LET ME TELL YOU A STORY
ACT 1: THE SETTING
As you relax in your seat and the lights dim, there is an air of anticipation in the theatre. With a mellow tune drifting through the audience, the curtains slowly open. A spotlight comes up on a man. He is standing in the middle of an empty stage. He is the narrator, his name unknown. He tells of a time back in 1976 when a small play group was formed in Belgrave. “There was a group of people wanting to act and have fun, which they did. As time progressed they decided to put together a full- length production. But first they needed a name. What would they call themselves?
Belgrave Players was the chosen name. Players being another name for actors, and Belgrave, because that’s where they met, and some of them lived. Their first play was staged in 1977 at the Colby Drive Progress Hall in Belgrave South. The play was called “It’s Never Too Late”, and was directed by Harold Burchall.
Many saw him as the founding father of the theatre group. His professionalism was passed down to those who followed him.
A total of 16 plays and one revue were performed at Colby Drive.”
The narrator takes a moment to reflect on the good and difficult times in the little hall. Rain pelting on the tin roof often drowned out the onstage action. The lights fused when a thunderstorm hit. Because the stage had only one entrance, actors scrambled around the back of the hall, often with an umbrella in hand, to appear “stage right”. Despite these problems, a great sense of camaraderie built up within the group.
“In 1978 the group changed its name to Sherbrooke Theatre Company, and three years later moved to Upwey High School. The school offered better lighting equipment and a better stage, but was far from perfect. The seats were very hard, so STC made cushions. There was no heating, and the patrons froze in the huge auditorium. Regular patrons brought their own knee rugs.
Front of House had more serious problems. They started off in the staff room and were moved to a classroom. Because there was no sink, they had to carry buckets of water and wash up in a baby’s bath.
Ten plays and two revues were performed at the Upwey High School.
On the completion of the beautiful new Community Theatre at Monbulk High School in 1984, the group shifted again. Two plays were produced at Monbulk, “Thriller Of The Year” and “There’s A Girl In My Soup”. But higher costs and reduced audience numbers (due to the greater travelling distances) took their toll. Productions were deferred until a smaller and less expensive venue could be found.
The next four years were difficult. The dedicated caretaker committee of Richard Tyler, Gabrielle Jameson, Robyn Betts and Deb Walsh battled to keep the group from folding. During this time two very successful cabarets were produced at the Sassafras Hall. They were a financial success, and great fun for all involved. It was often cold (it snowed one night) and foggy. The audience had good heating (for a change), but the dressing rooms were freezing. A trip to the outside toilets meant walking along planks of wood over puddles. Flushing a toilet also flushed the adjacent toilet, offen surprising the person “next door”! In 1988 the caretaker committee faced a major decision. There was money in the bank following the cabarets. Should they “disband and blow it all on a big party”, “give it to Victorian Drama League” or “blow it all on another play”?
After due consideration they decided to produce a play. The Outer Eastern College of TAFE in Stud Road, Wantirna, had opened a modern, comfortable and suitable sized theatre, which became the venue for Sherbrooke Theatre Company’s next production – “But Why Bump Off Barnaby?”
There were only a handful of bookings (all family and friends) prior to opening night. A frenzy of phone calls, letter drops, and a “two for one” opening night promotion, resulted in a profitable production. Planning for the next show began…
Two plays a year at the TAFE College and two cabarets at the Boronia Progress Hall saw the rebirth of the Sherbrooke Theatre Company. The TAFE College had a wonderful atmosphere, with a luxurious foyer, grand staircase to the auditorium, lovely seats and room to arrange the supper.
The audiences kept increasing, and finances were very healthy. But, as always, there was a downside. The set had to be erected each night before the show, and taken down before leaving – an absolute nightmare. In 1992 STC boldly staged the World Premiere of “Plague,” an unknown (but very worthy) musical drama. Because it was to be performed for a minimum of 25 nights, the TAFE College was deemed too big. After some searching, the smaller Doncaster Playhouse was selected as the venue. Finally, the set could be left in place! The Doncaster Playhouse has been Sherbrooke Theatre Company’s “home” for three shows a year ever since.”
ACT 2: PEOPLE
A theatre company is not made of bricks and mortar – it is made of people. Very special people, who over the years bring experience, talent and friendship to the company and to their audience. There are no stars, just friends working as a team. Everyone does everything.
Many patrons follow Sherbrooke Theatre Company from venue to venue, simply because of the personal touch they receive and the professionalism and style brought to every production.
Sets are a very important part of any production. Set building brings the cast, crew and members together, and has taught many novices how to swing a hammer, wield a paintbrush, and hang wallpaper.
Sherbrooke people have always been great improvisers, both on and off stage. Onstage difficulties – such as forgotten lines, late entrances, pictures which didn’t fall “on cue”, guns which didn’t go “bang”, sofa legs which unexpectedly broke, candles which didn’t blow out, phones which never ring – have all been handled with the minimum of fuss, and without a prompt.
Late night visits to hard-rubbish collections have been a great source of furniture and props. Candles and car headlights have been used when the power has failed. When mourning suits were required for a production, and were far too expensive to hire, a pleading visit to Tobin Brothers “came up trumps”.
Sherbrooke Theatre Company has staged many social functions and weekends away. There has been lots of fun on horse-drawn wagon trips – learning to harness, groom, feed and water those giant horses; walking into the bush with a spade and a roll of toilet paper; cooking over an open fire; and even a spa under the stars.
One young lady took her electric curlers on a weekend trip to the bush – many kilometres from the nearest power point. One male member was rushed to the doctor for stitches after attempting to peel the vegetables. One weekender caught fire!
Then there are cast parties. A way to let your hair down. A way to fill in the hours between the last night of a production and “bump out” the following day. A way to avoid sleep.
Other entertaining diversions have included Pimp and Pro Nights, Car Rallies, Frog and Grog Nights, One-Act plays, Theatre Sports, attending other theatre productions and Progressive Dinners. The emphasis is on getting together and having a laugh.
ACT 3: FINAL CURTAIN
There is one final thing I’d like to mention. There are some people who have contributed to the 25 years of Sherbrooke Theatre Company, but sadly have passed on to a bigger and better theatre. They are:
Harold Burchell of Belgrave South
Derek Manley of Belgrave
Angie Sorrell of Belgrave South
John Nicholson of Upwey
Gabrielle Jameson of Ringwood East
Fred Harden of Wattle Glen
Alan Gwythr of Monbulk
Yvonne Manly of Chirnside Park
A big thank you to them… As you may have realised by now, a theatre company is made up of many people. It is the people that bring a scripted word to life. As you see me standing here, you may think that this is a one-man show. It is too easy to forget the directors, writers, lighting operators, sound operators, back stage crews, front of house staff, committee members, and publicity coordinators – to name just a few.
I am none of these. In fact I have never acted before, but without me a theatre company would not survive. I am an audience member. And to my colleagues who have helped Sherbrooke Theatre Company survive for over 20 years…thank you!”
These are excerpts from the book “20 Years of STC” compiled and edited mainly by Geoff Moon & Simon Cartwright (a member since he was about 15) and other members of the theatre company. The book was published in 1997 Geoff who is the main contributor has never graced our stage although his wife and mother-in-law whom has sadly passed, are main-stays of the STC group.
Since then STC has progressed to produce some modern and some perennial plays and the contribution made by new and ongoing members is fully appreciated.
Despite our best efforts, some information could not be located at the time of publication. Furthermore, some omissions or misspellings may have evaded our proofing process. If you are affected, please accept our apology. All mistakes will be corrected in the 40″ anniversary publication. Or as the great computer lie says “It will be fixed in the next release”.