Person - Shirley Barnett

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SHIRLEY BARNETT (1930 - 2021)

Shirley Broadway was born into a theatrical family. Her father ran a touring show and Shirley was a cute stage three-year-old before contracting polio. Shirley studied drama at Melbourne Conservatorium and joined Melbourne New Theatre where she felt at home, liking its sense of purpose, totally different from vaudeville. In 1949 she married Laurie McDonald. They moved to Sydney.

Shirley Broadway.jpg

She acted and directed at NT at St Peters Lane and painted its stage, and co-directed (with Pat Barnett) the first show at NT's new premises at 542 King Street Newtown. There was some resistance to women directors but she had gained confidence from Dot Thompson in Melbourne. She ran Saturday afternoon youth classes, put on one-act plays by Pinter and Shaw and tutored. She also ran classes for NIDA auditionees such as Rob Steele and John Hargreaves. Shirley wasn't in agit-prop which was not her thing; and because she'd had polio she protected herself physically.

Shirley did office work, sang freelance in Sydney clubs, and was a comic performer with Bert Newton on The Late Show. In Melbourne (where her family was embarrassed that she was connected with "Red" theatre) she’d called herself McDonald but in Sydney used the surname Broadway. With her husband Laurie she was involved in Unity in London. In Reedy River in Bucharest as part of a Romanian Youth Festival, she played in pouring rain in an open square to an audience of 10 000. The promised costumes did not eventuate and Shirley scavenged in the local theatre’s basement. There were language problems but the songs worked.

After returning to Australia she left the CPA which she had joined only because it was threatened with being banned. But she had found most CPA members were idealists merely wanting a better world. She married Pat Barnett. Her daughter Susan (who aged 14 managed to get into the America Hurrah! audience) became a CEO of Circus Oz. A recipient of the Arts Health Institute Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, Shirley spent her last years in Coffs Harbour where she was active in community theatre. She died on 7 February 2021.

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