A Gang Show is an amateur theatrical performance, generally of a high standard, where the cast is made up of principally youth members of Scouts and Guides and a minority of adult leaders. The aim of the shows is to give young people in Scouting and Guiding the opportunity to develop performance skills and perform in a close to professional theatrical environment. Opportunities are also afforded to young people to work backstage, in front of house roles, and to perform as musicians in the show's musical items and in the orchestra.
Generally, youth members, adult leaders and volunteer helpers have to participate in many hours of planning, writing, composing, choreographing, building stage scenery and props, and making costumes stretching over several months before the actual performances as well as rehearsals. In order to reach what is perceived to be the required performance standard for a Gang Show, a high level of commitment is needed from all involved in the production and, to a marginally lesser extent, their families. A typical Gang Show would require participants to attend around 20 rehearsals, dress rehearsals and overnight camps in preparation for the actual performances.
In addition many Gang Shows are organised in the manner of a typical scouting/guiding activity with the participants being grouped into patrols and attending special Gang Show camps and activities in order to develop and enhance team cohesion.
Frequently performances take place in commercial theatres over several days and are attended by the general public as well as participants' friends and families and other scouters and guiders.
Nothwithstanding the amateur nature of the Gang Show, the cost of mounting a show with acceptable production values capable of attracting the ticket buying public has required some shows to become quite commercial in character with financial sponsorship being canvassed from business houses and governments.
Gang Show Format
The format of a Gang Show is generally that of a variety show and includes comedy skits traditionally quick-witted but lacking excessive complexity, short routines or sketches, and musical and dance numbers frequently of some sophistication, usually but not always with minimal plot cohesion across a show but sometimes conforming to an overall theme.
A typical example of the Gang Show format included an adaptation of a Monty Python piece, original comedy sketches and comic songs (one involving a parody of Dame Edna Everage}, a tribute to Freddie Mercury and Queen which included solo and ensemble renditons of the group's oeuvre with original arrangements, with a traditional (but not mandatory) Gang Show finale.
The show's format was introduced by Ralph Reader the first Gang Show producer, who went on to write many sketches and songs for Gang Shows including the signature tune We're Riding Along on the Crest of a Wave. Some other Gang Show "standards" Reader wrote include Great Great Game, Gee it's a wonderful life, Silver on the Scarlet, Three Cheers, Show Time, and the majestic Scout Hymn.
History of the Gang Show
In 1931, Reader, then a Rover Scout who had already made his mark in theatre in the USA and London, was asked to write a Scout based amateur variety show to help raise money for a swimming pool at Downe Scout Camp (now a Scout Association National Activity Centre). Rehearsals commenced under Reader's direction on 29th May 1932, (his 29th birthday).
Initially the show did not have a title but during a rehearsal break, Reader recalled later, he asked a cast member if everyone was ready to which the response was Aye, Aye Skip, the gang's all here. The first production, under the title The Gang's All Here ran between 30th October and 1st November, 1932 at the Scala Theatre in central London.
Despite the fact that the show was not a sell out, enough money was raised to fund the swimming pool and the show was well received. Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting, approached Reader and persuaded him to produce another show in 1933. This show was produced with the title The Gang Comes Back and ran for a week.
A tradition had been born and Reader continued to write and produce the London Gang Show. In 1934 the show became known as The Gang Show and the song Crest of a Wave was performed for the first time becoming over the years the Show's iconic song internationally.
In 1937 the London Gang Show achieved the distinction of being the first amateur production to have a Royal Command Performance, (an honour that was repeated in 1957 and 1964).
When the Gang Show first started in London in 1932, Reader decided that the cast should be organised as a Scout Troop. This arrangement was so successful that it has been carried on ever since. But the young men and boys who were members of the Gang Show Troop wanted some kind of identification, and it was decided to adopt a distinctive scarf. Who actually decided on the scarlet scarf is not known, but it has since become traditional and internationally accepted as the symbol of Gang Shows. As Gang Shows extended throughout the world, some further means of identification was needed to distinguish one show from another. London led the way again by embroidering in gold, on the point of the scarf, the insignia G.S. London. Today, each Gang has its own local identifying badge in gold on the point of the scarf. Gang Show has become a tradition throughout the Scouting world and, as with all traditions, there are some rules which have sprung up. One of these is that a show does not adopt a badge on its scarf until it has completed three annual performances and demonstrated that the show is established as a working concern, and not just a one off event.
In 1972 The London Gang Show Fellowship was founded by Reader solely for the current and former members of the London show to keep in touch with each other. Over the years this has now expanded and membership is open to anyone who has an interest in The Gang Shows and its founder Ralph Reader.
