A brief history of the Octagon Theatre
In the beginning...
The Octagon was built in 1974 and opened as the multi
purpose Johnson Hall. Within the first few years it became apparent
that the venue was both more suitable and successful at staging
performances than any of the other activities such as ballroom
dances or exhibitions for which it was intended.
From the outset the Johnson Hall became home to Yeovil Amateur
Operatic Society who have regularly presented two musical
productions each year.
Another early user that has maintained its
relationship with The Octagon up to the present day is the Yeovil
Temple Salvation Army whose annual Christmas Carol services become
ever more popular.
The Octagon Theatre
When, in 1984, a competition was run by the local press to find
a new name for the then rather less than popular hall, the
"Octagon" emerged as winner.
Although the name "Octagon Theatre" began to be used regularly
from 1985, it really came into its own in 1988 when replacing the
auditorium seating became necessary and the decision was taken to
remove the retractable tiered seating and replace it with a
permanently raked auditorium.
So began The Octagon's career as a major regional theatre.
Numbers of performances and audience sizes all began to grow
rapidly as did the mailing list which, prior to 1988, stood at
little under 3,000 names. The mixed programme currently presented
is 80% professional and 20% local amateurs. So popular has The
Octagon become with visiting companies that the programme is
usually fully booked for the year ahead with many events scheduled
a year beyond that.
The Foyer Club
In 1983 a Friends' organisation, The Foyer Club, was founded.
This club has two main purposes; to provide a team of volunteers to
work front of house, greeting visitors, giving advice and
information and to provide The Octagon with a link to the
community, opening constant channels of communication with
On both counts the Foyer Club has proved very
Indeed its involvement with The Octagon has been far greater
than was originally envisaged with various additional projects
undertaken, most notable and regular is the quarterly mail out when
some 20,000 envelopes have to be filled, addressed and packaged for
posting. The Foyer Club has proved particularly useful as the
theatre's programme developed. In the course of the last decade the
number of performances annually has risen from under 150 to around
260. In the same period, audience numbers have increased by a
factor of 10.
The Footlights Club
A further significant step in the development of The Octagon
came in 1990 with the formation of the Footlights Club. This club
has been designed for regular theatre goers offering discounts on
most performances and priority booking facilities. Like the Foyer
Club, the Footlights Club with its 1,000 plus members gives useful
feedback information on likes and preferences
In 1991 The Octagon ran its first Summer School during the month
of August. This provided workshops in stagecraft as well as "Build
a Musical Week" mounting a full stage production from audition to
first performance in seven days.
This proved so successful that not only has the exercise been
repeated each year since but has grown into a full month of
workshops and projects.
In addition a number of productions have been staged, the cast
of which have been a mixture of amateur and professional. This has
not only given local people the opportunity to work alongside
experienced professional actors, it has also helped to break down
the barriers that can sometimes exist between amateurs and
professionals. Sharing a dressing room, and first night nerves,
does wonders for building bridges
An independent survey conducted by Dr David Birkes of Bath
University in 1995 placed The Octagon Theatre firmly at the top of
the list of most used leisure facilities in South Somerset. Indeed,
it revealed that 54% of the population had used the theatre within
the last twelve months making The Octagon a majority rather than a
More recently surveys carried out in preparation for the South
Somerset Cultural Strategy (2002) revealed that 70% of the
population of South Somerset identified themselves of users of the
Octagon Theatre. Whilst 68% regarded the Octagon as "very
important" in the life of South Somerset
In 2003 the Octagon was refurbished and extended.
A new rehearsal studio was created on the ground floor, whilst
on the first floor space was added to the bar and cafe areas.
The auditorium was re-seated and even the structure on which the
seating stands was replaced. Creating large new storage areas and
ensuring greater comfort for theatre goers.
During the Summer of 2008 a new scene dock was built on the side
of the stage providing our technicians with greater storage
facilities for productions. A smaller store was also created
and the Disabled Toilet Front of House was also upgraded to meet