The origins of the Skipton Players are unclear. The earliest programme from archive material in our possession, describes a performance of The Barretts of Wimpole Street in 1934, but the Players were probably in existence for a few years before then.
At that time, they were perfoming in the Town Hall, but they had the not-unreasonable ambition of one day performing in their own theatre. It took many years to achieve, but in 1960, the Players moved into their current home.
The Players had many successful years through the 60’s and 70’s and there was always a waiting list for members. Sadly, enthusiasm for visiting the theatre dwindled during the 80’s with the onset of videos and so on, but recently we have seen something of a renaissance.
The 2003/4 season was our best for a long time – many performances were a sell-out. Many other groups make use of our theatre, from dance groups to youth theatres, and all raise the profile and awareness of our own group.
By raising our profile in the area, we can ensure the theatre is still here for future generations to come.
Skipton Little Theatre
The Players’ dream had always been to perform in their own theatre. Until 1959, all performances had taken place in the Town Hall. However, an article in the Yorkshire Post of April 1959 shows that the dream was about to become a reality. After years of fund-raising the Players purchased a former stables, which was being used as an antique dealer’s storeroom, for the princely sum of £250 – but the total conversion cost about £2000.
The stage is built over the site of a loose box. The plans were drawn by a member of the players, Mrs Mary Wales, a Skipton architect. After nearly a year of hard work, Skipton Little Theatre was officially opened at the beginning of May 1960, by the then Chairman of Skipton Urban Council, Cllr E P Rowley. Cllr Rowley said, “There is no doubt that it will be an asset to the town, and I sincerely wish it every success in its future activities”, and spoke of its “excellent facilities”.
Mr Philip Hurst, the Chairman of Skipton Players said,
“For over 30 years our declared ambition has been to have a home of our own, and tonight we stand on the threshold and take possession. The wish has become a reality.”
With an auditorium only 28ft long, with seating for 75, a stage only 13ft wide and the front row of seats a mere 4ft away from the stage, this truly is a Little Theatre.
A newspaper article at the time – probably the Yorkshire Post – explains the hardships endured by the actors:
“When a full set is used flush with the back wall, players who exit stage right cannot re-enter left simply by walking round backstage. They go through the kitchen, across the tiny foyer, and into the yard outside. There they climb a ladder, walk across the roof, climb through the old hayloft window, through the dressing room, then down a steep flight of stairs to re-enter stage left, all done in darkness for six nights.”
This method is still in use today – almost. Actors exiting stage right still go through the kitchen when there is no way round the back of the set, but after a workshop was built on a few years after opening, they no longer climb roofs and ladders, they go round the outside of the building and re-enter the theatre through the stage door. Clearly the use of umbrellas is called for when it pours with rain!
With the coming of the new millenium, the Theatre underwent substantial improvements. The old stage, which used to sag noticeably, was replaced with a brand new one, thanks (largely) to a grant from North Yorkshire County Council. The Theatre also benefitted from new curtains and carpets throughout, and with the new decoration of the auditorium, many visitors, both regular and first-time, went away highly impressed by both the building and the play they have just seen.
Continuing our improvements, we acquired some new seats (although perhaps new is stretching it a bit). In early summer 2005, the Leeds Grand went dark for refurbishment, and among their last activities was to have an open where patrons could buy theatre memorobilia – including seats from the stalls. Rather jokingly, it was suggested (after a rehearsal, in the pub) that we may like to buy 75 seats to replace our own. The director took it seriously, and eventually it was arranged that some of us would go to the open day. After the play, we went to pick up the seats from the Grand, expecting to make several trips with 75 actual theatre seats. However, they were stacked in bits in the foyer, and so once the 75 seats, 75 backs, and all the sets of arms had been loaded into the van, we brought them all to SLT in one trip.
The new seats were formally presented to Skipton Little Theatre by Warren Smith, the manager of the Leeds Grand Theatre, at a champagne reception on Friday 30th September 2005:
We continue to make improvements to the theatre.