Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Saturday, August 06, 2011

History of theatre in New England - update 1

The question of New England's theatre tradition was raised in comments on two posts on my New England Australia blog.  In Selling New England to itself, Stu mentioned the Victoria Theatre in Newcastle as worthy of preservation. Greg extended this in a comment on Wednesday Forum: preserving New England's heritage with a reference not just to the Victoria but to other Newcastle theatres and to Newcastle's rich theatrical tradition.

One of the difficulties about New England's broader theatre tradition is that it's so fragmented and localised as to be inaccessible. This comes though when I look at my past posts; a partial list follows.  They, too, are very fragmentary.

One of my problems is that most of the posts have been written for other purposes. A second problem lies in working out just what I mean by theatre. Do I include picture theatres and films? What about festivals and events? Or circuses?

For practical purposes, I am including live performance. This excludes film and picture theatres, but does include circuses.

So what can I say after all my reading? Not a lot, really, and that's depressing.

Amateur performances emerged very early. Professional performances were limited to touring companies. These appear to have begun quite early. Dedicated theatres were, I think, limited to Newcastle or the lower Hunter where population densities were greater. Newcastle and the coal areas also had a different general tradition because of the role of the union movement. There is a neglected story here.

Within New England, the two broadest influential centres were Newcastle and Armidale, Newcastle because of its size and specific union influences, Armidale because of its role as an educational centre. The first two attempts at fully professional theatre seem to have been in those two centres. Today they still have the broadest range of theatrical performances.

Not a loo to say, I know! Still, I suppose it's a start.



Have a look at Judi's comment on this post. Isn't that  a wonderful lot of material?


JCW said...

Hi Jim
You might like to make a start by Googling George and Grace Sorlie/ Bobby le Brun/ Grace le Brun (who has just died, in her 100th year) for a history of the travelling tent shows that lasted until the early 60s. Their season opened in Newcastle on Boxing Day before touring. Newcastle Repertory and N'cle Dramatic Arts Club have websites. Judith Ross-Smith has written a book on the history of the A'dale Playhouse. Aarne Neeme can probably give you a run down on at least some of the history of the Hunter Valley Theatre Company

JCW said...

continued...(aoneeme@yahoo.com.au; you can tell him I gave you his contact; we are old mates, and I am about to start rehearsals for him in John Doyle's (AKA Rampaging Roy Slaven, former drama teacher @N'cle's Perf Arts High School and HVTC actor)The Pig Iron People for Rep. John Bell lived in Stockton as a kid (!), Ruth Cracknell, Nick Enright came from Maitland.

me again said...

and more..
Maitland also amateur theatre hub, and eisteddfods used to be a big deal even in the little mining hamlets like Abermain. If you want to know any and everything about more general entertainments like dances/ skating rinks/ the Palais/ touring old time dance bands (I don't know if Phil Furley's troupe travelled north)

JCW said...

you could do worse than have a chat to mum (49584927); my g'father was the entrepreneur behind most of it. Mum also has memories of Victoria variety from when she was a little girl. Then of course there's Jungle Jim and his TAS melodrama/Music Halls (starring moi in the last couple. this is jumping around, but random thoughts. love Jude

Jim Belshaw said...

What an absolutely wonderful collection of material!I don't even know how to begin in responding. Look, seriously, my Newcastle readers in particular are really going to love this stuff.

I am going to have to chunk my responses or I will never complete!

Jim Belshaw said...

I should have asked how your mum was, but I was too excited! It's a long time since I saw her: I hesitate to say how long. Love, Jim

JCW said...

90 and slowing down, but apart from arthritis and increasing deafness, pretty good, all things considered. Marbles intact, which is a blessing.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thnak. Judi. Will email you direct with a couple of follow up questions.