All for charity!
Sandie Gasson formed The Charity Players in 1993 and due to needing a new rehearsal and performance space, the group then amalgamated with the Saint Albans Amateur Dramatics Society in 1998 (who had graced the stage of the Saint Albans Church Hall for 80 years), to finally become one group as The Saint Albans Charity Players of Northampton. The mission was to have fun and raise funds for local charities by putting on three productions a year; a comedy, a thriller and a pantomime.
Throughout the years the group has performed well-known plays such as Billy Liar, The Winslow Boy and Continental Quilt, as well as a number of original pieces penned by our own script-writing talent Colin Gasson. We have a production team second to none whose dedication and improvisation regularly transform the Church Hall into a set worthy of the West End. To view a list of all our productions to date, click here.
As at the time of building this new website just after our AGM in March 2018, we are now back to our original name as The Charity Players and still strive to continue with our performances at the Saint Albans Church Hall. We now put on two shows a year, a comedy and a pantomime, with one nominated charity at our AGM every year going forward, to then benefit from all our ticket proceeds.
So far on our 25th Anniversary, we have raised a staggering £150,000.00!!! Our chosen charities have included The Cynthia Spencer Cancer Hospice, Northampton Carers and The Meningitis Trust as well as countless others over the years. See our Charities page for our impressive list of local causes we have helped!
"The hours of practice and hard work are outweighed by the enjoyment of everyone involved, and the pleasure of raising money for such worthy causes...so let's Give Applause For A Very Good Cause!"
Sandie & COLIn GASSON
MY LOVE FOR THE ARTS & HELPING GOOD CAUSES!
By Sandie Gasson
I have always loved drama since I was old enough to remember! Just at the tender age of 5 years old. I remember we had free playtime at my junior school on Friday afternoons and I would always get a gang together, and we would perform a small play that I had written. The school had a fabulous ‘dressing-up box’ so we all could be dressed up for the event too. I even staged a small play in front of the whole school once. This was to be the beginning of my drama life!
I stayed with my grandparents many weekends from aged 5, and they were involved in many fundraising events, organising and sorting various events from a whist drive to a fancy dress party and many more in between. I really enjoyed these events and always took part in some way or other, then as I got older I helped them too with new ideas. This was to be the beginning of my fundraising life!
When I was around 10 years old, a friend of mine was taking up dance classes and I went along with her. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and went on to competition level and won bronze, silver and gold medals in ballroom and street dance. This was to be the beginning of my dancing life!
I was always lucky to be in the school productions and when I was at secondary school I was put in charge of organising and producing a variety show that included sketches / poems / songs / dances/ monologues. It was a real challenge but I had the support of my drama teacher and friends and we put on a fabulous fun show that included pupils and some teachers too. We raised funds for the school to have new PE equipment. Can you see a theme starting yet?!
THE NEXT STEP UP...
I really loved all the organising of a show along with all the fundraising too! It was exciting to me to have the risk of doing something that may not work but oh, what if it does, right?! Anyhow, I am lucky enough to be a positive person and don't let risk stop me, I simply ‘go for it’ and if it doesn’t work then I know I will have learnt from it!
When I left school at 16 years old, I got a job to train as a hairdresser. The drama side was to remain a hobby of mine as back in the 70’s there wasn't the opportunities that there are available today, to just fall into an arts school and do it as a career, as my family background was not a wealthy one and so the cost was out of my reach too.
However I did go to a local affordable drama school in my own time as I needed and wanted to continue with my hairdressing, but wanted to gain knowledge of amateur dramatics. This taught me an awful lot more. I went on and continued with my fundraising efforts too, holding various events to raise funds for local charities and communities. You just got to make the best of what you've got, right?! Right!
When I was 17 years old, I joined The Moulton Players and was part of this group for around 6 years until I had my first child. I learnt a lot more, being with experienced actors and learnt more of how a production is put together because I got involved in all aspects of the group, not just the acting.
I also continued with my dancing but not at competition level, just for fun with friends, but it was still a good learning curve for me, and all girls love to dance, right?!
I did have singing lessons during my teens and was in a choir for a short while, but that side never seemed to take off or be as important as my drama and dance, but again the experience was worth it!
I then lost my way a bit from drama and dance whilst I had a young baby, a job and a home to keep. I always carried on with various fundraising events though and organised walks / parties / jumble sales / tea parties etc for various charities, and I always helped out at local village fetes and fares too. It gave me such pleasure and warmth inside to see what joy it gave to the charities when handing over the funds to them, plus everything about the achievement of organising the event, but mostly that everyone had good fun.
