History of the Society
In a labour of love, Society life member Warwick Tom has painstakenly compiled a history of the Society. Originally prepared for the Parkes Champion Post, the articles have been reproduced below for your reading pleasure. The articles detail some of the highlights for what would have to be, one of Parkes' oldest community organisations, which has featured Mayors, Clergy, Teachers, Editors, Scientists and a future star of Australian Stage, TV and Screen among its members. Enjoy!
History Part 1 - Before WW2
Parkes M & D have a proud history of providing entertainment for the local community over one hundred and thirty seven years, the earliest recorded information on the Society was in 1875 when a photo was taken of ten actors and a dog, called Bill Sykes. It listed their names and some of their professions, but it is not known if they were in a production or just having a social get together. However we do know that in 1879 the Society had a Grand Concert, entertaining with songs, recitations and skits while in the following year, 24th May, 1880, the Society produced “The Brigands of Calabria”, to assist in raising funds for the purchase of a fire engine for Parkes.
There is a quarter of a century gap in the Society’s archival material until further information was available about shows in Parkes, although a search of the Parkes Library’s microfilm records of the Parkes newspapers in that period would no doubt reveal more details. Until that is undertaken the next recorded performances were Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, Pirates of Penzance in 1906, HMS Pinafore in 1907 and The Mikado in 1908, all staged in West’s Hall, now the current site of the Big W store on the corner of Brown St and Jansens Lane. Charlie and Harry Bigelow, Warren Dodd and Edna Kendall were the leading players and dominated the main roles in all three productions.
The Parkes M & D Society as such must have lapsed soon after these productions because in 1913 a public meeting was held to form a new Society with many of the previous participants taking part. Warren Dodd played the Captain opposite Mrs Leonard Seaborn (Mary Tom’s mother) who was Buttercup in HMS Pinafore. The late Ted Curr, an old Trundle resident, indicated the Society staged productions in the old School of Arts building during the 1914-18 war, travelling there by train from Parkes, no doubt to raise funds for the war effort and probably travelled to other centres as well. One of these shows could have been Les Cloches de Corneville which was staged in West’s Hall in October 1917, most of the actors previously mentioned were in the production with Gwen Newman, Beatrice Mason, Annie Shaw, Elsie Watts and E A Sykes also taking lead roles. A twelve piece orchestra was conducted by A Kendall. The actors of this period kept the Society performing for over twenty five years with the next show staged being a three act comedy High Jinks in October 1922, after which there were no more shows officially recorded.
It is assumed because local shows were no longer produced J C Williamson brought a Pantomine to Parkes Sinbad the Sailor in February 1930 using local actors to support the leads. Shortly after this the Mayor D Geddes called Public Meeting to reactivate the Society. Incidently, it is interesting to note that Donald Geddes is our current President Neil Wescott’s grandfather, a man who did much to develope the growth of Parkes. During the thirties, right up to the outbreak of the second world war at which point the Society went into recession, there were several plays produced, one of which was Tons of Money, in 1933, the newspaper report read “The Parkes Musical and Dramatic Society had reason for developing a feeling of pride in the fact that the town possesses such an array of histrionic and musical talent”, a reference to the long family history of acting by the local residents. Mr Frank Nash found a newspaper ad. for another show called Going Up directed by Mrs K Hunter in September 1936. It was not always easy for the young single girls to go on stage as some of the local employers did not feel it was becoming of the gentler sex, rumour has it that a bank manager told one of his female staff to choose between the stage or her job. however WW2 was to change all that.
History Part 2 - Revival of the Society
Early December 1950, an ad appeared in the Champion Post inviting interested parties to attend a meeting with a view to reforming the Society which hadn’t been active since before the war. A small group of enthusiastic people turned up, either to hear what was intended or who had been involved before. Forbes Society, a very successful musical and dramatic group attended to add their support and conduct a play reading, while Bill Pavey offered the full support of the Apex Club with their service schemes to build stage scenery. The result was a decision to hold a meeting early in 1951 to elect a committee and progress the Society. The key drivers for a dramatic group were, Arthur Cook, formerly of Temora and now with the Parkes Branch of the Queensland Insurance and Lolita Gregory-Moore, a recent arrival who with her husband Barney Moore, operated Overland Airways, connecting Western towns with the Butler Airways Sydney service.
