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Rowntree Players Celebrates 109th Year

Rowntree Players Celebrates 109th Year

posted 19 Mar 2021

The Rowntree Players has been staging plays for over 100 years and is still going strong. We caught up with Howard Ella, committee chair, director and writer for the Players and asked him to tell us more about this long running theatre group.

Who are the Rowntree Players?

The Rowntree Players is the oldest community theatre group in York, and probably one of the oldest in the UK. The group is 109 years old this year. Originally called the Cocoa Works Players, it was made up of workers from the Joseph Rowntree chocolate factory. The group, now called the Rowntree Players, is still performing plays on the Joseph Rowntree Theatre (JRT) stage.

Our biggest annual production is the pantomime. It’s at the heart of what we do and really exemplifies who we are as a community theatre group. Everyone can get involved – to take part, on the stage and behind the scenes, as well as enjoy the experience in audience. It’s a big, all singing and all dancing extravaganza!

We’re a membership theatre group – anyone can take part. On average we have about 140 members, but this ebbs and flows depending on what production we’re doing. We have a committee structure, with a leadership body, creatives, technicians, plus safeguarding, marketing and finance roles. We have a regular group of loyal supporters, some of who go way back. We’re also on the lookout for more people to get involved, whatever level of experience or no experience. We’re especially keen on encouraging kids to take part – not just for theatre experience but to develop life skills, such as building confidence and self-esteem, socialising and teamwork. 

What makes JRT so special? 

We perform exclusively at the JRT – it is part of our history and where we should be. It’s such an intimate theatre space, where you can really connect with the audience. The emotion during a performance is tangible. You really feel the audience go with you. The theatre is a rare and special gift to the local community – not just the physical building but the people, they are what makes the theatre live and breathe. I feel so lucky to have access to all the ‘toys’ that any professional theatre would have – it’s like having my own train set to play with, the best one in the world!

What are you most looking forward to when the theatre re-opens its doors? 

I can’t wait to get everybody back together; to build a set, put on a play and get everyone laughing and doing what we all do best – perform on stage in front of a live audience! This year will be like a phoenix rising from the ashes in more ways than one. During lockdown there was a fire at our storage facility, and we lost 80% of our stock – sets, costumes, tools. But we can’t wait to return and we’re ready. We’re very excited at the prospect of what lies ahead for us and everyone involved in the JRT. 

The Rowntree Players is always looking for more people to join, in particular, but not exclusively, actors and directors. Email: info@rowntreeplayers.co.uk 

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