My name is Maureen Woolfson: the year is 1988. I seem to have been in the EADS forever! But, in fact, I have been a member for thirty years this year, and the Society was going strong when my husband and I joined when we first came to Elgin. But the thirty years to my credit begged the question as to just how old the Elgin Amateur Dramatic Society really is so I set to, delving and researching, only to find that the EADS will be forty-three years old in October of this year.
This is quite a remarkable record for any Dramatic Society – to giveover forty years unbroken entertainment and, I hope, pleasure to the Elgin community. Those years have not been without trauma, drama, highlights, happiness and, as far as I can ascertain, nothing is new!
I have compiled a little ‘potted’ history of the EADS which, I hope, will be of interest and please those who read it.
Room 3, Elgin Academy, the old Elgin Academy that’s now Moray College, October 16th 1945, saw the first meeting of persons interested in forming a Dramatic Society in Elgin. The minutes do not record how many people attended but interest must have been keen, for a full committee and office bearers were appointed there and then. Ex-Lord Provost Hamilton presided and Mr William Wittet was elected President. Mr L G Cochrane agreed to do the first production. Mr Cochrane at that time was also giving a series of classes to instruct young actors – so what’s new in workshops!
By November 1945, the Constitution of the Society was drawn up, presented and accepted – no grass was allowed to grow, it appears. Furthermore the first production was to be `Quality Street’ and performed in the Territorial Drill Hall on the 21st March, 1946, also three One-act plays produced and one of those plays to be entered for the Drama Festival!
The Committee worked very hard to raise money, Basket Bridge Drive etc, to fund the first production. I think rehearsals took place at Elgin Academy but no mention of rehearsals is made in the minutes.
One interesting decision was made at a Committee on 18th March 1946 and that was that no presentation to be made to cast on stage after the final performance and this policy is still upheld to this day. Again of interest, it is recorded that, although of a high standard, the One-act plays were not very well supported by the public – does anything change?
A serious quest for premises started. The Society was offered premises to buy, 293/295 High Street, Elgin, which is at the west end of the High Street, empty buildings now, but it was decided they were of no interest, no mention of why. Messrs Hay and Son are recorded as giving valuable help to the Society as indeed they still do.
1947 brought acclaim to the Society when the A team entered the Scottish Drama Festival and got through to the finals; a remarkable achievement in so short a time. Rehearsals now took place in the West End School, the first production from there being `The Walls of Jericho ‘.
I noted that in 1948, Miss Flora Macdonald was elected to the Committee. I knew Flora well she was a first rate actress and was sorely missed when she died in 1970.
The profits of the production `Dangerous Corner’ in 1948 were handed over to the Town Council in aid of the Munro Home, which was an elderly care home and stood on the Bishopmill Brae approximately where the Riverside Gospel hall is now.
An interesting little sentence in the Minutes – ‘It was suggested that Club Members might be asked to attend certain rehearsals nearer the presentation date!’ In a later Minute it appears there was a mini-rebellion by the `outcast members’ because they were, to quote `left out in the cold regarding activities and rehearsals.’
The Society apparently had a loss of £40 on the one-act production in 1949 and it was decided to concentrate on three-act plays in future. Mr Sangster agreed to produce `Quiet Wedding’ in October 1949 stating at the time that more Producers were needed – how right he was. In spite of no premises, lack of public support and lack of producers, EADS soldiered on and in fact took some of their productions on tour, playing at Buckie, Forres and Lossiemouth.
In 1950 the Society came very near to folding. The Producer resigned due to lack of support for his forthcoming play `Great Day’ and lack of premises. This lack of premises has haunted the group ever since the beginning and we became quite professional vagrants! In my thirty years we have been `moved on’ five times. 1950 was a pretty traumatic time, Producers and Stage Managers came and went with alarming regularity but still plays were produced and the Society hung together.
Reading the minutes to this point one cannot help but be a bit dismayed to learn of Producers insisting on `experienced actors only’ and to wonder how on earth one got started on stage?
Remembering that there was no storage place, the props were hired or borrowed from local furniture shops. Messrs Anderson & England for one, and costumes often hired from Wm Mutrie & Sons, Edinburgh. Hiring costumes was always dodgy business – one was never quite sure if they would be what you wanted and even worse, would they fit the players? Many last minute panics to let out or take in! Nowadays we have a good selection of props and a good wardrobe from which we make and adapt.
A move was made to stage ‘Gaslight’ in the Holy Trinity Hall for the first time and in 1957 the club started rehearsals in the Rose Nursery. I learnt from Bill Gillan that for one production, while rehearsals were going on in the Rose Nursery, painting of flats was in progress outside, in February! I’m glad to say that this state of affairs has not occurred again.
