Her Majesty's Theatre in Grote Street, Adelaide, being gutted in 2018 for its enlarged makeover. The theatre is the last remaining of those on the Australia-wide Tivoli circuit early in the 20th Century.

Theatre Royal to the Tivoli to the Festival Centre


FOUR YEARS AFTER EUROPEAN SETTLEMENT, THE FIRST PURPOSE-BUILT THEATRE, the Queen’s in Gilles Arcade, opened in Adelaide, then with a population of 8,400. It was built by Jewish former convict brothers, Emanuel and Vaiben Solomon, from Sydney. When a recession hit, the theatre building was leased to the government for use as court rooms and offices from 1843 until 1850.

When the economy improved, the original theatre building was still being used as the court house, Another was built alongside it in the Temple Tavern's billiard room and used for performances from 1846 to 1850. Its location next to a hotel and a court meant that all three created “drama and amusement of different kinds”.

After court buildings were built in Victoria Square, the former Queen's Theatre was refurbished with a new façade and reopened as the Royal Victoria Theatre in 1850. It entertained Adelaide audiences until 1867 when it was considered past its prime.

When the South Australian Satirist in 1867 revealed that a committee had decided to build a new theatre at the site at Peter Cumming’s drapery store in Hindley Street, it was adamant that all the property there would devalued by 100% – reflecting the reputation of theatres at that time.

After the Royal Victoria Theatre closed as a theatrical venue, it took on different lives, enabling it to survive to the present. It has been used as a dancing saloon, a mission, a horse bazaar and a car park, before once more becoming a theatrical venue from the late 1990s. A successful archaeological dig was carried out in the late 1980s to help determining the layout of the early theatre.

At the time of the Royal Victoria Theatre’s closure, other theatres or concert venues in the city emerged. White’s Rooms at 97 King William Street, established in 1856, became the place for concerts and recitals and survived until 1916 before being rebuilt as the Majestic Theatre (later used as a film theatre). This building was demolished in the early 1980s to be replaced by the Commonwealth Bank.

In the 1960s, Adelaide lost one of its great heritage theatres, the Royal, while the new Festival Centre, with its two main theatre venues, arrived.



before Theatre Royal becomes the city's classic venue from 1868

Tivoli keeps memories of theatres in hotels as a strong theme of 19th Century Adelaide

The Tivoli Hotel in Pirie Street, Adelaide, retains a large-room reminder of its part in the strong 19th Century phenomenon of theatres in pubs. Fifteen months after the first land auction in the city centre, Adelaide’s first theatre – the first Theatre Royal – with seats for 100 opened above the Adelaide Tavern (Allen's Family Hotel) in Franklin Street, Adelaide, in 1838 with Love and madness. It was run by Sydney actor George Buckingham but only ran for a few weeks before its space became more lucrative as accommodation due to the bed shortage. In 1850, a vaudeville theatre opened above the Black Horse Hotel in Leigh Street, Adelaide, but closed after a libellous spat with proprietor John Lazar of the New Queen's Theatre. The Shamrock Hotel (known also as the Colonel Light  and the Heritage) in Light Square became notorious for its vaudeville, with the Register calling it in 1877 “one of the lowest amongst the low public houses of the city where men and women had sunk to the level of brutes”. In 1884, the city council stopped liquors sales in pub theatres, mainly due to their poor reputations. But pub theatres, such as the original Stag Hotel in Rundle Street East and the Tivoli (formerly the National) continued into the 1900s. Early 6pm closing of pubs, enforced after the 1916 referendum, finally killed them off.

The Queen's, from 1840, remains the oldest theatre building on Australian mainland

The Queen's off Currie Street,in Gilles Arcade, Adelaide, is the oldest remaining theatre building on mainland Australia – predated by Hobart’s Theatre Royal. Seating more than 1000, the Queen’s was purpose-built in 1840 for Emanuel Solomon and his “silent partner”, brother Vaiben, former Jewish convicts from Sydney. The Queen’s wasn’t Adelaide’s first theatre. It followed the short-lived Theatre Royal in the Adelaide Tavern, Franklin Street, in 1838 and the brief Victoria Theatre venture, in a North Terrace warehouse, by Samson Cameron, in 1839. The Queen’s opened with Othello on January 11, 1841, but it only lasted until 1842. The building was used for meetings and lectures but Solomon offered it to the South Australian government gratis if it would stop more taverns being set up near his Shakspeare (later Temple) Tavern, next to the theatre. This was rejected but, in 1843, the government rented the theatre building for a magistrates court, supreme court and other government offices. Another 700-seat theatre – the New Queen’s – was started by George Coppin alongside the Queen’s in the Temple Tavern's billiard room and used for performances from 1846 to 1850. A refurbished Queen’s reopened as the Royal Victoria Theatre – the “Victoria” – under managers George Coppin and John Lazar in 1850.


