The Company of Seven

Celebrating over 60 years of theatre history.

CHAPTER III


CHAPTER III

Early Politics and Emergence of Established Tradition In Company Policy

At a General Meeting (no available record) sometime between 6th April and the 10th April 1951 a heated debate as to the next production arose concerning the choice of play for the next production. Another General Meeting was called for the 10th April, the Vice president Mr. Colin Clyne opened the meeting and informed the Company that the president Mr. Price and secretary Mr. j.C.H. Williams, had resigned, and that the Company would have to go into recess unless a president and secretary were forthcoming. A great flurry of nominations and refusals ensued, after which gloom descended in an almost visible cloud.

I suppose, that as the town of Millicent was much smaller and more parochial Ln those days, the tendency to form cliques, and the fear of offending persons perceived to be influential, caused many, especially the young to hold back. In the event, Mrs. joyce Major and the writer held a small conference, and having decided that the Company was the real issue and not the choice of play, with some diffidence offered themselves as prospective secretary and president. To their great surprise, this modest offer was accepted with much alacrity, and a great sense of relief. in very quick time it was decided to produce “Fools Rush In“ as our next production, and so putting politics aside, we concentrated on our real business.

“Fools Rush In” gave several new young members of the Company an opportunity to display their talents, notably Miss Heather Altschwager, and Messrs Neville Hart and Graham Hagel. This was considered a most successful production, with good effects and makeup. Mrs Glen Mullins made a notable contribution as the eccentric mother of the heroine, opposite one J. Morris as the equally eccentric father (a part, he was informed was most obviously typecast).

After this our ambition knew no bounds. The next production being “Arsenic And Old Lace”. The indefatigable Rev. J. Price constructed a monumental set, complete with staircase and suitably sinister cellar, the Staircase in particular had to support the demented assaults of Uncle Teddy (Mr. Bob Taylor) wildly brandishing a sabre and shouting “Charge the Blockhouse”.

We were fortunate by this time to have the services of Mr. Colin Clyne and Mr Karliss Krasohins in the makeup department. Mr Clyne had been involved in theatricals while at Melbourne University, and Mr Krasohins had been apprenticed to the Latvian National Theatre, until the German Invasion found him conscripted into the German Merchant Marine; his services were also a considerable asset in set painting.

‘i`he Company had by this time acquired a massive set of flats constructed of two and a half square pine, covered with hessian, treated with size (a most ardous process), and finally painted with kalsomine. The footlights had been revived, and a prompters base installed centre stage in the footlight recess, being invisible to the audience.

In 1953 we had one play, that venerable comedy-drama ‘The Ghost Train”. An attempt was made to produce a somewhat turgid melodrama entitled the “Thirteenth Chair”; fortunately this required an extremely large cast, which being unavailable, saved the Company considerable embarrassment. To revert to “The Ghost Train”, great ingenuity was required in the effects department. Sound effects were easily solved by a record of train noises, and Mr. Doug Mitchell singing ‘Rock of Ages’ off stage. The big challenge was the view of the train through the waiting room windows, as it hurtled through the station. This was to be achieved by a series of lights operated in quick succession, right on cue and in the right order. During the dress rehearsal, the producer feeling himself at a loose end, and anxious to contribute his two-penny worth, prevailed on the stage manager to allow him to operate the guards-van’ lights. When the great night arrived he, (the producer) on the spur of the moment, tried to economise on movement by tuning off the main switch. ‘I`his action certainly increased the mystery element of the production, and incidentally brought about a much needed review of backstage discipline.

On perusing the minutes of a General Meeting held on May 15th 1954, it is noted that Mr. Ray Dolman moved that bills put before the meeting representing expenses incurred in the production of ‘Ten Little Niggers” be paid. From this I deduce that ‘Ten Little Niggers” must have been presented sometime in April of that year. Apart from a large cast, this was the f lrst attempt at anything other than a comedy (with the exception of “Quiet Night”, which, although intended as a melodrama in the event emerged as a comedy). As the opposite of anxiety is euphoria the success of this production, to the joyful relief of all concerned, proved that human interest and a good plot were in fact, just as enthralling to the audience and in fact easier to produce. To prove this point, on the first night, a minor character (a taxi driver or some such) walked complete with suitcase, through a plate glass door, – the audience did not react, they were so intent on the business centre stage! I also note that at a General Meeting held on 13th May 1954, a sum of two pounds two shillings was paid to Mr. J. Baily for the drawing of posters; said Mr. Bally becoming in due course a Director of ‘l`he National Gallery, Canberra.

