75 years of CAOS

CAOS performed Sweet Charity in 2012CAOS performed Sweet Charity in 2012

As the College Amateur Operatic Society (CAOS) celebrate their 75th anniversary, Doreen Harding looks back on a history of performances that all began from an evening class in 1938.

It is imperative to emphasise how the history of CAOS has been closely entwined with that of Waltham Forest College. The story begins in April 1939, when the South West Essex Technical College was officially opened. The original building was to cover 2.25 acres, in a Neo-Georgian style. It was built on Chestnuts Farm's playing fields, fronting Forest Road, at a cost of £240,000.

The college commenced classes in September 1938 and CAOS, as an evening class, began rehearsals and gave its debut performance of Patience on 25 April 1939. With a cast of 48 – 32 women and 16 men – one wonders how they managed on such a small stage.

Although World War II disrupted full-scale productions, several concerts were given to service personnel, who, under the auspices of the War Office, were trained at the college – it was known as HMS Shrapnel to the Royal Navy. Following the war, in 1947, CAOS reformed with many new members joining the original musical director and a few founder members to commence rehearsals for The Rebel Maid.

In 1965, as a direct result of the creation of the new London Borough of Waltham Forest, South West Essex Technical College was renamed as Waltham Forest College and the borough took over its running.

Throughout these changing times, CAOS has stubbornly survived, but in 1995 was forced to move to the Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford. The first major production was High Society. Lack of backstage space and dressing on the stairways, combined with new fire regulations, compelled the move from the college. Subsequently, CAOS has remained at the theatre for the past 18 years. Professional dressing rooms, an orchestra pit, a green room and storage space for props and scenery lessened the wrench from its spiritual home.

It has been a privilege to remain and enjoy the rehearsal facilities afforded by the college, without which it is doubtful that the Society would be celebrating its 75th anniversary. It is considered as part of the college and one of the few groups to admit the general public into the premises, thereby allowing them to appreciate both the college and its status in the borough.

The list of musicals, operettas and concerts is extensive, from the 1939 Patience to this year's Return to the Forbidden Planet. Some shows have survived repetition, others have not – fashions change! Presenting the annual Christmas production at the college gives great pleasure, enabling everyone in CAOS a chance to shine.

All those involved with CAOS have contributed to its survival and success. Our Front of House Manager Thelma Vincent is a resident of Wanstead and, over the years, many members have joined from Wanstead and the surrounding areas, including our president, who has been with us since 1967 – we have been fortunate to have the support of local residents. CAOS is an active society throughout the year, open to all, and welcomes new members to its ranks.

We are the music makers, we are the dreamer of dreams – let us look forward to the next 75 years.

For more information, call 020 8539 9474 or visit www.collegeoperatic.co.uk

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