George Coppin, 'father of Australian theatre', opens the Royal Victoria in Adelaide in 1850

George Coppin, who opened Adelaide’s New Queen’s Theatrein Gilles Arcade, Adelaide, in 1846 and remodelled it as the  Royal Victoria Theatre in 1850, has been dubbed “the father of Australian theatre”. A comic actor in England, Coppin arrived in Adelaide in 1846 after theatrical and hotel ventures in Sydney, Hobart and Melbourne. In 1846, Coppin converted a billiard room into the New Queen’s Theatre and began his plays season with The King and the Comedian. Coppin played the comedian. Coppin transferred the theatre’s management to another English comic actor John Lazar. Coppin and Lazar refurbished the old Queen’s Theatre and renamed it the Royal Victoria Theatre. It was popular from 1850 until the Theatre Royal's debut in 1868. Around 1850, Coppin built the Semaphore Hotel and White Horse Cellars, a hotel and theatre in Port Adelaide. Coppin suffered losses in copper-mining investments and went broke with the exodus of his hotel and playhouse patrons to Victorian gold diggings. He also left in 1851 but had success finding gold, went back to theatre in Geelong, and returned to Adelaide in 1853 to pay his creditors. After a visit to England, Coppin returned to build several Melbourne theatres but had more financial trouble. Coppin became gradually prosperous from the 1860s as partner in the Theatre Royal chain, including Adelaide’s Hindley Street version.



John Lazar, a comic Shakespearean actor, theatre manager and another Jewish mayor

John Lazar was an actor on and off the stage (including Adelaide mayor 1855-58); part of the small Jewish community that has such an impact on Adelaide. With English stage experience, including Covent Garden and Drury Lane, Lazar and wife and seven children sailed for Sydney in 1836. An typhus outbreak on the ship killed 100 including three of Lazar’s children. With English stage experience, Lazar acted, including Shakespearean parts, and managed theatres in Sydney before being engaged to play Othello in the opening play at the Queen’s Theatre in Gilles Arcade, Adelaide, in 1841. Lazar took over managing the Queen's Theatre but dismissed his actors and didn’t renew the lease after it lost money. After returning to managing theatres in Sydney, Lazar came back to Adelaide in 1848, enriched by copper discoveries at Burra and elsewhere. With George Coppin, Lazar remodelled the Queen's Theatre as the Royal Victoria Theatre, opened in 1850. Lazar's involvement in the theatre lessened. He set up a jeweller and silversmith business in Hindley Street, Adelaide, and became involved in civic affairs. He was elected alderman on Adelaide City Council in 1853, filling the vacancy left by Judah Moss Solomon, and later became mayor.


White's rooms open in 1856; later to become Garner's, Tivoli, Bijou, Star, Majestic theatres

White’s assembly rooms, opened by George White at 97 King William Street, Adelaide, in 1856, became the city's main place for concerts, dinners, events and recitals for many years. White’s assembly rooms, designed by George Strickland Kingston and located with the Clarence Hotel, opened with a grand Masonic ball that became an annual event. Below the main hall was Bayston & Aldridge's restaurant, managed from 1858 by George Aldridge. Here, John McDouall Stuart was given a grand reception in 1863, after crossing the continent south to north. In 1868, Aldridge left to take over the restaurant associated with the new Theatre Royal in Hindley Street. F.W. Lindrum, father of Frederick and Walter, took over, naming it Shades. He set up the city’s finest billiard saloon in one of the large underground halls. It became Garner's Theatre in 1880 and passed through several hands as The Tivoli theatre, The Bijou theatre (used by Garrick Club theatre group), Star picture theatre and, in 1916, the Majestic threatre (later a film theatre) and hotel. The building was demolished in the 1980s to be replaced by the Commonwealth Bank building. 

