A long time of drama, comedy and music, Rep rolls on

Canberra Rep’s 1946 manufacturing of “Hamlet” at Albert Corridor.

LOVED, admired and infrequently sniffed at, Canberra Repertory Society has been one of many focal factors of Canberra tradition because the Thirties and it’s no secret that it’s simply turned 90.

So tight is its grip on the nationwide capital that it has seen diplomats equivalent to John McCarthy, Colin Willis and Britain’s Sir William Charters Patey treading the boards and has numbered even a governor-general, Sir Paul Hasluck, in its membership. 

Rain, hail and shine since September 1932, Rep has staged “Reppy” English comedies, thrillers and critical performs, even all through covid.

Many are the theories about Rep’s longevity, so to canvas them I caught up with Evol McLeod, who was supervisor at Rep 1986-1993, and Stephen Pike, enterprise supervisor 1999-2004, to get the lengthy view. 

Each managers have been well-known of their time for having achieved that elusive theatrical El Dorado, bums on seats, with every attaining upwards of 80 per cent capability often and 98 per cent for separate productions of Goulburn director John Spicer’s stage model of “Pleasure and Prejudice”. Outdated Time Music Corridor additionally attracted punters in droves. 

To McLeod, the excessive level of her time at Rep was the late, enigmatic Ralph Wilson’s Classical Theatre Ensemble which, she says, introduced in an mental frisson and new, educated audiences eager to see the best classics of western theatre.

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Pike, who joined Rep after it had been within the doldrums, gained a case of beer from set designer Russell Brown, who wager he couldn’t elevate the numbers to 60 per cent. 

McLeod believes Rep occupies a novel place in Australia for its high-quality newbie theatre, whereas Pike, agreeing, says its survival rests on the consistency of its manufacturing requirements and, much more, on its social cohesion, with folks becoming a member of the society and changing into buddies for all times. 

This was presumably the important thing to success throughout tough instances when corporations usually discovered it laborious to draw audiences of even 20 or 30.

Pike’s story of an unnamed skilled who derided Rep as a mere “social membership” illustrates one of many ongoing questions on Rep – is it skilled or newbie?

In actuality, Rep has all the time been proudly newbie, a society of theatre lovers who as soon as voted down a proposal to go skilled.

However its relationship to skilled theatre is symbiotic and even at present, proficient figures behind Canberra’s unbiased theatre corporations equivalent to Jarrad West, Jordan Finest and Lexi Sexuless have all lower their enamel in Rep. 

As effectively, as McLeod says, the society has lengthy acted as a seeding floor, virtually a faculty for professionals, as generations of Rep alumni have gone on to skilled careers interstate. 

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Earlier administrators equivalent to George Ogilvie bought their begin at Rep, actor-director Ed Whiteman went to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Artwork armed with Rep’s Theatre Gamers Scholarship and comic Dave Callan began out enjoying straight roles with Rep earlier than launching a profession primarily based on his day job with ASIO.

However questions all the time lingered. 

The late Walter Studying got here to Canberra within the ’60s to do a PhD, was seduced into Rep and later went on to grow to be director of the Canada Council, however got here again to Rep often, usually to stage the annual Christmas farce. 

Studying as soon as instructed me of his near-disbelief that Canberra, a decent-sized metropolis, nonetheless didn’t have knowledgeable theatre firm, privately blaming Rep, with its prepared provide of proficient senior public servants who may simply get day without work to rehearse. How may knowledgeable theatre firm presumably compete?

This has led to a love-hate relationship between Rep and native professionals, exacerbated by the truth that, as Pike and McLeod attest, requirements at Rep have been excessive, resulting in confusion about what “skilled” means.

Rep’s rapport with most people is constructed on years of engagement with Canberrans from effectively earlier than the Canberra Theatre was constructed, when Rep was the one supply of mainstage theatre. 

I caught up by cellphone with actor Peter Rowley, who joined Rep in 1957 after college, leaving Cowra for a job within the then Division of Works. It was his making.

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Rowley gained a spot at NIDA in 1962 and went on to grow to be one of many nation’s best-known classical comedy actors, however says he discovered it exceptional on the time that Rep, although newbie, engaged skilled director-managers like Alan Harvey, then later Peter Batey, Ross McGregor and plenty of others. 

Rep, Pike and McLeod continued to contract skilled administrators with respectable charges, though some, equivalent to Rep member-director Corille Fraser, declined to be paid. 

One such director, Aarne Neeme, tells me from Singapore that he has achieved greater than a dozen productions with Rep over 40 years.

“It has all the time felt like being part of a comfy household enterprise, with proficient actors, crew, assist employees and a warmly receptive viewers,” Neeme says. 

Again in 1932, Rep went unbiased due to a spat a few costuming merchandise, giving the title to Anne Edgeworth’s historical past of Canberra Rep from 1932 to 1982 titled, “The Value of Jazz Garters”. 

Now in 2022, the corporate is in good condition, rejoices in a membership of 125 hands-on volunteers, and has a manufacturing of “Sense and Sensibility” arising – the very sort of English play on which a lot of its historical past has been constructed. 

Who can doubt that it’ll proceed to flourish for an additional 90 years?

Canberra Rep’s ninetieth birthday dinner is on the Canberra CIT, Reid, 6pm, October 20. 

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Ian Meikle, editor