Frome has always had a thriving arts sector including artists, illustrators, potters, sculptors, photographers, woodworkers, jewellers, crafts people, writers, poets, musicians – the list is endless.
The annual Frome Festival, held in early summer, is a long-established celebration of art and culture, with events held in numerous venues around the town.
The museum has many items, collected and donated over the years, documenting these artistic developments either as photographic records or actual items. One of our most comprehensive collections is from the Frome Amateur Operatic Society, and in 2023 we will receive a further collection from Frome Drama Club.
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 until the beginning of World War I. The Society started performing again in 1924 and there was a Gilbert and Sullivan production each year throughout the 1920s. In the 1930s, the FAOS broadened its repertoire and started to do musicals, the first one being “Merrie England” in 1930.
In 1940, war intervened again. FAOS re-started in 1947 and during the mid 20th century it settled on a popular musicals format, continuing 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, with no temptation to “modernise”. The pantomimes have become hugely popular in Frome, and attract sell-out audiences from the wider area.
The schedule of three shows a year continued until 1988. 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. Some of the children have continued to be active in the Society in adulthood.
Remarkably, 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 of their archive, but very few amateur groups. The important, if not unique, FAOS collection is now in the care of Frome Museum.