During this period, it is apparent that the chief difficulty confronting the Company was not the dearth of producers but the selection of suitable plays, caused by severe limitations imposed by availability of cast, and also anything too elaborate by way of scene changes. etc.

As an instance, at a committee meeting held on 2nd May, 1955 the “Chiltem Hundreds” was recommended for production after reading and consideration of at least half a dozen plays. lt seems in retrospect that people liked to go out at night to attend numerous committee meetings, general meetings and play readings; probably somewhat to do with lack of television and early closing.

At a committee meeting held on 19th August, 1955 in the lounge of Nenkes Hotel, (now known as the Sportsman‘s) the Treasurer Mr. Pat Armfield announced that the receipts from “Chiltern Hundreds” totalled one hundred and twenty five pounds, three shillings and six pence. Total expenditure – seventy pounds eight shillings and eight pence. lt was then decided that a cheque for ninety pounds be presented to the Thyne Memorial Hospital building appeal. Also at this meeting Mr. J. Mackie announced his resignation as he was to be transferred to another branch of the Savings Bank. The Mackie family had been staunch supporters of the Company since its inception, Miss Rosalie Mackie played several character parts and also the leading female role in “Ten Little Niggers”.

The continued difficulty of shifting of members to other parts is reflected in the next Annual General Meeting of 14th February, 1956. From the report of the then president Mr. J. Morris, we learn that only one play instead of the two anticipated had been presented owing to the transfer of several leading characters. However the “Chiltern Hundreds” had been successful at Penola and Mt. Gambier, and the proceeds from the Millicent production were presented to the Millicent Hospital Appeal. It was decided at this meeting to produce “Pink String and Sealing Wax” as our first production for the coming year. At the next committee meeting the play was cast and rehearsals set ln motion. It was also decided to enter the forthcoming Drama and Festival Competition at Bordertown.
The CAST of “Pink String and Sealing Wax”

EVA. ……………………………………………………………………………… ….RAYLENE CLIFFORD
MRS. STRACHAN ……………………………………………………………….RUTH RBARKE
(Mrs. B. Stratford) ALBERT… …………………………………………….NEVILLE HART
EDWARD STRACHAN ………………………………………………………JOHN THOMPSON
JESSIE. …………………………………………………………………………….DAPHNE JEWELL. (now Alkinson)
EMILY ………………………….…………………………………………………..DIANE HOWLETT
DR O’SHEA .……….………………………………………………………………ROBERT AGNEW
ERNEST ..………………………………………………………………………….MR. R NENKE
PEARL BOND ……………………………………………………………………VAL RICHARDS

BACKSTAGE of “Pink String and Sealling Wax”
PRODUCER. ………………………………………………………………………MR. R WILEY
WARDROBE MISTRESS ……………………………………………………MISS JUDY HUTCHESS ON
STAGE MANAGER ……………………………………………………………MR ROY RODGERS
MAKEUP …………………………………………………………………………MR KARLISS KRASOHINS
Busmass MANAGER. ………………….……………………………………MR RAY DOLMAN

Monday and Tuesday the 14th and 15th May, 1956 was the presentation of “Pink String and Sealing Wax”; a comedy drama set in late Victorian England, presented social and moral questions which were quite relevant to our rural and small town society. New standards of stage presentation were reached, effects were spot on, and the prompt had little call on her services.

Flushed with this success the Company then embarked on the production of its first entry in a Drama Festival. This event was presented by the Bordertown Music and Arts Club, in conjunction with the Victorian Drama League at the Bordertown Institute on the evenings of the 9th, 10th and 11th of july 1956. In the event it was by latter day standards an exceedingly formal affair. Quite a few gentlemen sported bow ties and boiled shirts; evening gowns were much in evidence and the opening ceremony included a brief outline of the Léims and Ideals’ of the V.D.I.. and the C.A.E. by one Mr. Colin Badger MA, Director of C.A.E. This was advertised as brief but to the younger persons present it seemed quite the reverse. This was followed by a comparatively brief opening address by the Hon. N .L_ jude M.L.C.

Seven plays were presented, two the first night and three each on the succeeding nights. Our presentation “Dark Brown” was the second play on the evening of july the 10th.

