Grantham Dramatic Society was formed in June 1945 with the principal object of raising money for charity.
The first production was ‘The Case of the Frightened Lady’, and was put on in November 1945 at the Empire Theatre in George Street.
Another 12 productions were put on at the Empire Theatre until it closed at the end of 1951.
GDS put five plays on at St John’s Parish Hall from 1952 to 1954, and another two plays were produced at the Methodist Church Hall in Chapel Street in 1954/5.
From December 1956 to November 1971, 39 plays were performed in the George Theatre behind the George Hotel before its make-over.
When the George Theatre closed, there were no other theatres in Grantham and GDS became homeless.
With no theatre to perform in, GDS were forced to put on plays in school halls. It was difficult to stage major productions in such circumstances and for a few years GDS survived by taking theatre out to people, that is, performing one act plays at local groups such as the Women’s Institutes.
Winds of Change
The first major production in the modern era was I’ll Get My Man which was staged at St Hugh’s School in October 1981.
A turning point was when the Society began to rent a couple of large rooms at The Stables in Bridge Street, which enabled the building and storing of sets, rehearsals and hosting of social events.
The social events were important as they brought in potential new members and raised money to keep the Society going.
These premises were known, appropriately enough, as The Green Room.
The Guildhall Arts Centre
Another significant event was the opening of the Guildhall Arts Centre, which enabled the society to put on plays again in a proper theatre.
Moving into the 21st century, GDS now rent their own premises in the Old Malthouse on Springfield Road. With rehearsal space, store room, workshop and kitchen area, the Old Malthouse has provided a solid home for the Society for several years. Unfortunately the rising cost of rent, council tax and utilities began to put a lot of pressure on the group’s finances. With falling audience numbers at the Guildhall, the future wasn’t looking too bright.
Moving With The Times
2005 saw the start of a rejuvenation. Membership began to increase, with an influx of new members of all ages. The Society began to look at bigger, better productions, with larger casts. There was also a drive on marketing, as most people in Grantham weren’t even aware the town had a theatre. In Spring 2005, Holiday Snap! attracted an audience twice the size of that in 2004. A profit was made, which went some way to paying the rent on the rehearsal and storage space. Later in 2005, Bedroom Farce achieved the same increase, bringing the theatre to three-quarters capacity.
The TV Trilogy
2006 and 2007 saw ‘Allo ‘Allo, Blackadder and Fawlty Towers sell out, bringing hundreds of new people into the theatre and raising the profile of the Guildhall in and around Grantham. Ticket prices rose from £5 in 2004 to £8 in 2007, and each show now made just enough money to cover the annual costs of rehearsals, storage and theatre hire. By 2007, membership had doubled and the average age halved.
In an era of on-demand video clips, television and virtual content, live performances by local people in local venues are more important than ever. GDS is currently the only local group with increasing audience numbers and takes pride in the diversity and commitment of the people watching its live shows and YouTube spoofs.