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A Gang Show is a theatrical performance by mostly youth members of Scouts and Guides. Some Gang Shows allow adult members of Scouts Guides to join the cast. Adult members and parents help behind the scenes. The aim is to help young people develop performance skills and perform in a close to professional environment. Young people often work backstage, front-of-house and as musicians.
The production teams and cast, all volunteers, plan, write, compose, choreograph, build scenery and props, make costumes and rehearse for several months. A typical show requires 15 to 30 rehearsals. Some are organised in the manner of a typical Scouting/Guiding activity with participants perhaps grouped into patrols, or attending special Gang Show camps, awaydays and activities to develop cohesion.
Performance runs range from one day to two weeks, and tickets are available to the public. While a Gang Show is by amateurs, the costs are similar to a professional production.
Gang Show format
The format is a revue or variety show; song, dance and short comedy sketches are the most common. The number of items varies between 12 and 25, some stand-alone, others a series of songs to a chosen theme or a running gag.
The format was created by Ralph Reader, the original producer, who wrote material including the signature tune, On the Crest of a Wave. Other "standards" Reader wrote include Strolling, Great Great Game, Gee, It's A Wonderful life, A Touch of Silver, Three Cheers, Show Time, Together and The Scout Hymn.
In 1931, Reader, a Rover Scout trying to make his mark in theatre in the USA and London, was asked to write a Scout-based variety show to raise money for a swimming pool at Downe Scout Camp (now a Scout Association National Activity Centre). Rehearsals began under Reader's direction on 25 May 1932, his 29th birthday).
Initially the show did not have a title, but during a rehearsal break, Reader recalled, 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, The Gang's All Here, ran between 30 October and 1 November 1932 at the Scala Theatre in central London.
The show was not a sell-out but enough was raised to fund the swimming pool and the show was well received. Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting, persuaded Reader to produce another show in 1933. This was The Gang Comes Back and ran for a week.
Reader continued to write and produce the London Gang Show. In 1934 the show became The Gang Show and Crest of a Wave was performed for the first time, becoming over the years the anthem.
In 1937 the London show became the first amateur production to have a Royal Command Performance (an honour repeated in 1957 and 1964). A feature film called The Gang Show, starring Ralph Reader and The Gang, premiered at the Lyceum Theatre, London in April the same year, and in New York in December 1938.
When the Gang Show started in London in 1932, Reader organised the cast as a Scout Troop; an arrangement which persists only in a few shows now. Members of the first troop wanted an identifying feature, deciding on a red scarf or necker. The red scarf has become a worldwide symbol, and to distinguish shows, an insignia in gold thread (UK: the initials GS in Reader's handwriting shot through with the show's name - AUS: usually a design related to the masks of comedy and tragedy and incorporating the show's name) is embroided into the point of the scarf. Ralph Reader was originally called "The Holborn Rover" and was with the 4th Holborn Group whose scarf was half red and half green. Reader chose to have the gang show scarf red to be part of the 4th Holborn.
Members of shows in the United Kingdom were allowed the scarlet scarf only if they were nationally recognised. The Scout Association has since removed the requirement; however, it remains a symbol of a recognised Gang Show and is worn by most shows throughout the country. Gaining national recognition allows a show to call itself Nationally Recognised’ in the programme, posters and advertising.
In 1972, Reader founded the London Gang Show Fellowship so current and former members of the London show could keep in touch. Membership later expanded to anyone interested in the Gang Shows and Reader.
Gang Shows around the world
Since the first in London, productions have been organised around the world, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. While individual in character, they share the ethos of Reader's concept and have common elements, often including a finale performance of Crest of a Wave.
In 1958 Reader went to Chicago to produce and direct the first Gang Show in America. He returned to Chicago next year to guide the second. Reader first went to Chicago in 1920 as a teenager and began his stage career there.
Although not the oldest in existence, Harpenden Gang Show is the world's longest continuously-running Gang Show, performced every year since 1949. The oldest still in production is the Glasgow, which, with few exceptions, has run every year since April 1936.
On the Crest of a Wave has become the signature tune throughout the world and is usually performed at the end. Many sing the chorus (traditionally twice, the first time with gusto, the second part-quiet and staccato, part with gusto once more) but there are also two verses.
A Touch of Silver (sometimes referred to as "Silver on the Scarlet"), written by Reader and Brisbane Gang Show producer Hugh "Kirra" McKee, is the signature tune of the Brisbane Gang Show and may be sung by any show from its 25th season.
- Ralph Reader tells the history of the Gang Show
- The Lyceum Theatre and the Melvilles
- IMDb: The Gang Show (1938)
- List of UK Gang Shows
- National Star Scout Show
- Australian Gang Shows
- Gang Shows in New Zealand
- Chicago Council's 1959 Gang Show souvenir program.
- Reader, Ralph This is The Gang Show, C. Arthur Pearson Ltd [London], 1957
- Reader, Ralph Ralph Reader Remembers, Bailey Brothers and Swinfen [London], 1975