1922

 

2013

 

OUR HISTORY

The Society started life as the Operatic section of Chester Music Society. Later the section broke away from the parent body and the Chester Operatic Society was born. Rehearsals for “Yeomen of the Guard” commenced and the first performance of the Society took place in May 1922 at The Royalty Theatre in City Road, Chester. The early years were dominated by Gilbert and Sullivan productions and by Harold Mitchell, who was both Producer and principal male singer.

During the 1920s and early 1930s instead of auditions, parts were handed out by the Producer to those members who were “considered capable of playing the roles”. Performances continued at “The Royalty” until spring 1939 when major productions ceased for the duration of the Second World War. There was however, a concert party which kept the name of the Society alive and which performed in various venues.

With the return of peace, rehearsals recommenced and in 1946 the Society performed “Cox and Box” and “Trial by Jury” at Chester Town Hall, under the direction of Mrs Howard Mitchell, who had replaced her husband after his death in the early 1940s. 1947 saw a return to “The Royalty” with the production of “The Student Prince”. There was criticism of the “students” in that many of the mens chorus had been “students” in the early 1930’s version (‘Twas ever thus!).

Closure of “The Royalty” in 1965 forced a move to the ABC Cinema at the corner of Foregate Street and Love Street. The Society could never hope to perform to full houses since the cinema’s seating capacity was around 2,000. The facilities backstage were minimal and legion are the anecdotes about dashing up three flights of stairs for quick changes in overcrowded dressing rooms. The last show at the “ABC” was the memorable “Showboat” in 1978, prior to the modernisation of the cinema. The Society then moved to a new home at the then relatively new, purpose built, Gateway Theatre.

After so many successful productions, the word “Amateur” was dropped from the Society’s name in 1990. Throughout much of its history the Society has owed much to the patronage of Viola, the late Duchess of Westminster and the present Duke of Westminster.

In 2001, we successfully achieved charitable status; a task which required us to demonstrate our commitment to constitutional and operational objectives approved by the Charity Commission. These requirements and accountabilities ensure that we continue to achieve the highest standards of management of the Society.

Shows continued in Chester until the closure of The Gateway in 2007 when we are very proud to have been the last amateur society to perform in the theatre before its closure.

Despite the high professional standards achieved on stage, the shows were and continue to be essentially amateur productions. We have set ourselves the challenge of performing to professional standards, by producing shows costing between £25,000 and £30,000, in the best local theatres available and using the highest standards of Artistic and Musical Directors. These were the principles laid down through the history of the Society which are still applied today by the present management committee.

Our normal annual programme continues with one stage show followed by Autumn and Christmas concerts. Occasionally, other concerts are performed on special occasions, such as Remembrance celebrations.

Our determination to delight our audiences with the best usually results in a financial loss. We continue to fund-raise through sponsorship, our concerts and other events to subsidise our stage productions and are very grateful to individuals and organisations, including the local authorities who all support us financially.

We continue our proud tradition of stage theatre performances in various locations such as Chester, Wrexham and Mold until we can return to a more regular home when the promised new theatre is opened in Chester in the next few years.