The Parkes M & D was officially formalized at the AGM held on the 28th February 1951 where Arthur Cook was voted in as the inaugural President. The Committee was made up of a very diverse group of members, the Secretary was Fay Bleechmore, who worked tirelessly furthering the Society,she later married Bill Pavey, Pat Rossell was a teacher at the Migrant Centre and accepted the position of Treasurer, Bob Wenban who owned a furniture store in Parkes took on the job of Stage manager while Lolita Gregory, with her wealth of knowledge on stage work and costumes was Social organizer. An interesting insight on this first annual meeting was that Warwick Tom, a youth of 16, was elected VPresident along with Dorothy Murphy who had taught him some three years prior at Parkes High. Warwick is currently still an active life member of the Society, having served five terms as President.
In the months ahead, two one act plays were cast, The Bishops Candlesticks,directed by Arthur Cook and one act of Private Lives directed by Lolita Gregory who also organized the first Gala performance and Fashion Show at the Orange Hall. Lolita invited Pat Woodley,Miss NSW 1951 to be the star attraction, Parkes Stores were invited to provide a selection of their winter collection to be modelled by five local girls, Val Robinson, Vera Switzner, Judith Lord, Jill Wilson and Dawn Ramsay. There were two male mannequins as well,Bob Wenban and Warwick Tom who modelled mens clothing from Jack Miller’s Menswear, all in all the evening was a huge success. Shortly after this the Society took their two plays to the Orange Jubilee Drama Festival with a stimulating success by winning best costumes at the festival for Lolita Gregory’s production of Private Lives.
The first six months of 1951 saw the Society launch itself as a leading drama group in the Central West over the next sixty years.
History Part 3 - Establishing the Society in the Fifties
After the initial impetus from the Rotary Talent Quest and the Society’s success with the Mannequin Parade and Jubilee Drama Festival, Parkes members worked actively with the Forbes Society in their production of the Gondoliers under the direction of Mary Davis which was staged in both towns. This co-operation helped in building up the confidence and experience of the local members many of whom were novices in stage appearances. In the first few years, the Methodist Choir, under the direction of Ron Watts, produced quite a number of Gilbert & Sullivan musicals that allowed members to participate. Stan Kingham remembers those years when father Frank and sister Lila were involved with both groups, singers such as Renee Pearson, Jack Scoble, Dot Murphy, Harold Jennings were prominent in most productions, ably supported by the Parkes Orchestra. Cheryl, another member of the Kingham family, joined with Stan, as staunch members over many years.
In those first two years, the Parkes Chamber of Commerce , Apex Club and Municipal Council, all supported the M & D for providing community entertainment, with one act plays, revues and musicals, which gave the new group a sound financial footing. Members were able to assist the CWA in 1952 by holding a musical evening when Lila, Win Mills and Jeanette McDonald, performed. Incidently Jeanette later married Don McAlpine also a member, who organized the lighting for the theatre and later became a world renowned cinematographer. These early days of the M & D were not without sadness as one of the foundation members, Lolita Gregory died in a plane crash along with her husband the pilot, their son, Leon, miraculously survived the crash.
The Parkes Society provided many romances, one was Lorna Kable and John Worgan both members who married. Lorna was at the first meeting and continued over many years until John her husband, a teacher, was transferred, she presented her scrap book to the Society on it’s silver anniversary. Betty Riley(nee Stafford), remembers those early years when George Pittendrigh was President and really stimulated the Society with his enthusiasm. Keith Harris, Nora Sivyer, Toby Rudolph, Joan Tucker and Ken Brokenshire all performed in one act plays and musicals at the Orange Hall(West’s). Betty said as well as taking part in regional competitions, members toured to Trundle, another thespian stronghold. At this time the membership contained a large contingent of teachers, a shifting population that brought new blood into the Society, plus trades people such as Jim Carr and Tom Cole who worked tirelessly back stage.
One of our life members, Kay McLachlan, who now lives in Condobolin, recalls her major production was The Prodigal which was taken to the Festival and received high praise from the adjudicator. Kay’s two sisters, were also keen members, Jill was a cadet journalist at the Champion Post while Pat was a French and English teacher. Kay remembers Pat directing a play called The Trapper which called for rain in the script, so the hose was sprayed on the roof, a bit different to the recent production of Singing in the Rain. Next time the history will cover the birth of the Little Theatre.
