STRODE Theatre at Street opened on 5th October 1963 with its first public event, a concert by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and marked the start of its diamond jubilee year with a return visit by the BSO on the actual 60th birthday.
The theatre, which is part of Strode College and one of the oldest operational purpose-built theatres in Somerset, has a programme of anniversary events in the autumn and into the next year, including a community concert, films and plans to refurbish the old foyer area.
Paul Townsend, a trustee of the Friends of Strode Theatre and chairman of Street Theatre Company, who is producing the show, says: “The strength of participation of the various groups in this celebration is a testament to the ongoing importance of Strode Theatre to culture and communities in Somerset.”
Both shows will include preview screenings of a short documentary film on the life of the theatre. It has been produced by the theatre and the Friends, involving early career filmmakers, including Strode College alumnus, Lorcan Smith, who recently finished a BA in Film Production.
The refurbishment of the old foyer area has been funded mainly by an anonymous donor. The revamped space will provide additional seating for audiences before shows and during intervals and display cabinets for creative community groups to exhibit information and memorabilia. There will also be a listening station of oral archives of people’s memories and experiences of the theatre. To help with the refurbishment costs, the Friends are offering supporters the opportunity to have their name on the old foyer wall for £150, or to adopt a seat with their name or a dedication on a brass plate, for between £250 and £450.
Later in the season, the theatre hopes to announce a red-carpet film gala, live broadcast of BBC Any Questions and new website launch.
Theatre director Farès K Moussa says: “I am so excited and indeed feel privileged to be able to present this 60th anniversary programme of events, as just the latest of nine theatre managers and directors over the years who – as guardians of this amazing little theatre – have worked so hard to help keep it alive. I only hope we will see another 60 years at least!”
Built by a charitable trust and donated to the county council to be run as part of Strode Technical College, the theatre passed into the hands of Strode College when it was incorporated in 1993. Since funding from local authorities ceased in 2011-12 (except for an annual grant from Street Parish Council), the theatre has relied on commercial income from the cinema to help subsidise the community and professional arts content.
Strode College principal Dr John Revill says: “The theatre is an important and integral part of Strode College and the wider community. It embodies the amazing talents and aspirations of our students and staff and we are fortunate to have such an amazing resource which is so well supported by the community. We look forward to seeing how the theatre evolves over the next 60 years.”
Lois Harbinson, who chairs the Friends of Strode Theatre, and is a frequent performer and director at the theatre, says: “It is very exciting for us all to be able to celebrate this wonderful theatre’s life. It has meant so much to me and so many others over the years, including some who are now working on stage and behind the scenes in the West End and in the film industry. It is so vital that we all do our bit to make sure this essential facility is here for many generations to come.”
The pictures Strode Theatre soon after construction in the 1960s and as it is today (exterior and interior; BSO associate conductor Tom Fetherstonhaugh, violin soloist Thomas Gould, and the theatre’s 60th anniversary logo.