The Full Story
The North Ormesby Minstrels has its origins deeply rooted in the local community, which is still our home today as we celebrate over 40 years in existence.
North Ormesby is unique in the context of Teesside as it has well defined boundaries that once formed a self contained and self-sufficient community with houses, schools, shops, pubs, clubs, churches, a hospital and employment on the doorstep. There was even an ‘Opera Company’ offering high-brow entertainment and a local Temperance Band. Locals had no need to travel outside the area, not even into the town centre, except for special occasions.
In the 1970s this strong sense of community gave rise to the famed North Ormesby Carnival, a significant social event in the local calendar, and in the summer of 1977 a small group of local residents met in the Trinity Church Hall to discuss setting up a new drama group. This group, led by Bill Edwards and Rev. David Lambert, decided to try out a few songs and sketches that were performed that Autumn at the Harvest Supper and from that modest beginning, the Minstrels was formed. The following year saw a Black and White Minstrel Show, which proved very popular with audiences but would not be performed in today’s climate of sensitivity. However a Minstrel is a musical entertainer, (or a chocolate sweet if you prefer), and the happy band of performers grew in number as word got round.
The group soon had the confidence to tackle a pantomime. Aladdin was the first choice and has been chosen for performance three times so far, whilst an ambitious project to present our first musical, Calamity Jane, took to the stage, the Deadwood Stage, in 1979.
From these modest beginnings grew an enduring group of performers and supporters who, over the ensuing 40 plus years, have presented 41 pantomimes, 36 musicals, countless concerts, supper concerts and even a few plays.
One of our guiding principles has been to bring high quality, affordable entertainment to a community where access to live theatre was at least two bus rides away. In the early days it was a common sight to see our patrons walking through the streets of North Ormesby with cushions in carrier bags, as the hardness of the seats in the old Church Hall was legendary. We also tried to keep prices as affordable as possible, and although we are entirely self-funded, we still only charge what is necessary to cover our costs.
During the years, we have entertained thousands of people and our membership has grown, with some joining for just one show whilst a very few have been here from the start. We also have sons and daughters of members, which is a great joy. We also enjoy the support of a faithful band of back stage and front of house helpers without whom we couldn’t bring our audiences the all round experience they have come to expect.
Home grown talent
The North Ormesby Minstrels has always been a seedbed for home grown talent. With only small budgets at our disposal most of our expertise comes from within our own ranks and has developed over time. The many tasks in mounting a successful production from directing, choreography, musical direction, set construction and painting, sound and lighting, costume making, front of house and back of house are predominantly carried out by ourselves.
From this developing talent has emerged several young members who have gone on to performing arts college and subsequently began to carve a career on the professional stage, performing in high profile shows. Others are creating careers in teaching, directing and technical roles within the wider entertainment industry.
In the course of our creative journey it’s fair to say a lot of changes have taken place. From very modest beginnings in a draughty, leaking church hall we now occupy a modern, multi-purpose space. The challenge of terrible toilet facilities and costume changing in the kitchen, have been replaced by the need to create a theatrical experience for our audience that involves an impressive transformation over a relatively short space of time, and an equally quick restoration to a useable space for all the other organisations that have a home in the Trinity Centre.
The benefit of the space is that it offers a flexibility normally only found in studio theatres, enabling traditional proscenium arch productions with a front facing stage towards an audience seated in rows, or a theatre in the round, a stage thrust through the centre, multiple stage/acting areas or even an audience sat at tables enjoying food and drink! With the fabulous secluded Cloister area it has also been possible to stage open-air performances.
All these opportunities have allowed additional creativity in productions and we like to think that this has also helped us to win a string of Awards and nominations for awards, over the past few years. These Awards are presented through the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA) and are made by our peers from the local amateur dramatic community in the North East. These Awards were only started in 2014 and we have won in categories for Musicals, Pantomimes and individual performances.
It’ll be all right on the night....only sometimes it isn’t!
There’s a saying in theatrical circles – bad dress rehearsal, good first night! We have never really subscribed to that philosophy, thinking that if you are well prepared and rehearsed you will have a good opening night and subsequent run. However, sometimes things happen that are just beyond our control, such as the night the scenery fell down only just missing cast members, or the memorable hour long power cut which saw us holding an impromptu sing along with the audience sitting in the dark, refusing to go home. We also had occasion to call an ambulance when the pantomime monster tripped up the steps to the stage and dislocated his knee. The medics were somewhat bemused to find they were treating a patient in front of an interested audience of 200! We have also had our fair share of late arrivals, laryngitis and sudden onset illness passed around backstage by scantily clad performers on cold winter nights. However, in true thespian tradition, the show must go on and until the pandemic struck, we have never yet had to cancel a performance, so it's great to be back where we belong!