History Part 4 - Birth of the Little Theatre
Out of any congenial discussion is the possibility of concrete proposals and so it seems the case with the M & D Little Theatre.
George Pittendrigh and Toby Rudolf, teachers at the High School and enthusiastic members of the Society were yarning over a few beers after rehearsals and decided the M & D needed their own place to rehearse, even though the bank balance showed a 16 Pounds deficit. It wasn’t long before Council was approached to build a clubhouse for the Society, little did Council know the clubhouse was to be a fully blown theatre, or so the story goes !!!
Such a project required finance to progress, so the Society embarked on a hectic program of performances over the next three years, to raise funds for the building. George and Toby were joined by regular members, amongst them being Peter Ailwood, Joan Tucker, Nora Sivyer and Ken Brokenshire , together they staged four or five one act plays under the title of A Night at the Theatre. These evenings had a great selection of local identities in the plays, many acting in one while directing another, the patrons loved it as they got great value for the evening. It was in a revue called Bits and Pieces that Max Phipps first appeared and of course he went on to stardom in stage and screen after he left Parkes. Musicals also played a big part in the Society, with the first being The Desert Song in collaboration with the Methodist Choir, led by Ron Watts, Rene Pearson and Jack Scoble who was a long serving Mayor of Parkes, appearing in many musicals including Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. The Society then staged Vagabond King and The Chocolate Soldier over the next two years with Nora Sivyer as musical director. The M & D fundraising was now in full swing, under the watchfull eye of Secretary/ Treasurer Joan Tucker.
Then in 1954 Council offered the Society an old miners cottage, on a 45’x90’ block of land, on the north eastern side of the Olympic Pool and the President at the time, Des Maguire, a solicitor, concluded the deal on behalf of the Society. Incidently, his wife Marie, together with Pat Mitchell and Betty Cole, had lead singing roles in The Chocolate Soldier and many other productions.
Members with the assistance of the Apex Club, demolished the old building, clearing the site for the new structure and cleaning bricks to be used in the construction. The Chamber of Commerce, keen to see the Society progress, promised to donate the materials for the foundations while the many building trade members of the Apex Club offered labour support with the construction, so on the 30 May 1955 the foundation pouring started.
Next issue will have the building nearly completed with the Society providing entertainment right up to the official opening.
History Part 5 - The Little Theatre Emerges
After weeks of cleaning bricks, mixing concrete for the foundations, the back grinding effort started to pay off with the walls of the theatre moving skyward, to the delight of members. With the help of tradesman, such as bricklayers, carpenters and plumbers from the Apex Club, the building was completed to the wall plate stage by early 1956, under the supervision of Jack Davis and Bill Robinson, the honorary architect. Unfortunately despite the efforts of members, the money ran out so Council was approached for a grant to roof the theatre and externally finish the building. Council agreed to provide 1,000 pounds, providing two Councillors, Ken Payne and Eric Nash were appointed to the management committee.
The Society at this stage was still 499pounds in debt, however with a guarantee from the Chamber of Commerce and a donation of 625pounds from Apex, the hall was more or less completed to the lock up stage with the addition of porch, steps, plastering, curtains and lights.
To get to this phase, members went flat out with stage productions with two Xmas revues, Canibal Capers in 1955 and Artists and Muddles in 1956, plus each of those years staging a Night at the Theatre which entailed four and five one act plays respectively. On such evenings members appeared in more than one play, either acting, directing or working back stage. One such play, Hot Water, had Marj Pittendrigh, Max Phipps, Ken Reid, Elizabeth Hood, Tom Cole and Joan Tucker, all of whom were involved elsewhere.
Two musicals were also performed in this two year period, The Chocolate Soldier, previously mentioned in the last column and New Moon, produced by George Pittendrigh, his swan song before leaving Parkes and with Nora Sivyer, as musical director. The cast included a lot of members already mentioned but also Bob Watters, Ken Brokenshire, Malcolm Mclean, Val Densmore and Cliff Cowell, who incidently, as a licenced electrician, did a lot of the original wiring in the theatre. New Moon was to be one of the last productions by the M & D in the Orange Hall, future shows were mainly staged in the new theatre.
In June 1957, the Society hosted the Central West Drama Association Festival, with entries from Forbes, Trundle, Orange, Bathurst, Wellington and Cowra whose play The Apple Tree, won the major award. Parkes play was The Rose and the Crown and was awarded second prize by Robert Quentin, the adjudicator. Max Phipps who played the part of the Stranger, although only on stage for a very short time was awarded best actor, much to the delight of Parkes, although not surprising considering his future career path.
