A Brief History of The
1975 – 1978: The early years:
In 1975 under the banner of “The Semi-Circle" (which name was intended both as a reference to the initial sponsor of the group, the British Circle, Basel, and to the semicircle of chairs used at readings of plays, first private and then public) a group of enthusiastic theatre lovers performed a public play reading of Oscar Wilde’s “Lord Arthur Savil's Crime” at the Kindertheater, Basel on the 31st of May 1975. This was followed the following year by a costumed reading of G. B. Shaw’s “Heartbreak House” at the Kellertheater, Basel in December 1976.
In 1977, The Semi-Circle joined forces with a large group of enthusiastic vocalists from the British Circle calling themselves the “Flowing Bowl” and, to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee presented a joint cabaret entitled the “Jubilee Review” which was very successfully performed at the Spalencasino in May 1977.
The musical success of the “Jubilee Review” inspired The Semi-Circle and the Flowing Bowl to a further joint effort, and in September 1978 an “Old Time Music Hall” was staged for two nights at the Gundeli Casino, Basel.
In January 1978 the first full stage production for the public took place in the Borromaum Theatre, Basel. The play was “Dear Charles” by Alan Melville and, apparently, the audiences on both performance nights were very appreciative of what was achieved in their first full-scale production of a play. The Semi-Circle was off and running!
1983: Establishment of a Committee:
A general meeting of the Club was held on 25th April 1983. At that meeting several members were elected to form the first Committee of The Semi-Circle.
1985 Establishment of the Verein:
Following the approval of a draft set of Statutes by the Committee, the new Statutes of The Semi-Circle were formally signed on 4th March 1985.
The Semi-Circle, Basel, thus became an Association (Verein) under Swiss law (Arts. 60 - 79 of the Swiss Civil Code), possessing an independent legal identity. This step was necessary because the group found that it was making loads of money, and they had to ensure that the funds did not mysteriously disappear (see vulture picture). The Association also needed to establish more democratic procedures to enable the paid-up members to formally elect their committee in the future.
1980’s and 1990's: Theatre thrived, and Workshops sustained:
During the 80’s and 90’s The Semi-Circle staged two productions a year. The main, full-length productions mostly took place at the Gymnasium Bäumlihof in Basel in late October. Workshop productions, which took the form of evenings of one-act plays, were introduced, and generally staged at the end of March, usually in the cellar theatre of the English Seminar at the Schönes Haus in Basel. The workshops were started in 1986, the first being under the auspices of SCREWS (Semi-Circle Repertory Experimental Workshop) – later simply known as “Workshop”. These productions provided a more informal testing ground enabling members with little or no stage experience to appear before smaller audiences and discover that, despite their natural nervousness they managed to survive and even thrive!
Additionally, The Semi-Circle spread its wings and participated in a number of national and international theatre festivals. These can be viewed on the Festivals page of the website. Suffice it to say that the club has enjoyed considerable success at these events not only during the 80’s and 90’s but right up to the present day!
By the end of the 20th Century The Semi-Circle had been a part of Basel’s cultural landscape for a quarter of a century. Since the first public performance in 1975 over seventy productions offering a broad spectrum of plays to our audiences were staged. Although comedy was the most popular genre, the club also successfully produced dramas, thrillers, classical plays, a full-length musical and even a Shakespeare “entertainment” with excerpts from comedies, tragedies, and sonnets, along with period music.
The new millennium:
Early in 2000 difficulties with the Bäumlihof Gymnasium, including the cost, meant a move to the Baseldytschi Bihni which allowed for the use of their wonderful little theatre in the old Lohnhof for June productions. Workshops, generally in the Schöneshaus, were moved to the autumn and soon morphed into a series of short plays no longer under the “Workshop” umbrella.
In 2002 a new Website was created and during the following decades the club expanded its public profile to include a more comprehensive use of both the internet and social media sites.
Despite continuing to produce high quality productions with both full length and short plays audience numbers steadily declined during the first ten years of the millennium. In 2010 the club launched a new strategy to bring in a greater diversity of performers and a wider audience, representative of the region at the time. The introduction of this strategy and, especially, improvements in advertising coupled with a series of very high-profile productions in the second decade of the century dramatically improved both audience numbers and from 2012 to 2017 tripled the cash reserves, thus ensuring the financial stability of the Verein. Highly successful and lucrative productions included Agatha Christies “A Murder Is Announced” (2013) and “Calendar Girls” (2014).
In 2015 The Semi-Circle celebrated its 40th Anniversary, which made it the longest-running English-speaking amateur theatre group in Basel.
High quality productions have continued to be presented every year with the Verein finances being maintained at a very healthy level. The venues have changes significantly over the last 10-15 years with the Theatre Rampe (Borromaum) and the Arlecchino being most often used. A successful production was presented at Basel’s iconic Theatre Taborettli in 2019 and, during the COVID lockdown period a limited audience production of David Tristram’s “Lockdown in Little Grimley” was performed and filmed for global release in early 2021. As far as we are aware this movie release was the first and, to date, the only general release for the play!
The Allschwil Fachwerk Theatre has provided a home for the Verein for the last few years however new premises are being sought. The club has recently reached out again to the other English language theatre groups in Basel and has jointly produced one play with The Gay Beggars of Basel University with further joint productions hoped for going forward.
A complete listing of all The Semi-Circles' productions since 1975 can be found by clicking here.
Clearly this brief history of The Semi-Circle cannot cover all the ups and downs of nearly fifty years of theatrical endeavours, nor can it do full justice to the very many members of the club over the years who have helped make it all possible. It only remains for me to thank all of them both past and present for providing such a colourful and distinguished history and to add the disclaimer that if anything has been wrongly presented the fault is entirely mine.
Michael Bray (Archivist), December 2023