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Castle Hill Players

Part One

Interviewee: Maureen Cartledge , born 1948

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for Baulkham Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 8 Nov, 2007

Transcription: Glenys Murray, Dec 2007

 

So when did you move to the Baulkham Hills Shire?

Well when we moved here was in 1972. Saving money to go to Scotland didn’t work out because when my elder sister moved to North Rocks we realised that we had an opportunity to buy a home, working out our finances if we worked very hard for it. We decided to buy a house instead and build a house here in Baulkham Hills. It was close to where my sister was. Still close to Mum and Dad and it was a very open area, lots of rolling hills. We thought we were going to be in the country. That didn’t last for long.

Is that the house where you’re still living today?

Yes that’s right.

You’ve been here since 1972?

Yeah.

So what sort of communal spirit was there in the neighbourhood when you got here?

Well there weren’t very many neighbours because it was all brand new. The neighbours that we did have, we all moved in around about the same time. We all built around the same time, moved in and we were all about the same age. It was a lot of times of playing darts, poker games and a lot of shared meals and a lot of chatter.

Were there mostly young couples in the street?

Yes, yes. We’re all about the same age and we all mostly worked in town as well too.

Well that was good you had something in common with other people?

Yes that’s right.

Paddock in Olive Street 1970 became shopping centre in 1979

So apart from playing cards and poker with the neighbours, was there any other kind of social life going on, anything cultural?

Well because we all worked in town and we didn’t know that there was much out here at all. If I’d known that the Castle Hill Players existed I probably would have been there. In those days you went straight from work, went out to the pictures. You went out to clubs with your friends and we didn’t do much else. We were trying to save to pay things off and buy things for the house so it was very tight.

Tell me how did you get involved with the Castle Hill Players and about what time was that?

They had built Stockland Mall at Baulkham Hills and I had transferred from the city to work at Nock and Kirby’s at Baulkham Hills. In those days I was also a member of a musical society, Holroyd Musical Society and I’d gone into one of the stores to put up some posters. It was a music shop and the gentleman who worked there was John Hunt and he was president of the theatre at the time. He asked if I’d known about the theatre and I didn’t. Told me that they did several productions a year and if I’d like to go and have a look at what they were doing. Come along and see the shows as well. So my husband and I went along to see a performance there, "Black Comedy", “Have You Any Dirty Washing Mother Dear?”. It was a double bill and we split our sides laughing, it was just so funny and really enjoyed the whole programme. I just thought I’ve got to become a member here it was such a warm wonderful atmosphere. I really thought there were talented people on stage, the sets looked fantastic. I just had to be a part of it. So I joined.

I believe that you were discovered singing somewhere, was it in the music shop or was it in Nock and Kirby’s?

Oh, that’s when I joined the musical society. I was still working in the city at the time and I transferred to the china and glassware department. Singing to my self before the store opened and working in the store the then manager heard me singing and asked me if I would like to join a musical society. I went along to the first rehearsal, they’d already cast, so I was only going to do chorus work. To find a lot of people in leotards doing stretches, all sorts of things. I thought “no, no I’m just in the chorus”. They said “no everyone had to learn how to dance as well”. That was an interesting time but I enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun.

Was that the Holroyd Musical Society?

No it was another little company, it was called The Mercurians I don’t think it is in existence now. They were putting on a production of Oklahoma which didn’t come off because they’d lost all their costumes in a fire. With people leaving because they didn’t want to go on anymore. They decided to do a couple of short plays and I was cast, not intending to become an actress in that point in time, in one of the plays. It happened to be put on in the little RSL club in Castle Hill which had been the original RSL club and had become the community hall. It’s just opposite where Castle Towers is now.

Now you joined the Castle Hill Players, in the mid 1970’s?

No that was 1982, yes.

Tell me what was it like at that time and who was running it?

Well as I said, John, Sue Campbell, John Stewart, Ian Mackie, Ian Driscoll. Both Ians were in the lighting and sound department and excellent at the job too. They were also training people too, which was very good.

Judy Burgess was there too?

Judy Burgess that’s right.

What was her position?

She taught junior drama groups as well but she was one of the directors and actors.

Applying makeup to Castle Hill Players perfomer backstage in ANZAC Memorial Hall mid 1950s

Now some of the actors, tell me who they were?

(Uldis) Nicis he was an excellent young man, very good actor and had a promising career as well. Caroline Ward whose moved to another state unfortunately for us. Tom Bougers he was a very nice young man too, extremely talented. Gosh there were so many, if I pinpoint any one person, it’s a bit of a worry. Shelagh O’Hanlon I was privileged to see her on stage. There was an award named after her because of the excellence of her performances. She won an award at the Sydney Drama Festival for “Out of the Crocodile” best actress she won (in 1968, and Second Prize for Director John Hunt).

What were the occupations of the people who ran it? What were they doing in their other lives?

It was quite varied, a lot of teachers, administrators, there were people in the building industry, architects, masses of teachers they came from all walks of life.

You even had some doctors and solicitors I believe?

That’s right we did too, yes we had doctors and solicitors, I can’t remember their names. Oh Pauline Wright she’s a solicitor.

