As an introduction to the Theatre and its premises, here is a short history of the Theatre group that was founded 68 years ago.
The Devizes and District Amateur Dramatic Society was formed in 1947, just after the Second World War, and presented its plays in a variety of venues. The Community Centre, the Corn Exchange the town cinema and the old Garrison cinema were among the venues used, but there was no permanent home.
The loss of a club room at the Elm Tree Inn in 1972, forced the group to look for somewhere else and, after enquiries, Devizes Borough Council offered to lease to the society an old building in Couch Lane, not only for club premises but also as a theatre. Work started on the Couch Lane theatre in February 1973, and money was raised by an appeal, grants from the local Councils, and Southern Arts gave £250 towards the lighting.
In September 1973, the Dramatic Society had its last Annual General Meeting, and became the Wharf Theatre – the building and the society both being known by the same name. In October, an official opening was held, and club nights followed until the following March, when the Theatre license was granted and the first public production took place. Having a permanent home attracted new members as actors, backstage crew, front-of-house staff and, of course, as regular theatregoers. The membership in 1975 stood at 230, which included younger members from the age of 12 years.
In 1979, the Wharf Theatre moved from Couch Lane to its present site in this old canal warehouse alongside the Kennet & Avon Canal. The warehouse was completely refurbished and fitted out internally through a joint funding arrangement between the Kennet District Council, the Manpower Services Commission (which provided manpower and materials for the major structural works), the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust and the Wharf Theatre itself. The internal conversions included removing the first floor, putting in staircases and installing the raked floor for the 96 seat auditorium. The Wharf Theatre took over the building in 1st August 1979 and its members carried out the remaining work, although professional sub-contractors were used for the electrical work (other than the stage lighting), plumbing and heating.
The new premises was opened for productions during the following year (1980) but almost immediately, the Theatre began to plan an extension of the wharfside building in order to cope with the large numbers of theatregoers and cast that could now be accommodated. The plans included a larger foyer and bar area, a workshop at the rear of the building, and better changing room facilities. Following a loan from the Kennet District Council, work began in1988. The present layout, which opened in 1989, is the result of this extension and provides a large foyer and box office area, new staircase to the auditorium, large workshop conveniently sited at the rear of the stage, and a changing room ("green room") able to accommodate casts which in some recent productions have numbered over 20 actors.
Since then, the Theatre has been regularly producing eight or nine full-length productions each year, and also plays host annually to up to four visiting companies. In 2007, after many years in abeyance, a youth theatre – the Wharf Youth Theatre - was once again set up, and this now stages a major production at the end of the Summer term. Membership of the Theatre stands at around 280, and this includes just over 20 Youth Theatre members.
The Wharf Theatre offers seating for 96 theatregoers and stages a wide range of productions ranging from panto to opera and comedy to classics. It features significantly in the cultural life of Devizes and is determined to provide a high standard of theatre for many years to come. The Wharf Theatre is very aware of, and grateful for, the support it receives from Devizes and the surrounding area and is extremely keen to welcome new members both acting and social.
For more information on membership, please pick up a membership leaflet from the Foyer or contact our Membership Secretary, Paul Mehra, on 01380 818606.