In 1990 a friend of mine had a little girl, Rebecca, who had some sort of medical problem that no doctor seemed to know a cure for or had aid to help. This was ongoing and she was sadly progressively getting a lot worse. Now back then there wasn’t computers so readily available in the home, so off I went to my local library and I went looking for an organisation that could maybe help Rebecca.
I spent a good while looking through book after book until at last I found a charity called Children Nationwide Medical Research Fund. I wrote down their address and contact details and when I got home I contacted the charity and gained more information from them.
I told them of my friend’s daughter and the problems that she was having and put them in contact with her. As the main head office was in Sheffield, one of the Directors of the charity also came to my home to meet me and brought me lots of leaflets etc.
I then went and talked to my brother and sister-in-law and told them I wanted to help by raising funds for this charity that helps young people like Rebecca, to help find a diagnosis which can then hopefully lead to medication and treatment towards better health, or possibly even a cure.
I chatted to some friends of mine and we came up with an idea to stage a summer pantomime, to raise funds for the charity. They all laughed at me and said I was mad and that I never stop thinking of ways to help others.
I thought to myself, “How can I put all my years of valued learned and gained experience so far from dancing, drama school, acting, directing, writing, and from being a member of Moulton Players, into real practice?” This was a real light-bulb moment that truly flicked a switch on in my head!
BACK ON TRACK!
Once again I decided to go back to my local library and looked through script after script until I found what I thought was a promising panto, called Sing a Song of Sixpence, so I loaned the set of books instantly.
I then sent a message out to all my family, friends and work colleagues, telling them about my idea, but I also wanted this project for just everyday people and not for just amateur actors. I told them all to invite their friends, family, neighbours and work colleagues about coming along to a meeting that I had booked ready at the local hall in my village.
On that meeting day, suddenly, all these strangers turned up along with some friends and family I knew, all keen to learn more about my new venture! Everyone took a script away with them and we met a week later to read through the panto and try cast the right people for the parts. We then began rehearsals and we were fortunate to be able to hold them at the Northampton College, free of charge!
We staged it at Moulton Secondary School over a weekend in the summer of 1993. It was hard work and took some organising as there were people needed for costumes / make-up and wigs / scenery changes / sound & lights / stage management/ front of house and refreshments of course!
I had at least 60 people involved (including 10 children). I also held a raffle and walked around Northampton finding willing companies to donate for good prizes. I cannot recall all the prizes but we did have a portable colour TV / a year's free membership to the Derngate Gym / a huge luxury hamper and many more.
I had 1,000 booklets of five tickets printed and we sold them at £1 per book. This raised £1,000. From ticket sales / refreshments and donations, we had raised a further £3,000!
A grand total of £4,000 was excitedly presented to the charity Children Nationwide Medical Research Fund, of which three members from the charity also came to watch the pantomime!
I got all the printing done by a kind donation from my brother-in-law and sister, Mark & Anita.
I then thought to myself, I obviously need a good name to call us by if I want the 'show' to go on, and I did! ...so as we were staging this show and raising cash for charity, I came up with the very apt name of The Charity Players.
Once the hectic, successful weekend was done, I held a big party the following Saturday eve and everyone that had been involved came along. It was at this party that one of the chaps said to me, “We can’t stop now Sandie, shall we do another one?!” It then dawned on me that we had all become such good friends and a sort of family and that sadly I probably won't be seeing many of them again.
When I got home I began to 'chew' it all over about what to do next, as I seemed to certainly be at a crossroads, and it was then that I decided to just go for it and officially form an amateur dramatics group to be named The Charity Players, with the main objective being for us to raise funds for all types of good local causes.
I then wrote to everyone who was involved, stating my idea and again held another meeting to see who was keen to carry on. Around 30 people came to that meeting.
I put forward my ideas to the group, sorted a secretary and a treasurer out and the official company as The Charity Players was born.
I then also came up with our motto which is "Give Applause For A Very Good Cause!"
MOVING ON UP!
From that day onwards, I could teach, guide, and encourage the group, using my whole lifetime’s experiences of dance, drama and staging productions, so that they could achieve so much more themselves than they thought ever possible, to go on and gain so much and but to also give so much too.
Looking back over the years as life rolls on, members have left and new ones have joined, but we have staged a multitude of successful productions and more importantly to me, raised literally mountains of cash and helped raise awareness of many local charities to the public that people may never knew they even existed beforehand.
