It was in 1906 that three local residents decided to form a local operatic society to offset “the perceived lack of facilities for entertainment” in Dartford. An advert in a local paper asked “gentlemen and young ladies with good voices and good figures” to come forward. From this somewhat sexist advertisement, just sufficient interest was generated for the Dartford Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (DAODS) to be formed.
Rehearsals started in the local Temperance Hotel and soon moved to the nearby Bucks Room, with "The Mikado" subsequently performed on four evenings at the Conservative Hall in Spital Street in April 1907. Although the estimated budget of £50 was exceeded by some 100%, the box office receipts came in at £105, so the Society was solvent and on its way. Ticket prices for this first show ranged from one to three shillings (5 -15p), a sum regarded as unreasonably high by one of the local papers!
The subsequent years have not all been glamour and bright lights. The early decades were constrained by a chronic lack of finance, a limited choice of shows (the first seven were all Gilbert and Sullivan) and the interruptions for World War I and II. Up to the 1940s, it is unlikely the society would have survived without constant fundraising by members and financial support from a small number of local benefactors. In 1933 the Mayor of Dartford became our President, a continuing tradition.
For many years the society led a nomadic existence, with shows performed initially in Dartford, then the Princesses Theatre, Crayford (1919-55), the Regal (later the ABC) Cinema in Bexleyheath (1956-72), before a welcome return to Dartford and the North West Kent College of Technology (1973-82).
One hundred years and some two hundred musicals later, DAODS continues to strive to provide "facilities for entertainment" not only for the town but now for a much wider catchment area than could ever have been imagined by the founders. Since the opening of the Orchard Theatre in 1982, two main productions - renowned for their consistent high standards, great costumes, professional lighting and full orchestral support - have taken place here every April and October. There have been forty-seven so far, despite shows now costing upwards of £40,000 to stage.
Without a permanent base for rehearsals, in the 1980s the members decided that they needed their own headquarters. After some serious fundraising and following protracted discussions with Dartford Borough Council, the offer of some land in Heath Lane, Dartford, was agreed on a thirty-year lease and the building of Heathfields Hall commenced. Heathfields Hall is now used for all rehearsals and is equipped as a theatre for small-scale productions - no less than nine in the last fifteen months. The provision of Heathfields has also had a huge influence on the society's well-being, community links and range of activities, which included the start of our own Youth Theatre in 1994.
DAODS now has a vibrant membership of all ages, including many who show their skills with their backstage support. With continuing support from you, the public, for which we warmly thank you, the society looks forward with confidence to the next one hundred years.
Written by Mike Hopley