Shirley Burke Theatre history

Mordialloc Theatre Company commenced its operations at the Shirley Burke Community Centre 50 years ago in 1962. The first production was The Man Who Came to Dinner, directed by Lorraine Madsen. Seventeen years earlier, Lorraine had been a founding member of the Mordialloc Theatre Company, which at that time was called The City of Mordialloc Theatre Group. We are pleased to say that Lorraine is still an active member of the company today.

Our very first production in 1945 was Cuckoo in the Nest at the Mordialloc City Hall, where we produced four plays before moving to the Mechanics Institute Hall in Albert Street, Mordialloc, where the Allan McLean Hall stands today.

We performed more than 75 varied plays at the Mechanics Hall in less than ideal conditions until the old Mordialloc Council converted the Shirley Burke building, which also contained the Council library, into a theatre.

The theatre had a flat auditorium and stackable seats, which had to be put in place and restacked on a regular basis, as the audi-torium was also rented out for birthday parties, wedding receptions, sporting club fundraisers, etc.

In the 1980s, the Mordialloc Council built a new library further down Parkers Road, where it remains today, and later turned the area vacated by the library at Shirley Burke into a multi-purpose area suitable for wedding receptions and the like. With approval from the Council,

Later on, because the auditorium floor had started to subside and the rear wall of the auditorium started to lean out, the timber auditorium floor was removed, a concrete slab laid and full raked/tiered flooring installed. Proper theatre seating from Brighton’s Dendy Cinema was unbolted, transported to Shirley Burke and installed by theatre company members.

Over the fifty years since our first production at the Shirley Burke Theatre, Mordialloc Theatre Company has presented more than 240 diverse productions, not only to people from the City of Kingston but also to people from all over Melbourne and further. Averaging 1400 people per production, that equates to more than 336,000 “bums on seats” over the 50 years since our first SBT production.

Over those 50 years, as the Shirley Burke’s major user, MTC has provided an artistic and social outlet not only to many actors and directors, but also to handyman/set builders, technicians, costumiers, painters, ushers, coffee makers, etc, all of whom have volunteered their time to be part of a successful not-for-profit community theatre company.

Although we will not now be able to enjoy the same artistic and social freedoms we have enjoyed during the previous fifty years, we can look forward to performing in a revitalized space and to again presenting the high standard of production which our large number of patrons has come to expect from one of Melbourne’s leading community theatre.

(Reprinted from Theatrecraft, April 2012)


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