A Short History


Many thanks to John Shield for access to his notes on the "formative" days of our society and direct quotes from letters written around that time shown in blue.
1969

October 1969 - Stanley Panton, Paul Dyson, Dennis Smith and John Shield met and agreed a drama group was needed to move on from the play readings that Stanley had previously arranged in hotels.

(22/10/69 letter - I was hoping we could get some drama going after Xmas – perhaps “The Vigil” which could be done in a Church)

1970
See How They Run

 

 

(15/2/70 letter - ...we felt we had at last got some momentum going. My wife (Joan) plus John and Val Morgan were all experienced actors (Val had worked professionally) and were committed and there were others taking an interest. A suitable play could be “See How They Run” which is a farce with about 6 vicars running about the stage – with verbal and visual humour)

In July, 1970 - the Cayman Drama Society was finally formed as an informal group. It was agreed “See How They Run” would run for 3 nights – 12/13/14 November 1970. Paul Dyson started as the Director/Producer but quickly passed over the direction to the experienced Val Morgan. Peter Phillips enhanced the lighting that he had already installed for The Cayman Singers and assisted Dennis Smith and John Furze with set building.

 It was the first full play ever presented in Cayman with scenery, costumes and props. The Town Hall (now the Peace Memorial Hall) was bursting at the seams every night. On the first night, there was much consternation when the curtains opened to reveal what looked like a house built on the stage – a theatrical illusion many local people had not previously seen. But they all settled down and quickly got on terms with the play, laughing in all the right and even the wrong places.

It was really a joyful occasion for everyone and most rewarding for the fledgling Society. An extra performance was presented on 21 November 1970 to meet public demand.

First
Committee
 
With the success of this initial production, it was decided that the group should organise formally. First members of the initial committee were: - Stanley Panton (Chairman), Maureen Moody (Deputy Chairman), John K. Shield (Treasurer), John G. Morgan (Secretary), with John Furze, Valarie Morgan and John Maples as committee members.
1971
Formation
With the help of John Maples, the committee drew up a Memorandum and Articles of Association and registered the Cayman Drama Society as a Cayman islands company limited by guarantee in April, 1971. The Society then made application to the then Financial Secretary to be registered as a not-for-profit association, which was granted in 1973.
Objects In the Memorandum of Association, the objects for which the Company was established were set out as follows:
1. To promote in the Cayman Islands the culture of the dramatic, musical and allied arts.
2. To organise for the benefit of the public the production of dramatic and other forms of entertainment.
3. To obtain by licence, lease or purchase the use of land, buildings and equipment for the exhibition to the public on payment or otherwise of dramatic and other forms of artistic entertainment.
 Patron Our first Patron - Mrs. K.R. Crook - appeared in the programme for The Rainmaker in 1972. She was the wife of then Governor Kenneth Roy Crook (1972-1974) and since then it is the policy of the Cayman Drama Society to ask the wife of every Governor of the Cayman Islands to be our Honorary Patron during her period of residence and to attend the shows as our guest. The first female Governor of the Cayman Islands, Mrs. Helen Kilpatrick declined.
Town Hall During the next fourteen years, forty plays were presented, most of which were staged at the Town Hall in George Town. However in 1985 major renovations were carried out to the Town Hall and it was being used more and more by others: churches, Government, etc. Not only that, once the renovations were complete the acoustics were no longer as good as they had been, and the stage had been totally removed and replaced with free-standing platforms. Obviously, it was going to be necessary to find another venue for the Society's productions.

* Click here to visit the CDS Golden Conch awards for 1976 - a flashback to early days courtesy of the Norwester 1976 Christmas edition...