Around this time too, the Club decided to go in for more intensive advertising – posters, handbills and photographs. And so we progressed. A more important decision taken though was to give aspiring producers a chance of tackling a one-act play, but search as I did; I found no action taken, no producers coming forward and no plays! I notice here in 1958 my husband Bernard was in charge of distribution of handbills for ‘The Lady from Edinburgh’
A rather nice touch, if expensive, was the Society’s fetish, almost, of giving a presentation to almost everyone who ever left the Club!
‘The Paragon’, produced by Bernard, staged at the Holy Trinity Church Hall, went on to win the SCDA Festival in Stirling and though we did not know it at the time, it was the beginning of a long battle with the SCDA to get proper expenses to take us to Stirling. With ‘The Paragon’ we were allocated the Friday night slot and that meant a two-night stay in Stirling. The other finalists were from Edinburgh and Glasgow, easy access to Stirling, and though we requested Saturday night to ease travelling and expenses (many of the cast had to take a day’s leave) this was refused. After another fiasco when `The Imaginary Invalid’ got through to the finals and, not being properly funded, the Society finally ceased its membership with SCDA. The Society just could not afford the cost, which was considerable, nor could the members, who were paying out quite a bit themselves. EADS has never since been associated with the SCDA. We did get something though – a £10 cheque was received as an award for reaching the Stirling finals from ‘Nescafé’. Was this the start of sponsorship?
From here on, Bernard and I were personally involved with EADS – years filled with emotions ranging from happiness to frustration and anger!
Again, it was proposed that would-be producers be given a crack at one-act plays – for private viewing only though! I’m afraid that ‘would-be’ producers today get thrown in at the deep end with a public performance.
I am also struck by the fact that nothing is new; only a year ago I proposed that the proceeds of a performance be handed over to charity and I discover that in 1961 the proceeds from one performance of ‘Breath of Spring’ were to be given to the Scottish National Institution for War Blinded. But, sadly, the best-laid plans…. the profits were so small, due to lack of public support, that a very small donation was all that could be managed.
Also in 1961 a tremendous decision was taken to shift our production venue from the Holy Trinity Hall to the new Elgin Town Hall. This move was to have a great effect of the whole outlook of the Society – now they set out to create THEATRE. New flats had to be made, publicity was increased and a new feeling of expectancy and excitement lifted the Club to even greater endeavours.
Soon after, the Society took another important step – to stage a musical. Bernard & I had seen ‘Salad Days’ at the Perth Rep and Bernard was very keen for EADS to stage this musical. But, it took a lot of persuasive talk, not to mention playing a recording of the musical, to get the Committee to agree to the gamble! But it came off, the public loved it, the press praised it and the members had a whale of a time doing it. EADS was in the musical business.
Ralph Riach directed what seemed a very ambitious musical for the Society – ‘Guys and Dolls’, Ambition paid off as it received much acclaim. After producing another musical, `Make me an Offer’, (which, by the way, was Ugo Ruggeri’s debut!) Ralph decided to make acting his career, a very wise decision, as he has made a great success of it and we have seen him many times on TV and on stage at Eden Court in Inverness – on which occasions we have trooped thro’ to acclaim ‘oor Ralphie’!
In spring 1964, the Society presented `The Diary of Anne Frank’, one of the most moving plays I’ve seen. The set, designed by Stanley Mitchell was outstanding and Frances Swann, who played Anne, reduced one to tears. Frances broke her foot during the first night’s performance, carried on, was carted off to hospital afterwards, ended in plaster and continued to play Anne for the next three performances. So good was the production that even Frances’ plaster seemed part of the play.
The press were not always kind to us – a Victorian drama/comedy `Angels in Love’ got a terrible slating, from the then local paper, ‘The Courant’ for being full of sick humour and an unworthy offering to Elgin audiences; at the same time admitting that it was brilliantly done!
A joint effort between HMS Fulmar’s Buccaneer Theatre Group and EADS was staged in the grounds of Elgin Cathedral in June 1968. It was TS Eliot’s `Murder in the Cathedral’ and was produced by Tony Nelson. What a setting and what a play; such a challenge and a unique experience. During Beckett’s Christmas Eve sermon, we – the poor women of Canterbury – sat on the Tombstones of the Cathedral, listening to Bernard deliver the sermon. So intense was the atmosphere that we sat there each night, listening intently, totally absorbed in the words, reluctant to break the spell. I think none of us will ever forget that. Sadly, Tony Nelson, who was a professional actor, died whilst on tour in Australia, a few years later.
