HTHS Dramatic Society
by Ian Wrigley
Mike’s excellent article accurately reflects the importance and stature of the Dramatic Society at Hathershaw. Supported by cameo shots and quotes from others, it correctly gives a feel of how it brought the whole school together in a united effort to produce plays of remarkable quality. We could not have realised at the time the extent to which the student/teacher bond was being reinforced or how our lives were being changed. But looking back (sorry Minnie - I know I should not start a sentence with a conjunctive) our fondness has remained undiminished even after all these years. It nurtured that unique HTHS feel of team unity and pride in our school as well as extending our own abilities into areas that we had never dreamed possible. Our respect and fondness for Peter Halliwell who initiated it all is also enduring.
I cannot improve on Mike’s story but I can relate how it changed my life. At junior school I was just an average performer in the top stream but did not have a clue concerning where or how I would fit into the world. I avoided limelight and took a retiring back seat in most things. This did not help when I started at the Tech in 1958 and I had to figure out the new alien environment. Luckily my form teacher was Mr Lamb and his energy enthusiasm and encouragement spurred us all into better things, particularly in the maths department. At last I was beginning to understand who I really was.
The Dramatic Society started three years later and to my surprise I was asked to participate. I only had a small walk-on part but it was a wonderful ice-breaker for me and a role in which I felt strangely comfortable. Wow! What was happening to me? Not too long ago I would not have said ‘Boo to a goose’ and now here I was ‘acting’ in front of a big audience; and it felt ok! I remember Janet Rigby and Fred Rose having a huge amount of work to do and they were marvellous.
In 1962 I had a more significant role in The Unexpected Guest, playing the part of a mentally disturbed teenager. Many people pointed out that this was what is known in the business as ‘type casting’. Thanks lads! Janet was fantastic again and very kind and supportive, helping me with sections that I found difficult. I was certainly not the master of acting I would have liked, but I was beginning to understand it and myself better. Acting was helping to unlock the real me. Pretending to be someone else enables us to cast off our own inhibitions and burst forth in ways which broaden and stimulate us. I felt as if I was speeding down the correct road, rather than being confused in a wilderness of mixed emotions.
Acting became an integral part of my life but I had to temper it with caution. One can easily hide behind a façade of pretence when acting skills improve; the danger is that the real ‘you’ has to be acknowledged from within, not masked over with duplicity. Acting should not be used as a shield to hide behind.
I think I managed to benefit from the confidence which acting gave me whilst still balancing it with an appreciation of who I really was inside. It broke the shackles of inhibition, which might have prevented me from doing some of the things that life later presented to me.
In 1963 I did a small non speaking support role, which still required thought and understanding but did not put too much strain on me. I suspect Peter did not want to conflict with our exams.
The 1964 play, Rockets in Ursa Major, was indeed a very ambitious project. Just how Peter had imagined we could achieve this is a testament to his courage, experience and ingenuity. We used three stages, only illuminating the one in use and switching lighting as required. The overall effect was brilliant. It involved a huge amount of backstage effort and a large number of actors. We had a lot of fun as ever.
Our makeup was always done by Mr Miller. I was fascinated by his skills with the Leichner sticks and intrigued at my new reflection in the mirror. You have to look larger-than-life so that, in the glare of stage lighting, your appearance looks normal. The problems came when you had to remove the stuff. The best substance to dissolve the makeup was lard! Unfortunately this seemed to flare up the enemy of most teenagers - facial spots!
The fun aspect is really important. Peter knew only too well the extent of the challenges which lay ahead for every play. Yet he managed to make every rehearsal fun and enjoyable. When you know the pitfalls ahead, it needs nerves of steel to allow your young pubescent team of actors to prank about as we sometimes did. He knew that our funny asides were all part of our becoming fully conversant with our roles in the play. He also knew that as D day approached he would be able to rein us in and hone us up to the required level. He never failed to achieve stunning success. His courage, belief and nerves were tested to the limit on the first night of every performance, when he had to hand over the show to his fledglings and pray that it all held together. It always did.
Repetition embedded lines in our memories and we subconsciously knew each other’s scores. This was stimulating for those with impish senses of humour, like me and Keith. We delighted in each others company and had many ‘off-stage’ hilarious moments, when we did skits on various sections of the script. We were quick-witted enough to feed each other lines ad-lib, anticipating the response we would get from each other. Rapport indeed! We both still laugh about it even now, although his memory for detail is better than mine.
The confidence that the Dramatic Society gave me helped enormously in later years. When I was only 14 years old I was confident enough to accept responsibility to play the organ for a local church. At school I was frequently called on stage at short notice to give a reading at morning assemblies. Then the years of stage work playing with ‘Technique’ were made infinitely more comfortable by my experiences in the D.S. Many years later I conducted the services of two funerals for close friends. That was very tough but I used my knowledge and D.S. experience to help mask my own grief and carry the proceedings in an uplifting and positive way for the benefit of the mourners present. I know it would not have been possible without the grounding I had at the Tech.
The education we received in the period of our tenure was unique, even for the Tech. It had never reached such heights of excellence before nor did it maintain those standards after Charlie retired and many of ‘our’ teachers moved on. We were very lucky and received what was tantamount to a private education in some areas.
The Dramatic Society succeeded because it involved the whole school. A huge amount of work was done in making and painting the sets, planning and executing the lighting and sound effects and managing the budgets. I must voice my eternal respect and gratitude to the man who was pivotal in all this - Peter Halliwell. I hope you know how much you have influenced and empowered us. There can be no greater testament.