Picture the country town of yesteryear. Groceries are placed in a brown paper bag as a smile pokes out from under the store manager’s moustache. Then it’s onto the post office to post a letter and, of course, ask how the postmaster’s mother is doing. On the way, Mr Plod runs past, hot on the heels of the town miscreant who had been caught etching his name into a park bench. And at the heart of all this misty-eyed, sepia action is the community theatre, where the town gathers every Saturday evening for a jolly good show.
But that was then, and this is now. Where does the community theatre sit in the modern country town when Netflix is only a few buttons away and the local public school has its own dedicated drama class?
The Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, aka ‘The Q’, is currently showing Ruthless!. This musical hails from 30 years ago and depicts the chaos caused by 8-year-old Tina Denmark when she decides to do everything she can to secure a lead role in her school play.
The Q’s Artistic Director, Program Manager and Director Jordan Best thought there was no better time and place to premiere the show.
“The music is clever. The lyrics are clever. The story is insane. It just ticked pretty much every box for the kind of thing that I like working on as an artist but also the kind of thing that I like watching as an audience.”
With a strong cast of six performers from the area, Jordan said Ruthless! is just one example of the incredible talent and opportunity that exists and continues to grow within the region.
“Local theatre adds an immeasurable amount of value to the community.”
The Q’s stage manager Brittany Myers started in community theatre at 12, the first of many steps towards working in an industry she loves.
“I was so fortunate that I had that opportunity, and you don’t need to be 12 to realise that’s something you enjoy,” she said.
Brittany said community theatre gives more people like her, particularly youth, a chance to “dip their toes in” and learn foundational skills that could ultimately lead to an entire career path.
Queanbeyan Players is another local non-profit community theatre organisation that has seen it all. Formed in 1965, the company stages two large musicals each year at The Q.
Queanbeyan Players president Alison Newhouse agreed community theatre serves as a vital starting point for young people.
“With so many theatre companies only accepting semi-professional actors and actresses, people have got to have a starting point. And yes, the schools provide part of that in their arts programs, but I think that for getting out into the community even more and performing at a bigger venue, your community theatre is a very important starting point.”
Alison said the other unique selling point of community theatre is that it is more informal, so it can cater to a wider range of skills and ages than the more professional big theatres might.
“We try to involve people from right across the board. It’s an opportunity for people with disabilities to be able to perform as well.”
It’s also cheaper than the bigger city-based theatres. Alison said this gives those in tighter circumstances the chance to still get out and enjoy a show.
“Back in the old days, people went along to a show purely for entertainment. Now people expect it to be at a certain level. In community theatre, we don’t have big budgets. What we make from one show is what we can put into the next show. We basically work from show to show, but we’re able to maintain that because we are still getting the numbers coming to a show.”
At the end of the day, each and every show is still selling out and nothing offers more proof community theatre hasn’t lost its touch more than the ticket machine.
Ruthless! is running at The Q until 12 March and forms part of a packed program for the year, including Frankie Valli and The Beach Boys in June, The Sound of Music in July, and the Australian Bee Gees Show in August.