venn St Arts Centre until settling for the last 22 years at the Lawrence Batley Theatre. For many years most amateur societies in Huddersfield had performed at the iconic Venn Street Art Centre, until in 1989 the Kirklees Theatre Trust was given the go ahead to save the Queen Street Methodist Chapel from deterioration and launch Huddersfield’s newest theatre – the Lawrence Batley Theatre. Building work for the theatre started in September 1992 and took four years to complete. Along with a number of other Huddersfield based amateur societies Woodhouse Musical Theatre Company has performed there ever since.

Since its departure from Christ Church, Woodhouse Musical Theatre Company has had something of a ‘nomadic’ existence rehearsing in a variety of places such as working men’s clubs and the John Smiths Stadium in an effort to find affordable rehearsal space. For one show alone, Grease, the Company rehearsed in six different venues. For the last few years, however Woodhouse Musical Theatre Company has found a, hopefully, permanent headquarters in Byram Arcade where they have established a Wardrobe / Committee room and rehearsal space.

Woodhouse Musical Theatre Company

All, however, has not been plain sailing for Woodhouse. In 1997 the company came perilously close to folding due to lack of funds. The show performed that year was Robin, Prince of Sherwood, a fabulous show but not one the theatre going public of Huddersfield had ever heard of, consequently audience numbers were disastrously low and left Woodhouse with just £300.00 in the bank.

At the first committee meeting after the show, when it became clear that the cost of putting on the show had left the company with little or no funds, the first item on the agenda was ‘the future of the Society’. After much discussion with some committee members suggesting that the society should fold, it was agreed to try for just one more show. That show turned out to be Chicago which sold out every night and financially saved the society from extinction.

Woodhouse Musical Theatre Company

Funding has continued to be an issue, not just with Woodhouse but with all amateur societies in Huddersfield. It is a common concept that everything involved with amateur theatre is subsidised or even donated and that all involved are amateurs / volunteers. Not so. Whilst it is true that, in the old days, societies would make their own scenery and store it under the stage  and production teams and sound and lighting engineers were all members of the society who gave their services free of charge, this is definitely not the case nowadays. Certainly, all who appear on stage as well as stewards and the majority of back stage crew do give their services freely, however most other aspects simply have to be paid for. The cost of lighting, sound, stage set, costumes, publicity, programme, rehearsal venue rental, Producer / Choreographer / Musical Director / Stage Manager fees, as well as rental for the Lawrence Batley Theatre all contribute towards the continuing existence of amateur theatre societies being more akin to running a small business. Indeed current costs have led to more than one amateur society having to move from the Lawrence Batley Theatre back to their roots in smaller venues.

Amateur societies rely heavily on income from ticket sales and Woodhouse Musical Theatre Company received a huge boost when their production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last year sold out every performance which ensured the financial future of the company for some time to come.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Woodhouse Musical Theatre Company is incredibly proud to have survived for a century and is intending to celebrate in style with a Centenary ball this year, a concert in September at the Picturedrome and a 2020 Centenary calendar with photos of past Woodhouse members and shows – so lots going on this year!.

Additionally the Lawrence Batley Theatre has kindly allowed Woodhouse to put up a plaque commemorating our centenary. This will be displayed alongside the plaque which commemorates their friends and fellow amateur society’s centenary – Huddersfield Amateur Operatic Society (now known as Huddersfield Musical Theatre Company). The plaque will be officially unveiled before the opening night of Our House on Tuesday March 19th by one of Woodhouse’s longest serving members Mrs Christine Hoyle.

All at Woodhouse are looking forward to the next 100 years.

Alan Warmby – President, Woodhouse Musical Theatre Company.