Theatre Royal graces Adelaide's Hindley Street from 1868; razed for a carpark in 1962

In 1865, a prospectus was issued for the Theatre Royal chain company to take over White's assembly rooms and the adjacent Clarence Hotel or buy a site for a new building. By 1867, plans were ready for a theatre in Hindley Street. The proprietors were John Temple Sagar, Samuel Lazar (son of John) and J.M. Wendt. The property owner Henry Fuller laid the foundation stone in 1868 and the first performance on Easter Monday 1868 was All that glitters is not gold by J.M. Morton. Edgar Chapman became owner shortly after. The first lessee and director was George Coppin (pioneer of Adelaide theatres) of Coppin, Harwood and Hennings, with comedian J. R. Greville as stage manager. In 1876, Edgar Chapman bought the Theatre Royal, its hotel and the adjoining shops for ₤11,000, and quickly appointed architect George Johnson for a rebuild opened in 1878. In 1885, Arthur Chapman became sole trustee and manager until Williamson, Garder & Musgove took over the lease and appointed English actor and impresario Wybert Reeve as manager. Multiple changes of owner saw it bought by department store Miller Anderson in 1955. The rundown state of the theatre become the determining factor in it being demolished for a carpark in 1962.

Wybert Reeve brings serious Shakespearean knowledge while running Theatre Royal

Wybert Reeve is another character, brought to Australia in 1878 by George Coppin, who contributed strongly to Adelaide theatre from his experience as an actor, play writer and theatre manager in Britain. As manager and lessee of the Theatre Royal, Hindley Street, from 1885, Reeve brought high production standards. Reeve, who both acted in and make a life-long study of Shakespeare’s works, was involved with the Adelaide University Shakespeare Society, notably as a lecturer and critic. In Britain, Reeve had defied his well-to-do family’s wishes for a career in the Dragoon Guards to become an actor. He also wrote farces, including An Australian hoax, before joining the Bath and Bristol Company, then the Theatre Royal Company at Manchester in 1857. After five years touring, he switched to stage management. In 1869, Reeve made his first appearances on the London stage, including his best-known role as Count Fosco in Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. In Adelaide, Reeve showed his entrepreneurial daring by hosting the first public moving picture demonstration in South Australia at the Theatre Royal in 1896. As a former Dragoon guard, he was also first captain of the Corps of Commissionaires, a body of the citizens' militia in Adelaide.

Garrick Club carries the banner for a string of 19th Century Adelaide theatrical groups

The Garrick Club was the name for several South Australian amateur theatrical groups, with the most successful operating from 1892 to 1899. In 1850, theatre enthusiasts (Nicholson, Dibold, Goodrich and Bonney) – the Dramatic Amateurs or Amateur Dramatic Society – put on several plays at the New Queen’s Theatre and became Adelaide Garrick Club. Its plays included Speed the plough and A cure for heart ache by Thomas Morton to benefit the German Hospital. The Garrick Cricket Club, formed in 1875, which staged successful annual entertainments at White’s Rooms, including the Offenback operatta Breaking the Spell, with William Pybus on piano, in 1876. In 1889, a revived Garrick Club resumed productions including an operetta, Dimple's Lovers, written and performed by one of its members, Guy Boothby. The Garrick Dramatic Club, started in 1892 by Edward Reeves and John Henry Lyons, invited members from the city's elocutionists. In 1892, the club presented London assurance by Dion Boucicault at the North Adelaide Institute. Furnishing and decoration were by P. LeCornu. Charles Cawthorne led the orchestra. The club took this production to Hudson's Bijou (White's Rooms remodelled) and other halls. Proceeds went to the children’s hospital. The club appears to have folded after a triumphant 1899 season that ended in an anticlimax with a poorly-attended finale at the Theatre Royal.


