Memories of theatre friends

Members and former members of the Friends of the Theatre celebrate their 30th birthday.

By Andrew Bourne, Secretary, Friends of the Theatre

A large group of the Friends of the Theatre gathered to celebrate 30 years of volunteer service to the Central Queensland arts community recently.

Many memories were shared among those members and former members who were able to attend.

One former member and one long time chair, Ted and Mary Tait were unable to attend because they live interstate. Instead they kindly sent congratulations and recollections of the formation of the group.

A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE

In 1990, Roz Owens, then the Box Office Supervisor, saw the possibility of using volunteers to help staff various areas of the Theatre, approaching Peta Hornemann, Robyn Kennedy and Lindell Lutton to sound out the idea of a Friends Group.

A public meeting was held at the Rendezvous Restaurant (as it then was) on 19 March, 1990.

A small committee formed with the intention of incorporating as Friends of Rockpac.

Unfortunately, this group never really got of the ground and folded within a year of its inception, possibly largely due to a lack of support from the then theatre manager, Malcolm Calder.

Late in 1991, Peter and Roz Owens were appointed joint theatre managers. They had seen how successful the Mackay Friends of the Theatre was and again revived the idea of a Friends group, convinced it could work despite the failure of the previous attempt.

Peter Owens recalls that the formation of the Friends was in their employment contract with the City Council. A public meeting was held at the Pilbeam Theatre on Wednesday, 16 October, 1991 and it secured a good attendance. Interestingly, only two of the original members, Robyn Kennedy and Lindell Lutton attended this meeting.

The first committee of the un-incorporated group included many of the people present at the public meeting: President Lindell Lutton; Vice President Vi Veretennikoff; Secretary Tom Riordan; Treasurer Robyn Kennedy; and Committee Members Cathy French; Rita Kershaw; Dennis Ilott; Darryl Parker; Gordon Shields; Ted Tait; Ron Verburgt; Nita Whyte; Diane Williams; Don Wright; and Don Yule.

Lindell Lutton later became the first President of the incorporated body and one of the first two people honoured with Life Membership of the group.

When the Friends formed, as well as ushers, bar and candy bar staff and program and merchandise sellers, Friends also supplied a voluntary front of house/duty manager.

These included Cathy French, Col Lindsay, Darryl Parker, Ted Tait and Gary Tempest.

The men dressed in formal dinner suits in those times.

After a few years, the City Council decided there needed to be a staff member on duty – and a part-time/permanent staff member was appointed (including Michael Mutch and Melanie March).

Roz Owens then took over the role.

Late in 1999 it was decided to appoint a casual duty manager, a practice which continued to the present time.

Over the years there have been many different people and events that have highlighted our time with Friends.

People such as the roster clerks who do such an amazing job, including the early ones (Everna White and Marie Power) and Ushers like Edna McFadyen and Gayle Moore (who kept us supplied with lemon butter; and rum and apricot balls) and bar staff such as Bob Heppell and Graham Millar; the Morning Melodies team including Kel and Bev Marler in the bar area and Edith Plumb in the candy bar; and of course, the great and unwavering support received from Peter and Roz Owens and the whole Pilbeam Theatre staff.

It now seems funny to recall the different uniforms. There were initially green cummerbunds and green bow ties for the men; and the green and later maroon sequined and multi coloured scarves for the ladies, all before the introduction of the brocade vests!

Events that stand out include staffing the various Eisteddfod and later Dance Festivals, Beef Week, the merchandise sales, particularly at the first Final Seekers Concert and every performance by The Wiggles, the restructure of the bar area, the refurbishment of the Theatre, the introduction of the coffee machine (Karen Capon), great Friends’ functions over the years including Movie Nights; Tai Chi with Penny Moraitis, the Mah Jong group Christmas and Mid-Year gatherings, etc. – but overall it’s the great sense of friendship shared by a group of people working together to support a great local institution, while helping make the theatre more accessible to local groups and organizations, including a couple of weddings.

I noticed, however there never seemed to be a shortage of ushers volunteering for the various school productions and dance concerts throughout the year.

I know the fellowship from members, combined with the feeling of contributing in a small way towards making the Theatre more accessible to all is one of the things Mary and I missed most since moving to Newcastle in October 2015.

We regret that the current Covid restrictions mean we can’t be part of the 30th birthday celebrations and congratulate all members on achieving this milestone.