Lisa shows us what the ‘Westies’ can do for Theatre! Featured photos from Catchment’s upcoming production of "Noises Off"

As a brand new eager writer for ‘Theatre People’, I was given the assignment of writing an article on theatre in the Western Suburbs. It’s hard to discuss it comparatively, as I’ve relatively no basis as to what it is like on the Eastern side… with the exception of seeing shows as a patron myself.
Theatre in the West is very much a family business. Full of infighting, cuddles and giggling, most ‘Westies’ know of what’s coming up around the traps and have a good knowledge of the Prod team. We eagerly await the announcement of shows, groaning since we don’t have a big enough venue to put on ‘Phantom’ or ‘Miss Saigon’ and try our darndest to put on ‘a little show that could’.
From what I’ve seen, I think the ‘Westies’ prove that you don’t need a huge venue to put on a quality show. Not that the Guild is the official pronouncer of what is good or not, but it has been excellent to see recognition given to many quality productions performed in ‘the dark side of town’.
Companies such as Williamstown Musical Theatre Company have recently made a fantastic return to the business with high quality productions from such diverse productions as ‘Assassins’,’ Into the Woods’ and ‘Eurobeat’, taking a chance on some productions that many larger companies might shy away from. Its intimate setting and young, innovative production team ensure that the creativity and high production quality are at the forefront of each show. They recently received a grant to help upgrade the theatre and it’s nice to see a council getting behind the Arts and supporting such a worthy theatre. I look forward to seeing their next production soon!
Still in Williamstown, their ‘Little Theatre’ puts on highly applauded shows all year round… So much so that it’s hard to get tickets – unless you buy them at the time of auditions! This tiny theatre (seats approx 60) is so intimate that the audience is less than half a metre from the stage, which offers many challenges and rewards in itself. I personally have seen many shows there – from ‘Lucky Stiff’ to ’Kindertransport’ that were incredible, moving pieces of theatre. Coming up right now for the company is ‘RolePlay’, one I am not too familiar with – so I should give the ticket secretary a call soon…
Over at Altona City Theatre, they definitely place importance on giving people a chance to try out new skills in various areas, usually allowing first time directors the chance to wield power in their annual pantomime. I am awfully proud that two young rapscallions that first graced the stage in my directorial debut of ‘Peter Pan’ are the current directing team. The opportunities that they and others receive from this company are fantastic, and encourage youth to look beyond the performing side of things. Coming up at this theatre is ‘Sinbad ‘ the pantomime in March and ‘Singing in the Rain’ later in the year, both of which should be fun, bright and energetic as the company itself.
Further west we come across Ballarat and Geelong (which have quite a few companies within the area). It would be a shame to discount the productions, just because of the distance. They have fantastic venues, and have staged fantastic productions that definitely are worth a look – hire a hotel for the night and make it a weekend visit, especially if you missed ‘Spamalot’ out the Eastern way…
Not quite a ‘Westie’, but still not an ‘Eastie’ is Catchment. The quality that comes from their ‘Catchment kids’ productions over the last few years is incredible. Like Altona and their ‘ACTion’ group, the company places high importance on the quality of the production team, and has high performance value. It’s great to see some of these youngsters being recognised for the talent they have. Hopefully a new influx of performers carry that through and go onto some of the ‘senior’ productions. Catchment are branching out (or back) to perform ‘Noises Off’, their first Non-musical in a while, which as a part of the cast I can say is shaping up to be quite a roller coaster of fun, craziness and sardines.
I asked Blake Testro and Patt Ryan – regulars with Altona City Theatre about why they do theatre in the West.
What makes Western Suburban theatre fun?

Blake: I’d have to say the people, you get some big personalities in theatre and your always guaranteed a laugh. Also the people involved are usually people who do it quite a lot so after you do a few shows with them your almost like one big family.

Patt: Western suburban theatre seems to be different to other theatre around Melbourne because of it’s family feel to the companies.  There doesn’t seem to be the same pretentiousness associated with the theatre put on in the eastern and northern suburbs.  It’s as if people understand that this is meant to be fun, and therefore they have fun being involved with theatre

How does the local community view theatre?

Blake: I think theatre was a dying form of entertainment in Australia but since we have been getting a lot of the big musicals coming over here in the past few years (Lion King, Wicked, Mary Poppins etc) it seems to have revived it and is bringing the general public in aswell.

Patt: Unfortunately, only a small percentage of the community seem to appreciate live theatre.  I may be wrong, as I haven’t done any research into it, but there isn’t a strong sense of ownership of western suburban theatre.  I’m sad to say that at the moment, live theatre is a dying artform.  For the people that perform it, and the people that continue to watch it, it is great.  But for the majority of the community, it is a forgotten aspect of entertainment in the community.  The culture is an endangered one.

After thinking about their responses, I decided that I could be biased, in that I was only asking Westies to comment about Westie theatre… So I crossed the Westgate, to the dark side of Ringwood to ask Lauren Doutch her thoughts – her being a proud Eastie herself. Her choices seemed to be more based around the show being performed itself being a major drawcard to the show than the people, but did mention how much fun and welcoming people in Western theatre were. It was interesting to note that she feels that the Eastern Suburbs do tend to appreciate a good night out at the theatre as a valid venture. As a person born and ‘dragged’ up in the West, I know the prejudice given to those who enjoy the arts, especially males. Going to school in Deer Park with a small group of six people in my VCE drama class, it was heartbreaking to see the taunts given to my two male classmates.

Hopefully with the advent of shows such as ‘So You Think You Can Dance’, ‘Australian Idol’, ‘Ultimate School Musical’ and the recent outbreak of musical movies, people in the West will see the amount of talent and drive it takes to put yourself up on the stage and realise it has just as much value as the sports that occur on an oval.
I do feel that as a Westie, at times I should be hiding my theatricality and embracing some form of sport with an odd shaped ball, but with the quality of productions and the opportunity for youth and burgeoning performers, it would be a shame to discount this side of the Westgate.
(Lisa Pilkington has performed in and around the Western suburbs for the last 10 years, in both Musical and Non-Musical productions, such as the upcoming ‘Noises Off’ at Catchment. She received 2 judges awards from the Guild in 2009 – for 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Eurobeat – Almost Eurovision.)