History - Who are Moorlight Theatre Productions?

Strode TheatreStrode Theatre first opened its doors to an audience on October 5th, 1963. After a few years a tutor organiser/theatre manager by the name of John Lowe (now acclaimed as the oldest practising Male Ballet dancer in the UK at the grand age of 90 (2011)  was appointed and things really started to move forward. This move was followed before the end of the 1960s with the formation of the Strode Theatre Management Committee by amalgamating the Theatre Panel and the Arts Federation who had combined their resources to run it thus far. Amateur talent was then ‘recruited’ for a revue style show, Album 68. This was followed by increasing community involvement and the Management Committee realised that any proceeds made from shows organised by the Management of the theatre were going straight into the County Council’s Education Accounts as they were responsible for the venue in those years.  In the early 1970’s Strode Productions was officially formed, its constitution fulfilling the education authority's requirements for an independent body that could hold money made in previous productions mounted under the cover of the management committee. Strode Productions therefore took over responsibility for the management committee's wardrobe and scenery store, and the bar, thereby allowing a lot of investment to be made in the theatre facility,  as their commitment was to provide community access to a well equipped theatre. This brief also extended to maintaining the equipment and providing technical support to amateur ( and professional ) users. Jack Lodge and his helpers, spent many happy hours servicing and operating the early lighting and sound equipment, Ian Ritchieand made many recommendations to add better equipment over the years. Since then, Strode Productions role reduced as Health and Safety rules and a larger technical staff at the theatre meant that the responsibility for these matters could not be carried out on an ‘amateur’ basis, but the back stage support for many,  many years was always provided by Strode Productions.   The operation of the Bar required a purpose built storage cabinet which was sited in the Strode College canteen space as this doubled in the evening as the refreshment space for the theatre intervals. Doug Franks, later combined the operation of the bar with the role of Front of House manager very well indeed.   The committee had a very simple structure at this time – everyone on the committee had a ‘job’, ranging from the practical such as Wardrobe supervisor, Bar Manager, Stage Manager to the more creative such as Show producer. With creative talent like Ian Ritchie on board shows were always challenging – and great fun!  Ian’s parties live on long after he has sadly left us.

In the mid 1970’s, Street Players, established in 1930 by Laurence Housman ( one of England’s most productive playwrights and who lived in Street) was wound up.  By now Strode Productions were already producing an annual Pantomime and an Autumn Musical or revue.  The latter as much for their own amusement and to ‘open’ the key Autumn season as to entertain the audiences.  Noting the lack of amateur drama, the group decided in the early 1980’s to add drama to their portfolio – and added the touring of some of these productions.  The most memorable being the Noises Offproduction of ‘Noise’s Off’ staged at Strode in February 1992 and which was enjoyed so much by audience, cast and crew, it was again performed later in the year at the Merlin Theatre, Frome!  This involved towing a 40 foot trailer, owned by the group and normally used as ‘wing space’ during performances, behind a farm tractor to Frome and back. This particular production would not have taken place at all if the group had not been renting the Crispin Hall Gym at the time.  This was a ‘permanent’ wardrobe storage area, which also provided some property storage space and a ‘stage size’ rehearsal floor. This allowed a suitable set to be bought and assembled for rehearsing on – and hence was also available to go on tour – before being sold on to another amateur group for their enjoyment.   It would be important at this time to mention more about the Wardrobe. This facility had started life in the crossover corridor beneath the Strode Stage. Strode Productions erected hanging bars and volunteers ran this resource and made almost all outfits used on stage. Costume hire was added to the fund raising income with amateur groups being able to make appointments to visit and select what they needed and the general public being allowed access one evening a week. This wardrobe grew, of course, so that, when an offer from the Crispin Hall committee to lease the gym on an annual basis came, it was rapidly agreed and, a significant section of the space had ‘free standing’ hanging bars behind a partition to keep it all secure. This was invaluable for many years and, when the Crispin Hall Trustee’s decided that the space would be redeveloped into a two storey office space Strode Productions were very grateful to accept an offer from the Christian Science Church to move the wardrobe there. There it continued for a few more years, before the loss of the space in the early 2000’s resulted in the closing of the facility. All the costumes were either thrown out or given away – and are still fondly remembered today.          

By 1992 the ‘complexity’ of the many Strode Productions operations prompted the Chairman, to put four Sub Committee’s in place to allow more detailed control of the portfolio. These committees were Musical and Pantomime, Technical and Hire, Publicity and Social, and Drama. This certainly allowed a lot of growth in Drama, but the other areas felt less in touch with each other so the ‘experiment’ finished after three years. This had, however, shown Drama had a real momentum and it was felt that it could expand a lot quicker in independent hands so Strode Productions decided to stop doing Drama and encouraged the establishment of the highly successful Street Theatre, now a very regular part of the Strode Theatre calendar – and still adding touring productions to their programme.  

When the Strode Theatre Extension opened in 1999 the use of the bar facility in the College building ceased and allowed the 40 foot trailer to be put out to grass … well it was parked in a field for a few years before being sold off to someone who must have been desperate! From strode Productions viewpoint this successful project was actually Extension Mark 3 as twice before they had started efforts to Meyer Theatrecreate more space back stage and to include a permanent bar facility of the quality the theatre deserved. For Mark 3 the involvement was mainly providing financial and supportive help, and this project really did improve the venue a lot. These enhancements made the use of the stage a lot easier and it was therefore decided that the Autumn show should be more of a traditional Musical production, although the policy to encourage people to take to the stage for the first time was still firmly in place. Strode Productions history is now sadly at an end as the removal of the Strode Productions Pantomime from the Theatre’s planning entailed a move to the larger venue, the Meyer Theatre to allow the continuation of the full programme of Strode Productions Community involvement. This still continues under the new name of Moorlight Theatre Productions.