Bernard died in 1978. He was such a good producer and actor, and the Society sorely missed his quiet humour and guiding wisdom.
So many wonderful productions followed. The Society was rapidly gaining a reputation for first-rate performances, very professionally presented. And such a range – comedy, tragedy, thrillers, and musicals – we tried them all. Only pantomime was missing and eventually we tried that too.
Set making had been going on in an old Army hut on the Pinefield Industrial Estate, but in 1968 the chance of the redundant Birnie School came up. This was to prove a shaky tenure, for though ideal for our purposes, rehearsals and staging all under the one roof, Moray District Council would not give us proper tenancy and we were constantly under threat of eviction. Eventually we were moved on to Cranloch School and we set up home there but still insecure. Five years later we were moved back to Birnie School, hopefully for good. Not to be – in 1983 Birnie School was put on the market for sale and we were out.
The policy of staging a pantomime at Christmas and a more drama orientated play in the spring began to pay off and our bank balance began to grow. Now the thinking was in terms of buying, perhaps even Birnie. Mr Walter Grant generously loaned us an old Kirk in Lossiemouth to store our ever-growing props and sets and the Eight Acres Hotel usually provided us with the Westray Room for rehearsals, this through the good offices of Ugo Ruggeri one of our members. We tried to repay the Eight Acres by performing at a Theatre Dinner each May, but it was small repayment for the hours we have spent there. While this was a pretty comfy arrangement for cast it wasn’t really good for the Society as a whole for it meant that backstage and cast only met on the stage of the Town Hall and the Society felt split.
Birnie School was sold, but not to us; Mr Grant required the old Kirk; so once again we were on the hunt. Our possessions were scattered all over the place and our spring production of three one-act plays took place, simply because the plays did not necessarily require a set and could be staged with furniture and props.
We were in very dire straits in this year of 1988. It was decided that purchasing of property was our only hope of security. At this point our President Mr Ian Laurie located a disused garage in Kingsmills for sale. He guided us through the complexities of applying to the Elgin Common Good Fund for a loan of £20,000! A lot of nail biting before the plunge was taken, but the loan was granted, we bid for the garage and success – WE HAD A HOME AT LAST.
It is now May 1988, and we hold the keys to OUR PROPERTY. The Society is in good heart and eager to start cleaning and installing ready for 1988-89 season.
Throughout my thirty years, the Society has come through many traumas and crises. It has not all been sweetness and light and not a few times has teetered on the brink through lack of money, lack of members and lack of premises – but somehow the EADS has held together, put on a play with confidence and professionalism and kept going for Forty-Three years – not a bad record!
Well, yes, I am continuing this saga to bring the account up to date, spring 1994 to be exact. In our new home, fondly christened ‘The Sheddie’, the Society continued to produce three-act, and one-act plays, sometimes taking the one-act plays on tour, as it were, to local village halls. We had a tremendous achievement in March 1993, when a play, produced by Henrietta Edwards, won the Moray Arts Festival ‘Jess Milne Trophy’ with the one-act play ‘Between Mouthfuls’.
Audiences for the pantomimes continue to be almost ‘Full House’ but in spite of trying every means of advertising, the numbers attending one-act and three-act plays are small, so now we’ve returned to performing these in the Holy Trinity Church Hall.
In July 1991 very sadly, Ugo Ruggeri died. Ugo and I were the `veterans’ of the club and he has been greatly missed for his kindness and fun, not to mention his acting and producing talents.
This year (1994/5) is our Golden Anniversary – 50 years treading the boards- such an achievement for a small club. A certain excitement is in the air and PLANS are being made to celebrate. If no one else will – I will commit to paper just what we did do in 1995.
Our Golden Anniversary Year
We entered the Moray Arts Club Drama Festival with two plays, one of which, ‘The Crackit Joug’ came second, which meant we just missed retaining the Jess Milne Trophy. Our main efforts were concentrated on the fact that it was our 50th Anniversary.
A Jubilee Committee was formed to raise money for a Grand Party to take place as near as possible to our founding date, 16 October. It was also decided to produce ‘Plaza Suite’ in Elgin Town Hall in the April. We engaged Charles Barron, Arts Director of Haddo House Hall, a professional drama director and author, to direct the play. The tickets were golden, the programme was golden and success was golden!
Our party was held at the Eight Acres Hotel. We invited as many past members as could be contacted and also many friends who had supported the Society throughout the years. There was lots of memorabilia on display and the chat and greetings made it a wonderful evening.