On the Saturday afternoon ,in front of a packed audience, Mr Robert Quentin, from the Elizabethan Trust Opera, officially opened the Little Theatre, he stated “It is of particular pleasure to participate in the opening as there had been only two new theatres opened in Australia since the war."
The Little Theatre has evolved over the years into one of the best intimate theatres west of the Blue Mountains, but more of that later.
History Part 6 - Life in the New Theatre
At the end of 1957 the Little Theatre was really very basic and unfinished as the Bogan Street side of the Theatre was a temporary fibro wall set back some distance to allow for future extension. The entrance was a set of wooden steps rising to a porch in front of two wide doors which led into the theatre, a not very efficient sound barrier to outside traffic, especially if a truckie parked a load of pigs outside while he had a quickie at the local pub. Another problem was the winter chill, as the doors really let the cold draughts in and at this stage with no heating, overcoats, scarves and warm socks were a necessity. One of our members, Lorraine Bond, an art teacher, painted a colourful pattern of squares on the temporary wall which lasted till the theatre was upgraded in 2000. Lorraine incidently married Bill Soeder, another member of the Society. Also included in the main structure was a small vestibule entrance on the car park side with a basic kitchen adjoining, allowing supper to be provided there or through a servery to the main theatre. Attached to the back of the kitchen were the toilets, used by both the cast and patrons which created a bit of a culture shock for the visitors to be confronted by cast members in full costume having a nervous before going on stage.
From the opening in ’57 through to 1960, the Society, , mainly produced 3 act plays in the theatre, such as Shop at Sly Corner, produced by John Worgan, You can’t take it with You, produced by Marie Maguire and Bell Book and Candle, produced by Zillah Grinter. Apart from the regular actors, other locals to appear were Bill Hartley, Bob Waters, Beryl Weaver, John Bass, Joy Eggeling, Peter Ailwood, Linda Nettlebeck and Barton Prior. Nora Sivyer put together songs and sketches in a revue, Around the Square with the title song being composed by Norm Stenning who with Gordon Schofield and Ted Clarke played backing music for many of the shows.
Due to the small stage at the Little Theatre, musicals such as The Merry Widow and The Gypsy Baron were still staged at the Orange Hall. Merry Widow was produced by the team of Zillah Grinter and Norah Sivyer with leads, Marie Maguire, Bob Waters, Ken Brokenshire and Betty Cole. The Gypsy Baron was produced by Bob Waters with Mrs C (Molly) Hockey as Musical Director, starring Marie Maguire, Ken Brokenshire, Bill Hatley, Bill Soeder, Betty Cole, John Bass and Pat Mitchell. Performing these musicals in an isolated venue such as the Orange Hall took a great deal of effort for the back stage crew headed by Tom Cole with Des Maguire, John Worgan and Bruce Mitchell assisting. They not only constructed the sets but had to transport them to the hall and erect them for the various scenes. Lorraine Soeder with Elizabeth Hood were expert at painting and decorating the sets.
The Society membership was usually a family affair with many husband and wife teams combining acting with backstage or front of house duties and so it has been ever since with many couples joining in, being part of the acting community.
History Part 7 - Early 1960s
By 1960 the Society was debt free and looking to improve and extend the theatre. Up to this time the theatre consisted of the auditorium, a flat floor with individual chairs facing the raised proscenium stage at the western end and if you sat towards the back it required a considerable agility to see the show. The public and members of the various organizations were asked to donate a chair, to help in providing the seating. The stage area was equipped with full width front curtain and backdrop, the only access from the stage was through to the props room which also doubled as the dressing room for the cast both male and female all in together. In the corner of this room perched high on a platform was the lighting operator, freezing in winter and roasting in summer. Jim Carr ably did this job during the early years and was later succeeded by Don McAlpine, who showed quite a talent for the job. Liz Matthews, alias Darlene Dawson, is in the props room preparing to appear in The Quest, note the unique locking system with one of the original chairs.
