OUR ORIGINS GO BACK OVER 80 YEARS
Ashby Dramatic Society (ADS) was formed in 1923 by Leonard H. Matthews (known as Matt by his friends and colleagues). Initially the group met in a clubroom at the back of what is now the “La Zouch” restaurant on Kilwardby Street. All rehearsals took place in this room and performances were given at the Town Hall in Market Street. Later, the Society acquired some property in the Lamb Yard to use as a base for rehearsals but performances continued to be staged mainly at the Town Hall.
MOVE TO THE VENTURE THEATRE
In the 1970s the Society bought and converted the church hall belonging to St. Helen’s Parish Church (the “Parish Rooms”). Much of the conversion work was carried out by ADS members and the new Venture Theatre finally opened to the public in 1981.
ADS and the Venture Theatre went from strength to strength with the Theatre being established as a popular venue for other visiting groups both professional and amateur, including Derby Playhouse, Not the National Theatre Company, New Perspectives Theatre Company, and local amateur group ASH Players (many of whose members have since joined ADS). In 1990 ADS extended its activities by creating its own “Venture Jazz Club”.
NATIONAL LOTTERY GRANT
The Society however was still struggling financially. It received some timely help when a former member bequeathed enough money to pay off the outstanding mortgage on the building, but in 1995 the Society received a National Lottery grant which allowed a major refurbishment to take place.
Alterations included a side extension to the Theatre, a new disabled toilet, a bigger more accessible bar, better access to the stage from the dressing rooms, gas central heating, new lighting desk, redesigned foyer, new seating, complete redecoration, new stage curtaining and carpets throughout the building.
The Theatre was reopened in March 1996 and from then on has never looked back. ADS and the Venture Jazz Club both have loyal and growing audiences, so much so that in 1998 the Society extended the run of each play by an extra night! The only sad piece of news for the Society was the death in June 1997 of its President and founding member, Matt. Right up until the end, at the age of 101, Matt took a keen and loving interest in the Society and the Theatre. He is deeply missed by all those who knew him, but has left the Society with a legacy which most theatre groups in the country can only dream of.