Theatre Guild Glasgow (as it is known now) was founded in 1960 by a group of experienced players on the Glasgow amateur musical circuit. These like minded individuals were disenchanted by the lack of variety of musical productions performed in the city. At the time it seemed like there was endless repetition of the tried and tested musical formula involving an endless rehash of only a few different shows. The group agreed to form their own club and set out to perform new and rarely performed shows – the shows that the other clubs said “just couldn’t be done by amateurs”.
Their first task was to select a name for this pioneering company. They settled on the name “Theatre Guild – Amateur Musicals” taking inspiration from the world famous Theatre Guild of New York. For their first production they set out on the ambitious project to perform “South Pacific”. With it’s exotic locations, colourful costumes and complex orchestration this show had never before been performed by an amateur company in Glasgow. The show was performed in Glasgow’s Pavilion Theatre in October 1960 and was a rousing success. Theatre Guild had set a new benchmark for amateur productions and so a bright new light had been lit on the Glasgow theatre scene!
One of the founder members of The Guild (as we quickly became known) was Billy Love who remains as our Honorary Life President to this day. Billy soon took on the pivotal roles of Producer and Choreographer for the club holding these positions for more than 3 decades! While the new club settled on a constitution which set a direct course for ‘adventure’ in the form of the uncharted waters of new and rarely performed musicals, Billy produced dozens of successful Glasgow, Scottish, British and even World Amateur Premiers. In fact, to this day Theatre Guild remain the only amateur club to have EVER performed a number of our ambitious premiers. The founders of Theatre Guild – Amateur Musicals should be truly proud that they achieved their aims to bring new shows to the audiences of Glasgow.
But all would not be plain sailing for The Guild. Towards the end of the 80’s, the club began to lose money on each show. The fantastic cost of each production (at that time in excess of £40,000) was forcing ticket prices to creep ever higher. Slowly the club found that audiences were less inclined to buy a ticket for a show that they perhaps had not heard of and certainly had not seen before. In addition, the King’s Theatre (at that time owned by Glasgow City Council) – which had been The Guild’s home for many years – announced a massive increase in rental costs. In January 1993, Chairman Jack Holmes called an Extrordinary General Meeting of all Theatre Guild members to break some very difficult news ….
A "NEW" Theatre Guild
At the EGM a tearful Jack Holmes broke the news to members that club funds had now diminished to a mere £2,000. With production costs in excess of £40,000 looming for our forthcoming production of “Meet Me In St Louis” the existing committee were reluctant to proceed with the show fearing further losses and financial liability to members. The future of the club hinged on the result of this meeting! By the end of a very long meeting the club had agreed to continue and appointed a new committee to determine the next crucial steps. The committee was chaired by Jim Rutherford and included current members Billy Love and Cameron Lowe.
The new committee made several key decisions immediately. The Guild would proceed with “Meet Me In St. Louis” but would move to a smaller venue with a much smaller budget. The club would become a Limited Company – a legal entity which would protect members from the club’s financial liabilities. Finally, and perhaps most reluctantly, the club would abandon it’s constitutional promise to perform new or rarely performed musicals – a new constitution would be written removing this restriction.
Mistakes were made that first year by the largely inexperienced committee. Meet Me In St Louis lost almost £4,000 at the box office and the club went into the RED for the first time in it’s 34 year history. Things looked grim. But Billy Love offered a solution: “Singing Our Songs” (or SOS!). Billy concieved, produced and choreographed this show which proved to be a true lifeline for Theatre Guild. He personally persuaded dozens of past principals from Theatre Guild shows to perform a fantastic revue of Theatre Guild’s history. The result was 3 performances in the Mitchell Theatre to packed houses raising almost £3,000 and literally putting the club back on it’s feet.
By 1995 the committee had the experience of 2 productions behind them and really hit their stride. They took on the role of ‘Producer’ (previously associated with the Director role) and hired a professional production team to rehearse members through a new production of Oklahoma! The show was a great success raising £4,500 in clear surplus and beginning a new era in Theatre Guild history. Following a run of musical successes the club voted to change its name in 2006 to “Theatre Guild Glasgow” to remove any preconceptions of ‘amateur’ status and to help the club to compete on a more equal footing with other local societies. To reaffirm our respect for the history of the club and pride in its longevity we added the tag line “Staging Success Since 1960”.
Theatre Guild Today and the Future
Today Theatre Guild stands as one of the most highly respected musical theatre companies in Glasgow. We are an adult club offering full membership to those aged 16 or over – but we do need child performers from time to time. While never financially ‘well off’ the club continues to maintain an incredibly high production standard by reinvesting any surplus cash into the following production – we even manage to make charitable donations on a regular basis! The current constitution was expertly written by Wilson Paterson in 1997 and is being revamped now by our current committee to provide guidance for the committee and members.
We have a reputation as a friendly club free of favouritism and ‘cliques’ with a VERY active social life! We owe our continued success to our members and committee who together strive to ensure that Theatre Guild Glasgow will continue to provide first class entertainment to our patrons.