Gang Shows around the world
Since the first Gang Show in London, productions have been organised in many countries around the world including England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, United States, the Netherlands and South Africa. Indeed it is claimed that a Gang Show is being produced somewhere in world every day of the year. Whilst they are all individual in their character, they all share the general ethos of Reader's original concept and have some common elements such as a Finale which almost invariably incorporate at least some traditional Reader scouting standards such as Riding Along on the Crest of a Wave.
In 2007 South East Berkshire Gang Show Launched the World Wide Forum for Gangshows. This Forum is open to anyone involved in Gang Show and is a place where ideas can be exchanged between Shows and also where shows can advertise their performances to others.
Gang Shows in Australia are generally organised on a regional basis.
Brisbane Gang Show was started in 1952, and is notable for having changed the words in its performance of Silver on the Scarlet to "For there's gold now on the scarlet", in honour of the 50th Year of Brisbane Gang Show, following the Gang Show tradition of a person receiving a silver trimmed scarf after being in the show for 25 years, and a gold trimmed scarf after being in a show for 50 years. As of 2006, BGS is one of the oldest Gang Shows still in performance, completing its 55th season. It is also tradition that for the final performance for a season, a small stand is placed in the middle of the stage, upon which is placed the scarf of long servong producer Hugh "Kirra" McKee. A spotlight is kept on the scarf at all times during the show. During the Finale, it is placed on one of the younger cast members usually by long-term cast member.
Canberra Gang Show began in 1966 with the help of Melbourne Gang Show and went solo in 1968, earning its own red scarf with the distinctive Canberra Coat of Arms - a pair of swans - emblazoned on it. The red scarf, patrols named after Shakespeare characters, the traditional finale song We'll Go On And On and other traditions remind the members of where the Gang Show came from and what it has achieved in the past. Given the relatively small size of Canberra, the various teams are open to everyone, as the number of applicants rarely reach any limit. Since 1982 the Erindale Theatre has been home of the show; before that, various other theatres in Canberra were used. In July 2006, Canberra Gang Show celebrated the 40th year of Gang Shows in Canberra.
Cumberland Gang Show was founded in 1970 and draws its performers from Scout and Guide groups in western Sydney. After an exhaustive audition process in December each year about 140 performers and musicians are chosen from more than 400 hopeful Cubs, Brownies, Scouts, Guides, Venturers, Rovers and Rangers. Performances take place in the school holidays in July of the following year at the Riverside Theatre, Parramatta.
Melbourne Gang Show began in 1953. There are over 200 people who act in Gang Show aged from 10-26. Each Gang Member in the Melbourne Gang Show gets their own red scarf to wear to prove they were in Melbourne Gang Show. There is an enormous group of volunteers (over 50) behind Gang Show including people doing costumes, make up, props, catering and more.
Camberwell Showtime is another Australian Scout Show, though not explicitly a Gang Show. Each year, a team of writers aged 10 and up write an original script and music. Many songs and sketches in the Scout Show reportoire originated here. Camberwell Showtime is one of four 'Showtimes' in Victoria, along with South Metro, Strzelecki, and Whitehorse.
Whitehorse Showtime started out in 1965 and is now the largest Scout Show in Australia and one of the largest in the world. With over 150 in Cast and the same number behind-the-scenes, Whitehorse has built a strong following of patrons from the Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne. Organised in its early days by Rod Savage, the show like many others grew from the foundations of Melborne Gang Show. Other shows that began around the same time included Morrabbin and Essendon Showtimes, now both defunct and Camberwell Showtime. So As We Go Along
Bath and District Scout and Guide Gang Show is a relatively newer and smaller Gang Show, celebrating its ten year anniversary in 2007 and has a cast of approximately sixty. The Show has had several venues over those years, and are performing in 2007 at Kingswood Theatre, Lansdown, Bath. The show started as an idea by Bath Venture Scouts to make a film, but later was changed into the district Gang Show instead.
Blackpool Scout Gang Show was first staged in 1961. Over the years the show has graced the stage of many of the nationally known theatres in Blackpool including the Opera House (which at the time was the biggest theatre and stage in Europe), Pavilion Theatre and the Grand Theatre. While at the Opera House, the Blackpool Scout Gang Show also had the privilge of having the then-Chief Scout coming to see the production. In 2005, after 13 years at the Winter Garden's Pavilion Theatre, the Gang Show moved to the Globe Theatre at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Blackpool Scout Gang Show has a cast of over 100 members ranging from the Beaver Scout, Cub Scout, Scout, Explorer Scout and Scout Network sections. Members from Girlguiding UK are also part of the Gang, as are Leaders from both Associations.
Blyth Valley Gangshow is the result of an idea born in 1992 in Seaton Valley when it was thought it would be a good idea to stage a Scout show in order to bring the District together in a single project. Fortunately, they had some old boys and girls of the Newcastle Gang Show to produce the show. The first three shows were staged at Astley High School in Seaton Delaval. However, in order to give the gang a taste of a real theatre, from 1998 the Show moved to the Phoenix Theatre in Blyth. Also in 1998 the Show achieved Gang Show status, receiving the Scout Associations seal of approval. In 2000 Seaton Valley District merged with Blyth to form Blyth Valley, being presented in 2001 as the Blyth Valley Gang Show.
