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Gateway Theatre History

Founder members Millie O'Kasili and Bertil Gallagher look back with fond memories to the time when, through the good offices of the Portadown Music and Drama Festival Committee in 1964, the Group acquired premises at Church street Portadown. This was a former stable loft and was transformed into a 60 seater auditorium!

Several structural changes appeared over the years, the rehearsal area was changed into a purpose made coffee area with tea bar, sinks, water geysers etc and soft seating to relax on whilst enjoying their coffee.

Richard Gilpin, who took part in the first production remembers well the team spirit that brought live theatre to Portadown and which has continued to do so ever since. Richard looked after the groups lighting over the years and he will recall the lighting control desk in the old theatre. It was reached by climbing up a home made ladder to a small loft above the stage. One drawback was that once the performance started you were

The rear of the stage had a very tight staircase that led down to the dressing room below. Indeed the cast of one production recall the fateful night when someone fell down the staircase during a show....no broken bones I am glad to report and the show went on.

In 1968 the theatre acquired further storage space beneath the auditorium for scenery, props and this left space for an extension to the Coffee Bar area that had proved a little on the small size. New seating was obtained from Belfast and the seating capacity was increased to an eighty seater. The Gateway was always regarded as an intimate theatre and it was the desire that it should remain so. This intimacy stems from the physical closeness of the players to the audience and the fact that so many of our patrons we have come to know very well over the years.

The premises were renovated in 1976. A great deal of time and money was spent in making the theatre both more comfortable and safer for our patrons. Many sections of the building were fireproofed in accordance with the Fire Authority regulations and a Fire Escape and emergency lighting was installed. The lounge was extended and re equipped and a projection room was constructed for the use of our friends in the Craigavon Film Society. The room was used as a control room for sound effects and lighting for productions and ensured greater co ordination of sound and lighting cues.

Unfortunately in August 1991 the owner of the building announced we had to terminate our lease to make way for a proposed mall of small shop units. We commenced to clear out and on 26th August we received a final demand to vacate the premises.

A frantic search of suitable buildings commenced and we managed to secure our present building 85 Old Gilford Road. The building has taken on many uses, it was formerly Levaghery Sunday School, it then became the changing room for Portadown Rugby Club (we found a large team size concrete bath), then it became a workshop for Blake Campbell who was Professional at Portadown Golf Club.

Quite a lot of hard work went into bringing it into useable rooms once more, to form a rehearsal area, a workshop, and a store facility. We now perform shows at Portadown Town Hall. This one of the best equipped theatres outside Belfast having a fly tower that permits the scenes to be flown above the stage area. The lighting and sound are now run from a dedicated sound proof lighting suite at the rear of the balcony. This is fully equipped with Hi Tech computerized lighting control and state of the art sound mixing facilities, including a new sound effect board.

THE FUTURE

It is a tribute to the dedication of the founder members that the Gateway Theatre Group is still flourishing. Every year it produces at least two plays, a Christmas Show, various roadshows, and a Pantomime each year. Over the years many of the members have left in connection with their jobs and family commitments. Sadly we have lost some of our former members such as Dessie Taylor, and Bill McKay Kenny. The Group currently has 32 members and meets regularly once a month.

It has a varied social programme, with Bar B-Ques, Treasure Hunts, Halloween and Christmas Party nights not to mention the after show parties that go on into the wee small hours. All productions are staged in Portadown Town Hall Theatre with a Spring season in the Ardhowen Theatre Enniskillen, and a summer season in the Town Hall Portrush. In addition the group have been invited to put on their productions in village halls as part of local fund raising efforts..

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1996 glenn@irelandmail.com