TODAY is the 85th anniversary of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in York, aptly on #LoveTheatreDay.
The theatre was opened on Monday, November 18 1935 by Mr Seebohm Rowntree, then chairman of Rowntree & Co Limited, with the aim of “providing a hall which may be a fitting centre for those recreational and educational activities that make for a full and happy life”.
Under Lockdown 2 restrictions, the Haxby Road community theatre cannot hold an actual birthday party, but its social media channels will be full of stories, anecdotes and photographs.
Supporters and volunteers have come together to share their memories and their hopes for the future of the Art Deco venue.
Those wanting to join in the conversations should email any memories to firstname.lastname@example.org or contribute via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
In addition to the birthday celebrations, the JoRo is highlighting the support and encouragement of its three patrons: David Bradley, Ian Kelsey and Frances Simon.
Bradley, known to many older York residents from his time with the Rowntree Youth Theatre and from playing Jesus in the 1976 York Mystery Plays, has become a familiar face nationwide from his vast number of stage, film and television appearances over many decades. Latterly, those credits take in the Harry Potter franchise, Game Of Thrones and Broadchurch.
Although David, 78, has been a patron of the JoRo for “some time”, the 85th anniversary is the first time that the theatre has announced his patronage formally and celebrated his backing.
In support of the theatre’s Raise The Roof fundraising campaign, David said: “The Joseph Rowntree Theatre has been a vital part of the city for so many years. I know from personal experience that it has provided opportunities for so many young people, and I will always be grateful for that. I fully support the theatre’s appeal and wish it all the best.”
The second, newly appointed patron is York-born actor Ian Kelsey, who honed his skills in many shows produced by Rowntree Youth Theatre. After a stint as an apprentice coach builder at the York railway carriage works, the acting bug drove him to follow his dreams by studying at Guildford School of Acting.
He has since been a regular on the nation’s TV screens in multiple drama series, from Blue Murder and Coronation Street to Doctors, Casualty and Emmerdale.
The third patron is actress and drama teacher Frances Simon, who moved to York with her family from London 14 years ago. She studied at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, in London, and played the Angel Gabriel in the 2012 York Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens.
Frances has been a great supporter of the JoRo, attending many shows and teaching many youngsters who have appeared on the theatre’s stage.
A passionate advocate of the benefits of theatre to young people, she is the director of Frances Simon Speech and Drama Coaching; teaches speech and drama at St Peter’s School, York, and is a LAMDA coach at York Theatre Royal and Stagecoach Performing Arts.
While the JoRo is looking back and toasting the successes of the past 85 years today, it must look to the future too. Hence the launch of the Raise The Roof campaign to raise £90,000 to fund the shortfall in savings available to meet the costs of repairing the roofs after more than eight decades without needing any such major repairs.
During the course of this campaign, new volunteer Hannah Wakelam has taken on the role of the JoRo’s first Young Ambassador.
Musical theatre performer Hannah, 20, so far has helped to raise hundreds of pounds by initiating fundraising projects, most notably organising this autumn’s online contest, Yorkshire’s Got Talent, won by York College actor-musician Ed Atkin, 17, in October. Now she is in the process of selling tickets for a grand Christmas raffle.
The JoRo trustees hope more young people will follow Hannah’s lead by coming forward to play their part, inspired by the opportunities that the theatre gives them, both on and off the stage.