History of Shinfield Players
By Henry Hawes
In 1956 a group of Shinfield residents felt there was a need for live theatre in Shinfield and the surrounding area. On the 12 January 1956, a small group of potential thespians met at St Mary's church hall in Shinfield, and so the Shinfield Players were born. Such was the enthusiasm of this small group that on the 6 and 7 April 1956 they presented a 3 act farce, "Tons of money", in St Mary's church hall with a cast of ten. From that auspicious start they went on to present some 42 plays in the surrounding area, playing in church halls, schools and even in the NAAFI of the RAF camp here at Shinfield Park. During this period they were desperate to find a permanent building in which to perform. In 1972 the local newsagent, Derek Wood, heard that the temporary buildings on this site were being auctioned.
Whilst looking for a garden shed for himself he found that the NAAFI had been auctioned and he realised it would have made an excellent theatre, but unfortunately it had been purchased by a group of gypsies who were going to remove the metal and burn the rest. An immediate meeting of the Shinfield players was called and the princely sum of £100 was put forward to try and purchase this building from the gypsies.
After much negotiation it was bought for £72. Then commenced 3 months of frustration waiting for the local authority to arrange a site for the new theatre, unfortunately there was a time limit on how long the building could remain on the site and this period had long expired. After some delicate negotiations with the Ministry of Defence, they were granted permission to erect the building on the piece of land we currently occupy and which was the main gate to the RAF Station. Then followed a frantic 2 years during which many volunteers cleared the site, dismantled this building and erected it on its current site; converting it into a theatre and so started the realisation of a dream.
On Friday the 9 March 1973, a grand opening was held with some 250 people attending, all of whom had helped this project in one way or another. All of these people had been inspired by the Chairman, Ken Stanley.
On the 12 April 1973, this theatre opened its doors to the public with its first presentation in this new home, with the play "Tobius and the Angel". Originally the Shinfield Players were formed as a dramatic group, but after presenting a few plays in this new venue it was decided to present musicals as well, and in 1974 they presented their first musical "Merrie England", so setting a format of 4 plays, 2 musicals and a Pantomime each season. This format is still followed today.
In those early days finances did not run into installing theatre heating and during the first few productions, heating in the venue was non-existent. This says much for the hardiness of those early audiences that they used to arrive at the theatre armed with blankets, overcoats and anoraks in abundance, together with flasks containing hot drinks.
It has always been the policy of the Shinfield Players to encourage young people to get involved in the 'Arts' and over many years the theatre had had a thriving youth group, led by dedicated youth leaders who also present their own productions in the theatre.
Since the theatre opened its doors it has survived many traumas with such things as the stage roof blowing off in a gale (twice!), the whole electrical system being condemned and the roof over the stage collapsing requiring major steel supports to be installed, to name but a few, but with the hard work and dedication of the members we have surmounted all of these traumas and we are still here over 60 years later with a theatre which has improved out of all recognition although the time will come when this building will be "past its sell by date", so serious consideration is being given to a new theatre being built sometime in the foreseeable future so that this Community Theatre can continue its good work.
In order to keep the theatre running efficiently and effectively we have a committee which decides everything to do with the well being of the society. This group of people meet once a month to discuss such things as what shows we do, maintenance required on the building, and who hires the theatre. Your current committee members are listed below.
Patron: Jodie Prenger
President: Henry Hawes
Chairman: Gordon Bird
Treasurer: Susan Gowen
Secretary: Rachel Lockwood
NODA (National Operatic & Dramatic Association)
The National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA), founded in 1899, is the main representative body for amateur theatre in the UK. It has a membership of some 2500 amateur/community theatre groups and 3000 individual enthusiasts throughout the UK, staging musicals, operas, plays, concerts and pantomimes in a wide variety of performing venues, ranging from the country's leading professional theatres to village halls. Members have access to a wide range of benefits.
NODA is divided into eleven national regions, each headed by an Region Councillor who sits on the council (the ruling body of the Association), supported by a network of Regional Representatives and other volunteers. These volunteers are the vital link to the grass roots of the Association, the amateur theatre companies themselves. The Association is administered from its Headquarters in Peterborough, with a knowledgeable and friendly staff able to deal with virtually any enquiry relating to amateur theatre.
There is a broad spectrum of ages involved with amateur theatre nationwide, from a burgeoning number of youth groups to adult companies, which meet the needs of all levels of both performers, whether dramatic or musical, and enthusiasts involved backstage, front of house or in administration.
To give a shared voice to the amateur theatre sector
To help amateur societies and individuals achieve the highest standards of best practice and performance
.To provide leadership and advice to enable the amateur theatre sector to tackle the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century
NODA Website: www.noda.org.uk