In May 1951, Ted Harold organised a small group to enter a One-Act Play Festival, which was a un for the Red Cross Annual Appeal. The adjudicator, Alan Aldous, a well known author of the time, was so impressed with the talent shown that he suggested the formation of a drama group in Wangaratta.
Almost immediately a group was famed taking the name "Wangaratta Amateur Players". Office bearers were: -
President: Vic Pryor.
Secretary. Ted Harold,
The rehearsals were soon under way and the first full length production was performed in early October 1951. The play 'QUIET WEEKEND" was directed by Billie Suhr and Ted Harold, both of whom were in the cast. Others involved were Marge Alexander, Ivy Chalmers, Brian Moir, Glyn Hewlett, Nora Osborne, Bev Vonarx, Ruth and Ann Miller, Ken Bradfield, Vic Pryor and Ann Jackson. "QUIET WEEKEND" was performed for one night only but was apparently successful because it was performed 3 weeks later at the request of the hospital to aid the October appeal. A new set designed by Graham McGuffie was used for this performance as the original had only been intended for single use. 1952 was a busy year for the new group. A Constitution was drafted. "THE TWELVE POUND LOOK" was entered in the One Act Play Festival. The midyear production was "THE BLUE GOOSE" and "THE GHOST TRAIN" was performed in October.
By 1953 the Players had become well established with meeting being held weekly at various venues. The High School, The Yarrunga Church of England Hall, Baby Health Centre, Tech School and in turn at the homes of members.
The 1955 play "BONAVENTURE" was directed by Veranne Irving, the Players first professional director_ NBONAVENTURE" was a great success, and looking back it is an achievement of which to be proud.
The activities now included readings of classic plays for students at Matriculation and Leaving Certificate standard. Some of these reading were done in full costume. Readings included "KING LEAR. "SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL". "THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST", "THE MERCHANT OF VENICE" "OEDIPUS REX" etc.
Another major achievement was the Players production of Shakespeare's "MACBETH", directed by Gavin Dyer (a professional producer from C.A.E.) and presented at the 1958 Arts Festival. A radio adaptation was taped for the ABC. A further highlight was the 1964 Arts Festival Production of "SHADOW OF HEROS' by Robert Ardrey. This play about the Hungarian Revolution was directed by Harold Baigent, Drama Director of the C.A.E. It was a long play in five acts with a cast of 11 plus a large number of extras. The setting was stark using three distinct acting areas and precision lighting. It was a memorial performance with congratulations being heaped on the cast and back stage crew. It was a play that the director" would not have attempted with any at her country or city group in the State". (Presidents report A.G.M. 1963/64.). This was a reference to the technical capability which the Player s had achieved.
Another first occurred with the production of "THE BOYFRIEND" in November 1965, - the Players first musical and first matinee. “SALAD DAYS" was the next musical in April 1967. (total audience over four, nights was 2,310.) Both of these were extremely successful and were very interesting diversions from the straight plays, which had, been attempted to date. Today, variety is the norm with dramas, comedies, musicals, pantomimes, melodramas and music hall being performed.
Into the seventies the Players were presenting three full plays as well as one act plays annually. Production orientated workshops occupied weekends and evenings. From now on more attention was being given to Australian playwrights with successful performances of "BREAKFAST WITH JULIA" "TOUCH OF SILK' "REEDY RIVER" "THE SUMMER OF THE SEVENTEENTH DOLL",'ONE DAY OF THE YEAR","ON OUR SELECTION@', '-AND THE VILLAIN WAS A LADY", and others.
Through the eighties, up to four plays have been presented each year. In some cases two plays have been in rehearsal at once. An exciting development occurred with the advent of a community theatre project. "THROUGH THE MILL" was financed co-operatively by the Victorian Ministry of the Arts, Victorian Arts Council, Bruck Mills and the City Of Wangaratta. The workers at Bruck were involved in all facets of the production.
Technical aspects have changed considerably in the wake of advances in electronics. This is most noticeable in the areas of lighting and sound.
