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Rockingham Theatre to mark 50th anniversary with massive open day celebration

Rachel FennerSound Telegraph
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It's been 50 years of theatre.
Camera IconIt's been 50 years of theatre. Credit: Supplied

In 1972 M*A*S*H began airing on TV, Gough Whitlam was the prime minister of Australia, John Farnham was the king of pop and the Rockingham Theatre Company was formed.

The theatre will raise the curtain and celebrate its milestone 50th season on June 1 with an open day extravaganza after the COVID pandemic cruelled two seasons.

Sue Walker, wife of president Robert Walker, has been involved in the theatre on and off for 30 years and has seen many changes in that time.

“Technology is the biggest one,” she said. “Now we have this projector that you can put backdrops on and the way that you do set design.

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“The music side of it has changed; we used to have a live band, it’s a shame in a way that we lost that.

“We have speakers, microphones from the ceiling and we can have microphones on us where before you had to project your voice.”

In 50 years, the volunteer-run theatre has seen grandparents make way on stage for grandchildren, romances have bloomed and lifelong friendships formed.

It is something Mrs Walker said could not have happened without the driving force of Eileen Frith.

Shows were originally put on in the Rockingham High School gym but the theatre relocated to McLarty Hall in Shoalwater in the mid-80s. Ms Frith produced many musicals at McLarty Hall but soon decided the theatre needed something more fit for purpose.

Thanks to her campaigning, a mix of fundraising, grants and a loan from the City of Rockingham, a purpose-built theatre opened in 1998.

About 200 shows have been put on by the company since its inception and include the big musicals like My Fair Lady, Les Miserables and Oklahoma, comedies like Dad’s Army, and murder mysteries like Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.

“It brings the community together from all walks of life,” Mrs Walker said.

“It gives people a night out that’s close to home, we put on professional shows that match other theatre companies, and it’s an affordable night out.”

However, it has been a decade since the theatre performed a musical, so it will bring music back with a bang with Mamma Mia later this year.

Mrs Walker said it is not just performers who have found a place at the theatre.

“You know, the garden doesn’t get done unless we have a volunteer to do it,” she said.

“We have a gentleman, who’s now 70, he came to bring his son and we needed a block to stand on the stage and he became a leading man.

“His son became involved in many and his wife was helping in the canteen because she wasn’t an on-stage person.

“With him came his friends who ended up helping out as well, so people can get involved in lots of ways.”

Mrs Walker said she originally came to theatre because she loved costumes.

“I went there to dress up, because I love dressing up but I was very shy and it gave me a great sense of confidence,” she said.

“I have made so many friends through the theatre; I made friends 20 years ago and I still have them.

“The friendships that are formed carry on outside the show.”

There is a 50th-anniversary open day on June 1 from 11am to 4.30pm which includes free kids entertainment, tours, workshops, a free sausage sizzle and an open bar.

Three variety-style shows are also set to be performed as part of the celebrations, the first on June 1 is sold out but tickets are still available on June 8 and 9.

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