It started when I was fourteen. Introverted, lacking in confidence and with no idea of who I was. I was a clumsy, nervous little mouse with a bad haircut who barely knew anything of the world outside his high school. I’d endured a full year of secondary school when my best friend, K (extrovert, super confident, wore furry pink trousers to non-uniform day….you get the jist), bullied me into joining her Friday night youth theatre group. Bullying has never left me so grateful.

I jojazz hands!ined Wrexham Musical Theatre Society (WMTS) in January 2004 and remained there (give or take the odd year out) until March 2014. It was the setting of many firsts and many lasts for me, but I will always remember it as the place I first had friends. I know that sounds super sad, and of course I had some friends in school, but this was the place where I suddenly didn’t have to try to fit in. Imagine my shock when, as a fourteen year old, I discovered a hive full of people who were just like me. Imagine what that does to a boy. Many people have passed through the doors over the ten years that I was a member, and lots of them have shaped who I am today. I met a cluster of friends who I know I will never lose contact with and who will always be there no matter when I turn up at their door. I’ve trusted these people with thoughts I never dreamed I could share and I know they have done the same with me. For me, WMTS represents a home that I sometimes didn’t have when I was younger, as I spent some time being passed around the family. It’s provided me with stability as, no matter how unsettled things got, my WMTS family was always there.165909_10150927101122173_506567172_9793714_943399763_n

Being at the Society taught me how to be myself. Whether I was attending workshops or rehearsals or (as I got older) meetings, being a part of the theatre helped me realise that it was OK to express myself and be whoever I wanted to be. It’s OK to laugh, to cry, to get angry, to speak my mind, to hate who I want, to fancy who I want and, importantly, to enjoy every last moment.

Since 2012, we were aware that WMTS was not getting the support it needed and that closure sign was looming. We fought hard. We put on shows and fundraisers and tackled countless obstacles along the way, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. We spent our teenage years at the Society, and it was in these last few months that we realised we had come full circle, as we were now able to watch a new generation do exactly the same. The younger members of our group reminded us of the fun and mischief we used to get up to at their age and although it was touching to see that the Society was still able to bring people together, we were sad that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to grow up with that place of security that we were so lucky to have.

In March 2014, we performed our final show. It was the perfect ending to our time at the t008heatre. The energy backstage that night is something I’ll never forget. I remember being so happy that we were getting a chance to go out with a bang and sing together one last time, but simultaneously I was dreading that final number. As we joined together for one last curtain call, grasping each other’s hands and listening in the darkness to the sobs from both backstage and within the audience, I remember being utterly grateful that we were able to say goodbye on our terms.

For the next few months, WMTS remained quietly open, closing down slowly but surely, without any fuss. Many of us had ventured across the country to pursue other commitments but we all stayed in touch and listened intently for any news of the Society. Nothing came.12715413_10156573059980381_6965131466867006289_n

382985_294977330536506_1728688693_nThis week, I stumbled upon a photograph which left me devastated. It had been sometime since I was able to visit the Society as word had spread in early autumn that the building was now closed. I’d been waiting for the inevitable and this week I was confronted with an image of that beautiful building in the early stages of demolition.

I’m mature enough to know that loss and unfairness is a huge part of life. But I also can’t help but yearn for that place that was very much the hub of my youth. I’m angry that no one could save it. I’m angry that somewhere that harboured so much love, passion and talent could be allowed to wither and fade. I’m angry that a building that has been a part of our town for many years– many before I was even born – can be so cruelly torn down. I’m angry that a theatrical company that has been performing in Wrexham for over seventy years can be allowed to slowly collapse. It’s no secret that in the latter years, we struggled. We suffered many casualties and dramas, as many companies do, but we were determined to carry on. It doesn’t seem fair that a place that had so many people fighting for it can be forgotten. Towards the end, there was a small army of young, devoted people who were passionate about keeping the Society open not just in their name, but in the name of all those who came before them. I remember during the last Pantomime, standing in the wings, waiting to go on stage, and looking at some old photographs which had been unearthed from many of the hidden storage spaces. It hit me just how many people had invested themselves in the Society and I became emotional just realising how small in number we were compared to the Society’s earlier days. I remember the smiles and twinkling eyes of those photographs and, although years stood between us, we were sharing the same magic of the building.

1779064_735809426450471_415188736_nYesterday, my friend and I paid one last visit to the site. Outside, props and set pieces lie carelessly amongst rubble and bricks. The roof of the building is open, allowing for the cold rain to soak through to the studio that holds so many of our warmest memories. It’s a horrific site. Of course, the new owners are entitled to do whatever they want with the building as they have no emotional investment, but it seems so shocking and disrespectful to see a place that has been a symbol of pride and strength in my life (and many others’ lives) in such a state.

It would be easy to try and pin the blame on a long list of people, but I think it’s too late for that. Some thought the Society was being held in the past, but I strongly believe that WMTS had a future that could have been saved. In times where many young people wander lost and troubled through life, I’m grateful for the place that steered me in the right direction, and I’m sorry that the youth of Wrexham have lost another sanctuary. I overheard someone discussing a student once. ‘He might feel lonely now. He might feel like the odd one out, but trust me, one day, he’s going to walk into a room, and there will be his people, waiting for him’. Well that’s what happened to me when I was fourteen. To a lot of people in Wrexham, WMTS was a ‘derelict building’ or ‘that old operatic place by Matalan’, but to me it was my safe place and I don’t know where I’d be now without it. I’ll miss it and I will never forget the joy that it brought me.