History of the ETG
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. We provide opportunities for amateur actors to explore and build their love for theatre, and perform for the loyal audiences we have gained over the years. Over the years, we have also expanded our audience members (and actors!) to include many native Germans in the area, as well as other non-native English speakers. Productions have also been well-received by the local media, garnering regular positive reviews in the Darmstadt Echo and other newspapers. Our productions have covered the full range - light comedies, farce, drama, one-act plays, thrillers, pantomimes - 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.
The group started life in 1988 when ESOC's Greg Cippolloni sent out a request 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!" he says. 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 beginning, and as word spread that the productions were actually fun to be in as well as watch, directors at auditions were often over-whelmed for choice for on-stage talent.
Our members have never been required to be native speakers of English, with many roles being taken by enthusiastic amateurs with only a basic understanding of English - 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, a very popular venue. Plays have also been staged at the Schwanen Saal in nearby Eberstadt and the Knabenschule in Bessungen. We had a couple of years at the HoffART theatre in Darmstadt before moving to the West Side Theatre. "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 David Andrews, long time member and former Chairman.
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 odd years of our existence we have succeeded in these aims," he says. 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 ‘strike’ (remove) the set, 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.
We're always looking for more hands and not just for on the stage. There's a minor army of people needed to mount a successful production. It's not just about doing theatre in English. It's a family of talented people and we could be anywhere - in Germany, in the UK, America or Timbuktu! - we just love performing and want to get on with the play and have fun.
"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 now retired after 33 years with ESA and 25 years at ESOC.