How we run

Some history. Founded in 1945, St. Austell Players (the “Players”) led a successful if nomadic existence until the Sixties. Joining with other ‘artistically-inclined’ groups they formed the St. Austell Society of Arts and had a base at 87, Truro Road with, eventually, a permanent theatre. This has been the venue for well over 300 Players’ productions.
      Over the years, the Society of Arts evolved via the charities St. Austell Arts Centre, St. Austell Community Centre and Arts Theatre and latterly has reverted to its earlier title, St. Austell Arts Centre. Although the Players were originally a member group and constituent part of the Arts Centre, following administrative changes in 2015, we are now a hiring group, just as any other Centre user, with our own separate membership.
      Having a ‘home’ at the Centre is an advantage to the Players. There are stores for costume, property and scenery, access to the theatre, free parking and, of course, bar facilities. Since 2015, rent is paid for all the areas that the Players use, for meetings, rehearsals, performances and storage.

The Players’ Committee comprises about a dozen active members, including officers – Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, Publicity Officer – all elected at the AGM in April. At its first meeting, the new committee elects a Vice-chairman from the committee. Additional members are co-opted from time to time, usually for some special purpose. The committee is charged with safeguarding the interest of members and, as far as it is within its power, the well-being and future of the Players. It does this by upholding the Players’ Constitution and seeking to provide the best possible framework and support for directors, actors and all other participants to give of their best and thus gain and provide most enjoyment.
      There are usually four play productions each year, in March, May, August and November, although the timetable is not rigid. For a few years from 2005 we also ran an annual Pantomime in January as well as an occasional October musical. A single four-night run – Wednesday to Saturday – is usual, but the August play generally runs for eight nights over two weeks. Summer Plays are chosen with the idea of attracting as many holiday visitors as possible in addition to our loyal local audience. Allowing for eight or ten weeks of rehearsals, involvement in the Summer Play is no small commitment, especially in the holiday period.

How plays are chosen. The Reading Committee is actually a sub-committee of five or so members, appointed, from time to time, by the Players’ Committee. Some months before a play is due to ‘go on’, Directors put forward at least two plays they would like to direct. Having studied the scripts, the Reading Committee members report their views and recommendations to the Players’ Committee on the suitability, in all its aspects, of those plays. Base largely on those views, the Players’ Committee decides which plays may be performed. ‘Suitability’ covers a range of considerations: audience appeal, ‘cast-ability’, technical difficulty, costs of set and costumes, and so on. Any member who feels that he or she would like to be a member of the Reading Committee should contact the Players’ Secretary. Bear in mind that changes to this committee don’t happen very frequently and there is an attempt to maintain a wide but balanced set of views.

Directors. At one time the Players were graced with a good number of ‘resident’ directors and occasional guest directors, but, with the passage of time, the number of resident directors has diminished and the remaining ones have to work even harder. These days, the increased administrative burden of directing, with risk assessments, fewer actors and back-stage crews with experience, tighter budgeting, perhaps child protection and so on, has meant that a director may appoint an assistant to help carry that burden so that he or she can concentrate more on the artistic aspects of the production.
      About half-way through each year, the directors decide among themselves who will take each ‘slot’ in the following year, subject, of course, to committee approval. At one time, new directors were required to demonstrate their abilities with a ‘probationary’ one-act play, but that rule no longer applies. If you would like to direct a play and have experience or feel that you have what it takes, contact the Players’ Secretary. Castings traditionally take place as soon as possible after the preceding production, but over-lapping of productions is not uncommon. Casting meetings are arranged by the play’s Director and are usually informal group readings. The Director may decide that more than one meeting is needed to arrive at the most appropriate cast for his or her production. Please don’t be disheartened if you don’t land the part or, perhaps, any part at all! There are many other jobs that are just as essential if you really do want to be involved. Remember, if you accept a part or any other job, the rest of the ‘team’ will be depending on you to do it. Help is always at hand if the going gets hard. Do ask – we are quite a friendly bunch!

Rehearsals are arranged by the play’s director. The rehearsal period is usually from 8 to 10 weeks long with two or three rehearsals a week (or possibly more, depending on the degree of panic as the performance dates loom closer). The evenings chosen will be at the mutual convenience of director and cast and according to the availability of space (negotiated with the Centre booking Secretary). Rehearsals generally start at 7:30 and finish around 10:00.
      Cast and crew are generally expected to help with the get-out on the Sunday morning after the last performance.

Finances. The Players are self-supporting and rely entirely on box office takings to keep going. Thanks to the maintenance of good standards (we would like to think!), prudent choices of plays and the facilities at the Centre, the Players have managed to stay in the black, although this is becoming increasingly difficult as costs continue to rocket. Audience loyalty is critical, so we do our best to maintain as high a standard as we possibly can in the hope of earning and keeping the loyalty of our supporters.
      A four-day production currently costs £2,500 to £3,000 to mount – perhaps more if it is, for example, a period piece with lots of hired costumes. One of the director’s first tasks in starting a production is to agree a budget with the Players’ Treasurer. Some budget items, such as royalties, theatre hire, publicity, are not difficult to cost. Others, perhaps special scenery or costumes, are necessarily estimates. The budget ultimately reduces to the number of tickets that needs to be sold to cover the sum of all the costs. If that is judged to be achievable, then the budget is usually approved in committee. However, estimating the size of audiences is notoriously difficult and the Treasurer and Committee try to instil a sense of caution without cramping a director’s style.

      The Players are a member group of the Cornwall Drama Association (C.D.A.) that, as its name implies, is a county-wide organization of amateur drama groups. In recent years, Players’ productions have usually been entered in the C.D.A.’s annual Full-length Play Festival. Plays are constructively criticized by experienced adjudicators and judged against other productions across the county in that year. Whilst the idea of competitive drama is anathema to some members, the criticisms are generally helpful and the occasional winning of an award is most pleasing. Awards are presented at the C.D.A. Theatre Day, held in November, at Newquay. The day is packed with events and entertainment and highly recommended by those who attend every year.

How to join in: contact the Players’ Membership Secretary or other member of the Committee (names are on the notice boards at the Centre outside the theatre bar and in the house porch), or, if you know someone who is already a Players’ member, get him or her to take you to the next event.
      Other than plays, the Players have occasional just-for-fun play-readings, quiz evenings and other social events. Every now and then, there are week-end workshops that may be of general interest but are sometimes arranged in the hope of learning some special skill for a forthcoming production. The events are on an irregular basis, so keep an eye on Players’ Newsletters, the Diary of Events page here on the Players’ web site or on the Players’ notice boards at the Centre for information.

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