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On the 27th of September, 1957, The Malvern Arts Council decided to form a drama group and a meeting, advertised throughout the Arts Council membership and the local press, was called for in October.  An inaugural meeting was held early that month where approximately twelve people attended.  A Mr. Luke Oldham offered to produce the first production, and made a preliminary selection of suitable plays.  The Mayoress, Mrs. Joan Morgan, was asked to be patron of the group and to take the chair at the next meeting which was held at the small Court Room in the Malvern Town Hall on the 29th of October and was attended by 40 people.  The Malvern Drama Group was formed with an elected Interim Committee.

On the 3rd of December, with 25 people attending, the following office bearers were elected: President Mrs. Joan Morgan, Vice-Presidents Mr. & Mrs. Alec A. Rosenblum, Treasurer Miss K. Morant, Secretary Miss Joy Batty (who played Mrs. Small in the first production), Publicity Officer Mr. John B. Dunn, plus five Committee Members, Mrs. Deller, Miss Wendy Marshall (who stage managed the first show), Miss Roff, Miss Hitchcock and Mr. John Mackenzie.

Luke Oldham then commenced reading A Lady Mislaid by Kenneth Horne, which became our first production and took five and a half months to produce.
A constitution with minor adjustments to the original draft was adopted at a meeting held in the Mayoress’ Room on the 24th of February, 1958.  A Lady Mislaid was finally staged at the Holy Advent Church of England Parish Hall, Armadale, on the 18th and 19th of April, 1958.  The cast consisted of Joy Batty, Dorothy Heulin, Nanette Gerock, John Norman, John McKerchar, Ron Warfe and Pam Young.  The Stage Manager was Wendy Marshall.  Subscribers were asked to pay £1/1/0 plus 10/6d for each ensuing year.  Our first telephone number for enquiries was UM3504 (the President’s home in Chadstone).  The group’s second production, The River Line by Charles Morgan, was staged at St. Joseph’s Hall, Malvern, from the 27th to 29th August, 1958.  Orchestral interludes were provided by members of the Malvern Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Milton Thrift and the programme listed the new patroness, Lady Tait.  The show received the following press review: "The first Act ... was shapeless ... the production generally was uneasy and cramped ... the cast was moderately effective".  For our third play, Random Harvest by James Hilton, 3rd to 5th December, 1958, the four-page programme was typeset and printed for the first time.  Previously it was typed out on a typewriter and duplicated.

In 1959 Graham Adams became President and Joan Morgan became Secretary.  Tickets were five shillings each, a programme cost sixpence and one shilling was charged for tea and biscuits at interval.

In 1960 the Malvern Drama Group had the honour of being the first to use the 250-seat Chadstone Shopping Centre Auditorium, and for the theatre’s opening on 3rd October, after being officially opened by Premier Henry Bolte earlier that day, we staged As Worn By Achilles, written by the group’s then President Graham Adams.

The group started including cast notes, written by Joan Morgan, in the programmes in 1961 and consisted of phrases such as: "one of our youngest members", "a stand-in for one night", "newcomer to the stage", "her first experience with us", "shows exceptional keenness", "has had acting experience" and "always in evidence whenever complicated hairstyling is necessary".  Norma Milward became Secretary followed by Keith Napper later that same year and Fay Baker was Treasurer.

In 1962 Anthony Dwyer became President. The following year, 1963, an adult admission was increased to six shillings and John Mackenzie took over as President.

Graham Wall became President in 1964.

Carolyn Gunn became Secretary in 1966.  The last production of that year was Gaslight and for the first time the programme used the words ‘Directed by’.  Previously the director had always been referred to as the ‘Producer’.

In January 1967, a newsletter was established as a liaison between Committee and Members.  Its name took the initial letters from Malvern Drama Group and so ‘Madragro’ was born.  Joy Warfe (nee Batty, Foundation Secretary) was the originator and first editor.  On the 18th of February that year, the Group moved to new premises at 117 Glenferrie Road, Malvern, and named it ‘The Pillar Theatre’.  Only two minor productions were presented there before the Group moved again.  Barrie Sudweeks became President.

In 1968, major productions were still being performed at the National Theatrette, South Yarra, as well as the Group’s new premises, named ‘The Attic’, at 262a Glenferrie Road, Malvern.  Three of that year’s productions toured to such places as Bacchus Marsh, Warragul, Foster, Toolamba, Leongatha, Rushworth, Wonthaggi and Sorrento.  Touring productions continued to 1971.  The programme for Tevya And His Daughters contained head shots of the cast for the first time.  Then due to a fire which destroyed the National Theatrette, the last production of the year, All Because Of Agatha, was presented at the Arts Theatre (later The Viaduct), South Yarra.  The President was Barrie Sudweeks, Treasurer Peter Johannsen, and Carolyn Gunn, Secretary.  Linda Debnan was the acting editor of Madragro.

