HISTORY

25 years Logo
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the ESOC Theatre Group.

Since 1988, the ESOC Theatre Group has developed a reputation for high-quality amateur productions, providing a venue for members to participate in the local theatre and arts scene. The group is a social club operated by ESA's European Space Operations Centre and including members from EUMETSAT (the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites). It provides opportunities for amateur dramatics for the benefit of the (largely) English-speaking staff and contractors of the two organisations, where membership of another local German speaking theatre group would not be possible due to the language barrier.

Covering the full range
Over the years, the ESOC Theatre Group has additionally gained a following from amongst the native German population of the area as well as within our 'captive audience' at ESOC and EUMETSAT. Productions have also been noticed by local media, garnering positive reviews in the Darmstadt Echo and other newspapers.

Productions have covered the full range - light comedies, farce, drama, one-act plays, thrillers - plus numerous readings and skits at ESOC events. About the only thing we haven't done is a full-on musical and we have plans to correct that in the not too distant future. It's truly a multinational effort and we've always had great audiences.

Who volunteers?

The club got started in 1988 when ESOC's Greg Cippolloni sent out a note to staff seeking volunteers for the first performance, Terence Rattigan's comedy "French without Tears," which was staged at Darmstadt's US military installation. "There were nine roles, and nine people showed up for the kick-off meeting, so everyone got in." This was followed by a variety review that included many self-written sketches with a chorus line at the end for which we even hired a professional choreographer. 

The group was off to a good start and as word spread that the productions were actually fun to play in as well as watch, later shows were often over-subscribed for on-stage talent.

In 1993 we had one of our most challenging sets for Alan Ayckbourn's 'A Small Family Business.' The stage included a two-story house with running water and a working cooker.

The Dock Brief, 1990
White Liars, 2010 
It should be noted that club members have never been required to be native speakers of English, with many roles being taken by enthusiastic amateurs with only basic abilities - but they've always found a way to make the accent fit the role Over the years, the ESOC troupe has made use of numerous venues, including various buildings at ESOC - located, like London's famous theatre district - in the city's west end, followed by the American Performing Arts Center, the most popular venue. Plays have also been staged at the Schwanen Saal in nearby Eberstadt and the Knabenschule in Bessungen. In more recent times we had a couple of years at the HoffART theatre in Darmstadt before moving to the newly opened West Side Theatre which offers good facilities both back stage and front of house and is constantly improving.

The older you get, the more traditions you have
Another regular activity for the club has been participation at FEATS, the invitation-only Festival of European Anglophone Theatrical Societies. FEATS participants, from throughout Europe, must bring their own costumes, sets and props, and each troupe are given just ten minutes to set up, around 50 minutes to perform and five minutes to take down the stage, making it an excruciating test of organisation, stage management, showmanship and acting skill, not to mention logistics. The ESOC Theatre Group have a good track record at FEATS.

Networking is everything
Also in the last few years we have brought a small professional company over from London to perform for us. Cabinets of Curiosity is the creation of Sara Blake who performed with the Theatre Group when she lived here in Darmstadt some years ago. Since returning to England she has become a professional writer and director and twice now we have brought them over to perform her current play to great acclaim.

Taking care of the youngest
Shock, 2002

Children's Theatre Workshop
Another innovation for the group in recent years has been the creation of our Children's Theatre Workshop. This started out as a way to get some of the ESOC children interested in theatre but soon developed into a full blown Junior Section to the group. The children played a big part in our production of Terry Pratchett's 'Wyrd Sisters' in November 2011 and in December 2012 they performed in 'The Red Nose Mystery' for the ESOC under 7s Christmas party. This was a short original piece in which the children were the only performers.
  
David Andrews (retired ESA staff member, long time member and former Chairman of Theatre Group) says looking back the cultural scene in the Darmstadt area has changed considerably in 25 years. In the beginning, the Theatre Group played for audiences drawn primarily from the ESOC and EUMETSAT communities. Today, a much wider audience comes to watch, propelled by the region's increasing interest in all manner of international cultural activity.

The Dock Brief, 1990
David Andrews directing The Sea in 2012
Peter Jährling, who runs the West Side made the comment to one of our members during our production of 'The Sea' that it was obvious from how we perform on stage that we are a group of people who like to spend time together. And as current Chairman Mark Grundy said in his report to the groups 2012 AGM “We've certainly hit some highs in 2012 and no one can say we didn't have some big laughs along the way. And we could not have done all we did without pulling together.”

We're always looking for more hands and not just for on the stage. There's a minor army of people needed besides the actors to mount a successful production. It's not just about doing theatre in English, or anything unique to ESOC or the space community. It's a family of talented people and we could be anywhere - in Germany, in the UK or even in America - we just love performing and want to get on with the play and have fun.
 




20h anniversary - 2008

The Dock Brief, 1990
The Dock Brief, 1990
2008 marked the 20th anniversary of the ESOC Theatre Group, a long-time favourite for fans of the stage from all nationalities in Darmstadt's local community.
 