Assistance is still given to local organisations fund raising efforts. In the last decade, Friendly Societies, Parents Associations, Service Clubs, Hospital Auxiliaries, Sporting Clubs and other community organisations have benefited from theatre nights.
A number of past and present members of the Players have appeared in television productions such as 'Bell. Bird', "No 96", 'The Box", and "Carson's Law". "Mad Max", and "The Man From Snowy River"
are films which have also included past members in their cast. (Andrew Gilmour and Jim Moss are two names which spring to mind.) We must not forget the television exposure given to members by the ubiquitous commercials Dennis Coleman is another member who has done television and film work over the years.
Temporary accommodation has been arranged in the vacated Galen College (junior school) building in Ryley Street. It is hoped to build a permanent "Stage Door" on a site at the Showgrounds facing Evans Street. This will depend on the ability of the committee and members to raise the necessary funds through appeals and activities.
“The last forty years have seen many advances in the ability of the Wangaratta Players to provide quality entertainment for the people of Wangaratta and surrounding areas. At the same time the fun and development of personal skills cannot be overlooked. It would short sighted of the current Players to let all these opportunities for the future disappear; due to the lack of a place to call home.”
The Players over the years have worked outside of the group i.e. working for other people. They have been in television adverts and are always available for same. Any moneys paid go into the Players funds. No actor/director etc has been paid at any time.
The Road Traffic Authority has a production at the moment called "DRAMA AT THE
CROSSROADS". This is directed by Lorraine Monshing, and members of the Players are very involved with this. This is an effort to get older people to think about when to give up driving or get themselves retested. (they will not lose their licenses). The group travel around the area from Albury/Wodonga to Benalla, to Bright and all points east and west, during the day. They visit community clubs - i.e. Senior Citizen, C.W.A. Legacy, R.S.L. anyone who wants to invite them. There are a number of sketch's that are performed relating to driving and road care.
Every year the Players put one of their productions in the local ZONTA AWARDS, and over the years have been quiet successful, with awards for "LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS" and two awards for "THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE". These awards are held around November every year and this year they have entered "THE CRUCIBLE" and the major production was a major winner at the Zonta Awards of 1997. Shane Douthie winning for best actor as John Proctor and Colette Quinn, winning for best Director. The Youth Group performed "ALICE IN WONDERLAND" at the Stage Door with great success.
1998 saw the Players move out of their normal venues with a successful production of David Williamson's play "TM CLUB" being presented at the Magpies Clubrooms. This was directed by Bob Head. This year saw the Players involved in various styles of productions and areas. "THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST" directed by Lorraine Monshing was performed at the Stage Door and at the Whitfield Wine and Arts Festival. "WEST SIDE STORY" Directed by Colette Quinn saw a good cross section of the senior and youth group members getting involved in all aspects of this production. About 8 members of the Players were involved with a film doco about the Kelly gang. This was filmed at Glenrowan over a 2 day period. The director is hoping to sell the end product to the ABC. The final production for the year was the Youth Groups production of Peter Pan which filled the Town Hall and the kids gave it 100%.
As with any group there were fundraising efforts and this helped in finalising the payments on the Stage Door. There were many off stage events mostly working bees to get the rooms ready for the insulation and lining of the walls. The year finished with a Christmas party at the Stage Door. The winner of the 1998 Trivia was Christine Duff.
With the insulation and lining of the walls now complete the rooms are really starting to look like a small intimate theatre. Cool in Summer and warm in Winter. The first play selected for 1999 was "PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE" this was performed at The Balcony Restaurant in The Grand Central Hotel in Wangaratta. 1999 started off busy with the production plus a Trivia Night and a daylong workshop on all aspects of theatre, both were a great success .
The Youth Group is still going ahead by leaps and bounds and are about to perform "SNOW WHITE AND THE 7 DWARFS" Which will be their Christmas production.
At the time of writing the Players are in rehearsal for their upcoming production of 'OKLAHOMA" which will be seen on stage at the Town Hall in September.
2001 is the Players 50th Anniversary and plans are now been made to celebrate this event in a BIG way