In 1969, Don Hammond became Treasurer and David Baggallay took over as editor of Madragro.  A No Smoking rule during performances was enforced.  The programme for Eight Beats In A Bar had an unfortunate layout error and listed Interval as being directed by Iris Blake.

David Baggallay became President and Joan Blake, Secretary in 1970.  Joan also became co-editor of Madragro with Madeleine Calcutt, following B. Hayne who produced the first edition for that year.  In February, due to the expense of improvements and rewiring, the Committee decided to vacate The Attic and relocate to three old shops (also referred to as two old shops and a garage) at 25–29 Morey Street, Armadale.  The group’s plans for these premises were not accepted by the Prahran Council and so we moved yet again to the Congregational Church Hall, 29 Burke Road, East Malvern.  We are indebted to Councillor Hubert Healy who introduced us to its Board.  After moving eleven times over the previous thirteen years, what turned out to be the very last move occurred on Saturday 6th June and one of the first tasks of building the stage was completed in time for the official opening of the new theatre on Friday 3rd July with the third performance of The American Dame.  Later, in September, ninety-five new theatre seats were installed.The venues for our activities were numerous.  So much so that when we weren’t on the move, our programmes would contain the words "our next production will be staged in this theatre".  The venues were:
Holy Advent Church of England Parish Hall, Armadale, St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Parish Hall, Malvern, and R.S.S.A.I.L.A. Hall, Malvern (1958);
Argosy Theatre, Murrumbeena (1959–60);
Library Auditorium, Malvern, and the Chadstone Auditorium (1960);
Arrow Theatre, Middle Park (1960–1);
‘Northbrook’, Malvern (1961–2);
Methodist Hall, Malvern (1962);
St. James’ Church Hall, Glen Iris (1963–5);
Braille Library Hall, Prahran (1963–4);
National Theatrette, South Yarra (1966–8);
Pillar Theatre, Malvern (1967);
The Attic, Malvern (1968-9);
Arts Theatre, South Yarra (1968);
Presbyterian Church Hall, Armadale (1969);
25–29 Morley St., Armadale (1970);
Malvern Theatre (originally Congregational Church Hall), East Malvern (1970–... ).


The year of 1971 saw the return of Barrie Sudweeks as President and Pat Milthorpe became editor of Madragro.  In February, after due consideration, the group’s name was changed to Malvern Theatre Company in order to identify the theatre and company with the City of Malvern, acknowledging the association with and assistance from the Council since the early days at ‘Northbrook’.  Ken Kemp designed the company’s new emblem.  The proscenium was extended and painted light brown and stage flying gear was installed.  A lime green curtain, complete with track, was purchased and installed.  Wall-bracket lights were installed in the auditorium which completely eliminated the use of the old fluorescent bars on performance nights.  The stage manager’s cuing system was installed and the foyer also received a number of improvements.  A Saturday matinee was included in the run of The Island Of Happiness, but matinees didn’t become the norm until 1983.  David Johnston (later, Channel 7’s Newsreader) appeared in The Man Who Came To Dinner as a TV producer.  Adult tickets were increased to $1.20.  The bi-annual Subscription Brochures (one Autumn season and one Spring, 4 plays each) offered subscribers 2 plays for $2.40, 3 for $3.20 or 4 for $4.00.  Programmes were increased to 20c but coffee at interval was lowered to 10c a cup!

In 1972 Carolyn Gunn became the Treasurer, Pat Milthorpe became Secretary and Iris Blake, who had been closely involved with the theatre’s Youth Group since 1968, was made an Honorary Life Member.  At least two of the programmes for this year were printed in Pentridge Gaol.  In the following year several of the programmes suspiciously have the same look about them but no printer is mentioned.  Three-phase power was connected to the stage switchboard.  Carolyn Gunn became editor of Madragro in September and Barrie Sudweeks and Colin Pearce helped out from time to time as ‘guest editors’.  In October, the 60th edition of Madragro took on a brand new style and format due to the purchase of a ‘Scanning Machine’.  It was folded and collated into 24 pages.  The first 59 issues (except No. 40) were flat one- or two-sided foolscap sheets varying from one to nine pages of text.  The year finished with The Rivals which was our 100th major production and its special programme included a brief history of MTC.  The season made a profit of $92.23.  Front of House, which charged for everything, even the programmes, made a loss of $1.73.

Claire Thonemann became Secretary in 1973.  Admission prices were increased again to $1.40.  Subscriptions were 2 plays $2.60, 3 plays $3.60 and 4 plays $4.00.  Perhaps to give the patrons a little something extra for their money, the programme for Wait Until Dark included a crossword puzzle on the last page.  The combined rent for the year was $1,200.00.