Tivoli (Her Majesty's) only survivor of three theatres near market in Grote Street in 1909-13

Three new theatres were built in the early 20th Century near the newly refurbished Central Market in 1901, despite the growing popularity of the cinema. They were the Empire (1909) on Grote Street; the King’s (1911), corner of Carrington and King William streets; and the Tivoli, (originally the Princess, now Her Majesty’s, in 1913) also on Grote Street, Adelaide. The Tivoli was the only survivor as an important live theatre. It is the last of the Tivoli Circuit theatres – Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth: major source of variety theatre and vaudeville for more than 70 years. Tivoli’s local and international musical, variety and comedy acts included vaudeville, dancers, acrobats, comedians and scantily-clad “Tivoli tappers”. The Empire had been built for vaudeville but it became a silent picture and then “talkie” cinema before a department store. Keeping the facade, it was gutted to be part of market shops in the 1970s. The King's Theatre met increasing demand for venues with technologies such as electric lighting. Seating 1500, it showcased comedy, sketch artists, pantomimes and boxing matches. The Kings was rebuilt in 1928 as two storeys. The bottom floor became a ballroom with a rubber buffered floor. When the theatre couldn’t sustain an audience, the primary focus became the ballroom.



among mainstays of Adelaide theatre through some tough times

Tivoli Gardens at Oval plus Austral, Chinese gardens, Canvas among summer theatre spaces

The Tivoli Gardens at Adelaide Oval in 1914-15 were one of Adelaide’s most novel theatrical ventures. The open-air theatre was used by performers during summer shutdowns of the new Tivoli Theatre on Grote Street, Adelaide. It enjoyed sold-out nights before World War I brought on a decline and in 1915 the military took over Adelaide Oval, including the Tivoli Gardens and the cricket grounds. Austral Gardens was an open-air theatre between 1914 and 1931 behind Ayers House on North Terrace, Adelaide, but used most extensively used for boxing, horse racing and dances.The other open-air operation was the Chinese Gardens in 1934-1937 behind the Exhibition Building on on North Terrace. Another open-air operation was the Chinese Gardens in 1934-1937 behind the Exhibition Building on North Terrace. The theatre was managed with the Theatre Royal and run by SA Theatres Ltd. Chinese Gardens was the only known open-air theatre in Australia to have a full-sized organ. The Canvas Theatre on Flinders Street, Adelaide, operated between 1939-40 presenting variety enterainment from groups such as Coleman’s Follies, Coles Variety group and Frisco Follies. In North Adelaide, The Studio Theatre opened in 1940 and closed in 1961. It was used as a training space and was one of Adelaide’s first locations for composing original music and choreographing original dances (mostly ballets).

Adelaide Repertory Theatre great survivor from its start in 1908 at Elder Conservatorium

Adelaide Repertory Theatre, oldest surviving amateur company in the southern hemisphere, started in piano teacher/composer Bryceson Treharne’s classroom at Elder Conservatorium in 1908. Treharne’s students, learning about European modern drama, decided, as The Adelaide Literary Theatre, to stage W.B. Yeats’ Land of Heart’s Desire and George Bernard Shaw’s A Man of Destiny in the conservatorium's north hall. In 1909-10, performances moved between Walkerville and Unley town halls. Treharne returned to Paris but the company prospered as The Adelaide Repertory Theatre from 1914. World War I and drought took their toll and, in 1920, an outbreak of bubonic plague closed Adelaide theatres. In 1921, The Rep came the closest to a final curtain. It survived, moving to Unley Town Hall in 1922 with Pygmalion a big success. In 1934, Theo Shall, a stage/screen star of Hollywood and Europe, directed Goethe’s Faust, with a cast of 60 and 19 sets. South Australia's centenary was celebrated in 1936 with Max Afford’s Colonel Light the Founder. The Rep moved again, in 1939, to the Tivoli Theatre (now Her Majesty's). The golden years, 1940-53, brought fine performances from names like Keith Michell, Ron Haddrick, Ruby Litchfield, Mimi Mattin, Iris Hart, Margery Irving, Phyllis Burford, Roy and Joy Grubb, Meta McCaffrey and Vivienne Oldfield.


Judith Anderson's multi honoured career in film and on stage starts with the Adelaide Repertory

Frances Margaret Anderson, who made her acting debut as a teenager with Adelaide Repertory theatre company, had an international career in stage, film and television, honoured with two Emmy awards, a Tony award, and nominations for a Grammy and an Academy award (for her role in Rebecca) as Judith Anderson. Born in Adelaide in 1897 and educated at Rose Park, she made her professional acting debut, aged 17, at Sydney’s Theatre Royal. Trying her luck in the USA, she made her Broadway debut in On the stairs in 1922. Anderson started in films with a supporting role in Blood money (1933)followed by Rebecca (1940), Otto Preminger's Laura (1944), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), A man called Horse (1970) and Star Trek III (1982). On stage, Anderson played Lady MacBeth in notable productions with the Old Vic Company in London opposite Laurence Olivier and in New York opposite Maurice Evans. In 1948, Anderson won a Tony for best actress in Medea with John Gielgud. Anderson was guest of the 1966 Adelaide Festival of Arts doing excerpts from Medea and MacBeth. At 73, Anderson played Hamlet in a USA tour. An Off-Broadway theatre was named after Anderson in 1984. She was given a Living Legacy Award by the Women's International Centre in 1986. Anderson's ashes are buried at the Adelaide Festival Centre.