So plans were drawn up by Bill Soeder with the help of Ken Brokenshire to add dressing rooms to the rear of the building. To finance the extension, Zillah Grinter directed Dear Charles, casting new members, Joan Coleman, Lindsay Easter and John Fox, then in August, Marie Maguire directed The Secret Tent. With little break the Society ran another Night of One Act Plays, featuring six plays, a mammoth task which included, The White Wedding, Thinking Aloud, The Crimson Coconut, Out in the Cold,Cold Snow, Postal Orders and In a Glass Darkly with directors Bob Waters, Pat Milthorpe, John Fox, Lindsay Easter, Joan Tucker and Muriel Box, while at the end of the year Ziller Grinter and Pat Milthorpe wrote a Revue, TV or not TV, compared by Leo White, a light hearted romp to finish the year.
This first decade of plays, musicals, revues and festival had been very hectic with one production after another following in very quick succession, one of the most popular being Rookery Nook, a photo of the cast is included. Some members doubted so many could be done successfully, however a Society stalwart replied “She’ll be Right” which became the Society motto and was featured on a plaque attached to the centre of the proscenium arch, later lost during future renovations.
1961 was just as busy, firstly with the Society entry in the Festival of One Act Plays in Mudgee, which wasn’t successful, then the staging of the Howards Talent Quest later in the year. Kay McLachlan directed Book of the Month, followed by the regular Night of One Act Plays and finally, the revue, Too Many Cooks, a collaboration by Pat Milthorpe, Ziller Grinter and Rex Jones. However the highlight of the year was the musical production of Oklahoma, staged in the Orange Hall, directed by Marie Maguire and Bill Hartley who also took the leading roles.
In 1962 the Society was on a roll with the first play The Good Young Man directed by Ziller Grinter in February with first appearances for Col Fletcher and Anne Grant. In April, Kay McLachlan directed The Prodigal which was an entry in the Country Drama Festival, adjudicated by Ms Olive Walter, this play had new comers Gillian Auhl, Tony Crowley and Russel Swinden. The bright musical Salad Days was the first to be staged in the Little Theatre, directed by Ziller Grinter and music provided with piano and drums directed by Joan Tucker, new faces included Mary Pearce, Janet Grady, Vanessa Arndel and Dawn Boatswain.
With the dressing rooms being hurriedly completed, Parkes hosted CW One Act Play in September 1962, but more on that next issue.
History Part 8 - Drama Festival
The management of the Society had been progressing nicely under the leadership of Des Maguire, however when he resigned at the end of 1959, Kevin O’Connor was elected new President but unfortunately he relinquished the position at the end of the year, so Bob Waters was asked to take on the job and guide the Society through the next two years of hectic activity.
With the Central West Drama Festival due to be held in September 1962, the committee was flat out putting the final touches to the dressing room extension, plastering the walls, installing mirrors and lights and plumbing water to a basin in one of the rooms. The mirrors were donated by Con Diamond, one of the local chemists, from his shop renovation.
Kay McLachlan, Festival Director, ably assisted by Bill Soeder, Les Neilsen , Jan Champion and Betty Spicer, did a terrific job organizing sixteen plays over four sessions, from eleven drama groups. The Northbridge Players, Bathurst Teachers College and Societies from Lithgow, Coonabaraban, Mudgee, Bathurst, Portland, Orange, Grenfell, Trundle and Parkes participated over the weekend. The adjudicator was Mrs Peter Scott ( Rilla Stephens ), a well known actress and drama teacher, in both New Zealand and Australia. Also in attendance was the Honorary Director of the British Drama League, Ms E Tildesley, who opened the Festival and stayed to enjoy the whole weekend.
The weekend was a huge success due to the generous contributions from Council, Apex, CWA, Leagues, Lions, Ex Service Clubs and local Business Houses and especially the Cuthbert family who billeted the adjudicator’s family. Members of the Society were asked to look after the visiting players to ensure they enjoyed their stay in Parkes. The weekend finished with a fellowship get together on the Sunday at the end of the proceedings.
The overall winning play was “The Women at the Tomb”, staged by Bathurst Teachers College. Parkes was very successful winning six awards, five of which were for “The Trapper”, runner up and best Australian Play, best producer, Pat Millthorp, best actor, Merv Grant, best actress Gillian Auhl. The award for a play by local author had no fewer than five entries from around the area and was won by Marion Ord, a Mandagery local for her play “The Man of Business”. While the Festival weekend was a big effort for the Society, members still managed to finish the year with a revue “Hook Line and Sinker “.
