Workshops, Readings and Special Events

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Hundreds of small-scale events have been organised by NT since its earliest days. The Drama section of the WAC held weekly playreadings, and it was not until the late 1980s that dwindling interest by members led to the cessation of the long-standing practice of informal readings in the auditorium of forthcoming major productions.

At Castlereagh Street there were a large number of Workshop productions (including a “penile business” piece by John Hepworth which caused a stir). A training ground for directors, actors, designers, writers and technicians, as well as a means of viewing proposed plays off-the-page, Workshop encouraged experiment, and local one-act plays were produced alongside well-known pieces. Workshop was also closely connected with the in-house education program, which covered all aspects of theatre craft.

At Sussex Street lack of both an organising committee and space for rehearsals meant that Workshop activity was sporadic. In the period 1959-62, for instance, Mistress Bottom’s Dream and a series of lectures on playwriting by Mona Brand are the only such ventures recorded.

At St Peters Lane it was decided to revive acting classes and to set up a Workshop committee. Each presentation was adjudicated by an accredited director and the audience invited to stay for coffee and discussion. Budgets were minimal and the programs cheaply gestetnered.

Projects included The Comedy of a Man who Married a Dumb Wife, The Trojan Women, The Death of Bessie Smith (revived as a major production), a variety show On Stage, The Searching Maenads, and contrasting treatments of the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice. Pieces by Ionesco, Sartre, Tennessee Williams, Alex Buzo, van Itallie and NT members John Mulligan, Frank Marcus and Andrew Kemp were presented, the regular actors including Carole Skinner, Linal Haft and James Kemp.

Although many members were interested only in major productions, stalwarts (John Short, Frank McNamara, Sean Surplus, Paul Quinn, Phil de Carle, Rob Steele and Roy Dias) kept Workshop going in the 1970s. Projects included Little Brother Little Sister, Anyway, Christie in Love, The Doomsday Show, Passion, Ile, Dance Drama, Casting, R, Street Theatre’s Born Loser, and scenes from A Life in a Theatre. Building fundraisers included theatre parties, jumble sales, an anniversary ball, garden parties, and an haute couture fashion parade at Greenoaks Darling Point.

At King Street classes were held in movement, acting and voice, and youth activities flourished, an average of 60 each day attending school holiday programs. Workshop and readings included Bermondsey, As It Stands, Out of Our Minds, Woman Alive, Four To Go, Here Comes Kisch! (a major production in 1984), Cages, A Seat in the House, Shadows on the Wall, All That Fall, The White Liars, an adaptation of Gormenghast, Madame de Sade, The Beard, Company Fracture, Offshore Island and Hanging On.

50 Not Out! marked Miriam Hampson’s retirement and the theatre’s half-century in 1982. Other musical evenings in the 1980s: Oh, How We Danced, Drama Sunday, and New Theatre in Concert (with a company of 27, nine musicians, five choreographers and seven on the production team) in 1988. Workshop projects included Three Stories, The Master, The Living Room War, Talking With, Picnic on the Battlefield, Cahoots, All the Lonely People, Drama Break-In, Three Sisters, Swallowing is a Very Private Thing, Busted and All in All: A Shakespearian essay on marriage.

There were occasional collaborations with outside bodies such as the Deadly Sins Drama Group at Macquarie University and the NSW Association for Mental Health.

During the 1990s Workshop flourished. Projects included Lulu – The Musical, Everything Old Is New Again, Unlikely Lovers, Damn! Yankees/As American As?, Going Down for the Third Time, In the Desert of My Soul, The House of Bernarda Alba, The Poet and the Pirate, The Rope, Johnny Starkey, Not Bloody Likely!, The Royal Commission, Tadzio, Dream Reef, Summer of the Aliens (a major production in 1999), Fen, Women on the Stage, Everyman, In the Groove, Family Voices and The Torrents. A packed house saw Shakespeare’s “latest play” Edward III. Club Cockroach staged Merry Christmas, Pauline Hanson. A benefit was held for East Timor in 1999. Energies in the first two years of the new millennium were devoted to fundraising activities ~ the biggest a dinner at Enmore’s Cyprus Club where a rush of last-minute guests sent the catering staff into a spin.

After 2003 moved readings, many staged for school students, included The Dumb Waiter and Zoo Story, The Real Inspector Hound, The Plough and the Stars, Gary’s House, Speed-the-Plow, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Double Take: Shakespeare Scenework, Danton’s Death, Going to St Ives, Thief River, The Titanic Orchestra, The Winslow Boy, The Country, Pelléas and Mélisande, Running Up a Dress, Black Sail, White Sail, A Beautiful Life, The Club, Not About Heroes, key scenes from Hamlet, Death of a Salesman, Desire Under the Elms, The Removalists and Educating Rita. A number of these became full-scale productions.

To mark NT’s 70th birthday moved and costumed readings were staged of a “hit” from each of the seven decades: Waiting for Lefty, An Inspector Calls, Reedy River, The Crucible, The Season at Sarsaparilla, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Cloud 9. Included in the 75th birthday program was Censored!, moved and costumed readings of banned plays.

In 2002 Stop Laughing...This is Serious! celebrated 70 years of political and social revue at the New. Held on the previous year’s election night was the All Ordinaries revue. Most at Howard’s End in 2007 watched the TV monitor in the foyer rather than the entertainment in the auditorium.

A local community centre was chosen for Australia’s Most Wanted on election night 2004 so that the audience could sit down to a meal. Another nearby venue, the Dickson Space, was chosen for the end-of-year A Christmas Carol, a production restaged at Newington College where a Victorian music hall was also mounted. Supper followed a performance of East Lynne, played out in a member's Victorian house and garden.

Wayne Richmond brought his Loosely Woven acoustic troupe from the northern beaches to present Bird Sings the Blues, Frilly Red Pyjamas, Aba Daba Honeymoon, Deja Vu, On the Road Again and Waltzing With Bears. The musicians also played at the Saturday Kids’ Club, a variety show featuring music, drama, songs, magic and storytelling.

Events in the theatre included a memorial concert for Bushwhacker Chris Kempster; wakes for members Susan O’Brien and Frank McNamara; Oye! New Sudan Celebrates showcasing over 40 Sudanese performers from Blacktown; and A Cultural Kebab celebrating Sydney’s Middle Eastern community.

Outside events included a party at NIDA for Mona Brand’s 90th birthday, and Words Can Be Bullets presented at the State Library and Politics in the Pub.

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