The Artistic Director, Adrian Connell, launched the Norfolk YMT in 1995.
Having been involved in staging musicals with children at Broadland High School, Adrian Connell’s original plan was to extend this work and form a North Norfolk youth theatre company which would attract youngsters from the mid and North Norfolk schools to perform at theatres in Cromer, Sheringham and Fakenham. The initial funding came from two sources: The John Jarrold Trust in Norwich and The Cromer and Sheringham Operatic Society, who both funded the idea although there was no track record or guarantee that such a group was viable.
From the outset the aim was to recruit the most talented youngsters in the area and to perform new or recently written works to as high a standard as possible. The first project chosen was the unpublished music-drama, ONCE UPON A WAR by the young composer, Richard Taylor.
After setting up a company infrastructure, finding rehearsal rooms, appointing a musical director, a rehearsal pianist and booking a local community centre to perform in, the first batch of audition information posters was circulated to schools and shops in the area. Within a week around 200 children telephoned to ask for an audition.
Realising that the project might become bigger than its original intention the production was moved to the Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich, despite the financial risks that staging an unknown work with children presented.
Although ONCE UPON A WAR only sold 48% of the seats, it was enough to give Adrian Connell the confidence to take the group to its second project, THE RAGGED CHILD at the University of East Anglia Drama Studio in the following spring, and return to the Maddermarket for another Richard Taylor work, WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND, in November.
For the next year the company continued to rehearse in mid-Norfolk and perform in Norwich but it was attracting applications from areas outside the North Norfolk catchment and eventually the company had to change the rehearsal venue to a school in Norwich, just off the southern bypass (which increased the number of audition applications) and also change its name to the more apt NORFOLK YOUTH MUSIC THEATRE.
The company continued to grow and grow over the next three years, and performed several new works at the UEA and Maddermarket Theatre as well as starting to tour with open-air shows.
A Friends group was set up to help finance the group, a parents support group emerged which organised social fund-raising events, and several people became essential to the organisation of the company and a formal constitution was drawn up with these members acting as a responsible governing body.
Throughout this period the company continued to promote unknown works and to involve professional directors whenever it was possible and affordable. Jeremy James-Taylor from the National Youth Music Theatre, Hiawyn Oram the author of VACKEES, Richard Taylor the composer, Wendy Cook and Rosemary Bianchi the Oxford Playhouse set designer have all been involved with the group.
As the group continued to perform it relied less and less on hiring scenery and properties and created a large scenery and props store from which other groups began to hire from.
In 1999 the company was invited to perform at the Norwich Playhouse and chose the difficult new work, PENDRAGON. This production won the company an award from the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, The Best Production in Eastern Region 5 (effectively East Anglia).
Throughout the years the company continued to develop. The shows became larger and more complex covering CABARET, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and two productions of Sondheim’s SWEENEY TODD and Schoenberg’s LES MISÉRABLES, MISS SAIGON and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. They started to perform further afield at the Corn Exchange theatre in King’s Lynn and for 10 years at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Around 3000 young people have passed through the company over the past 25 years. Many have gone on to professional careers in the music theatre world. The company was known nationally and received many requests for advice and help and although not the original intention, Norfolk was one of the few counties that boasted a countywide music-drama company for young people.