Early in 1963 Bob Waters stepped down as President after two years and Zillah Grinter was elected the new president, her main love however was acting, so she stepped down from the Presidency with Bob Waters completing the rest of the year. Joan Tucker directed two plays, “Jane Steps Out” and “A Lady Mislaid” with Zillah appearing in both productions while Pat Millthorp directed “A Spring Song” and “The Man Who Came To Dinner”. New Faces that appeared in most of these productions, were Tony Crowley, Anne Grant and Vanessa Arndell. At the end of the year the Society produced “Variety 63”, directed by Les Fellows. The cast included Les’s wife Jean and his brother Dereck plus many of the regulars including local identity Warren Blatch . Members enjoy these revues as they are light hearted fun. Des Maguire, a stalwart of the Society, was stage manager for every production that year , while Michael Parkin shared the lighting with Brian Armstrong and George McKenzie.
1964 was to see the musical “ The Desert Song “ in May, a Night of One Act Plays in September and finally the pantomime “Cinderella “ in December to round off another busy year ahead.
History Part 9 - The Sixties Continue
The highlight of 1964 was the ten year revival of the musical The Desert Song, at the Orange Hall which starred Pat Mitchell and Reg Byrne with Direction by Zillah Grinter and Musical Direction by Joan Tucker. The large cast included well known locals, Mary Pearce, Betty Spicer, Bert Lister, Barton Prior and Cliff Cowell who also helped with the lighting and electrics, while the eight piece orchestra included Margaret Cowell playing the piano, a job she undertook for the Society on many occasions.
At the annual meeting in February, John Howell assumed the Presidency. From all accounts he was quite a character, nicknamed Chook, playing the double bass as well as appearing in Revues. Michael Parkins took over the chair the next year and was to serve two years 1965-66. In June” Why Not Tonight” was Staged but unfortunately we have no programme for reference. After that, a new member Terry Riles produced the Steinbeck drama “Of Mice and Men” in July. Malcolm O’Malley, another well known local appeared in this and many other productions. This was followed in September with “Revue 65” and two one act plays, “Castle in the Village” and “Mr Temlow is not Himself” in December to finish the year.
Society records show an absence of any production in 1966 which seems strange, so if any of the Parkes Community can provide information it would be much appreciated.
The next year, 1967, saw Les Fellows take over from Michael Parkins and athough it was also a fairly quiet year there was one major production. Les and his wife Jean were strong supporters of the Society over quite a few years until they moved away. The Society did produce the musical “Calamity Jane”, directed by Terry Riles with Calamity played by Betty Spicer and Barton Prior as Bill. Two local idendities made an appearance on stage, David White as Lieut.Danny Gilmartin and Laurie Pittis as Francis Fryer, who was to appear in future productions.
Ken Brokenshire, who was Deputy Principal at Parkes High, had been participating in the Society for a few years and took over the helm as President in 1968, he was later made a Life Member. Ken returned to the stage in the musical, “Pajama Game” later that year before transferring to Forbes High as Principal.
Terry Riles took on the mammoth task of directing “West Side Story” in August of that year playing one of the leads, Tony. Joan Tucker who was Musical Director had been one of the main driving forces over many years and was made a Life Member when she retired. Other main roles were played by Pat Mitchell as Maria, Peter Cassell as Riff, Rosemary Alway as Anita and Michael Newell as Bernardo. It was large cast of twenty three with notable locals, Bob Aitken and Ron Smith past President of Trundle M & D Society, taking part.
As mentioned the final musical for the year was the light hearted, foot tapping, “Pajama Game” with leading roles played by Betty Spicer, Bob Aitken, Greg Louttit, Ken Brokenshire and Jim Powter.
History Part 10 - Into the 1970s
With the departure of Ken Brokenshire to Forbes, Ron Smith became President for the next two years. As mentioned in a previous article Ron was the past president of Trundle Society where he had a chemist shop. Ron was a very good singer having trained in Sydney, so naturally his interests leaned towards musicals.
The profits from the various shows in the sixties enabled the Society to upgrade the theatre facilities with portable heaters, profile spots, security system and emergency lighting, the last item was to comply with the Public Halls Act. The portable heaters were later replaced with permanent gas heaters and the theatre finally got front stage curtains. A bold move to erect a flytower was found to be too expensive at 1200 pounds, however flats were constructed together with batten lights and dimmer units installed.
