From dark days of war to a summer season of plays, there's much ado about Everyman; For almost 30 years, Everyman Theatre has been entertaining audiences with its summer festivals. Chairman Simon Futty reveals how the event has grown over the years and why they are introducing a Welsh-language production this year.
BACK in 1982, as Everyman Theatre celebrated its 40th anniversary, the company decided to mark the milestone by producing an open-air Shakespeare play the following summer.
The one they chose - perhaps eccentrically for a summer festival - was The Winter's Tale. The show was a huge success playing to packed houses on beautiful sunny evenings at Dyffryn Gardens in the Vale of Glamorgan. And Everyman's summer festival became an annual fixture.
The rationale behind the festival was to employ professional directors so that the company would enjoy the experience of a professional environment and learn "the tricks of the trade".
In addition, the cast would not be limited to the existing membership: Actors would be chosen from all over South Wales via open auditions ensuring the highest possible standards of performance.
Any profits made from the show would be ploughed back into the company and a new generation of actors would join as a result.
Everyman itself had started off in the dark days of World War Two as a Unity Theatre determined to present educational and socially relevant plays for the people of Cardiff.
It was run on a shoestring from the basement of a chur ch, with many sets and costumes made from blackout material (the only cloth off-ration).
Heartened by their initial success, within a couple of years they had broadened their repertoire and changed their name to Everyman Theatre.
Throughout the 1950s Everyman continued to operate in "a tiny clubroom where there is hardly room to swing a playwright..."
as the Western Mail memorably put it - before moving to Chapter Arts Centre, its present location, in the 1970s.
It was from this base that Everyman decided to launch the festival.
The gamble paid off. The first seasons were so successful that after a few years the festival expanded to two shows - an evening Shakespeare performance and a family show during the day.
Soon Everyman was employing professional writers and directors to adapt well-known children's stories while the Shakespeare went on to garner praise from such luminaries as late poet laureate Ted Hughes.
Each cast would act as front of house staff for the other shows and great camaraderie developed. With it grew up a Dyffryn 'fringe' - music, songs and sketches from actors and friends, played out in the bar before last orders.
Alas this idyll could not survive the closure of Dyffryn House - and a new venue had to be found.
Luckily the National History Museum in St Fagans stepped in and the festival transferred there without a hitch. It has been held there since 1996.
This year marks our 28th festival.
Planning is done by a dedicated working group two years in advance so that directors can be lined up and plays chosen.
The inclusion of a musical has taken some of the financial pressure off - we can now afford to do slightly more risky projects once in a while, such as last year's successful King Lear.
Everyman's winter seasons are as thriving as ever too, with plays including Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman, Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal and Strindberg Knew My Father by local playwright Mark Jenkins.
This year we have added a Welsh Language children's show - Gair Am Air - despite the financial risks. We believe it is an under-represented area of theatre and we want to be more culturally representative. If successful it is somethingwewould love to repeat annually.
Although the festival is much larger (with four productions this time and lasting a month) its ethos remains largely the same - a season of outdoor plays performed by casts chosen on merit from open auditions to the highest professional standards. Here's to the next 28 years. * The Everyman Summer Theatre Festival takes place at the National History Museum, St Fagans, from July 6 to 31. For tickets, call 0844 8700 887 or visit www.everymanfestival.co.uk
Actors get in rehearsal habit for the Everyman Summer Theatre Festival production of Much Ado About Nothing to be performed at the National History Museum, St Fagans, in Cardiff