HISTORY OF THE BUSSELTON REPERTORY CLUB.
In 1949, at a suggestion from Arthur Grocock a meeting was called to start a repertory club resulting in a committee being formed. To assist the new club to get established, older clubs from Bunbury and Donnybrook presented a night of One-Act Plays on 20th June 1949 at the old Catholic Hall in Prince Street. Charges were 2 shillings 5 pence for non-members and 1 shilling 2 pence for members. The door takings amounted to 16 pound 7 shillings and sixpence but costs for for the 2 clubs traveling, plus supper and pay for the attending fireman, left a profit of 5 pounds 7 shillings and sixpence. The old Catholic Hall was the venue for all future productions and a fireman had to be employed because the hall was wooden. Props and lighting equipment were kept on the veranda at the Eggleston home in Kent Street.
In the years from 1949 – 1961, 21 plays were produced, all in the Catholic Hall. Of these, eleven were directed by Frank Eggleston – who would also build sets and do lighting. Apparently, anyone calling at the house looking for Frank was told he was "down the blasted hall!!" In 1950 the club entered in the South West Drama Festival in Bunbury and to much jubilation was awarded 2nd place. Plays were entered almost every year until 1959 when first place was achieved.
In the late 50's eyes turned towards the Weld Hall which had been used as the Mechanic’s Institute, library and meeting place. In 1960 the shire finally granted a lease to the Repertory Club. A local builder, and anyone connected to the club, set to work. Risers were built in the flat-floored hall and a stage erected. Seating was bought from Perth theatres, plus stage curtaining. All other requirements, including furnishings were begged from town's folk. The first play presented at the opening was "Not in the Book" directed by Frank Eggleston.
Stewart Bovell, later to become Sir Stewart, became the club patron at it's inception in 1949 and remained such until his death in 1999. He loaned anything in the way of furniture, pictures or silverware. There is a beautiful portrait of Sir Stewart in the foyer in his memory as he was dearly loved by us all.
The 1970s started a new era for the Repertory Club. Our first pantomime "Cinderella" was produced and the club has since produced a panto each Christmas to outstanding success.
Ted Davies. This little man arrived one night at the theatre to see if he could help. What an understatement!. I don't think from the time of Frank Eggleston we have ever had anyone quite like Ted. He built sets, directed plays and acted in them. He did the lighting and sound effects. I remember a pantomime in which we needed explosions.
Ted rigged up these little tins of gunpowder across the front of the stage and then remotely exploded them to create noise and smoke – the mind boggles at what would happen today if we tried that! I also recall him on top of a ladder erecting lights while directing the cast on stage. You name it, Ted did it! He directed 7 plays, acted in 28 productions, and did the lighting and effects for 70 plays and music halls in 1964 and remained a member until his death in 2005.
Another character was Max Conrau. He was a fine actor especially in small cameo roles. It was said his role of Doolittle in Pygmalion had some of the audience scratching, thinking they had caught some of his 'unmentionables".
Max asked Frank Baden Powell, creator of the Perth Old Time Music Hall, to bring his show to Busselton as a fund-raiser for Lions. Following that, Max decided after that he could write and direct his own shows. The first was in 1974 and subsequent music hall productions continued every 2 years until 1999. Max was chairman at all except 2.
Six performances were usually shown in Busselton and 2 in Augusta. They were a great source of revenue for both clubs.
The 80's were very successful for the club but we were astounded in the 90s when the Shire released a conservation plan for the building, calling for the main auditorium to be returned to a flat-floored hall, the foyer to be returned to an open verandah, and the additional lounge, kitchen plus wardrobe extensions at the rear, demolished. This of course would have rendered the building quite useless as a theatre. Fortunately the Shire did not proceed and we were able to remain.
In 1997 we were able to re-carpet the lounge, foyer and auditorium, re-paper the walls and re-cover the seats and replace the stage curtains. The Shire repainted the outside, and re-roofed the building. We have also been fortunate in receiving a couple of grants from Lotteries which enabled us to computerize our lighting and sound equipment and buy a photo-copier.
The club’s main source of income still comes from the sale of seats. Our yearly program normally presents 3 plays and a Pantomime – which usually plays to full houses for 10 or 11 performances.
In the 2000s, extra help and encouragement has come from our friends Bare Naked Theatre Group in the way of 2 excellent pantomimes written and directed by Stephen Lee, from which we have been able to update our thinking on staging and presentation. We hope to arouse the interest of a youth theatre group setting its seeds in the junior acting group at present enjoying much enthusiasm.
2021 brought the promise of a new Arts Centre to be built next door with changes required to the rear of the Weld building. Abandoned contract negotiations and the Covid conditions of 2020/21 have stalled productions but we look forward to renewed activity in 2022.