The earlier part of 1969 saw the production of “Lady Audley’s Secret” which was followed by Parkes Society’s entry in the CWDrama Festival, ”Shadow of a Kite”. To finish the year the Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta “HMS Pinafore” was staged, the first G & S for many years.
Bob Aitken, editor of the Champion Post, took the plunge and not only directed Pinafore but played the role of Dick Deadeye, claiming his extensive experience was gained while attending Parkes High. Needing extra men for the chorus, he put pressure on his cadet reporter, Roel ten Cate, to take part. Joan Tucker again assumed the task of musical director, while the leading parts were filled by the regulars except for Jenny Rue, from the banking fraternity, who sang delightfully in the” Pajama Game” and followed up with another good performance here. Peter Noonan, computer manager at the CWCC played the part of Sir Joseph Porter. Sadly Peter passed away at a very young age not long after his association with the Society. In the list of cast members, a couple of names are familiar, John Francis and Alun Gillies, long standing Parkes Identities.
In June 1970 the Society only had one production,” Arsenic and Old Lace,” directed by Barry Lipman, who also played the part of Teddy Brewster. Actually he did a rerun only a few years ago, unfortunately Barry was very sick at the time. Mary Pearce, Joan Tucker, Peter Noonan and new comer Gordon Simpson played the four leading roles in the first production. The rest of the cast had a good sprinkling of local characters, such as Jim Cassidy, Rhonda Middleton, Mike Bloomfield, Mike Richardson and Peter Kenyon. Once again Des Maguire was stage manager with Joan Jordan prompt. The local paper described it as” comedy at it’s best”.
Further to an earlier article, a study of micro film on old copies of the Champion Post indicated that the Society was very close to staging a drama “The Brides of March” in 1966, however the two leading actors left town so it was never performed. To keep member interest, play readings were held at the monthly meetings starting with “Five in a Cage”.
Barry Lipman took over for 1971. It was another period when apparently nothing was staged. Unfortunately Barry is no longer with us having passed away a few years ago. A search of the records revealed that a casting night for the musical “South Pacific” was advertised but never eventuated. Early in 1972, Bob Munro wrote to the Champion Post, inviting interested people to revive the Society, resulting in the AGM being held where he was elected the new President. Once again the Society was active with two shows “ Billy Liar” and “The Rape of the Belt” being produced by the end of the year. More about them next time.
History Part 11 - Sleeping Flowers
Bob Munro and his wife Pat were English teachers at the High School and through Bob, the Society was once again energised. He encouraged other teachers to participate and in the second half of 1972 during his Presidency, a new group of members staged” Billy Liar” under his direction. Mary Pearce, a stalwart of the Society, was once again co-opted with Mike Bloomfield, Bob Harris, Tony Walker. Janice Field helped back stage, a job she did in the next three productions.
Following close on the heels of this production was the “Rape of the Belt”, a Grecian comedy in three acts, directed by Jeanne Woodlands with Mike Bloomfield as executive director. Bob Munro and Bob Harris both took a part, with new comers Vivienne Gray, Greg Richards, Wyn Miller and Annette Birch also appearing. Stage managers were Bill Martens and Gary Ercher and lighting, Bob Johns. A well known Parkes hairdresser, Ron Baldwin, was responsible for the hair styles for this and the next production. This concluded the year with both shows being a financial success. The committee looked forward to 1973 with much anticipation, planning two shows for the year.
The Society numbers were boosted with the arrival of new members Sue Fay, Ken Docksey and Carol Croskell to take part in the current production of “The Shifting Heart “. Tony Walker directed the production with John Bragg as Stage Manager. The choice of this play was a bold move by the Society as it dealt with racism and discrimination in the 1950s. The high standard of acting meant it was well received in the Parkes community. To add contrast, the next and final production for the year was a melodrama with much hissing and booing, unfortunately the name of the show doesn’t appear in the records.
1974 saw a change in leadership with Liz Matthews taking the chair. Liz joined the M & D and carried on a family tradition. Her father was James Condon a well known actor on stage and screen. The first production of the year was “The Anniversary”, a black comedy set in the 60s. Liz played a leading role, together with newcomer Ric Hutton. Following on, the members had a desire to write a revue with a lot of local content. As several of the staff from the Dish were involved, it was named “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Telescope”. Ric Hutton and Sandra Smith provided the musical material and Vivienne Steventon was musical director. The performance was staged at the Leagues Club with a meal included in the ticket price. While the audience enjoyed the revue, there were a few unforseen problems with organising the cabaret style evening which detracted from the show’s success.
