Coalville Amateur Operatic Society (CAOS) has a rich and varied past, and is probably one of the longest running operatic societies in the UK.
The first production, Ben Hur was in 1919. A break of two years followed, with no production in 1920.
Productions then continued yearly, drawing on the mainly operatic catalogue of productions, some of which have not been performed since such as ‘Tom Jones’ and ‘Floradora’.
From the mid thirties CAOS staged their productions in the Regal Cinema in Malborough Square which had been rebuilt from the Olympia Picture House, and performed on the stage there for many years. This building now acts as a Bingo House and has acquired a new name ‘Flutters Bingo’.
As this building had been designed as a cinema, the stage did not have a full fly tower, and the scenery cloths had to be lowered to the stage, and then rolled up before they could be struck. Scene changes required many hands to be fast and quiet. However, CAOS had a large and growing membership and manpower was not a problem.
Competition for membership was high, as many people wished to join, so the society went from strength to strength. Obtaining a ticket for a CAOS production was not easy, and for many years a booking system was employed to ensure a fair distribution of tickets.
The society went on hold for the war years between the 1939 production of ‘The Arcadians’ and the much anticipated ‘The Rebel Maid’ in 1945. When the Regal Cinema closed in 1960 was converted into a Casino around 1963, CAOS had to find a new home. Given the strong mining history in Coalville it is no surprise that CAOS moved to the new Miners Welfare Building on Owen Street which had a deep and well equipped stage, although the lack of a fly tower here also meant the scenery cloth rolling skills were kept well practiced.
CAOS were now staging and performing musicals, starting with Chu Chin Chow in 1960, a musical comedy based in Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. However if there were actually 40 actors as the 40 thieves is lost in the mists of time.
CAOS then entered a long period of stability, performing yearly productions at the Miners Welfare Building, which held an audience of 600, which was regularly fully sold out.
In 1985, the future of the Miners Welfare became doubtful, following the closure of the Coalville, Whitwick, and Ellistown Collieries. Although it had been discussed that the Coalville Council might take on the building, no decision was made, and CAOS were able to use the premises for a further two years, until a fire 1988 in the otherwise unused building sealed its fate. The Miners Welfare building was pulled down and housing now stands on the site at the end of Owen Street.
A new home for CAOS was now urgently needed, and although far from ideal, being a much smaller theatre, CAOS moved again to the King Edward VII School into the Harley Theatre. Again, there was no fly tower, and cloths needed to be drawn on using curtain tracks due to the lack of hauling bars. Another side effect of the move was the problem of moving from a 600 seat venue into a 200 seat venue. CAOS solved this with its usual flair, moving the productions from a 5 shows over a week, to fourteen shows over two weeks.
For the next 18 years CAOS presented productions in this theatre usually over a two week period. In 2006 CAOS presented it’s last production there ‘Singin in the Rain’ as early in 2007 the school were carrying out major refurbishments and the theatre was going to be unavailable.
Many possible new venues were explored, but theatre venues of the required size and capability are rare in the area, so the decision was made to move again to the excellently equipped stage in Hind Leys College Shepshed. Although strictly not ‘in’ Coalville, it is only a few miles away, and has the bonus of a large, level car park to allow easy access to the auditorium.
CAOS were delighted that nearly all of its faithful audience moved with the society, and CAOS have again successfully staged productions in this new venue for the past five years, starting with 42nd Street in 2007.
During this time, over 92 years, many, many people have joined and left the society all adding their story to the history of CAOS. Over all these years many thousands of audience members have been entertained by the productions CAOS have presented. CAOS looks forward to continuing this fine tradition, and already plans are being drawn up for our 100th year celebrations in 2019.