Bristol Gang Show was first staged in 1971 and is one of the largest in the country with approximately 120 cast members. It takes place at the Bristol Hippodrome annually during October.
Chelmsford Gang Show started in 1957 and celebrates its fiftieth year in 2007, with an average yearly cast of over 100.
Harpenden Gang Show, or to give it its full name 'Harpenden & Wheathampstead Disrict Scout Gang Show', has run every year since 1949 at the Eric Morecambe Theatre, Harpenden Public Halls, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, and is the second longest continuously running Gang Show in the world, Glasgow holding the record. It includes a mixed cast of 152 (36 cubs, 64 Scouts and 52 Explorers), and is proud to have no one over the age of 18 on stage. It has always maintained a non-auditioning policy. The Harpenden Gang have strong relations with nearby St Albans Gang Show.
Inverness Area Gang Show The most northern Gang Show started in 1983 to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Scout Association as a one off show. The enourmous success of the first show, has led to repeat shows every two years in the April School Holiday. The 2007 Show will take place in October due to the renovation of Eden Court Theatre. A Cast of between 110 - 140 takes part. Inverness is one of the few Gang Shows where there is NO auditioning. The Show was accredited in 1991.
Knutsford Gang Show is known throughout Cheshire and has been running since 1986. It takes place in February and rehearsals begin in September. In 2007, it moved to a new venue at Egerton Youth Club.
Marple Scout and Guide Gang show was first staged in 1964 and still runs today. The show uses Ralph Reader's "Three Cheers" as its theme song every year. Marple is the only Group (as opposed to District or County) show to be awarded the prestigious Red Necker (National Recognition). In 2004 Marple celebrated its 40th show and regularly has a cast of over 80. The show is performed in the Carver Theatre, Marple.
1st Rustington Scout Group Gang Show has staged nine Gang Shows, the first in 1969 and the most recent in 2007. The 1st Rustington Gang Show is one of the very few shows in the UK which is produced by a Scout Group rather than a District or wider area. The show is performed in the Windmill Theatre, Littlehampton, West Sussex.
St Albans Scout & Guide Gang Show is one of the biggest in the country with 130 cast members and 100+ adults assisting in production and backstage roles. In 2006 they were asked to put together a special 'one-off' show for a special gala dinner in London hosted by the national HQ of the Scout Association. Top Scouting & Guiding chiefs (inc the UK Chief Scout) flew in from around the world to take part in the World Jamboree unit leaders meeting and the St Albans Gang entertained them. The St Albans Gang have strong relations with nearby Harpenden Gang Show.
South East Berkshire Gang Show first hit the stage in 1970 starting in a local school hall, from there it grew larger and after a couple of years moved to Camberley Civic Hall where it stayed for many years until moving to its current venue of the Wilde Theatre, South Hill Park, Bracknell. The Show is performed every February and the Gang consists of around 180 people every year.
Stoke-on-Trent & Newcastle Division's Gang Show, Screamline is one of the world's oldest Gang Shows still in production, having been first performed in 1934. The show takes in cast members from the Division's District Gang Shows - Castle Capers (Newcastle), Burdi Boys (Potteries North) & High and Wide (Three Towns).
Warrington Gang Show. The first Warrington Gang Show was staged in 1951, after 3 shows there was a 7 year break, before it continued uninterrupted to the 50th production which will be staged at The Parr Hall in March 2007.
Reader, Ralph Ralph Reader Remembers London, 1975
World Wide Forum
- Brisbane Gang Show
- Canberra Gang Show
- Cumberland Gang Show
- Hornsby Gang Show
- Melbourne Gang Show
- Sunraysia Gang Show
- Whitehorse Showtime
- Comedy Capers Gang Show
- Adelaide Gang Show
- Shouts Shouts Youth Theatre
- Aberdeen Gang Show
- Bath Gang Show
- Birkenhead Gang Show
- Bristol Gang Show
- Chelmsford Gang Show
- Coventry Gang Show
- Crowborough Gang Show
- Edinburgh Gang Show
- Exeter Gang Show
- Glasgow Gang Show
- Gloucester Gangshow
- Gosport Gang Show
- Harpenden Gang Show
- Inverness Area Gang Show
- Middlesbrough Gang Show
- Marple Gang Show
- Newcastle Gang Show
- Oxford Gang Show
- Roverang - Gang Show style variety show presented by Southampton Itchen area scouts and guides.
- Stoke on Trent and Newcastle Division Gang Show - Screamline
- South East Berkshire Gangshow
- St Albans Gangshow
- St Helens Gang Show
- Warrington Gang Show - site includes details of the early history of the Gang Show
- York Gang Show