Calderdale theatre school celebrate landmark anniversary

Members of Calderdale Theatre School outside the National Theatre
Members of Calderdale Theatre School outside the National Theatre

MILLIONS of lines learned, thousands of costume changes and nervous first nights, hundreds of young people given an exhilarating insight into the world of theatre.

This year Calderdale Theatre School, set up in 1968 by Joyce Davidson, drama advisor to the former Halifax Education Authority, is celebrating a landmark anniversary.

Despite several moves and, as artistic director Gillie Kerrod says ‘a few anxious times’, the theatre school has survived as a vibrant organisation that has been delighting audiences and playing a part in Calderdale’s cultural life for five decades.

Based at the Orange Box young people’s centre in Halifax, the theatre school is now a charity, has six part-time staff and an intake of 70-80 students aged 11-19 each year.

On February 16 and 17, the young actors will take part in National Theatre Connections for the fifth time, this year presenting Brad Birch’s drama ‘Blue Electric Wind’ in Square Chapel, Halifax. They will then perform at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds as part of a regional festival and, if successful, go on to present the play at the National Theatre in London this summer.

Gillie said: “One of the theatre school’s recent highlights was the opportunity to perform ‘Prince of Denmark’ in front of an audience of 800 people at the National Theatre in 2012.

It was a big thrill to be part of such a special event. Another high point was the Beacon Actors’ Company’s Christmas show ‘Beauty and the Beast’ with a cast of former Theatre School members which sold out at Square Chapel.”

Other productions during the 50th anniversary year will be the theatre school’s debut performance of Dickens’s ‘Great Expectations’ in March and Russell Hoban’s ‘The Mouse and his Child’ in June. There are also plans for a celebration party with music, drama and stand-up comedy involving former members later in the year.

“The theatre school has always been about encouraging young people to work together as an ensemble to create the best production they can.

"Some former members have gone on to have careers in the theatre, many have not - but that is not the principal aim. It’s all about giving young people confidence in themselves. learning new skills, broadening their horizons and encouraging collaboration.

"Our members get the chance to meet other young people from all over Calderdale and lifelong friendships have been made over the years,” said Gillie.

“At a time when drama is being downgraded as a subject in many schools or abandoned altogether, it is even more important that young people are given the opportunity to have fun participating in drama. We hope to use the 50th anniversary to get that message across.”

A 50th anniversary logo has been designed by 13-year-old member Frances Addison and former member Daniel Scadden and a book of memories is being produced.

Contributions already received give a flavour of the affection in which the theatre school is held.

“I was part of a family and part of a group of people who wanted me to succeed”, said one student; “Theatre School set me up for life”, said another.

Gillie is now hoping that former members will get in touch and be part of the celebrations. “We would also love to hear from anyone who has any memories, programmes and photos to contribute especially from pre-1991.

There will be some fund-raising during the year to help with future productions but mostly the emphasis will be on celebrating five decades of achievement for Calderdale Theatre School.”

* Anyone who wants to find out more about Calderdale Theatre School or be part of the 50th anniversary celebrations should email ctsa1968@outlook.com or visit www.calderdaletheatre.co.uk