Articles: Rebirth (1967)This article was first published in the January 2014 edition of the SJT Circular.
In 1955, Stephen Joseph founded the Library Theatre.
In 1965, he closed the venue.
During those eleven years, Stephen had championed three things in Scarborough: theatre-in-the-round, new playwriting and - less discussed - encouraging professionals and amateurs to work together.
It is frequently forgotten how essential during those early years, the amateur drama community was to the Library Theatre. Volunteers were responsible for front of house, box office, refreshments, get-ins and get-outs as well as helping to construct and dismantle the theatre each season.
Stephen relied on an army of volunteers as, both financially and practically, it would have been impossible to run the Library Theatre without them. He frequently wrote and talked about how voluntary involvement was an essential way forward inspired by the community theatre he had seen in the United States.
Later, this would have a fascinating and unforeseen knock-on effect. That there is still a Stephen Joseph Theatre today is predominantly because of those amateurs, in particular Ken Boden; an insurance agent, leading member of Scarborough Theatre Guild and someone who had worked with Stephen at the venue since it opened.
On 18 September 1965, Stephen Joseph closed the doors on the Library Theatre for, apparently, a final time. The closure had been widely publicised in the press and Scarborough Theatre Trust had been tasked with finding a new home for the company - which Stephen sincerely doubted would be in Scarborough.
The Library Theatre should have died then, were it not for Ken Boden. He was passionate about the venue and he was not about to let it close.
It appears he began making plans for the future soon after Stephen announced the theatre’s closure. Late in 1965, he approached Stephen with a proposal Scarborough Theatre Guild organise an eight week in-the-round amateur season for 1966 at the Library Theatre. Stephen - apparently reluctantly - agreed, unaware of Ken’s long term ambitions.
For there is little doubt Ken was working to a larger plan. Stephen had previously said the venue would not survive a year’s closure; the amateur season would keep the venue open and give Ken time to plan a revival of professional theatre.
A key piece of correspondence held at Scarborough Library from May 1966 explains that Ken hoped the British Drama League could run the 1967 season; in essence an amateur company presenting professional plays.
Contacting organisations such as the Arts Council, Scarborough Town Council and the Libraries Committee as well as other key figures, Ken ascertained there was support for reviving the venue and that financially it might be viable.
He told Stephen of his plans. Stephen was broadly supportive and offered to transfer Scarborough Theatre Trust to a new board. What sealed the revival, though, was Scarborough Town Council reversing a funding cut made in 1965.
In October 1966, Scarborough Theatre Trust reconvened for its first meeting for a year and Stephen Joseph - now aware he had terminal cancer - stepped down as Chairman. A Director of Productions was appointed in Rodney Wood who had previously worked closely with Stephen. He programmed four plays which included world premieres by Alan Plater and Alan Ayckbourn.
The only downside was that this essentially marked the end of Stephen Joseph’s association with the theatre he had created. Whilst he supported Ken’s endeavour, he played no further active role in the theatre, largely due to being confined to bed by his illness.
Twenty-two months after closing, professional performances resumed at the Library Theatre on 10 July 1967 with the world premiere of Alan Plater’s Hop, Step And Jump.
Ken Boden was appointed General Manager in charge of the voluntary workforce the company now depended on more than ever to run the theatre due to its parlous financial situation.
But the Library Theatre had been saved and began the second phase of its existence, all thanks to the tenacious efforts of Ken Boden and Scarborough’s amateur community.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce this article without the permission of the copyright holder.