CAST of “Dark Brown” — (in order of appearance)

MRS. COLLINS. ………………………………………………………………IDA CLIFFORD
MISS TASKER ……………………………………………………………….. ANN E HAYWARD
JENNY BROWN. ………………………………………………………………DIANE HOWLETT
BELLA CROWE ………………………………..…………………….………..KAY CLIFFORD
FRED WHITWORTH ………………………………………………………….RAY DOLMAN
MRS. PERSOPHOBES. ………………………………………………………SYLVIA EIME
ARTHUR BROWN …………………………………………………………….JOHN THOMPSON

BACKSTAGE PRODUCER ……………………………………………………JOHN MORRIS
STAGE MANAGER..…………………………………………………………..ROY RODGERS
In the final adjudication, we found ourselves about the middle of the field, which for a first effort was by no means a disgrace. During an ensuing discussion with the adjudicator, Mr. Colin Ballantyne, the producer was told that as a comparatively young and inexperienced company, we had avoided the obvious pitfalls of apeing the worst aspects of the professional theatre, and proceeded with sound logical ideas. He further suggested readings of blank verse and listening repeatedly to the recordings of Dylan Thomas’s “Under Milk Wood” and Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest”. There were also some very relevant comments as to the correct posture, use of hands, effective entrances and exits and various small items which are only apparent to the inexperienced when pointed out, but in total make the difference between an ‘enthusiastic performance as opposed to a ‘polished’ one.

Brief mention here must be made of a presentation by our friendly rival the Mt Gambler Theatre Group, of Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever” on june 19th. We sponsored this production and arranged front of house, local publicity and to the happy astonishment of our visiting company, erected a set. This was well attended and was the forerunner of several exchanges in the future.

After a promising start, as had happened on previous occasions, the Company fell into a hole; sickness and the loss of members through transfers etc., caused our next production, “A lady Mislaid” to be deferred until a later date, this after several rehearsals. However, the Mt. Gambier Theatre Group brought their production of “Bonaventure” to Millicent for presentation on the night of December 4th on the same terms as their previous visit. This was a notable performance and was well received. We were pleased that our theatre going audience which we were endeavouring to foster, had another live performance to sustain their interest.

On Thursday the 28th February 1957 at the Company’s A.G.M., Mr C. Pearce was elected as president and Miss M. McDonnell, secretary, Mr. R. Garwood Treasurer, Mrs. G. Gower – Patron. A meeting for the 12th March was arranged to decide the next production.
In the minutes of a committee meeting held on the 21st June a letter of congratulations from our Patron, Mrs. Gower was read, congratulating the Company on the production of “Lady Mislaid”. After this the familiar pattern of member loss was repeated – departures, bereave- ments etc. thwarted our efforts; among the departures were the long sewing and faithful supporters Mrs. J. Major and Mr. john Thompson, who had played leading roles in “Chiltern Hundreds”, “Pink String and Sealing Wax” and “Dark Brown”.

The next A.G.M. was held on Tuesday the 8th February, 1958. Twenty members attended, apologies were tendered for five others; this was an improvement on the previous year when eight members appeared, with one apology.

The election of officers brought a strong infusion of new blood, the previous year‘s Vice president Mr. D. Mitchell became president, Vice president – Mr. j. Morris, secretary – Miss jill Davy, Treasurer – Mr. M. Harm, Committee – M. Milnes, Mrs. R. Mullins, Miss J. Partridge, Mrs M. Mitchell. Play readings were arranged for the 4th of the following month.

It was resolved to present an evening of one act plays on Thursday 5th june; the intention of this exercise was to give as many new members as possible some stage experience; while the forthcoming three act production ‘Two Dozen Red Roses” was in rehearsal. The one act plays were “Dark Brown”, “Fumed Oak” and “A Glass Of Bitter”. “Two Dozen Red Roses” was duly presented; this was a modem comedy staged in the living room of an Italian Villa.

The CAST of ‘Two Dozen Red Roses”

TOMASSO (Male lead, husband to Marina) ……………………………………MALCOLM HANN
BERNARDO (General Handiman, in hot pursuit of ROSINA)…………………TONY CRAM
ROSINA (Maid to MARINA) ………………………………………………………MIRIAM WILES
MARINA (Wife lo TOMASSO) …………………………………………………….JUDITH PARTRIDGE
ALBERTO (Old family friend of ALBERTO)………………………………………ROBERT AGNEW

The set was to be painted in an extremely pale shade of pink. At this time sets were painted in the new fangled, so called plastic paint. Doug Mitchell a doughty hand with a brush, undertook to paint the whole set in one aftenoon – which he did but was somewhat shaken to discover, that when dry, the paint was several shades darker, in fact positively lurid! All hands set to, and the apparent temperature on stage was lowered about ten degrees. The two nights were successful being presented sometime between the 12th and 27th August.

