1945 was a significant year in history – World War Two ended and in February Mordialloc Theatre Company was formed!
Just like any organisation, MTC is a collection of people with a common interest. In our case that interest is theatre and every aspect of theatrical production. This encompasses a huge variety of activities and calls for a dedicated commitment by members. We have been fortunate that we have always had people prepared to make such a commitment, and as a result our company has operated continuously and successfully for over 65 years.
Why? The City of Mordialloc Citizens League wished to form a group ‘for the encouragement and development of local interest in drama and literature.’ Did these early visionaries foresee that all these years later their goal of promoting theatre for local audiences would still be continuing?
The first production was ‘Cuckoo in the Nest’ by Ben Travers. Tickets were 3/- (three shillings) and programmes cost 3d (threepence). The next production, in 1946, was ‘The House of Thrills’ by Leslie Chadwick-Browning. A cast member was Lorraine Johnston, now Lorraine Madsen, and she is still a company member? Is that a record?
Along the way there may have been some name changes – The City of Mordialloc Citizens League Theatre Group (try saying that in one breath), The City of Mordialloc Theatre Group, and currently Mordialloc Theatre Company.
We undertake to present quality theatre and encourage interest in all aspects of theatre, and we undertake these challenges with a professional attitude. However, we have also taken time out to enjoy fellowship and friendship, to socialise and even share an ale or two together. We enjoy a great camaraderie and perhaps more! The company has seen many a romance blossom.
Our greatest resource is our hard-working core membership, many of whom have served the company for many years. Although the set building team ‘Dad’s Army’ has been depleted by a number of deaths over recent years, it is still a highly prized asset. Five productions per year is a taxing load for the die-hards, but new faces have been added to lighten the work.
Venues have also changed – Mentone City Hall, Mechanics Hall, Library Theatre, Shirley Burke Theatre (named after a local councillor), Allan McLean Hall, and now the refurbished Shirley Burke Theatre. ‘Library Theatre’ was something of a misnomer as the auditorium was not so much a theatre as a sort of brick tent. The timber floor was flat and the seating was banks of fold-up seats of dubious comfort, which were stored under the stage and dragged out prior to a performance. There wasn’t any heating or cooling of course. When the library relocated we were able to convert this bare auditorium into a comfortable theatre which originally seated 184, but now seats 166 patrons.
To date 375 productions have been staged. Each production now runs for 10 performances, with the final dress rehearsal a preview night for members. The Box Office is the only source of income. The support of our VIPs, Very Important Patrons, is vital to our continuance. This group makes for over 80 per cent of our audience. The Production Advisory Committee endeavours to offer a varied, interesting and satisfying season each year attempting to appeal to all tastes to ensure our patrons keep coming back.
Until 2016, we held our in-house awards night, The Tegwyns – named after company stalwart, the late Syd Jones. These were not intended to create competition between productions, as we always strive to do our best, but rather to celebrate the year’s achievements. However, they have been discontinued for a variety of reasons, not least the desire to create a more collegial atmosphere.
Our reputation is one of an ‘amateur’ company of a high standard. This reputation has been achieved only by the dedicated and devoted efforts of the hundreds of men and women who have passed through our ranks since 1945. We are grateful for the foundations they established and upon which we still continue to build.
Many changes have taken place in our company since it was founded in 1945, and no doubt there will be further changes as we continue to grow and develop. Chookas to those who will continue the tradition.
(Adapted from an article contributed by Eryl Lowe, Life Member of MTC, to Theatrecraft, October 2005)