Catholic School Hall Our first move from the Town Hall took us to the original school hall at the Catholic School, where Toad of Toad Hall was presented. However, acoustics were again a problem, coupled with the lack of dressing room areas and the major work involved in bringing in and setting up stage lighting. The Society was on the move again.
1979
Racquet Club offer
In the meantime, and since the inception of the Society, the idea of building and operating its own theatre had continued during the 1970s. After several abortive attempts to have land and/or a building donated, in May 1979 it was announced in a newsletter that the Racquet Club had offered the Society a piece of land adjoining the Club, at a peppercorn rent of CI$1.00 per year for 20 years, with an option to purchase.
Costs for a "modest building" In the same newsletter, the then theatre building committee pledged its full support for such a project and committed CI$8,000 towards the building. The piece of land would be sufficient to build a mini-theatre approximately 40' x 40' which would seat approximately 100 people. Initial estimates on a very modest "shell" building on this site were put at around CI$24,000. The Society's general funds held CI$8,000 and a further CI$8,000 would be required.
1980
Racquet Club no longer an option
In April, 1980, another newsletter said that the first layer of fill had been spread on the site and that fund-raising was going very well. However, later in the year it transpired that the Racquet Club was for sale and, not being sure of its legal recourse if the Society wanted to pull out of the 20 year lease once the premises had a new owner it was agreed that the Society would pull out of the deal prior to the Racquet Club changing hands. This was done, with CI$4,000 being returned to the Society to cover the cost of the marl fill already on the site.
1981
Site offered at Prospect
The following year, with the late Bill Bazelmans as Chairman, another site was offered at a peppercorn rent for 50 years - the site on which the Prospect Playhouse now stands. This came about because Bill and his partner, Arni Sumarlidason, owned the Cayman Foods land and building through their company West Wind Holdings Ltd., and they generously leased the Society the western-most portion of the site which was totally undeveloped. Bill also presented the design for a larger facility than that which had been proposed at thc Racquet. Club site, stating that the costs would now be in the region of US$120,000.
Foundations and steel frame At that stage, fund-raising and productions had given the Society enough to put CI$45,000 into the building fund and the steel frame and roof was ordered in the early part of 1981. The foundations were laid and the steel erected by the autumn of 1981, when funds ran out.
Harquail Centre stops further building progress Also during the same year, it was announced that the Inn Theatre Company would be building a theatre complex at a site off the West Bay Road, using funds donated by Mrs. Helen Harquail. This had the effect of totally drying up any source of funds from fund-raising activities, as no one could understand why Grand Cayman would need two theatres. Thus no further work was carried out and the site was left to become overgrown and inaccessible.
1985
Harquail workshop and John Calvert
Turning again to 1985, when the Society was anxiously trying to find a home, the Harquail Theatre complex had completed its workshop theatre and the Society rented it whenever it was available. Once the Harquail Theatre was completed, the Society alternated between it and the workshop until they were unequivocally informed by Mrs. Harquail that it was not acceptable for the workshop to be used as a theatre now that the main building had been completed. Unfortunately, a fairly permanent show put on by John Calvert (the magician) meant that the main theatre wasn't available and, once again, the Society was temporarily homeless.
1989
Victory Theatre
In early 1989, Peter Phillips approached the owners of the then Lord Nelson Pub at Trafalgar Place to see whether they would be prepared to rent the empty room on the upper floor of the pub for the Society to turn into a dinner theatre venue. This suggestion was welcomed with open arms by the owners who didn’t in fact charge rent but instead catered all the dinners. Thus the Victory Theatre was conceived and born.

However, it was a far from ideal situation. The smallness of the venue meant that major productions could not be staged unless at the Harquail Theatre which, although John Calvert was no longer performing there, was still very busy with other productions. Only two shows were put on at the Harquail in 1989 and it was decided to re-form the building committee to meet and discuss whether there was any likelihood that the Prospect structure could be completed.

