The History of ATC
Avocet Theatre Company is a registered charity and was formed from what was St John's Drama Group. St John's Drama Group was set up by Tom Greening, a Banbury Pantomime regular, who at the time worked as a caretaker at St John's Primary School in Banbury. Tom asked permission from the headmaster to set up a drama group which could involve not just students at the school, but also anyone who wanted to perform in a relaxed environment. The group grew from strength to strength and saw numerous members join and audiences grow. The group became very popular with productions selling out due to the fun nature of them.
Sadly, in 2015 Tom passed away after a battle with cancer. The group mourned his loss but promised to keep Tom's legacy alive. In tribute to Tom, who had created the vibrant group, St John's Drama Group closed and all the funds were donated to Katherine House Hospice who had cared for Tom in his final days. However, with Tom's blessing, the adults of the group who had helped run St John's Drama Group agreed to continue in some form.
At St John's Drama Group's final production, One Night Only Goes Fourth, the team announced the closure of the St john's Drama Group but a formation of new one - Avocet Theatre Company. ATC would continue Tom's legacy whilst also being a new beast entirely. The group wanted the new organisation to be a dedication to Tom and therefore settled on the name 'Avocet,' the name of the road where one could find St John's Primary School. Whilst the group would no longer be rehearsing or performing at the venue, it was a reminder of the place where we all met and fell in love with performing because of Tom's passion and brilliance.
ATC launched with a number of returning members and new ones as well. Starting with no funds, the group chose to begin with a variety performance at Harrier's Banbury Academy. Rehearsing (rather appropriately) at St John's Community Centre, ATC created an exciting evening of entertainment that showed what the new group was capable of. Following the success of this event, ATC felt it still needed time to establish itself as a theatre company. Therefore, using their experience of organising events, the company came up with the idea of a Winter Wonderland event for Christmas. This would mean an opportunity for the group to put on small performances but at the same time have a Christmas Market and other exciting opportunities. After speaking to Banbury Academy to see if they might want to join in with the fun, ATC were delighted to learn that the school were thrilled to work with us and thus an exciting partnership was formed. Together, ATC and Banbury Academy created an event that exceeded their expectations, with numerous local businesses joining in the fun. The event was a huge success and put ATC on the map. Following this, ATC found a new home at Banbury Academy who agreed to form a partnership for future events.
Next on ATC's to do list was a full scale pantomime, something St John's Drama Group had become renowned for. In true ATC style, the group have chosen to write the production themselves and devise scenes during the rehearsal process. The group, continung their partnership with Banbury Academy, staged their production at Wykham Theatre - their largest venue to date! The show was a hit with audiences and critics with the group pulling out all the stops to make the show unique and exicting for members and audiences alike.
Following Jack & the Beanstalk, the group decided to allow their talented younger members a chance to take centre stage! After a close vote, the group decided upon Disney's The Little Mermaid Jr. This would be the group's first musical and welcomed experienced director, Chrissie Garrett, to to lead the show. The Little Mermaid was incredibly popular with huge audiences joining the group under the sea.
ATC's next project was The Not-So Royal Variety Performance which took place in June 2018. The show was a huge hit and featured a variety of performances including a Lip Sync Battle where the audience voted on their winner! Alongside the Variety Performance, the group released a mini episode of Acting Out, a filmed mockumentary, similar to The Office, focussing on the running of a dysfunctional drama group. The one episode was such a hit, the group have turned it into a web-series of which they will release episodes over the coming years.
In March 2019, Snow White: A Musical-Pantomime played to sell out audiences and recieved rave reviews.
In July 2019, Avocet Theatre Company made their 4 for 4 Announcement - 4 announcements in time for their fourth birthday. ATC were thrilled to announce the formation of ATC Studios, a dedicated space that would be ATC's new rehearsal venue and base of operations. Also announced was the creation of the ATC Bursary to encourage more people to get involed in theatre. The group also announced the creation of The Avocet Theatre Company Awards, a yearly ceremony which would celebrate members and volunteers. The final announcement made was ATC's intent to become a charity. During this time, ATC became proud members of NODA (National Operatic & Dramatic Association).
In November 2019, ATC took on another youth only production, which saw nearly 50 talented young performers take to the stage for Elf the Musical Jr. The show was a complete sell out and saw hilarious characters, fun musical number and even snow! The show was proceeded by a mini Winter Wonderland event in the foyer, where audiences could write letters to Santa, play Christmas themed games, complete arts and crafts and other festive treats!
In January 2020, at the first ever Avocet Theatre Company Awards, ATC announced that the group was officially a charity.
Following the first Awards Evening, the group began rehearsals for Robin Hood: A Musical-Pantomime. The rehearsal period was sadly cut short due to the Coronavirus pandemic. During the Lockdown, the group produced The Virtual Variety Show which saw ATC members, past and present reunite to create a spectacular 2 hour long variety show from their own homes. The group also released a 'Lockdown Special' of their Acting Out web series. As the pandemic went on, ATC continued to provide entertainment for the community. This included Taskmaster challenges which saw people from all over the country get involved. The group also launched their Treading The Boards podcast as well as various virtual events such as The Read Through Sessions and the Making a Musical workshops. Social events including Family Quiz Nights and Big Kitchen Discos were held over Zoom and a specially written Christmas Play was written and offered to primary schools for free which could be filmed in place of a traditional Christmas show. Over the Christmas period, the group also created All Together at Christmas - a festive themed variety show - which again saw numerous members produce over an hours worth of new content.
Towards the end of 2021, Avocet Theatre Company were able to return to in-person rehearsals, where they once again started working on Robin Hood. The cast had changed somewhat due to the amount of time that had passed since the original auditioons pre--COVID. The cast worked tirelessly to stage this epic production and followed all COVID guidance along the way which often made rehearsals tricky. With a rescheduled date of January 2022, ATC were once again forced to postpone the show until March 2022 due to rising COVID cases and the risk of further lockdowns. This gave ATC even more time to perfect the production. ATC had a socially distanced performance on the Thursday showing of Robin Hood, using tables instead of the usual seating rig. This limited the audience to 90 but they were no less enthusiastic for the show. The following three shows were sold at full capacity and the response was utterly overwhelming. Following Robin Hood, ATC launched another Junior production - Moana the Musical Jr. This saw 48 people aged 7 to 18 audition for roles! The rehearsal process was tricky due to the amount of people but also because of the trough musical numbers - often in a different language. The cast rose to the occasion though and, in November 2022, ATC staged three sell out performances of Moana. The feedback and response was overwhelming with standing ovations at every performance. The 2022 season ended with the second ATC Awards Ceremony.
ATC is now preparing for our 2023 season which will include our next pantomime Sleeping Beauty and another Junior show to be announced....