The Crescent has a history going back to December 1923 when a few City Council employees entertained their colleagues with a Christmas Party Revue in the Council House canteen. The revue was a huge success and the group decided to form a theatre society and so the Municipal Players were established. For the next seven years the group presented plays in the canteen.
The Municipal Players went from strength to strength and soon had an ambition to acquire their own theatre. A major fundraising appeal was launched in January 1924 and in 1931 an opportunity presented itself when numbers 17, 18 and 19 The Crescent, Birmingham became available to lease from the Council. These premises together with the derelict Baskerville Hall were converted by the members, often with bare hands and hired tools, to a theatre with a raked auditorium, stage, dressing rooms and workshops. The theatre opened with much national and local press publicity in April 1932. The theatre company adopted the name The Crescent Theatre Company.
The Crescent continued through the 1930s to present a diverse range of theatre and in 1939 at the outbreak of WW2 all theatres were closed. Restrictions were lifted in 1940 and the Crescent became Birmingham’s Garrison Theatre, solely for the entertainment of troops and auxiliary services. The members fitted in rehearsals for productions with their daily work and Civil Defence duties.
At the end of the war in 1946 a movement was formed to bring together all the national amateur dramatic organisations who owned or leased their theatres. This was the brainchild of Crescent founder member and first Crescent Chairman Norman Leaker.
The ensuing years saw the Crescent create the Crescent Theatre School and a Youth Theatre. They also acquired adjoining buildings and were set for expansion when the council dealt a blow. The land was needed for development and the theatre company was given notice to quit.
The Council offered the Crescent a site on Cumberland Street with an interest free loan to build a new theatre. Ownership of the building was vested in The Crescent Theatre (New Building) Trust and a Limited Company was formed to run the theatre.
The new theatre on Cumberland Street (the second Crescent home) was opened in October 1964 with its revolutionary design of a revolving auditorium/stage, but sadly neither the Crescent Theatre School or Youth Theatre could be accommodated. The new building was now a vibrant arts venue in the heart of Birmingham and was in great demand from other theatre groups wishing to hire it. Through the 70s and 80s the Crescent flourished adding a new Youth Theatre and gaining an enviable reputation for innovative artistry.
In the late 1980s history repeated itself as the Council disposed of the ground lease to developers and the theatre’s 1960s architecture did not fit in with the new prestigious scheme. Once more the Crescent was faced with the prospect of losing its home but after long and delicate negotiations the developers, Brindleyplace PLC, agreed to finance a new building on a canal side site fronting onto Sheepcote Street.
So here the Crescent is today in its third home and continuing the artistic policy which has been the cornerstone of the company for over 80 years. The Crescent is not only home to members who wish to develop their creative talent but it has been the breeding ground for many actors who have gone onto work in theatre and television.
A jewel in the West Midlands arts scene, the Crescent is now firmly established as an integral part of theatre in the city.