A Brief History of Sudbury Dramatic Society

Sudbury Dramatic Society, SDS as we know it, was constituted in 1921, although a society for the production of amateur dramatic performances had been in existence for some years previously.

The first performance of Sudbury Dramatic Society (1921), as the new society was known, was "Brer Rabbit and Mr Fox", described as a musical romp for children. It was put on in the Victoria Hall, Princes Street, with new scenery and a full orchestra, and the most expensive seats were priced at 3/6d - 17.5p in today's money.

Victoria Hall remained the home of SDS for many years. During the 20s and 30s all profits were donated to St Leonard's Hospital for the building of the Sunshine Ward, and this wss commemorated by a plaque in the ward, now held at The Quay Theatre.

In the '60s SDS became heavily involved in Project 64, a project with the objective of giving Sudbury a public hall incorporating a stage and theatre. However, this project foundered after some years, and by the mid-70s, SDS, tired of its Flying Dutchman existence, started to look seriously for a permanent headquarters. As one of a number of buildings looked at, the Quay building was viewed in 1977, and bought, for 15,000, in 1979.

Although in later years funds were raised for the employment of professional builders, in the early years it was by no means certain that the Quay was a viable proposition, and all renovation work was carried out entirely by members of the Society, buoyed up by nothing but faith in themselves and the driving enthusiasm of one or two individuals.

For two or three years audiences grew slowly, despite the cold and discomfort (more than one show was watched by audiences in coats, hats and scarves) and the lack of proper seating or toilet facilities, but by 1980 the Society had the confidence to embark on the major fund- raising drive which led to opening in 1981 of the Quay as we know it today.

Until 1987 the Quay was wholly owned by SDS, but in that year the Quay At Sudbury charity was set up to take legal ownership of the Quay, thus freeing the Society from the administrative work and enabling it to get on with putting on plays.

In 1996 the process was carried a stage further when the Quay constitution was revamped to separate itself completely from the societies and to become a self-governing body under the Charity Commission.

The change has not been without its problems for the Quay Theatre, mostly those of lack of revenue and, at times the lack of an efficient management structure. The theatre still operates using a large volunteer work force, as well as only a small number of paid staff.

SDS remains an important part of the Quay Theatre. Many members of SDS were attracted to the society because of the Quay's ambience and many Quay visitors or volunteers have gone on to become SDS stalwarts. SDS remains a major contributor to the Quay's finances, particularly with the annual pantomime.

The Society puts on six shows per year, the December/January show always being the pantomime, which runs for around 20+ performances. Casting is always by open audition, and auditions are held up to six months in advance. Dates are published regularly on the website and around the theatre, and also in the Society's newsletter. The season's programme is fixed a year in advance by the Play Co-ordinating Committee, to which anyone may submit plays or pantomimes (preferably ones they would wish to direct themselves!). This committee consists each year of those members submitting plays; it meets once in March to carry out an initial selection, and again some weeks later to make the final selection after all its members have read all the submissions.

In 2001 SDS won the National Drama Festival in Woking with our production of Twelve Angry Men. All of our plays are cast by Open Audition but on being cast we do insist that cast members join the society.

We expect everyone involved in a production to become a member of the society. For full details contact the membership secretary (via sudburydramatic@supanet.com). There is also a performance levy of 7.50 payable upon being cast in a show, which goes towards the cost of scripts and insurance.

We also produce an informative monthly newsletter which keeps members up to date with what is going on when not currently involved in a production.