Colin Ballantyne a bold visionary for Adelaide theatre from 1930s as director/administrator

Colin Ballantyne was a reviving force for Adelaide theatre in the 1930s when it declined under cinema’s impact. Born in Wayville in 1908 and educated at Westbourne Park public and Adelaide high schools, Ballantyne was encouraged into theatre by his mother and her sister Stella Hack, both Fabian socialists. In the 1930s, he acted and directed in repertory theatre and married actress Gwenneth Richmond. As chairman of the Workers’ Education Association Little Theatre (1934-39), Ballantyne already had visions for a national theatre. In 1948, with John Bishop and John Horner, he founded the Arts Council of South Australia and he directed its large Shakespeare productions at the Tivoli Theatre in 1948-52. Future premier Don Dunstan was one of the actors. In 1949, Ballantyne was consultant to the British theatre director Tyrone Guthrie who advised Ben Chifley’s federal government on having a national theatre. As a director of more than 60 plays,  Ballantyne helped train many actors, including Keith Michell, Edwin Hodgeman and Leslie Dayman. His dream became reality as chairman of the board of governors (1972-78) for the new government-backed South Australian Theatre Company with its Playhouse home in the Festival Centre. He was a federal director (1966-74) of the Arts Council of Australia and founding chairman (1980-88) of the Performing Arts Collection of South Australia.

Keith Michell reigns as King Henry after his Adelaide grounding with Playbox and Rep

Keith Michell had his first grounding in theatre in Adelaide in the 1940s with several of Lloyd Prider’s Playbox group productions at the Tivoli (now Her Majesty’s Theatre) and roles with Adelaide Repertory Company. Born in Adelaide, the son of a cabinet maker, and brought up in Warnertown near Port Pirie, Michell studied at Adelaide Teachers’ College and Adelaide University. Adelaide’s Playbox Theatre group gave Michell rounded experience in stage musicals. In 1945, he appeared in the vintage Mercenary Mary and designed the George Gershwin show Lady be good. Next year, he was in No No Nanette and made his professional debut with Playbox in the comedy Lover’s leap. Michell left in 1949 for England and joined the Young Vic theatre company, making his first appearance in London by 1951. His first London musical was And So to Bed, playing King Charles II. He toured Australia with the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company 1952–53 and appeared in Shakespeare plays at Stratford-on-Avon. In 1956, on television, he played Henry Higgins in Pygmalion and starred in Don Juan at the Royal Court Theatre and Old Vic Company productions. Michell's string of f West End musicals included Irma la DouceRobert and Elizabeth and Man of La Mancha He won awards for his lead TV role in The six wives of Henry VIII in 1970 and the film Henry VIII and his six wives (1972). On American TV 1988-93, Michell appeared on the Murder, She Wrote series. He was artistic director of the Chichester Festival Theatre 1974-77, appearing in many of their productions.

Sheridan Theatre home to Colin Ballantyne's trail-blazing Adelaide Theatre Group in 1960s

Adelaide Theatre Group, formed after World War II with Colin Ballantyne as its director, became one of Adelaide’s three dominant little theatres (with Adelaide University Theatre Guild and The Adelaide New Theatre, specialising in Australian plays) in the 1950s. The Adelaide Theatre Group found a home in 1962 by restoring one of the city’s oldest buildings in Mackinnon Parade, North Adelaide. From 1842-82, it was a school sponsored by Dr John Sheridan who fuelled the cultural life of North Adelaide residents and creative outlets for the city’s youth. Sheridan left the house to the Institute Association of South Australia, who reopened it in 1925 as a community hall that became a live theatre centre from 1946. Adelaide Theatre Group used it 1963-84 as the Keith Sheridan Theatre. The theatre was intimate, without fixed seating. The audience often sat on tables. Adelaide Theatre Group aimed to produce Australian plays and redevelop regional theatre. Under Ballantyne, it developed impressive actors such as Ted Craig, Ian Fairweather, Ron Haddrick, Alexander Hay, George Mallaby, Carmel Millhouse and Kirrily Nolan. Ballantyne also formed a company to perform verse plays by South Australian poets: Papinian by Dr. J.J. Bray, The Administrator by Charles Jury and Governor Bligh by Brian Medlin.