In the early years of the 70’s , members wanted to upgrade the seating at the Little Theatre, so quotes were obtained for the supply of plastic stackable chairs. Approaches were made to the Council for assistance as well as applying for grant funds. Eventually 150 grey plastic seats were obtained to replace the old metal chairs. At the same time permanent electric heating was installed by the local electricity authority. This also improved the comfort of the audience.
In November ’74, Liz Matthews directed the musical “Camelot” which was put on in the High School Hall as the theatre stage wasn’t large enough for this production. The Sinfonia of the West under the baton of Lindsay Morehouse provided the music with a 16 piece orchestra. Margaret Cowell played the piano, a mammoth job. Ric Hutton played Arthur, Pat Carey portrayed Guinevere and Bob Munro was Merlin. Other locals in the cast besides the regulars were Geoff Steventon, Cliff Cowell, Des Wann, Jack Mowtell, Vicki Setter, Anne Lilley, Deirdre Rowley, Lorna Parkhill, Betty Heatley and Dorothea Tom. There were some funny moments during the show. Liz asked the cast to bring flowers for the musical number “The Merry Month of May” to add colour. Sir Tom of Warwick, a knight in the chorus, brought Gerberas to brighten up the stage. Liz commented “trust you to bring bl**** flowers that go to sleep at night !! “Camelot” was a very successful musical, financially enabling the Society to further upgrade the Little Theatre.
History Part 12 - She'll be Right
The first production for 1975 was the play by George Bernard Shaw, “Pygmalion”, staged in the Little Theatre. Ken Docksey directed, with newcomers Tony Guiffre playing Henry Higgins and Wendy Yelf, Eliza Dooliitle. Bob Munro was very suited to portray Alfred Doolittle, Bob Harris, Colonel Pickering and Rick Hutton as Freddy Eynsford Hill. Others in the cast were Mick Budden, Bob Waters, Anne Wildman, Vicky Setter, Sandra Smith and Warwick Tom. There is no record of ticket prices for the show but over four performances the door takings amounted to $757.
This was the only production in the Little Theatre for the year as the next show “Annie Get Your Gun” was staged at the Leagues Club in November over four nights. Over the three year period ’74 to ’76 the Society endeavoured to improve the theatre with the purchase of chairs through the Shire Council to save sales tax, the upgrading of the heating by using electricity instead of gas and general renovation which included painting of all the inside of the building with white woodwork and Zenith Blue walls. This was not without its problems as the power switches for the heating had to be made more accessible, the security doors had to be re-swung after vandals forced entry and splashed the remains of the paint over chairs, books and records and removed the fuse from the power box which then had to be locked.
But in the true spirit of the Society motto “She’ll be Right”, members rallied and got the Society back on an even keel. “Annie” was the very successful final show for 1975, directed by Tony Guiffrey, musical direction Vivienne Steventon and choreography by Judy Baker. The leading roles of Annie Oakley and Frank Butler were played by Elaine Johnson and Ron Smith. Jack Mowtell landed the part of Sitting Bull, as he said this was the only part that would get him on stage. This was one of those shows with a big cast and included many well-known locals such as Lorna Parkhill, Geoff Steventon, Alan Wright, Reg Pritchard, Bob Steel, Bill Watts, Cheryl Brown, Pat Carey and Neil Smith. The music was provided by a seven piece orchestra, consisting of violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, alto saxophone and of course piano ably shared by Margaret Cooke and Betty Gray who incidentally was Vivienne’s mum.
Vivienne and Geoff were married while both performing with the Society as were Sue Fay and Ric Hutton, just adding to the long list of happy couples who met at the M & D. The AGM in 1976 saw Liz Matthews re-elected President for the third year while Lorna Parkhill, one of the newer members, took over Secretaryship from Wendy Yelf. Alan Wright, a new Scientist at the Telescope and his wife Hilary joined the Society when they came to Parkes having had previous experience in repertory theatre in England.
He directed the first production for 1976 “Breath of Spring” with Sandra Smith having the role of Nanette, and Ric Hutton the role of Brigadier Albert Rayne. Others in the cast were, Liz Matthews, Pat Carey, Stan Kingham and Murray McLachlan in his first part with the Society. This three act was very well received and set the tone for the rest of the year.