In 1974 the mailing list for Madragro was pruned due to some recipients no longer having any contact with the theatre.  The Committee organized meetings at 29 Burke Road with other theatre companies to discuss tactics to persuade the Listener-In TV from discontinuing its Theatre Page.  After an inspection of the theatre, the Commission of Public Health demanded that 20 modifications be made to the electrics, within 60 days, to comply with S.E.C. Public Building Regulations of 1957.  The theatre purchased a sewing machine, a typewriter, and installed a pay phone ‘at some cost’ in the foyer.  The number then, was 211 0020, the original version of today’s number 9571 0020.  During August and September of this year Malvern had five plays rehearsing all at the one time, while just a few months earlier The Viaduct Theatre in South Yarra was forced to close.  The VDL Bulletin was retired and replaced by Theatrecraft.

Ticket prices for 1975 were increased to $1.60.  Subscriptions: 2 plays $2.90 and 3 plays $3.90.  The annual membership fee was $5.00.  Joy Warfe returned as Secretary.  A letter from the Committee dated 6th June was sent to all members indicating that unless there was an indication of increased interest and willingness to contribute by the general membership, an Extraordinary General Meeting would be held to put the following motion: that, due to a lack of interest on the part of the majority of its members, the Malvern Theatre Company be disbanded.  The EGM was held at the theatre on Monday 1st July. Amongst those in attendance were Barrie Sudweeks, Max Mander, Joy Warfe, John and Carolyn Gunn, Ken Read, Don Hammond, Alistair Tweeddale, Colin Pearce, Andrew McKay, Caroline Piesse, Michael Nugent, Maurie Johns and Ewen Crockett.  The motion was ultimately defeated and members offered to fill vacant positions to assist the already strained committee.  After thirteen performances of Mother Courage at Burke Road, the entire show was transported into the City for another six performances at the Bridge School of Drama, Bennet’s Lane, Melbourne.

In March 1976 The Fantasticks won Best Production at the Moomba Festival of Theatre.  While the cast of The Glass Menagerie were deeply involved in rehearsals, the author Tennessee Williams was to appear at the Alexander Theatre, Monash University, on 18th of March.  Unfortunately, after everybody had scrambled to get their hands on tickets, he decided to remain in New York for the opening of his new play so his Australian tour was cancelled.  Mike Lynch (broadcaster on 3LO) appeared in The Fantasticks, his marriage and honeymoon and When Did You Last See My Mother.  Huge increases in ticket prices to $2.00, subscriptions for 2 plays $3.50 and 3 plays $5.00.  Colin Pearce became Secretary.  Graham Adams, former President and Life Member, died.  In November, Madragro published its 20-page 100th edition.

The programmes started to be overwhelmed with advertisements in 1977.  It was difficult to find anything to do with the actual show.  Later that year, under programme designer, Ian Brewerton, it was printed in two colours throughout for the first time.  Enormous increases in admission prices to $2.50, subscriptions 2 plays $4.50 and 3 plays $6.50.  A critique by adjudicator Monte Miller for A Thousand Clowns appeared in the 104th issue of Madragro and was possibly the longest on record, filling seven and a half pages.  Work on raking the auditorium seats began and was completed the week before Christmas.  Colin Pearce became President and Barrie Sudweeks was made an Honorary Life Member.  Hilda Orton took over as editor of Madragro.

1978 marked several milestones for Malvern Theatre which celebrated its 21st year of operation.  Maurie Johns became the Treasurer, Sal Doncaster took over the position of Secretary and Colin Pearce was guest editor of Madragro for the February issue.  In March, Jugglers Three was awarded Best Production (shared with Heidelberg’s Absurd Person Singular) at the Moomba Festival.  The Malvern Council, with the assistance of $40,000 from the State Ministry for the Arts, purchased the former Congregational Church and Hall, 29 Burke Road, East Malvern, for $85,000.  The property then became the Malvern Community Arts Centre. Having leased the premises for the previous seven years, Malvern Theatre entered a new lease arrangement with the Council which had set aside a further $25,000 for improvements to the building.  The theatre also continued to improve its premises with a new 20-channel lighting board and new carpet for the auditorium and foyer.  From May through to early July workshop classes were held for Acting with Frank McNamara for $8.00, Stage Management with Lats Ertekes for $5.00, and Lighting with Fred Thomas, also $5.00.

On the 7th of January 1979, Colin Cave the theatre’s Activities Director, died in a road accident.  To perpetuate his name, the Colin Cave Memorial Honour Board was created.  It lists the names of past Presidents, Honourary Life Members as well as recipients of the Colin Cave Memorial Award which is given to a member for outstanding services to the theatre.  The Memorial Board was unveiled by the Mayor of Malvern, Ann Morrow, on 18th November, and Dawn Cave presented the first Memorial Award to Max Mander.