Back to our story, and we were lucky to be based at St James Working Men's Club, free of charge for our rehearsals and productions for the next consecutive 5 years. I still had 30 members and also gained a youth group of 10 members, plus we had members' own children taking part in the pantomimes, being an obvious source for children!
St James Working Men's Club Committee then gave me a big shock by saying that they could no longer accommodate us and so served notice for us to leave. Devastated and concerned, I spent hours phoning, walking, and asking around Northampton, for a new venue.
Most places were already overbooked and others were just so expensive that my idea to give monies raised away would have to cease, and that would mean The Charity Players would become no more...(duh duh duh!)
fate gives a helping hand...
One of my members, Pete Gasson, said to me that his brother Colin, was in an amateur group called The Saint Albans Amateur Dramatics Society and they had good facilities at Saint Albans Church Hall in Mayfield Road, but had lack of membership and were actually thinking of folding.
We realised that my group had good membership but no venue and so it would be ideal if we could possibly save each other and amalgamate as one group.
I had already met Colin a few times, as he had previously helped me out with stage set construction for some of our plays, and so I asked him if he could kindly have a word with their group chair with a request to meet up and discuss my own group's issues.
This meeting was set up and I met up with Jan Lomas, and thankfully we agreed to as we put it "give it a one year trial,"
So we went on to have a year together. We did a pantomime and a play to see how we got along and although we did have a few teething problems to begin with, these were quickly rectified and we then truly became a family and as one group.
I wanted to keep the name The Charity Players and continue our work to raise funds for local charities, and naturally, they wanted to keep their name too, because it was also part of the church and their local community. So we jointly agreed to be renamed as The Saint Albans Charity Players of Northampton.
At this point in time, I now had a great venue and good membership, so we continued to thrive and stage many productions and function, just as before. I was then made President of the group, and now fast forwarding to 2018, I have a committee of 9 members who help me to run the group as smoothly as possible.
The knowledge and experience we have gained over the years is truly phenomenal I have to say, there is no doubt about it in my mind, and I personally feel that we are a very different drama group to those that surround us in Northamptonshire. Our pantos also have a reputation of being second to none!
Apart from our unique selling point which is to primarily fund raise and give money away to local causes, giving away up to £4,000 each year from our ticket proceeds, which is amazing in itself!, I feel we are certainly one big happy family who support and really care for one other.
We really do have great fun staging productions, along with time out occasionally for ourselves on some fabulous social events too!
Cue the music!
I have also more recently in 2014, formed The Charity Players Karaoke Choir!
We are now into our fourth year! The idea was basically just to support the pantomimes with happy sing-a-long tunes for our audiences to arrive to and enjoy before the shows, during the intervals and support the cast's songs during the panto’s. This has gone down extremely well and has worked out to be very successful. indeed, I am happy to say.
The group consists of male and female adults of all abilities and includes some of our regular actors from the drama side...it's certainly a good way to strengthen your lungs up to help project your voice, for sure! The choir has gone from strength to strength and are now frequently holding concerts of their own as part of their own fundraising efforts too. Go them!
Anyone interested in joining, please look at our Join Our Choir! page.
I began to have a closer friendship with Colin when we joined as one group. We clicked with the set construction and design naturally. We then, in time, fell into a romantic relationship and fell in love. It just all fell into place at the right time.
He has been the best support to me and the group. He knows of my love for the group and the work I love to do for charity too and he is always there for me.
Together we have created new ideas and plans, and Colin has wrote many plays and pantos himself over the years, and he has since taught me how to be a playwright too, and so I have wrote a few times myself, which the group has benefited from and had pleasure in staging.
We have also held other events for the charities such as party nights and quiz nights.
He is my best friend and I definitely could not do all this without him!
MY BEST MOMENTS!
- To see all members having fun, laughing and enjoying what they do
- Everybody who comes as our audiences feel welcome and can forget the outside world for a couple of hours, and just enjoy our shows and our company
- The charities can display their cause, network and give out leaflets, raising awareness about them
- The presentation of the funds to the charities and the joy it brings to them is priceless!
- To have the love and support from Colin is equally priceless!
- All this put together makes everything just so worthwhile and satisfying
I am so overwhelmed that the group is still flourishing and doing a great job. There is a list of charities that we have supported so far on our Charities page, please take a moment to have a look.
There are so many local charities to also adopt in the future and I don’t know how long I will last, but I do hope the group will continue to go from strength to strength, so that when my time is over, its grand work and achievements will live and thrive for many, many more years to come!