1989
AGM adopts proposal to complete Prospect site
Throughout 1989 the sub-committee, lead by Peter and Penny Phillips, looked into all aspects and possibilities for the completion of the building and, at the Annual General Meeting that year, Penny presented the committee's findings. In short, the building could be closed in and used as a very rough and ready workshop for the Society at a cost of CI$50,O0O; further interior development could bc carried out as and when funds became available. The sub-committee asked the members of the Society whether they would approve a bank loan for these funds, which approval was given after considerable discussion and a question and answer period.
Andresen donation and Prospect Playhouse After the adjournment of the AGM, which had been held at the Victory Theatre, some of the members moved downstairs to celebrate the decision. At that time, Evelyn and Jack Andresen asked Peter and Penny more questions regarding the costs and, quite out of the blue, offered to donate a sum of US$50,000 towards the theatre. This was, of course, most gratefully accepted and the Andresen's were asked to give the new theatre a name. They were adamant they did not want it to be named after them and after several suggestions had been put forward, they decided that. the best name would be the Prospect Playhouse; not only was the site in the Prospect area of Grand Cayman, but the initials would reflect Peter and Penny's names as they had become the driving force behind getting the theatre underway again.
1990
Duty free concession and construction
A building committee was quickly formed and construction commenced at the beginning of 1990. Government was asked whether construction materials could be brought in to the island duty free and this request was granted. During the next 10 months, casual labour as well as building contractors were hired to carry out the major building works, with members of the Society joining in on weekends and in the evenings with much of the cosmetic work. The first of Colin Wilson's series, based on the popular Fawlty Towers TV shows, was the final production at the Victory Theatre before the move to the society's new and permanent home at Prospect.
Grand Opening The Prospect Playhouse opened in October, 1990, with a gala evening of speeches and refreshments, and the first production, Pirate Princess commenced the following week. To August, 1998, a total of 45 major productions have been presented at the Playhouse. A blend of comedy and drama with at least one musical a year has been the aim. Dinner Theatre now features as a standard night-out for tourists visiting our island. The Fawlty Towers series was completed and the first of a new series of plays by Colin Wilson based on Are You Being Served has been presented. In October 2000, CDS celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Prospect Playhouse.
2004
Hurricane Ivan
On September 11th 2004, Hurricane Ivan struck Grand Cayman and the Prospect Playhouse was severely damaged. Most of the walls surrounding and roof over the stage were torn away. Despite this and other interior damage, Peter Philips and a number of volunteers armed with blue tarpaulins created a water-proof barrier, built an extension to the stage at a small loss of seating capacity, and the shows went on.
2005
Expansion
Despite all the tribulations over the last years, the Cayman Drama Society has been a real success story. The first expansion of the theatre building has taken place, with a wardrobe, props and set storage extension being built to the west side of the building. Following this, the existing kitchen was moved into the extension and the foyer bar remodelled to give more comfort and space for our patrons. The second expansion has included new restrooms, an entrance ramp for the handicapped and another extension (this time to the front of the theatre). In December 2005 as part of the Hurricane Ivan reconstruction, over 600 square feet of space in the wings of the stage is being added and the roof over the stage lifted to over 28 feet allowing the flying of both sets and performers that will make the Prospect Playhouse an ever improved facility and spectacle for the theatre lovers in Grand Cayman.
2010 A smokers cabana was added external to the building in keeping with legislation on smoking. Peter and Ann Pasold donated a large round all-weather table for the cabana.
2011
New facilities to cater for a wider array of events
Paul de Freitas took over from Peter Philips as Theatre Manager and promised to carry on the development of the Playhouse facilities. The coconut trees which were causing electrical issues were removed from the front of the theatre which coincidentally allowed for a better view of the building from Shamrock Road. Old containers in the rear carpark were removed and the large props container was relocated next to the stage access roller door. The Prospect Playhouse theatre office was provided with a hurricane proof window courtesy of the Phoenix Group. Other new works included re-flooring the office and the upper rehearsal area and leveling the emergency exit at the bottom of the inside stairs to ensure that no-one might trip in an evacuation and also to prevent any possibility of flooding and foundation erosion through that area which had been unfinished. Butterfield Bank provided a grant for the redecoration and refurbishment of public spaces and we thank them for their continued generosity. A reverse projection screen was purchased along with a projector and this was first used for the world premiere of a Phil Eckstein movie, Duppies.
2012
Technical advances
The major emphasis of 2012 was the upgrade of the auditorium and stage sound systems. The opening between the sound booth and the auditorium was enlarged by 50% to allow the sounds technician better hearing of what the audience hears. Two 12-inch speakers donated some years ago by Joanne Wilson are now used as high quality stage monitors. Replacing them as auditorium speakers are two JBL PRX615M, 15” Two-way self powered sound reinforcement speakers, a JBL EON518S, 18” Powered subwoofer, a DBX Drive Rack PA+, loudspeaker management system, and a Yamaha MG32/14FX 14 Bus Audio Mixer with built-in special effects.  In addition, 15 over-the-ear wireless microphones now allow for large singing casts.
2013
An emphasis on our 30 year collection of props and costumes
Special recognition goes to Niamh Hutchinson for her work in turning the nightmare that was props and costumes (and much other undiscovered treasure) into Props and Costumes storage which rival any amateur society anywhere in the world. During 2013, CDS placed greater emphasis on community involvement and continued a process tested in 2012 which encouraged use of the theatre by external groups in line with the traditions of the society and the requirements of its Memorandum and Articles. Specific events such as Cocktails and Cabaret raised funds for community concerns rather than for CDS coffers. Both Musicians Kimited and Centre Pointe Dance used the theatre for their parent and general public shows. And more than 150 students from the John Gray High School drama class visited the Playhouse during November to enhance their knowledge of stagecraft, lighting and sounds.
2014
Reorganisation of patronage to recognise continuous sponsors
Chairman Sheree Ebanks worked hard to bring on board a large number of new Patrons in the Platinum, Gold and Silver categories. In part this was made feasible by the large volume of productions being presented at the Prospect Playhouse and the value seen in being associated with one of the great success stories of the Cayman Islands. The term "Patron" had previously been used to describe persons or organisations who had made some form of one-off monetary donation - which was not in keeping with the use of the term elsewhere in the theatrical world in which Patrons are annual donors. As a result, it was decided to adopt the term "Friends of the Theatre" for all non-annual donors. While this did cause concern to one prior one-off Patron, the move was generally positively received.
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