Reflections on our Founder
The seeds of today’s Carmarthen and District Youth Opera were sown in the Carmarthen Further Education Centre, way back in 1979.
As a Youth Leader, the late Elizabeth Evans M.B.E. applied her passion for theatre to break new ground, encouraging, motivating and directing its youngsters to perform the musical “Snow White”. The response from the young cast and audience alike was inspirational. The production won the Snowdon Trophy for the “Best Youth Club entertainment in Wales”, and the fascinating story of Youth Theatre in Carmarthen had truly begun.
Not one to let the grass grow, Elizabeth ( Liz ), soon found she had able and willing helper volunteers to assist her including, importantly, husband David. A strong team was formed, and even today its volunteer strength is a hallmark of the organisation. With this strong base, annual Youth Opera musical productions soon became an important, popular and much acclaimed part of the County’s cultural scene.
As its popularity and reputation increased, Liz saw horizons and potential way beyond the Further Education Centre, and which led to invitations for the Youth Opera to perform at International Music Festivals including Waterford, Newport and Buxton…..and even a performance at the iconic London Palladium.
From humble beginnings, and under Liz’s direction, the renamed Carmarthen Youth Opera was drawing wide support, and even its larger venue at Carmarthen’s Civic Hall could not sustain the demand for tickets.
Liz’s qualities as Director of what, over time, became Carmarthen and District Youth Opera, were apparent from the outset. Many would claim that theatre was her life. What is indisputable is that she was totally focused on providing young people with the opportunity to develop their creative and artistic talents on stage or behind the scenes.
Her dream was to find a suitable venue and a “home” for the Youth Opera that would enable it to perform large, challenging and even lavish productions.
By 1986, the dream was about to come true. The empty and almost derelict Carmarthen Lyric Cinema was approached to allow the Youth Opera to clean the building, make it “safe” and put on a “Farewell to the Cinema “ performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” on the weekend of 13 March 1987.
Liz, in her inimitable style and in her quest for this to be just the start of something bigger, used her inspirational, motivational and persuasive talents to encourage and persuade those in authority to see the virtue and benefit of having this empty building as a future refurbished Town Theatre ( and importantly a home for her beloved Youth Opera ) .
Sir Geraint Evans, in attendance made an impassioned plea to the civic dignitaries and leaders present to deliver on the strong case made, in particular, by Liz.
The outcome, was the total restoration / refurbishment of the former Lyric Cinema to the fine theatre its is today. This was made possible through public donations, generous financial funding from the County, District and Town Council, and the ( then ) Welsh Office.
In 1989, a BBC televised performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the wonderful setting of St David’s Cathedral served to illustrate how, with the required facilities, CDYO could compete with the best around.
It is unquestionable that Liz was the key player and the driving force, and was recognised for her dedication and contribution to Theatre with the award of an MBE in the Honours List. Our Show Programme in 1989 records that “this was not only a tremendous award for the entire company but a fitting reward for all the tremendous effort that Elizabeth and her husband David have made over the years”.
It is little surprise that Liz was, and still is, fondly referred to, and remembered as “Liz the Lyric “.
Her contribution to what is now Carmarthen and District Youth Opera, is immense.
Through her talents, commitment and passion for theatre, she opened the door and provided the opportunity for generations of aspiring young people of the area to learn, develop and display their talents in the performing arts. Her legacy is today’s highly successful, award- winning Youth Opera that provides high quality musical productions for our supportive audiences, our Sponsors and Friends
It is fitting perhaps that at the time of writing, a portrayal of Liz’s life, its close links with the Youth Opera, and the “saving” of the Lyric is subject of a film to be released later in 2021.
The late Elizabeth Evans M.B.E. was our Founder and Director for 25 years, until her passing in 2004. A big thankyou from those young people she helped, and from adult volunteers she inspired during those exciting times in Carmarthenshire’s cultural success story.