So what was the feeling among that group of people? What were they expressing, what kind of desires did they have?

Very exciting, they all had a love for theatre and were willing to do whatever they could to improve what they were doing. There was an excitement in the group and they all wanted to learn more.

What do you know of the early history of the Castle Hill Players before you joined?

They all started from being part of the church community. They were in St Paul’s Church Castle Hill. It was an extremely isolated place. Did I say that it was 1954? It was an extremely isolated place in those days. Lots of farmland around, they were all raising ducks, planting veggies, milking cows. The city was a long way away so they didn’t have any entertainment. They decided that they should create their own entertainment. Firstly putting on little pieces one act pieces then they eventually ended up by putting on a play. "Blithe Spirit" in 1954 their first production that was at the Castle Hill RSL Club, the original one. I think it was called the Dugout (at the Anzac Memorial Hall).

ANZAC Memorial Hall in southern end of Castle Hill Park c1960

Who was the main instigator of that group, the founder?

Well Mary Maude Finlayson was the first president, then there was Deryck Giblin, Moira Ferguson, a lot of others (Helen Lloyd, Eleanor Pegler, Frederick and Mollie Glover).

Were they still working when you joined?

Yes they were

So you met some of those pioneers?

Yes I did. John and Judy Rorke, there’s just so many (like Val Binstead and Charles O'Connell).

Were they inspiring people?

Yes they were very inspiring, they were so expert at what they were doing you paid attention and learnt.

It seems to me like they were a group that wanted some stimulation where perhaps there wasn’t any cultural activity going on? Was that the case in Baulkham Hills?

I think so, I’m not too sure about that but there was not a lot out here at that time. It was quite a rural area and it cost a lot of money to go into town. They didn’t have the time, when you worked in a farming community it’s very difficult to pack up what you’re doing and just head off to town. Transport wasn’t that great.

How did they fund themselves I mean it takes a little bit of cash to keep a theatre group going?

Then?

Then, how did they get their money together?

They used to put on performances at very small fees and sell cakes and just put on little performances to try and raise money in those days. (Also barbecues, Sherry Parties and Black Tie Dinners).

So what was it like for you joining an amateur theatrical group?

I loved it, I really loved it. When I had gone originally along there and seen their productions and the quality of their productions. I was quite taken aback because it was professional, very professional in the style. I was quite enthused about being a part of the membership as most of us are.

Castle Hill Players Pavilion Theatre under construction 1965 with original uprights still in place

Where were their premises in those days?

It was in the Pavilion Theatre they moved into the Pavilion Theatre in 1966. Now the history of that is. After they had been going for ten years they thought we need to have a permanent home. So they approached Baulkham Hills Shire Council (through Councillor Frank Binstead) and the Show Society and looked for any possibility of a place where they could have a permanent home. After putting on plays in the RSL Club they needed something a bit more… and also doing so many plays too. They were increasing the number of plays that they were doing and increasing the number of people who were coming to see the shows. So they approached Baulkham Hills Council and they were offered the Taylor Pavilion which was one of the leading principle buildings in the showground. In those days it had a tin roof and a mud floor so they took the opportunity to take the council up on that. John Scott was as an architect. He was a member in the group and he designed the interior of the whole of the theatre and it was put forward to council and approved. There were people who built the inside of the theatre and actually put their own money into it. They were members of the theatre.

Did the council charge any rent for the use of the pavilion?

I think they call it a peppercorn rent so they were to look after the outside of the building and we were to establish the inside of the building. We dug out in those days, I wasn’t there, dug out the entire area where the stage floor is and raked the whole of the theatre. (Member Barry Dyson produced and installed all the internal materials and structures). Put in seating that they had bought from an old theatre in Wagga beautiful old leather seats. Put in a full stage, dressing rooms, foyer, kitchen and eventually built on a little extra, before I arrived, they built on a control room and toilets. Also an annexe out the back where they could build sets and bathrooms for the cast and crew.

I guess that all their work was voluntary labour was it?

New stage and first seats in place at Castle Hill Players Pavilion Theatre 1965
Yes it was all voluntary labour and as much as we could voluntary labour. Some of it we would have had to have paid for. You need experts to do certain things, electrical work and things like that. This one person who was one of the builders he donated all the steel works for the interior of the building.

That’s great. How many plays a year were they putting on in those early days do you think?

In the early days they put on three plays a year which then progressed to five. This was before The Pavilion Theatre opened. Once we were into the Pavilion Theatre we were producing five plays a year.

That’s quite good isn’t it?

It is yes.

How long would they run typically each play, say, a season?

They would run for fourteen performances and that’s what we do today. We do two preview performances as well. One for the Mowll Village which is a retirement village and Wirreanda as well too they come along to the first night which gives the cast a chance to perform in front of an audience. They’re very generous too they really appreciate what we’re putting on and really love the place.

Do you remember the first play that went on at the Pavilion Theatre in 1966? What the opening play was?

