Frome has always had a thriving arts sector which includes artists, illustrators, potters, sculptors, photographers, woodworkers, jewellers, crafts people, writers, poets – the list is endless.
There is also a vibrant musical movement in the town – the Frome Town Band which began in 1853 is still strongly supported; there are singers, musicians and musical groups which celebrate music in all its forms from classical to rap, folk to jazz. Many of these talented people perform with live music at the annual Frome Festival which also hosts many other artistic events.
The museum has many items, collected and donated over the years, documenting these artistic developments either as photographic records or actual items.
The Frome Amateur Operatic Society
Frome is particularly rich in art practitioners, but one stands out, the Frome Amateur Operatic Society (now renamed the Frome Musical Theatre Company). The company has been producing musical theatre in Frome for 115 years.
Officially, the Frome Amateur Operatic Society was founded in 1905. It performed Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Trial By Jury” on 26th April 1906 at the Market Hall, Frome. It grew from a group called the Magpies, describing themselves as “an amateur pierrot banjo and mandolin troupe” that gave a concert given in aid of the Frome Nurses’ Home in the Mechanic’s Hall on 19th April 1900.
FAOS successfully performed once a year over the next few years. Clearly things were going well until the war swamped it all in 1914. The Society started performing again in 1924 and performed G&S each year throughout the 1920s. As they entered the 1930s, they broadened their repertoire and started to do musicals, the first one being “Merrie England” in 1930. In 1940, war had again intervened.
FAOS started yet again in 1947 and during the mid 20th century decades FAOS settled down to a popular musicals format. FAOS continued with an annual musical until 1966. In 1967, FAOS formed a concert section called “The Opera Group” and concerts by them became part of the Society’s annual calendar. The first concert was “Carmen”.
The two shows a year format continued until 1978 when a pantomime was introduced into the Society’s annual calendar, the first one being “’Jack and the Beanstalk”. From that date until now, FAOS has always performed a traditional pantomime with a female principal boy and a male dame. There are lavish costumes, big effects, slapstick, a children’s sing-along, and glamour and glitter. The pantos have always been suitable for children, the Society having resisted the temptation to “modernise”. Not surprisingly, they have become hugely popular in Frome and the environs, attract sell-out audiences and are admired throughout the region.
Three shows a year continued until 1988 and in 1989 a youth group was formed. Called Spellbound, it was conceived to give children the experience of the theatre. Spellbound performs in the Memorial Theatre. The children perform with the full support of the adult teams, costumes, scenery, theatre lighting and sound, makeup etc. It was hoped at the beginning that some of the children would then feed the adult society on becoming adults, and so it has been.
The most remarkable thing of all is that throughout these 115 years, records have been kept of their performances – programmes, flyers, photographs, press cuttings and, since the early 1950s, audio recordings and nowadays video recordings. There are professional theatres with this near completeness, but very few amateur groups in the whole country. The FAOS collection is towards unique and is now in the care of Frome Museum.