Carolyn Gunn became President and Angelo Gianchino took over as Treasurer in 1980.  The publicity budget was doubled and membership fees were increased to $8.00. Cowardy Custard won Best Production at the Moomba Festival of Theatre.  Auditions were held in September for a co-production of Dames At Sea between Pumpkin Players and Malvern.  It was planned to be staged at Pumpkin Theatre, Richmond, in November/December then transfer to Malvern Theatre to run during the following February.  Due to ‘viable economics’ it never happened. Malvern Theatre Company became incorporated on the 19th November and the occasion was celebrated after the close of the opening performance of Patrick Pearse Motel on the 20thThen, only two days later, the theatre’s store in Waverley Road which housed Malvern’s costumes, furniture and scenery, was totally destroyed by fire.

Joy Warfe became Treasurer in 1981.  Production runs were standardized to thirteen performances plus the usual charity night on the evening before the opening Thursday night.  After 59 episodes on the then-popular television police series Homicide, Terry McDermott directed Table Manners, our first production for the year. Malvern Youth Theatre staged Dimboola in the Arts Centre Hall opposite the Theatre from the 20th to 23rd of May.  Fed up with the all too frequent electricity power cuts, the theatre purchased two generators.

1982 was the year of Malvern’s Twenty-Fifth Anniversary.  John Gunn was made an Honourary Life Member.  Anniversary T-shirts were produced and sold for $6.50 each.  A Subscribers Cocktail Party was held on the 6th of February during which the Mayor, Max Dumais, announced the beginning of construction of the new foyer between the Theatre and Hall.  A Souvenir Booklet was produced and given to the guests.  On the 28th of March, a Members Day was held at Werribee Park and later, on the 26th of June (the last performance of The Beggars’ Opera) a re-union night was organized for key members from the 50s, 60s and 70s at which a silver pendant of the two theatrical masks attached to a silver chain was presented to Joy Warfe (Treasurer and Foundation Member) and an engraved silver tray was presented to Elaine Rawson (ex Ticket Secretary).  During the evening, a doubled-tiered anniversary cake was cut by Carolyn Gunn, Joy Warfe and Joan Packam (nee Morgan).  The special opening of the new foyer was held over the weekend of the 16th and 17th of October.  The original pioneers of the project, which cost $120,000, were Barrie Sudweeks, Dick Baird, John Durham and Colin Pearce.  Malvern Theatre and the Arts Centre Management Committee contributed $7,000 each (to be paid over ten years) towards the costs.  A Dinner Dance was held on the 22nd of October at Tudor Court Receptions in Caulfield.

The first production for 1983 was the Australian Amateur Premiere of In Duty Bound which was awarded Best Production of an Australian Play at the Moomba Festival.  A new ten-year lease with the Council was signed for $355.00 per month subject to CPI adjustments.  The first Thursdays of the production runs for this year were dropped and an intermediate performance on the first Saturday at 5:00 pm was introduced.  Charity nights were moved from Wednesday to the Thursday before opening night. Production photos were included in Madragro for the first time thanks to the purchase of a paper plate maker for the theatre’s offset printing machine.

Ron Ward became the new Treasurer in 1984 and the first production for that year, The Perfectionist, won the Best Production Award at the Moomba Festival.  New carpet was installed in the new foyer.  The 5:00 pm Saturday shows, which were added to the production runs in the previous year, continued after proving to be very successful.  The World Amateur Premiere of The Man In The Glass Booth was staged in September.

For the August 1985 production of Just Between Ourselves we managed to get a car on stage.  This involved taking out all the auditorium seats in the middle of the theatre and pushing an engineless Mini in through the Burke Road double doors, up and down the raked floor and straight up onto the stage, where it sat for the duration.  After the run, the whole process had to be repeated to get it out again.  In the latter part of the year the Board decided to begin using computerized tickets at a cost of around $80.00 per show.  Previously, theatre staff were printing and hand numbering 11,000 tickets per year.John Gunn became President, Ada Mees became Treasurer and Hilda Ortland became Secretary in 1986.  Ticket prices were increased to $6.00.

1987 was Malvern Theatre’s Thirtieth Year and was celebrated with an Anniversary Dinner at George & Marika’s Restaurant, Camberwell, on the 20th of June and a Members’ Social Function in the theatre’s foyer on the 6th of December.  A 25% increase in membership fees to $10.00 was blamed on the rise of the consumer price index and the fall of the Australian dollar.  The third production of this year, Pride And Prejudice, was another World Amateur Premiere for Malvern.  New seats for the auditorium were purchased from Eltham Little Theatre who had in turn bought them from the Metro, Malvern.  Theatre seating capacity was now 126.  The year finished with four performances, from the 17th to 19th of December, of Our Town staged by the Malvern Theatre Workshop Group and was directed by Carolyn Gunn.


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