1955 to 1967
A member for most of the Club's life, Alan Bridgman plots the plays and plays the plots over the Zurich Comedy Club's first half century.
The first meeting to form the Zurich Comedy Club was on 8th September 1954. Eight people attended and a committee of those eight was elected. The same size committee we still have today.
Most of those present were staff of the British Consulate General. Indeed British and diplomatic influences were strong and remained so for some years. One of the decisions taken at the very first meeting was to invite the British Ambassador to the performance, and to state on programmes: "Under the patronage of Her Majesty's Consul-General". This continued until at least until l964. In the early years "God Save the Queen" was played at each performance.
In 1954 Club membership was fr. 5.- a year (today it is fr. 50.-) and the hire of Theater am Neumarkt was fr. 30.- a night. To put these amounts in perspective, a short trip tram ticket in Zurich then cost fr.0 25 and a cup of coffee was fr.0.65.
Early Club meetings and rehearsals were held at the British Consulate offices. The first regular meeting was devoted to a reading of the play already chosen for public performance, on 16th and 17th December 1954, "Quiet Weekend", by Esther McCracken.
The December date proved too ambitious and the public performances in the Theater Neumarkt were deferred to the 4th and 5th March 1955.
SLAYED THEM IN DAVOS
A decision made right at the start of the Club's life was to take productions to Davos, as well as performing in Zurich, and this practice continued in subsequent years. Thus the first public performance ever given by the Zurich Comedy Club did not take place in Zurich at all, but in Davos on 26th February 1955.
The Club's founder members took on a big responsibility and risked financial loss if anything had gone wrong. Crucially, a profit of about Fr. 500 was made on that first production.
Building on that first success, the following weekly meetings were devoted to choosing the next play. "As Long As They're Happy", was selected and read, as was recorded at the time, "in cramped conditions in that we only had two copies to share among the twelve parts".
The production was planned to be put on in Davos, Berne, Zurich (3 nights) and Leysin. Unfortunately, this ambitious travel programme was realised; both Leysin and Berne being dropped.
For its second public production in Zurich, the Club moved to the Kaufleuten, which was to be its home for a number of years, and the ticket prices were raised to: fr. 5.50, 4.40, and 3.30. The budgeted costs were Fr.1500. In fact these were more than covered and a profit of Fr.1227 was realised. In accordance with a decision taken in advance and published in the programme, this was distributed to three charities.
The next play was "Night was Our Friend", played for three nights, followed some months later by "The Reluctant Debutante".
TROUBLE & STRIFE
The Club's next choice was "I Am A Camera" (now best known as the basis for the film "Cabaret), which however did not meet with the approval of the Club's then patron, the British Consul-General. He objected to the part of Sally Bowles (a woman of low
moral standards) being played by a Consulate staff member and he did not think it right for the Club, "a mirror of British society in Zurich" to be involved in a presentation touching on anti-semitism and nazism, which were controversial.
Sparks flew. The President and director offered their resignation to the Committee, who declined to accept them. A few weeks later an Extraordinary General Meeting could muster only 50% support for a vote of confidence in the Committee. The entire Committee then resigned and a new one was elected, which included the retiring President!
In the early sixties the Club performed "Playbill". This is a double bill by Terence Rattigan, comprising "The Browning Version" and "Harlequinade". We took this show to Davos, where we performed in a tuberculosis sanatorium, with a "set" made of cardboard by the inmates of the sanatoriurn with lots of goodwill but not much experience of the stage. This set had a tendency to fall down, especially when a door was opened, so that the cast had to hold it up as unobtrusively as possible. In addition, the actors had found it necessary, before the performance, to warm the inner man in the cold air of Davos, by a more or less judicious application of alcohol. As a result of these features, we at least felt we had given the best performance ever; our audience were quite polite but a little restrained - perhaps because they were all Dutch anyway and did not really understand us.
In the spring of 1962 "The Complaisant Lover" was successfully performed, to a full house on all 3 nights and yielded a profit of about fr.1,500. The Kaufleuten Theatre was found not entirely satisfactory, and a search for alternatives was made.
The club now planned to keep at least Fr. 5,000 in the bank and give any excess to charity, including St. Andrew's Church Hall, which was in 1963 nearing completion. This is the present-day Community Centre in Promenadengasse 9, Zurich where the Club still meets most Mondays. Its architect was current Club member and set designer, Firman Burke.
At this time the Club's Statutes were changed to eliminate a paragraph excluding from membership anyone whose mother tongue was not English.
By June 1964, the Club funds had fallen to under Fr. 4,000, but it was decided not to increase membership subscriptions from Fr.5 to 10, for with a membership of 35 this would make only a small contribution to production costs of well over Fr. 2,000 for each production.
The November 1964 production was "Flowering Cherry", an ambitious but successful effort, which took the Club, not for the first time, away from the realms of comedy referred to in its name. The following year, 1966, the club failed to put on any production at all, as membership had declined, perhaps because the Swiss authorities had started tightening up the rules for work permits.
1967 saw a serious discussion about putting on a musical, "The Boy Friend". In the event the next production was not a musical, but "My Three Angels".