Early companies such as the Adelaide Rep, Therry Dramatic Society and University Theatre Guild have thrived for over 60 years and produced plays and actors of high quality with many players going on to work in professional theatre and film, here and overseas. Companies performed in many substandard venues, yet maintained exceptional theatre.
In 1973 the Festival Theatre opened and offered these performers professional work and the theatre goers had a plethora of touring companies from all over the world in every genre. Over the years these few Adelaide non professional groups expanded to more than 60 in 2011. Opera began with the Intimate Opera Company initiated by singers not administrators or politicians. This set in train a process that led directly and continuously to the formation of the State Opera of South Australia, which continues to develop fine singers and musicians, many training at the Elder Conservatorium known as The Con.
One of the notable names who honed his skills in amateur theatre in Adelaide was Robert Stigwood who became a millionaire entrepreneur producing films Grease and Saturday Night Fever. Countless locals also went on to play in film, television (overseas and interstate) and for professional touring companies such as J.C. Williamson and the John Alden Shakespearean.
Adelaide has produced its fair share of performers and directors now working nationally and internationally. John Frost started as a dresser at the Festival Centre. Louise Withers and Linda Bewick, (originally involved in amateur theatre), have gone from strength to strength with their production company staging Miss Saigon and Mamma Mia.
Adelaide companies such as the Adelaide Rep perform straight plays, comedy and heavy drama, producing four shows a year. In their heyday, they staged 10 – 12 plays and it was not uncommon to have a different set per scene, and the use of trucks. Independent Theatre has a history of brilliant adaptations by Rob Croser, Australian and world premieres, using several venues including The Space at the Festival Centre. John Logan, award winning film scriptwriter has a long association with IT and this year they presented the multi Tony award winning Red to critical acclaim.
Therry Dramatic Society presents a diverse and popular selection of drama blockbusters with successful musicals, comedies and dramas for a huge and loyal subscriber base. Opus Performing Arts Community in the Southern Suburbs stages drama and musicals, Matt Byrne Media is never afraid to take chances on new works and stages original and successful shows of all types including their recently critically acclaimed production of Avenue Q. The Metropolitan Musical Theatre Company of SA (The Met), Hills Musical Society, Northern Light Theatre Company (based in the Northern suburbs) and Marie Clark Musical Theatre stage 2 musicals per year. The Gilbert and Sullivan Society produce two G & S and one non G & S annually now.
The Arts Theatre in the city is the venue for 4 companies. It is also the home of the Adelaide Repertory Theatre. This theatre is booked the entire year and rarely dark. Other companies have and/or had the enviable opportunity of performing in major professional theatres ie Her Majesty’s, The Odeon, The Hopgood and The Space – so we’re not talking about church halls – not that there’s anything wrong with that – as many companies do stage in church halls and very successfully.
Some companies have the luxury of rehearsal space, set and prop storage, costumes etc., under the same roof. Every company's dream.
There is no tertiary Music Theatre training school in South Australia with aspiring students having to apply to WAAPA, NIDA, BAPA, APO and VCA. The Adelaide College of the Arts (AC Arts) situated in the CBD trains actors, technicians, dancers, production, designers, writers, visual artists and craftspeople for live theatre, film and TV – a fine institution under the TAFE scheme. Flinders University has always been a training centre for actors, directors and film makers with accomplished graduates working all round the country. There is no shortage of performing arts schools for children, catering for toddlers to teens. Who knows, they could be the stars of tomorrow!
In an uncertain economic climate Adelaide non professional and community companies are looking for must-see shows, hoping for bums on seats, timing their choice of plays to suit the weather, and public expectations. It’s not easy in Adelaide to find the right crowd pleaser, and is becoming increasingly difficult to find technical crews and scenic artists (sadly a dying breed). Some are scratching to get a bump in crew or set builders and costumiers, even front of house volunteers.
There will always be companies presenting the old crowd pleasers – like a good Agatha Christie and/or a tried and true farce. Companies want bums on seats certainty. However, over the last few years, some have branched out producing new and unusual choices. This in turn is attracting fresh faces to local theatre and a new generation is coming through the ranks to ensure its longevity.