The show will go on

Maitland Repertory Theatre has brought joy and entertainment to audiences since 1947.

When a group of actors met in a local Maitland hotel in 1947, they could not have known that the Theatre Society they talked about forming would still be around 75 years later, producing plays and encouraging actors, young and old, to appear on stage. Maitland Repertory Theatre (MRT) is the oldest continuously operating community theatre in NSW.

The fledgling group performed its first play, Tons of Money, in November 1947 at Maitland Town Hall and profits were donated to Maitland Day Nursery. Rehearsals were held in rooms above the Woolworths shop in High Street (now The Reject Shop).

Other rehearsal and performance spaces were found around Maitland, as the group began to produce more shows each year.

In the mid 1950s, tickets were priced at 3/6 (35c) and 1/9 (17c) concession, with souvenir programs available for sixpence (5c). Tea, coffee and biscuits could be purchased at interval for 1/- (10c).

In 1954, the Sunday School room at the Congregational Church in High Street was used as a temporary rehearsal and meeting space and the theatre’s props and scenery were stored at Oakhampton and in a shed in Capper’s iron yard in High Street. Sadly, all the theatre’s set props and scenery were destroyed in the 1955 flood, when they were under six feet of water in the church.

After the Congregational Church moved to Rutherford out of flood reach, the former church building (built in 1857) was purchased in 1964 for 5,000 pounds ($10,000) with money raised by the local community and supporters. Members then converted the church into the “little theatre” which could hold 150 audience members.

The first public performance in 1965 in the new Playhouse was Doctor in the House, with large crowds attending. Admission costs were kept low and extra fundraisers towards the theatre purchase included regular hoi nights, fete days, guessing competitions, car rallies, and white elephant and clothing stalls.

The theatre has continued to produce four or five plays every year. A Junior Players group (now MRT Acting Classes) began in 1974 and Reamus Youth Theatre began in 2000. Both these groups continue to produce plays regularly.

Beyond the stage

MRT has always been involved in community events and parades, from Maitland’s Commonwealth 50th Jubilee Parade in 1951 and the Local Government Centenary at Maitland Town Hall in 1952 to the Federation Celebrations in 2001. They also actively support many charity and historical events, such as Steamfest, local fete entertaining, theatre workshops, dinner shows and social events.

Over its long history, members of the theatre have participated in many drama festivals and eisteddfods, and won many awards at Singleton, Cessnock, Newcastle, Tamworth, Wyong, Coffs Harbour, Great Lakes and Maitland Arts Council Festivals.

Read more about Maitland Repertory Theatre in our Winter issue of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Maxine Throll, photography courtesy of Maitland Repertory Theatre