The Christmas production was ‘The Wizard of Oz’, directed by Frances Robinson and myself. It was a smashing success and a fitting end to our 50th Anniversary year!
It is 2005 and we’ve reached our 60th Anniversary – much to celebrate and much to reflect on. Time for me to set to and write some!
Since then we have maintained our goals each year of a panto, two entries for the Drama Festival and a spring production, always striving for professionalism and the best we can give. The Festival plays give opportunities for first time producers to try out their abilities and hopefully go on to tackle a three-act play. We always try to take account of our audiences’ tastes (if that is the right word) and what will be acceptable.
We have taken some of our plays touring around the area, and whilst it may be good PR it hasn’t always been a successful venture. One memorable foray comes to mind. We were invited to Tomintoul to present ‘The Crackit Joug’. It was a howling gale with lashing rain, we couldn’t find the hall, and finally performed to an audience of six people!
About 1996, residential flats for were being erected opposite The Sheddie and interest was being shown in acquiring our building and the area of ground we owned. This sparked our own thoughts on possibilities of developing new premises that could also incorporate a small theatre. This could be possible if we obtained a National Lottery Grant. We had two options: to move, or redevelop The Sheddie. Keith Edwards drew up very exciting plans for The Sheddie, whilst a search for a suitable building or site also began. Ian Sinclair, Lindsay Knight and Keith formed a team and duly went ahead with the complicated application for Lottery money. This was a huge undertaking. They put in many hours of work over several years to obtain a grant, with rejection after rejection as the Lottery goalposts kept changing. As of now, we are still in our Sheddie, but who knows what is in the future.
Throughout this trauma we continued to offer our audiences our best, only to be hit by a flood in the summer of 1997. The River Lossie burst its banks and flooded a great area around Kingsmills, and our building, along with many others, was deluged by over 3 feet of filthy water. What a shambles. Enter Williamson’s skip! Much of our costume wardrobe, scenery flats and property accumulated over the years had to be thrown out as it was beyond salvage. The building also suffered severely with internal structures damaged. However, with hard work by members, insurance funded refurbishment and a determination to carry on; we were rewarded with a much-improved building. But the Gods had another go at us in November 2002 when once again, the Lossie broke free and again the building was deluged. Re-enter Williamson’s skip! Panto rehearsals relocated to Elgin High School and the show went on with resounding success. We are now in the process of obtaining our own flood barriers!
The year 2000, Millennium Year, was a very busy year. There was a Millennium Drama Festival in which all the local drama groups were involved. Over four nights in June plays reflecting drama through the millennia were performed with many of our members involved, that was in addition to our own programme. We also did an extra play in September, ‘The Stillin’ Land’, written by EADS member Jimmy Cameron. It was presented, courtesy of Glen Moray Distillery, in one of their bonded warehouses. It was a very memorable setting, enhanced by the lovely fragrance of whisky surrounding the actors and the audience.
Our ‘`Dame of Dames’, Ian McConachie, has, for health reasons, given up his ‘Bloomers and Bust’. He is sorely missed by the Society and by Elgin audiences but remains a staunch supporter. Ian Sinclair, our fount of grant aid knowledge, has left the area, so we are bereft of his financial wizardry. One of our almost original members, Christine Burr, died suddenly and although it is many years since she appeared on stage, she was a loyal supporter. We also lost one of our back-stage crew members, Jim Miller. He also died suddenly and his expertise and commitment is sorely missed.
And so to 2005, our 60th Anniversary year and a full programme planned with two plays for the Festival, ‘The Steamie’ as our spring production and ‘The Wizard of Oz’ for our Christmas show all in preparation. With parties in the planning, a new logo on the drawing board and a comfortable Sheddie to call home, what more could we want? However a spanner has been thrown in the works yet again, with more water damage, this time from above. We suffered a burst pipe and that resulted in water flowing OUT of the building rather than in! The kitchen area was badly damaged but rehearsals for our plays are going ahead on schedule – even if we can’t make a cup of coffee.
Our year has started off with sadness and gladness. The members were saddened when our dear friend and fellow actor Ian McConachie died suddenly. Ian was the pivot of our pantomimes, a Dame of Dames – so much talent and experience. The glad bit was that we came second in the Moray Arts Club Drama Festival with the production of ‘Lovers’, act one of ‘Winners and Losers’, and Emma McIntosh as ‘Mag’ winning the Al Reeves Trophy for Best Actor/Actress of the Festival – quite an achievement for a young actress.