Arts Theatre a home at last for Adelaide Rep in 1963; also used by five other theatre groups

The Arts Theatre, the 500-seat traditional pro-arch home of Adelaide Repertory Theatre company, opened in Angas Street, Adelaide, in 1963. The theatre was built for £45,000 on land bought 15 years before. Since the 1908 its at Elider Conservatorium, The Rep played in halls at Unley, Walkerville, the Queen's Hall (later the Embassy), the King's Theatre, the Tivoli Theatre (for 14 years), and the Victoria Hall in Gawler Place, Adelaide. A souvenir programme was issued for the production of Peter Ustinov's Romanoff and Juliet in 1963 to commemorating the Arts Theatre's opening. The theatre is now the stage for five community theatrical groups. Also in Angas Street, Adelaide, are the Royalty and Bakehouse theatres. In the suburbs, community theatre venues vary from Goodwood Institute to Parks Community Centre theatre. Country Arts SA theatres include the Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre at Mount Gambier, the Keith Michell Theatre at Port Pirie, the Middleback Arts Centre at Whyalla Norrie and the Chaffey Theatre at Renmark.

Betty/Don Quin's Q Theatre in 1970 a new stage for 1880s Halifax Street Sunday school

A former bluestone Sunday school building from 1882 in Halifax Street, Adelaide, was transformed into the Q Theatre by actors Don and Betty Quin in 1970. The Q Theatre, with 150 seats from the old Theatre Royal, opened with Betty Quin’s prize-winning play The dinkum bambino. Quin had worked in London for the BBC and commercial television as a scriptwriter and producer. Back in Adelaide, she regular contributed to television shows as well as writing more than 30 full-length and one-act plays. In 1972, Robert Stigwood, the well-known theatrical entrepreneur from Adelaide, sent seven large paintings of actors from the famous Garrick Theatre in London to decorate the foyer. After audiences declined later in the 1970s, the theatre was forced to close in the early 1980s. It was later revived for a while as the John Edmund Theatre. The Stow Church (named after pioneer Congregational minister Thomas Quinton Stow) had expanded its Sunday school, opened in 1882, to cope with increased attendances. By 1890, 23 teachers were instructing 477 children at the Sunday school.

Frank Ford fathers the Fringe and gives little theatres of Adelaide a bigger stage in 1975

Frank Ford’s fatherhood of the Adelaide Fringe festival began from a campaign soon after he arrived from Sydney in 1974 for an alternate or fringe theatre movement made up of Adelaide’s smaller companies. Theatre groups such as Legerdemain (Flinders University), Adelaide Theatre Group, the Q Theatre and La Mama were struggling to gain audiences for Australian plays and modern plays with social and intellectual themes. They were also hampered by not being coordinated, by high rents, the “amateur” stigma and losing to the lure of Festival Centre. Ford, supported by Max Wearing, inspired the Association of Community Theatres to be formed in 1975 with Ford as chairman. Ford also was the founding chair of Adelaide Fringe Festival in 1975. The state government gave grants for a Community Theatres Day in 1975 and the Festival Centre’s artistic director Anthony Steele invited the association to present a three-week season of plays in the centre’s Space in 1976. The three-week Space Eight season featured a cross section of the 38 non-professional drama and dance groups in Adelaide banded under the Association of Community Theatres. It suffered a financial loss but reinvigorated the Adelaide community theatres scene.


as State Theatre becomes the professional flagship in the 1970s

Ruby Litchfield, of Ruby awards fame, brings her theatre passion to The Rep, directing 35 plays

