Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Behind the Scenes

The Miners Welfare, Resolfen (2006)

“John would you like to help paint the scenery for the opera?”

This request was casually dropped on me in 1967 by Resolven’s leading man, a colleague at Llangatwg School.

“I’ll have a go”, I naïvely replied.

Four little words that changed my life. At that time Resolven was a name that existed only on the pages of my register and the front of buses. To me Cory was a brass band, Rugby a game and Lyons a tea – house. Little did I think Resolven and its inhabitants would influence me to such an extent those thirteen years later I would move from suburban Cimla to the village?

My reason for writing this article is to give some insight into the other side of our much-acclaimed Operatic Society. Namely, the unseen army of backstage workers.
I agreed on the strict understanding that I was launching into the unknown. As Columbus said to Isabella: “Don’t blame me for America, I wanted to go to India”.

Painting the sets for Carmen commenced at the Vivian Hall, now sadly a forsaken car park. This I shared with a contingent of wannabe assassins, namely the Army Cadets, and a family of visually impaired mice, who found my backcloth of Seville more tasty than artistic.

Four months later the scenery completed, the big day arrived. Dress rehearsal started early for me as I tied papier maché rocks to the roof of my Ford Anglia. Carmen for legal reasons had been re – named Passionflower, clearly displayed in my rear window. Tonna was soon buzzing with rumours of a hippy rock concert up the valley. Bearing in mind that this was at the height of the flower power swinging sixties and I was sporting a pair of John Lennon glasses and a Zapata moustache.

The Welfare, this anthill of an auditorium resounded to an overture of human effort, hammering, pushing, hoovering and shouting. Lots of shouting.

“Anyone saw the orchestra curtains?”

“Will could you put the lights on please?”

Note the please, first lesson in stage management, never upset the electrician.

At the centre of this apparent chaos the leading man was unravelling a piece of Celtic knotwork which turned out to be the orchestra lights. A dust covered bobble – hatted worker excused him and disappeared. He reappeared later conducting the orchestra. The quality of the performance took me by surprise, although a section of the male chorus seemed to have raised inertia to an art form. With this kind of community commitment - I WAS HOOKED.

As time passed I learned the hard way, for instance how to build a gondola. How to steer a gondola, only after it had demolished half of hardboard Venice. Most societies have their difficulties; ours was lack of space backstage. A large area was taken up by a sound system which was probably a recycled mediaeval siege tower. It’s a tribute to our stage crews that they managed so well, of course many of them had experience of working in confined spaces, either underground or in crowded dance halls.

Transportation of the scenery from preparation site to the hall was a major task. The Sunday morning rush to get the sets delivered to the hall had to be seen to be believed. The Welfare was still used as a cinema on the Saturday. This became even more difficult when the sites were moved further afield.

The Vivian Hall being no longer available we moved to the stables at Rheola House, a very difficult place to work. Backcloths were painted on a spool system, paint a piece, roll on, remember it and paint another piece etc. etc. Couldn’t do it today as it took me half an hour to remember where I’d left my glasses before starting this epistle. The stables were an eye – opener regarding the class distinction practised in former times. Polished mahogany and wrought iron for the riding horses, bare basics for the working horses which were marginally better than the workers accommodation.

Our next move was from the stables to the cow shed at Drehir. The premises were empty when I started but circumstances changed. The original occupants returned and I was driven out by their unsatisfactory toilet training. The show was completed across the river at Ynysarwed farm. Here we removed the upstairs floors; I painted the top of the flats sitting on the beams, dropping eight feet to the ground floor to complete the job. I may not have been the most artistic designer around, but I certainly was the most athletic.

Then we moved to the Glyncastle pithead baths. Plenty of space at lasts, but ironically no water or electricity. On the days we needed to scrub the backcloths, a major task as each one measures thirty feet by fourteen feet, my helpers really showed their commitment. They set up a chain of buckets passes hand to hand from the Clydach brook. In retrospect it might have seemed we were making a John Ford Western. I finished at the baths after another encounter with the wildlife of the district. This time the problem lowered him through the broken skylight. When challenged he informed me he had come to see about the generator and forgotten his key. Twenty years my junior, six inches taller and four stone heavier, I didn’t argue. I left the building. So did the generator. This incident, constant bombardment from the Heights of Glyncastle and a defaced backcloth put the show on the road again.

Once again we moved bucket, brush and a backcloth to the Adult Centre, where we continued for a number of years before it was declared unsuitable for public use.

After the school, we transferred to the Welfare which proved ideal, being only twenty yards from my home in Neagh Road.With the easy access and full co – operation of the management, we have produced many shows there ever since.

It lies with more qualified people than I to judge the performance given by Resolven Amateurs. Sufficient to say I’ve enjoyed all of them and this from one whose musical contribution consists of singing at the Arms Park and miming at funerals. Some say the latter being my better performances.

The efforts I’ve described could equally be matched by wardrobe, props, make-up, prompters, publicity, ticket sales, steward’s etc. etc. etc.

One final thought, in the grand scale of communal activities: -
If your two pence of effort doesn’t seem much, remember, that fifty of you make a pound.

John Rees


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