As I said I wasn’t there but it was “Ring Around The Moon” and they had a gentleman from the ABC (actually Sir Talbot Duckmanton and BHSC officials) who came and opened the theatre in the first place. It was all a black tie affair and very well represented by the Council as well too. Lots of dignitaries arrived there too.

So what was the public response in the Baulkham Hills Shire of having their own theatre for the first time?

Excellent. People really enjoyed the theatre we had some very good houses. I remember reading that in 1985 they had made a profit of $15,000 and turned down a government grant they wanted to remain independent.

So the people really took to having their own theatre?

Oh yes that’s right, definitely. It was a very good education for a lot of young people as well too and a training ground for young students studying theatre and Shakespeare.

Castle Hill Players in their Dressing Room at the Pavilion Theatre 1966
So how did the Castle Hill Players find the scripts to put these plays on? Where did they find them?

Well what we do is we cast for directors first and once we’ve found the directors we ask them to submit three plays each. We also have a subcommittee of people who read the plays they read every single one of those plays. Also work out a season trying to give the best possible season for the players.

So you would have three play readings were there?

No, no they submit the plays for a play reading. The play reading committee take them home and read them themselves. Discuss what is going on, why we would like to put on a particular play at a particular time and they choose the plays and then tell the director which play they’ve chosen.

Do you know what the criteria were in deciding what plays to put on?

Well they select a variety of plays. They like to give something that gives something for the actors and well as for the audience.

Once a play was going on, how many performances would there be in a week and were they evening performances or matinees?

How many performances? We put on performances Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night at 8.15pm and on Sunday at 4.30pm.

How long would a play run for? How many weeks?

That’s three weeks I think it is. Four including the Mowll village also the second preview is for schools and charity nights as well too. We sell them to a charity which they sell on to raise money.

Now who was Sue Campbell and what was her particular contribution to the theatre.

Sue was also one of the members when I first joined there. She was very encouraging to me she gave me my first position on stage as an actor. Telling me that it was only a small part but there are no small actors. She always encouraged me to participate in more activities than I probably would have. She taught me a lot about scenic art work and set design as well as Esme Wood one of my mentors at The Pavilion Theatre. She also had a vision for the theatre too. She wanted to see a lot more young people getting involved. She wanted to extend the theatre and have a place where you could have a different style of play. Experimental plays put on.

Castle Hill Players Pavilion Theatre late 1960s prior to building of Annexe and Control Room

Were some of those a bit risky those experimental plays?

No I don’t think so just something completely different to what we normally do.

Talking again about Sue Campbell what was her position in the theatre?

She was one of the directors she was also on the committee, also an excellent actress as well too.

And Esme Wood, what was her position?

Esme Wood was also on the committee too she was one of the designers and one of the best designers there. Patty Kennedy was another one and I learnt a lot from both ladies.

Castle Hill Players perform 'Pools Paradise' at the ANZAC Memorial Hall Castle Hill in 1965
Now let’s talk a bit about the plays that were put on during the fifties, sixties and seventies and into your era. Do you remember what were the notable productions of the nineteen sixties?

Well of course “Ring Around The Moon” which opened the Pavilion Theatre also “The One Day Of The Year” it was directed by a professional director from the Independent Theatre.

What was his name?

Robert Levy.

So from time to time the professionals might come in and help a little bit would they?

Yes we have had several professionals come in to help with the theatre.

What about the 1970's what was going on then?

“The Chalk Garden”, “Hedda Gabler”, “How the Other Half Loves”, “There’s a Girl in my Soup”, “The Killing of Sister George”, and “Absurd Person Singular”. There’s so many there and it’s a bit hard to mention them all.

Would you have attended any of those plays while you were living in the Baulkham Hills Shire in those years?

In the seventies no unfortunately as I said I didn’t know that the Pavilion Theatre existed until I put that poster up in John’s shop window. I would have come along if I’d only known. I would have been involved a lot earlier as well too. But no unfortunately I missed out on seeing all of those.

Maggie Parker, Trudi Dalton and Mike Croome in Castle Hill Players production of 'Confusions' April 1988
So you joined in 1982 and tell me what you first did when you joined the theatre?

I was given a part by Sue Campbell, I think I mentioned her before, small play and it was “A Doll’s House” and I played the part of the maid in it. It was a wonderful production and it’s very close to my heart.

So your first connection with the theatre was as an actress?

As an actress that’s right.

So have there been any plays in recent years perhaps or you can take it from the eighties to now 2007. What were some of the big successes in terms of the plays they’ve put on?

The first play that stands out in my mind is “The Lion in Winter” and that was a very impressive play because of the style of the acting. There were phenomenal actors on stage and also the set design by Patty Kennedy. No there’s so many that really impressed me in one way or another from comedy as well to high drama.

What would have been some of the very controversial plays that have been put on at the theatre?

I think “Gulls” possibly because it had to do with a person who was brain damaged and he commits suicide in the end. It was a beautifully done play, very poignant but also could be funny. It was written in such a way that the actor would speak to you about how he felt in a normal way and then you would see his reaction as the person whose brain damaged. So it taught you an awful lot because there are people in there when they are brain damaged and they can’t communicate with the outside world.

Go To Part Two

 

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