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BillBoard Ensemble theatre celebrates 25 years

AN AWARD-WINNING arts company is celebrating 25 years within the community.

BillBoard Ensemble is Barry’s premiere amateur dramatics company; it formed in 1996 and has come leaps and bounds, despite the recent challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Jonathan Coombs has been there from the start and is principal of the company, with Steve Caley-Burnell as chorus liaison and admin, and Alana Frassinelli and Tony Caley-Burnell help with publicity.

All four team members also sing, dance, and perform along with the hundreds of members of BillBoard Ensemble who live within the Vale of Glamorgan and even further afield; some members are from Caerphilly, the Valleys, and Swansea.

Mr Coombs, who has lived in Barry most of his life, setup Billboard Ensemble 25 years ago sensing a “niche in the market.”

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“I wanted to bring the West End feel to Barry at a reduced price,” said Mr Coombs.

“We had around 30 members and 25 juniors when we started; now we have more than 100 members which include performers and non-performers. We have members from all walks of life.”

He explained that some people dip “in and out” but the company uses a core chorus, supervised by chorus liaison Steve Caley-Burnell.

The company has an adults’ section (18+), a junior section (aged six to 18), and a recently established BillBoard babies’ section (two to five). Members pay a subscription fee, which helps cover the costs of productions.

The adults section puts on two performances on each year (although the Covid pandemic put this on hold): a Christmas pantomime and a summer musical; the latter is the “big expensive” one, partially funded by the money made through the festive pantos.

Mr Coombs, who plays the Dame in the company’s pantomimes, continued: “This isn’t for profit – we’re in this because we’re passionate; the money we make is ploughed back into productions.

“Our company is about enabling new shows

“People often comment on our harmonies, our lavish sets and costumes – lots of people are involved in giving productions the essence of a West End show.

“Our audience grows which enables us to grow; the local community – especially schools – have been so supportive.”

Every performance by the adults’ section is reviewed by a NODA (National Operatic and Dramatic Association) representative and BillBoard has won three NODA Awards, including for “one of their most expensive” [to produce] pantomimes Beauty and the Beast (2010).

BillBoard Ensemble uses Cadoxton Community Centre for rehearsals and smaller performances for the younger members, but their productions are put on at Barry Memo Arts Centre on Gladstone Road.

“The Memo is such a lovely venue,” said Mr Coombs, who has performed at the venue for 35 years.

This year the company will whisk audiences on a magic carpet ride with their pantomime of Aladdin – auditions for this start this month (September).

Then, in summer 2022, they will bring Priscilla Queen Of The Desert to the Memo; this spectacular show will celebrate 25 years of the company – it was originally planned for 2020, but was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Want to get involved? E-mail [email protected]

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