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THE WESSEX ACTORS COMPANY

An introduction

The WESSEX ACTORS COMPANY was a professional touring theatre company and operated in the period 1993-2006.

The company’s policy was to:

  • stage fully professional, top quality, entertaining work.
  • provide a public service to all sectors of the community, in particular those prevented from getting to live professional drama in urban centres;
  • offer a concentrated regional focus by:
    • serving Somerset, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire
  • develop indigenous talent
  • contribute to the region's distinctive cultural profile
  • inform and educate; to add to the quality of life.

To achieve this policy, the company pursued a touring programme that catered for theatre-goers on the one hand, and for a wide range of specific community groupings on the other.

HISTORY

The Company was formed in 1993 and toured its first production in the autumn of that year, with financial help from The Foundation for Sport and The Arts. Thomas Hardy's own second dramatization of "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" proved a winner with regional audiences.

The Company has from the start filled a unique niche with its focus on regional talent. All writers performed have been from or live in the south west. All creative talent lives in or comes from the south west and is not imported from London.

Above all the Company aims to provide a public service for the south west - with "something for everyone as often as possible".

From the start the Company faced a wide variety of challenging factors (lack of finance, thinly spread rural population, lack of word-of-mouth publicity, limited availability of good and affordable creative talent, regional recessions, an indifferent arts bureaucracy etc etc). Persistence and steady progress against such influences brought the Company to the point where consistency of production quality was achieved.

An outstanding range of regional drama has been presented over thirteen years in a wide variety of venues to an increasing response of plaudits.

The Company's innovative Community Chest programme comprised a portfolio of small-scale, low-cost productions for the widest range of community venues throughout the South West.

Capital funding from the Lottery Board, with help from The Chase Charity and The Pilgrim Trust made an enormous difference to the Company's fortunes - providing it with a base level of capital items available for its daily use.

A sponsored production base firstly at The Blakehay, an Arts Centre in Weston-super-Mare, then at the David Hall Arts Centre, South Petherton, and finally at Quantock Lodge, Over Stowey, also gave a significant boost to the Company's ability to operate without core funding.

Special initiatives have provided a range of benefits to the Company:

- Arts for Everyone Express funding for a provocative triple bill of new plays "lifting the lid on bureaucracy" collectively called "The Organisation".

- Arts for Everyone Express support for a short film "featuring members of the Wessex Actors Company" made by Artistic Director Michael Barry's independent production company Perceptive Creation. "Old Mrs Chundle" was a pilot for a long series of TV films of the short stories of Thomas Hardy, a project that could have brought further financial and promotional benefits to The Wessex Actors Company and its creative talent associates.

- A co-production with Bridgwater College of "A Life in the Day" by Leslie Veale toured in spring 2000, with support from the National Lottery's Awards for All initiative.

- A Summer Season Classic (a repeat of "Tess") toured external venues and theatres in 2001.

- A high-powered in-service training course for professional and semi-pro actors was trialled with funding from the Somerset Skills Support Service.

The Company established itself securely enough in terms of both artistic achievement and stability for its future to be looked at and planned for positively, in spite of severely impoverished resources. It has been a pleasure to have played a role in this achievement - and my grateful thanks go above all to our supporters in audiences everywhere, to our Board and Patrons, to those who have financed the Company's operations and not least to all those creative talents who have put financial considerations aside in order to work with us.

Michael Barry, Artistic Director.

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