The momentum thus built up continued and carried us forward to the 10th and 11th of November; when Mrs. Edna Gawood produced “Reluctant Heroes”. “Dozen Red Roses” was produced in six weeks. “Reluctant Heroes”, with a larger cast and a good deal more ‘business’ effects, change of scene etc. took eight weeks, a most notable effort.

The CAST of “Reluctant Heroes” (in order of appearance)

MORGAN (conscript) ……………………………………………………………….GRAHAM PEARCE
TONE (conscript) ……………………………………………………………………PETER HORNE
SERGEANT BELL. ………………………………………………………………….DOUG MITCHELL
SERGEANT McKENZlE ……………………………………………………………GEORGE BOWERING
GLORIA DENNIS ……………………………………………………………………PAT O’CONNOR
MEDICAL ORDERLY ……………………………………………………………….DALE BAKER
PAT THOMPSON ……………………………………………………………………PAULENE
CASEY PENNY ………………………………………………………………………CAROL HAMILTON
CAPTAIN DARCY……………………………………………………………………CLARRIE GREENFIELD
SCOTS SOLDIER ……………………………………………………………………MALCOLM SIMS

At a committee meeting held on the 20th November, 1958, the president Mr. Mitchell suggested that performing a play for two nights was ‘unsatisfactory’ The Sunday night dress rehearsals were always late and inconvenience was caused by the necessity of erecting the set and setting up lighting and rehearsing effects before the actual rehearsal. He further suggested that in future the Company would have to spend more money on set construction and lighting. It was also reported that Mr. Ken Cowell (An teacher at Millicent High) had been approached and had intimated that hc would be pleased to design a suitable crest for the Company’s programmes and stationery – this being the origin of the design of the now familiar emblem.

Several interesting items are gleaned from the A.G.M. held in the Millicent Institute on February 24th,1959. Firstly two three act plays were presented – ‘Two Dozen Red Roses” & “Reluctant Heroes”.

The Company also sponsored a visit by the Naracoorte Choral Society who presented ‘The Gondoliers”, a profit of fourteen pounds being made; this enabled the Company to make a donation of thirty pounds to the Youth Hall Fund.

The year had commenced with three one act plays being produced which were also taken lo Funer and Beachport. The Company also had an increase of eleven new members on stage which was of considerable interest to the public. Visits to Mt. Gambier to see two one act plays, “The Heiress” and “Fools Rush In”, as well as two members attending a drama school, also held in Ml. Gambier.

The Vice president _I. Morris reported that stage lighting was non-existent due to stage alterations, but footlights, overhead battens, 2-2,000 watt Luminams etc. would be installed in time for the forthcoming Symphony Orchestras visit. It was noted by the president that all lighting expenses would be borne by the Company.

The conversion of Millicent from a council run DC electricity supply, to an AC plant shortly to be taken over by E.T.S.A., caused the Institute to change over to a three phase AC installation. The Institute Committee had agreed at this time to can’y out much needed renovations to the stage and to renew the roof at the same time. As mentioned above the Company installed a far more adequate switch board with a patchboard provision for dlmmers and power points in the wings and at the rear of the stage, for special effects such as lighting backdrops, and plugging in bells, radios, back lighting of windows etc. all controlled from the main board situated at the right hand side (from audience) ofthe proscenium arch. Another handicap was addressed by an offer by the Company to purchase a new curtain for the Institute providing that the Institute Committee install a means of attaching same.

At a committee meeting held july lst, 1959 arrangements were put in hand for the production of “Shop At Sly Corner”, a mystery thriller, with all manner of effects, a secret room hidden behind the fireplace, a South American blowplpe firing poison darts, and a good plot. The dialogue wasn’t exactly scintillating, but with good, carefully tuned movement, the use of light effects, sounds off etc. being right on cue, the audience was certainly enthralled. All this for five shillings a seat plus six-pence booking fee.

The lead character and villain of the piece was one Ian Laslett from the Millicent High School staff, who subsequently was to produce several notable plays. Two other newcomers were, Terry Kreig as the male romantic, and Clarrie Greenfield, a convincing jewel thief and generally hard bitten crook. On the distaff side a new member, Mrs. Lois Osborne, was to make a strong contribution both on stage and as secretary.

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