BURTON is brimming with talented stage stars, as proven by the longevity of one of the town’s theatre groups which this year is celebrating entertaining audiences for three decades as an independent amateur performing arts company.
What is even more impressive is that the group – the Little Theatre Company – is entirely run by dedicated volunteers, many of who hold down full-time jobs.
The Little Theatre Company – or LTC – became an independent town-based amateur performing group 30 years ago. It is also 10 years since the LTC Youth Group was born. There are now 70 members across the two groups, with the youth group accounting for half of those.
The company stages four productions each year at the Brewhouse arts centre, in Union Street. These include two plays, a musical and a major youth theatre production which is staged during the Easter holidays and will next month see the youngsters take on Miss Saigon.
The company has staged a total of 94 productions in the town since it became an independent group in 1984. These have included Beauty and the Beast, Les Miserables, The Sound of Music and Dad’s Army. Its latest production, The History Boys, is being performed this week, until Saturday night.
Chairman Peter Clemson, 63, is one of the founder members of the company. Before the LTC was formed, aspiring actors in Burton would go along to the Students’ Repertory Group and later the Little Theatre Players at Guild Street.
Peter said: “When that closed its doors we became an independent group. We carried on staging productions until The Brewhouse opened – we moved there in 1991.
“We started off really small and probably had 20 to 25 members, but in the last 10 years that has grown, mainly because we have got a big youth section. Fifty per cent of members belong to the youth theatre.”
By day Peter is an accountant, and by night he gets stuck into working on the latest production staged by the theatre group.
He said: “We commit a lot of time to what we do. It is a full-time hobby outside of work.”
He put the secret of the group’s success down to a lot of passionate people and talent. Peter has himself appeared in more than 100 productions, taking on a wide range of characters, but it is musicals that stand out as the most memorable. He has taken on roles in Fiddler on the Roof and Shadowlands.
He said committee of around 12 people ‘make the machinery work’, including Elaine Pritchard, who deals with membership, Katy Haywood and artistic director John Bowness. A number of other founder members are still actively involved in the company, including Peter Carol, Ken Brown, Jane German, Mike Mear and Geoff Thompson.
Many members of the company give up their evenings and weekends to work behind the bar at the Brewhouse on a voluntary basis.
Elaine said: “Since East Staffordshire Borough Council took over the running of the Brewhouse, the bar has been run through Burton and District Arts Council and many visitors to shows, workshops and performances by schools and colleges held at the venue have been unaware that all the staff serving drinks, washing up and stocking the bar are unpaid volunteers.”
As a result of all the hard work that goes into the performances, the shows are polished – not your typical play by a local amateur dramatics society. Audiences are often impressed by the standard of the shows, rehearsals for which take place twice a week and begin months in advance. Ahead of the opening night of The History Boys, actors put in a 12-hour day the weekend before to perfect the production.
This is all at the same time as the youth group is busy preparing for its production next month.
The youth group came about following a performance of Oliver by the LTC in 2004, which involved many youngsters from Gresley Boys Choir. The youth group was formed on the back of the success of the show. Before that young actors in Burton made occasional appearances in Little Theatre Company productions when required. The company then decided to make a return to staging regular musicals in 2004, leading to an opportunity to use larger casts, including youngsters.
The youth group has flourished over the past decade and has had a massive impact on the ambitions and aspirations of around 200 youngsters, aged from six to 19.
The LTC receives an annual grant from Burton Consolidated Charities, which pays half the annual rent on a small unit where the company stores, builds and paints its scenery and props.
Other than that the group is self-supporting, with costs met through modest annual membership fees, ticket sales, raffles and occasional fund-raising activities.
Peter added: “I always hoped the company would be long lasting and always fought for it. It needed to be kept alive and we fought to keep it alive.
“In the early days we didn’t have much money.
“Our fund-raising profile is now a lot higher.
“In Burton, theatre has always been active and lively. There is lots of activity in performing arts for the size of town we are in.”
Young members can apply for bursaries from the Burton and District Arts Council, which provides small grants that they can put towards further training in areas such as singing.
The LTC was shortlisted for volunteer team of the year in the East Staffordshire CVS Star Volunteer Awards 2014.