Ruby Litchfield approached theatre –  as with so many other aspects of her Adelaide life – with passion and energy. Adelaide Repertory Theatre was the focus of her love of theatre. She acted in several productions for The Rep but directed 35 of its plays was made a life member in 1967. She had the lead role of Regina in The Rep’s The Little Foxes that won the commonwealth jubilee play competition at the Hobart drama festival in 1951. Her last play for The Rep in 1983 was Barry England’s Conduct Unbecoming, something Robert Helpmann had been urging her to do for 15 years. In 1971, she was the first woman appointed to the board of the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust, a founder member of Festival City Broadcasters and was on the board of numerous other bodies, including the Adelaide Festival of Arts, the South Australian Housing Trust and the Carclew Youth Performing Arts Centre. In 1993, the state government established the Dame Ruby Litchfield Scholarship for performing arts. The Ruby Awards have become South Australia's premier honours for the arts and cultural industry.

Therry society, from Catholic base, a strong pillar of mainstream Adelaide theatre scene

Adelaide’s Therry Dramatic Society started 1943 with similar groups in Melbourne (1936) and Perth (1944), as a branch of the Roman Catholic Church laity, providing “education in liturgy, drama and the arts”. Only the Adelaide society remains, now a thriving contributor to the city’s mainstream theatre with 300 productions so far and a musical and three plays presented each year since 1978. Many prominent Australia actors and stage technicians began their careers with links to Therry: Denis Olsen, Julie Hamilton, Don Barker, Kate Fitzpatrick, Brian Wenzel, Michael Scheid, Damon Herriman, Michael Habib, Brian Mooney and Hugh Sheridan. In the 1980s, Kirsti (Bradtke) Harms’ first lead roles with Therry were Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and Guinevere in Camelot. Entrepreneur Robert Stigwood was a member in the 1950s before leaving for London. Tom Georgeson, a BBC television series regular, worked with Therry in the 1970s. Dianne McLean became a stage manager in London’s West End. Paul McKay joined the entertainment industry in the UK and Europe and Dennis McKay and Theo Benton made careers in Australian theatre and/or television.

Ralph Middenway little theatre gems part of his enriching music/drama of South Australia

Ralph Middenway, a major contributor to South Australian music and drama, was behind two tiny gems: the Little Theatre at the Adelaide University Union building and The Parks Theatre at Angle Park in Adelaide’s north-western suburbs. As Adelaide University Union CEO, Middenway did designs for a small theatre within a rebuilding project by architect Robert Dickson. The Little Theatre opened for the 1974 Adelaide Festival of Arts as home to University of Adelaide Theatre Guild, with Richard Morecroft in Our Town among its young actors at that time. Moving on to be first CEO of The Parks Community Centre, built during premier Don Dunstan’s 1970s as part of a public housing estate, Middenway oversaw the design of Theatre One at The Parks – a larger version of the heritage-listed Little Theatre at Adelaide University, also with architect Dickson. Middenway's work for the state's music and drama ranged from writing operas and plays to being first chair of the Richard Wagner Society of South Australia. From 1965, he lectured on music and theatre for adult education and WEA. In 2003-04, he wrote three plays for senior secondary drama students or youth theatre groups. But Middenway's most prominent role, over 20 years, was music/opera critic for The Advertiser.

Barry Egginton revives fun live performance with melodramas at former King's Theatre

Barry Egginton revived melodramatic fun live theatre and an old Adelaide theatre building when he ran the Olde Kings Music Hall from 1967-75 with theatre restaurant shows in the former Kings Theatre, corner of King William Street and Carrington streets, Adelaide. Eggington brought the theatre back to life with melodramas and vaudeville shows, such as Curse my fatal beauty, Burning desire in the desert dunes, Deadly designs on a damsel’s dowry, featuring stalwarts such as Phyl Skinner, Marie Fidock, Gordon Poole and Penni-Ann Smith, Sylvia Budgen, Max Height, David Clifford, Malcolm Harslett, Rhonda Pilkington, Ross Howard, Didi James, Margot Howard, Pam O’Grady, Stephen Davies, Darrell Hilton and David King. The original Kings Theatre opened in 1911 with the novelty of electric lighting. Seating 1500, it showcased comedy acts, sketch artists, pantomimes and boxing matches. The theatre was closed and rebuilt in 1928. The bottom floor became a ballroom, featuring a rubber buffered floor. When the upstairs theatre couldn’t sustain an audience, the primary focus became the ballroom. After a major fire, the building stayed vacant for many years.

