Scarborough Theatre Guild & the Stephen Joseph Theatre

Note: Very little information regarding Scarborough Theatre Guild survives in archive and its history appears to have been largely lost, yet it played a pivotal role in the history of theatre-in-the-round, Scarborough. The following information has been compiled from archive newspaper articles and correspondence. Any further details about the Guild would be welcomed, please contact: admin@alanayckbourn.net.

Scarborough Theatre Guild

Scarborough Theatre Guild was one of the first important contacts Stephen Joseph made when he first visited Scarborough to investigate setting up his own theatre company in the town. It was through Ken Boden that the Guild and Studio Theatre Ltd became intrinsically involved in the formation of the Library Theatre in Scarborough in 1955.

It is now known when Scarborough Theatre Guild was formed, but it does appear to have been in operation by the early 1940s and its founding members included Ken Boden's future wife, Margaret, and Bob Bedford. It was certainly in existence when Margaret first met Ken in 1943 and its main purpose appears to have been to keep a year-round theatrical tradition going in Scarborough, which traditionally had seen its cultural output centred on the three months which made up the town's summer season. It appears the Guild began as, essentially, an amateur dramatic society but grew beyond this later. During its early years, it produced one play annually with an emphasis on presenting, as Ken once said, "good plays".

After Margaret married Ken, he became involved with the Guild and soon began helping to find new recruits and the membership of the Guild rose from 20 to more than 200. It appears that between Ken and Margaret, the aims and ambitions of the Guild grew proportionally with the Guild starting the Yorkshire Drama Festival at the Opera House Theatre in Scarborough.

More than just an amateur drama company, the Guild appears by the mid-'50s to have been a focal point for the amateur drama community in Scarborough. When Stephen Joseph first visited the town in 1954 or 1955 (there is some contention about Stephen's first visit to the town, Ken Boden always recalled it was 1954, but Stephen Joseph's correspondence suggests he did not visit the town until 1955), he met Ken Boden and explained his plans for a professional theatre-in-the-round company presenting new plays in the Concert Room at Scarborough Library. Even though he believed the project "rather strange", Ken - like so many people - was impressed by Stephen's enthusiasm and passion and he offered Stephen the help of himself and the Guild. Working as an insurance agent, Ken's ability to secure props and help from his clients became legendary within the company!

When the Library Theatre opened on 14 July 1955, members of the Guild and other theatre-goers manned the front of house with Margaret running the box office and Ken acting as Theatre Manager. For many years, the theatre would depend on the voluntary help of the local amateur community to keep the theatre viable.

Once the theatre was established, Ken essentially combined his work with the Guild with that of the Library Theatre and began encouraging year-round theatre in the town at the venue. He began organising out-of-season amateur productions as well as seeking financial support to keep the Library Theatre running. Many of Scarborough's most prominent amateur societies performed at the venue and in the annual
In The Round Festival which Ken founded at the Library Theatre (and which were adjudicated for many years by Stephen Joseph). Scarborough Theatre Guild continued to produce plays as well and - inspired by Stephen - tackled new plays by up and coming playwrights such as David Campton and a young actor and aspiring playwright with the company named Alan Ayckbourn! Scarborough Theatre Guild even performed the world premieres of three one acts plays by Alan Ayckbourn with Double Hitch (1960), Love Undertaken (1961) and Follow The Lover (1962).

This relationship between amateur and professional - encouraged and nurtured by Stephen Joseph - continued until 1965 when Stephen Joseph announced this would be the final season of the Library Theatre. Ken had other ideas.

Ken persuaded Stephen to let him run an amateur summer season at the Library Theatre in 1966 under the auspices of Scarborough Theatre Guild. With that in place, he then began plans to restore professional theatre the following year - the story of which can be found
here. Needless to say, Ken was successful and following the death of Stephen Joseph in 1967, professional theatre continued at the venue made possible by Ken and his army of volunteers helping to keep costs down. Again professional and amateurs united to keep the theatre viable until a permanent Artistic Director was appointed in 1972 with Alan Ayckbourn.

The fact there is a Stephen Joseph Theatre today is inarguably due to the efforts of Ken Boden and Scarborough Theatre Guild during this period ensuring all the hard work that had gone into establishing the Library Theatre did not go to waste.

Ken Boden, having been made redundant in 1969, was given a salaried position as Theatre Manager for the first time in the same year and continued in that role until 1985, when he retired in the same year that Alan Ayckbourn announced he was to take a two year sabbatical from Scarborough by becoming a company manager at the National Theatre.

What became of Scarborough Theatre Guild is not held in archive, but it was involved with the relaunched Library Theatre for many years and is mentioned in minutes of Scarborough Theatre Trust. Intriguingly, it appears many of the physical assets of the Library Theatre were owned by the Guild rather than Stephen Joseph's company Studio Theatre Ltd or, later, Scarborough Theatre Trust, having been sold to the Guild and then, presumably, either rented or loaned back to the professional company. The rostra used for the seating, the lighting board and even the fascia installed outside the Library to advertise the theatre were all owned by the Guild.

Scarborough Theatre Guild's involvement with the theatre appears to have lessened when the company moved to its new home, Theatre In The Round At Westwood, in 1976. But for the first 20 years of the life of what is now the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough Theatre Guild and Scarborough's amateur community - epitomised by Ken and Margaret Boden - were a vital and important part of the history of the company.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce this article without permission of the copyright holders. All opinions on this page are the author's own.