The lights were turned off and the theatre fell quiet – although this time there wasn’t a buzz of anticipation waiting for the show to start. What would have been an amazing year of celebration in 2020 for the Bundaberg Players and Youth Theatre commemorating the remarkable achievement of 70 and 50 years respectively, came to a dramatic halt amid the global pandemic.
Creative Direction Rebecca Hutchins, who was also director of the planned Mamma Mia production, said in the theatre’s history there had never been a postponement of a show, not even a single night, let alone the postponement of an entire season.
It was a devastating blow, especially with the closure coming on the night of the final rehearsal of Mamma Mia, but like all true professionals, the entire Playhouse community is looking forward to when the show can go on.
“The 2020 season is delayed – and it will most likely run into 2021, but we will be back bigger than ever, as soon as we are allowed to run, in what is safe for all of our patrons and what is safe for our cast.”
Mamma Mia will return to the stage, at the Moncrieff Theatre in January 2021, while A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be staged at RiverFeast in December. Special relaxed performances to small audiences will also be held in October, November and December.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
The Bundaberg Amateur Players was formed in 1950 and is the oldest theatre company in regional Queensland. It’s first production Miss Hook of Holland was staged at the Wintergarden Theatre (that would become Blockbuster Video). Land in Steffensen Street, where the theatre remains, was purchased in 1962, with the first stage of the building started in 1964 and work continuing on the building until the late 1970s.
Judith Hayhoe has spent more than 30 years with the Bundaberg Players on stage in chorus and lead roles.
“You gradually go from being 20m up a ladder painting to now working behind the bar,” the 80-year-old said.
“Most of us call it our family. And many people look on it as a really close-knit family because we all enjoy the same things, we are all prepared to do what we can to make it work and we call it our theatre family.”
Rebecca said the longevity of the theatre was in part due to everyone being prepared to pitch in.
“Whether it is in construction, in the (orchestra) pit, in costumes, I think we have that ownership and pride in knowing that this belongs to us and we’ll do whatever it takes to keep it going,” she said.
While the talent in Bundaberg is easily seen in production after production, the Bundaberg Players has also been the creative starting point for some now well-known members. Puppeteer and vocalist David Hamilton, filmmaker Colin Thrupp, director Kim Halpin, choreographers Adam Williams and Trevor Green are just some who have moved into professional careers, with many other going on to study at prestigious schools such as Darling Downs, Griffith and the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA).
In the early days the Bundaberg Youth Theatre was drama festivals, workshops or eisteddfods, growing to the dedicated program it is today.
“I don’t think there was even a choir around when Youth Theatre started. I think it came out of necessity, as there was nothing to do, and this little hub of a city was trying to meet the demands, and give a creative outlet to young people,” Rebecca said.
“When you grow up in a regional town and you are creative, it doesn’t matter if it is 1950 or 2020 you need somewhere you can go, or you will go stir-crazy and because there was nothing else Youth Theatre just became incredibly popular.”
The Youth Theatre program has now evolved to include the intern program, that allows teenagers to take the reins behind the scenes in everything including lighting, directing, set design and costumes.
To celebrate the 50 years of Youth Theatre, Rebecca wrote a play called Hands of Time, which was to be staged at the Moncrieff Theatre in commemoration.
“It is based on Pearl and Gordie – Gordie represented Gordon Dick and Pearl represented Shirley Halpin. They were children of parents who were in the theatre at a rehearsal and they go for a walk and end up in the props department. They find a grandfather clock that transports them back to a moment in time in the theatre when a different show was on. The tutor or director of that show then plays a part in helping them get back,” Rebecca said.
“As a standalone show it would still be appealing to all audiences as it has a dramatic element to it, but to Bundaberg people who maybe know those people who feature in it, or remember those shows, it is even more special.”
THE MAGIC OF THEATRE
Live productions have a way of entertaining audiences like nothing else can, but they are truly magical for those who bring them to the stage.
“We live in a very instant society, where you can pop it on Instagram and gratification happens straight away. But being involved in something live really puts the focus back on your journey, and makes you acknowledge where you started and where you ended and how far you have travelled. Feeling that you have accomplished something and worked really hard at it, something that is separate from your home or your family – there is nothing else like it,” Rebecca said.
The Bundaberg Players relies on its members to bring to life its beautiful production.
“People sometimes will see a theatre and think it is just for actors, but there are so many other elements and other areas within our organisation that we would love to have other people involved in,” Rebecca said.
“Painting or set painting, playing music, dressmaking or choreography – it doesn’t’ matter if you are a talent on stage or off, it is about the people who are interested in theatre or performance and being involved in that process. From this is the script, to this is the stage and set we have to build and the costumes we have to make – it is about all those areas coming together.”
For more information about the Bundaberg Players, visit their website www.theplayhousetheatre.org.au or visit their Facebook page.