Since 1988, the ESOC Theatre Group has developed a reputation for high-quality amateur productions, providing a venue for talented expats to participate in the local theatre and arts scene.

As a social club operated by ESA's European Space Operations Centre and including members from EUMETSAT (the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites) for the benefit of the (largely) English-speaking foreign and expat staff, the group is nominally an internal effort.

But over two decades, the ESOC Theatre Group has also been a welcome home to a significant number of players from international firms in the area, local German thespians keen to improve their English theatrical skills, as well as numerous Americans, primarily from the US military community's Performing Arts Center.  
 
Productions have also been noticed by local media, garnering positive reviews in the Darmstadt Echo and other newspapers - which says a lot considering the strong and growing competition from local international arts and culture in the Darmstadt and Rhein-Main regions.

“About the only thing we haven't done is a full-on musical.”
Off to a good start
 
"We've done more than 20 full productions in 20 years - light comedies, farce, drama, one-act plays, thrillers - plus numerous readings and skits at ESOC events; about the only thing we haven't done is a full-on musical. It's truly a multinational effort and we've always had a great audience, with typically several hundred attending over the course of a five-night production run," says Dave Andrews, past club chairman and recently retired after 33 years with ESA and 25 years at ESOC.

Andrews says the club got started in 1988 when ESOC's Greg Cippolloni sent out a note to staff seeking volunteers for the first performance, Terence Rattigan's comedy "French without Tears," which was staged at Darmstadt's US military casern. "There were nine roles, and nine people showed up for the kick-off meeting, so everyone got in."

This was followed by a variety review that included some Monty Python, some Rowan Atkinson, some self-written sketches and "a great chorus line at the end - we even hired a pro choreographer," says Andrews with a smile.

The group was off to a good start and as word spread that the productions were actually fun to play in as well as watch, later shows were often over-subscribed for on-stage talent.

Hotel Paradiso, 1993
Hotel Paradiso, 1993

Quite a feat
 
When Cippolloni left ESOC the following year, Andrews took over, aiming for two productions per year. With the extreme changeability in satellite launch schedules, the club never quite achieved this goal, but has nonetheless fielded a strong series of productions and notably taken part for many years in FEATS, the invitation-only Festival of European Anglophone Theatrical Societies.

FEATS participants, from throughout Europe, must bring their own costumes, sets and props, and each troupe are given just ten minutes to set up, circa 40 minutes to perform and five minutes to strike stage, making it an excruciating test of organisation, stage management, showmanship and acting skill, not to mention logistics.

The ESOC Theatre Group grabbed the spotlight at FEATS 1992 in Brussels, with a second-place overall win for John Mortimer's "The Dock Brief," combined with the top award for best stage set. ESOC's Alastair McDonald also took a Best Actor award (McDonald later served as the club chairperson between 2000-2007). Dock Brief is a challenging, satirical comedy with strong surrealistic themes, and demanded the utmost from everyone involved.

The next day's debriefing to all competitors by Anthony Cornish, a professional theatre adjudicator, brought additional praise, with the comment that ESOC's efforts reminded him of "experimental German theatre of the 1930s."

Shock, 2002

Shock, 2002
The group has also benefited over the years from a lot of professional-calibre talent for directing and stage design and construction. In 1993 for example, in 'A Small Family Business', the stage included a two-story house with running water and a working cooker.

It should be noted that club members have never been required to be native speakers of English, with many roles being taken by enthusiastic amateurs with only basic abilities - but they've always found a way to make the accent fit the role
  

“Furniture, props and actors were all stacked on top one another. But that's how it goes in amateur theatre - you work with what you can find.”
Venues all over
 
Over the years, the ESOC troupe has made use of numerous venues, including various buildings at ESOC - located, like London's famous theatre district - in the city's west end, followed by the American Performing Arts Center, the most popular venue. Plays have also be staged at the Schwanen Saal in nearby Eberstadt and the Knabenschule in Bessungen.

"The Knabenschule in 1989 was a challenge - there was no real backstage to speak of; furniture, props and actors were all stacked on top one another. But that's how it goes in amateur theatre - you work with what you can find," says Andrews.

Whatever the challenges of amateur theatre, Alastair McDonald says there are three objectives to be kept in mind: team members should have fun putting on the production, the audience should enjoy the presentation, and the production should be a work of art. "I think as an amateur group these are the correct priorities and I believe over the twenty years of our existence we have succeeded in these aims," he says.
 
 
Rhein-Main culture scene more vibrant
 
Looking back, Andrews says the cultural scene in the Darmstadt area has changed considerably in 20 years. In the beginning, the Theatre Group played for audiences drawn primarily from the ESOC and EUMETSAT communities. Today, a much wider audience comes to watch, propelled by the region's increasing interest in all manner of international cultural activity.

"We're always looking for more hands. It's not just about doing theatre in English, or anything unique to ESOC or the space community. It's a family of talented people and we could be anywhere - in Germany, in the UK or even in America - we just love performing and want to get on with the play," he says.