It might not have its own building nowadays – but Woodley Theatre Company has existed in the heart of the community since the end of World War 2.
From its roots as a church group in 1945 – to the theatre that its members built with their own hands in the 1960s – to its current base within The Oakwood Centre – this is a group that has consistently brought the community together to produce fantastic shows.
But now, as its membership committee tells us, they’re looking for new talent to help it survive in the era of Netflix…
Question: There are lots of community theatres across Berkshire. What makes Woodley Theatre different from them?
“We’ve got such a history with the area that we’ve developed a great understanding of the types of shows the local community wants to watch. We have people who’ve been coming to see productions here for 40 years, and they often write to us to tell us how much the plays mean to them and how good our standard is.
In fact, we pride ourselves on being a place where local actors, directors and technicians can really develop their skills. People come here to act and produce plays, and we support them to do it as best as they can. We’re not a social club – we use a proper, flexible theatre space, with professional-standard dressing rooms and technical resources, and we run workshops that help actors to develop. Plus we’ve done some amazing things on stage – you may think community theatres can’t pull off ambitious sets, but we’ve created everything from the Arctic, to New York apartments, to tennis courts!
And unlike some of the other theatres, we’re a community group through and through. The plays we select for performance are often tied to the local schools’ curriculum so that we can support their students. And we’re literally slap-bang in the centre of Woodley, in a building that offers classes, weightwatchers, and clubs – so anyone who wants a night out at the theatre can get here really easily, and they have a pick of great restaurants across the road! These are all reasons why it’s so important to keep the company going…”
Question: Who is Woodley Theatre for? What sort of shows do you put on?
“Everyone! We have a really balanced mixture of shows every year, ranging from small and intimate productions to big ensemble plays. 2019 is a great example:
- For older fans of the theatre – “classic theatre goers” – we regularly stage plays by people like Alan Bennet (“Talking Heads”), or Alan Ayckbourn (“Snake In The Grass”).
- For people who like period dramas, we have things like our upcoming adaptation of “Emma” by Jane Austen (although people expecting a classic take on it might be in for a surprise…)
- For people who like more modern plays – we try to pick things that are very funny, but maybe have an emotional edge to them. “The Herd” and “The Thrill of Love” are great examples of this coming up in the Autumn.
You can find out more about each of the shows here: http://www.woodleytheatre.org/2019-programme.html.”
Question: How has the theatre changed over the years – is it difficult to keep it going as cinemas and television have developed?
“Yes – while we have lots of regular audience members, we don’t see many younger people coming to watch shows. And there isn’t nearly as much interest in helping to grow and develop the theatre’s future by joining us on the committee – there are only a handful of us who keep it going now. If we weren’t doing it, the theatre company probably wouldn’t exist.
It’s a shame – there are so many opportunities for up and coming actors or theatre students to get some great experience here that would prepare them for drama school, or offer them valuable volunteering experience for their CVs.
Likewise, anyone who’s interested in a career in marketing or publicity could get some amazing experience by helping us raise our profile and attract younger theatre goers. Alternatively we’d love to hear from people who’ve had experience in those industries and want to donate some of their time to the community. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.”
Question: If people in Wokingham or Woodley want to act or get involved, should they come to you?
“Absolutely! We’d love to hear from you, regardless of your experience levels – and we’re really keen to hear from younger people. We’ve had to cancel some productions that were about people in their 20s and 30s as we just didn’t have enough younger people auditioning. Many of the plays in this year’s season (“Emma”, “The Herd” and “The Thrill Of Love”) will have lots of opportunities for younger actors and actresses.
You can find out about upcoming auditions on our website – http://www.woodleytheatre.org/auditions.html – and rest assured you’ll have a great experience with us. There are low membership fees, everyone’s very friendly (there’s no “clique” here!), plus you’ll be supported by fantastic directors who’ll develop your skills, members who’ve been acting with us since the 70s, and amazing technicians who’ll showcase your talents with atmospheric lighting and sets.”
Woodley Theatre’s next show is “Talking Heads” by Alan Bennet, running from the 9th – 13th April. Tickets can be booked at http://www.woodleytheatre.org