State Theatre of South Australia presents world premieres in playhouse from 1970s

The State Theatre Company is South Australia’s leading professional company, now working again with an ensemble of actors. Actors, writers and directors who have worked with the company include Patrick White, Ruth Cracknell, Andrew Bovell, Judy Davis, Gale Edwards, Mel Gibson, Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sharman, Neil Armfield, Hugo Weaving, Jacki Weaver and John Wood. The South Australian Theatre Company started professionally in 1965 with artistic director John Tasker but, under premier Don Dunstan, it became the state theatre company in 1972 with George Ogilvie as director. In 1974, the South Australian Theatre Company (renamed State Theatre in 1980) made its home in the new Adelaide Festival Centre’s Playhouse (later The Dunstan Playhouse) as the first state theatre company in Australia to hold its entire operations in one purpose-made building. State Theatre has a strong record of developing presenting world premiere works, including The department by David Williamson (1974), A handful of friends by David Williamson (1976), Honk if you Are Jesus by Peter Goldsworthy and Martin Laud Gray (2006, Ruby Award for best new work) and When the rain stops falling by Andrew Bovell (with Brink Productions, 2008).


After Communist Party exit, Red Shed brings quality original theatre to Adelaide's Bakehouse

The Red Shed Company – an era of original and challenging quality plays in the 1990s – was another colourful chapter in the history of the Bakehouse Theatre on the corner of Cardwell and Angas streets, Adelaide. A bakery in the 1890s, it became Communist Party headquarters from 1976. The party’s main creative artistic foray was a band, The Red Peril, that cut a record called “Give Fraser the Razor”. Salisbury College of Advanced Education (now part of the University of South Australia), through Keith Gallash and Jackie Cook, rented space from the party for its arts students to perform in what became the Red Shed. Its first play was Turning the tables by Dario Fo and Franche Rami. In 1990, the Communist Party collapsed. From the 1980s, the building's main theatre, a flexible space with capacity of 98, was home to the Red Shed Company, a Flinders University drama students colllective, guided by university drama centre director Julie Holledge, presenting eight years of original plays, highlighted by the works of David Carlin, Cath McKinnon, Melissa Reeve and Daniel Keene. Its first productions restaged projects by students such as Debbie Horsfall and Sam Shepard but David Carlin’s Bawky Play showed the company's ability to produce original work. Peter Green took over the building in 1998, renamed it The Bakehouse, and created the artists development programme for graduate actors. This lost funding in 2007 and Pamela Munt took over the theatre. It remains a venue for small independent theatre companies, such as STARC Productions, to present diverse works.


origins from the legendary Nora Stewart, before Joanne Priest

Nora Stewart legendary Adelaide dance teacher to thousands including young Robert Helpmann

“Going to Nora’s” was a catchphrase in Adelaide for nearly 50 years. Nora was legendary dancing teacher Eleanor Charlotte Stewart. Among her thousands of dance pupils from 1914 were Robert Helpmann and Elizabeth Cameron Wilson (later Dalman), founder of the Australian Dance Theatre. Stewart taught dance to most Adelaide private colleges, the South Australian police force and Adelaide Hunt Club. She also schooled debutantes in decorum. Her father, surgeon Robert Stewart, had taken his family to London where Nora studied ballet. In 1914, they returned and Stewart took over Isobel Young’s dancing classes. Tall and graceful, Stewart’s intelligence and voice awed her pupils. Students included piano prodigy Philip Hargraves; Henry Legerton, who joined Sadler's Wells Ballet; Morna Dobbie (Smeaton), a brilliant teacher of the Margaret Morris method of barefoot dancing; and Dorothy Slane, another future ballet teacher. Stewart's discipline—boys wore white gloves—and her mannerisms made her a loved figure. In her prime, she employed four pianists and 12 assistants who started classes. Stewart arrived by public transport, took over, then left for another class. Every second year, Stewart visited London, Paris and the Riviera to buy French hats and underwear, and to keep up with the latest dances and techniques.


Robert Helpmann on a dance to stardom from Adelaide; also conquers film, ballet and opera

With a stage-struck mother a driving force in his career, Robert Helpmann went from a childhood in Mount Gambier to became an international figure in ballet but also theatre, film, ballet and opera. He was consultant (1968) and artistic director (1970) of the Adelaide Festival of Arts. Legendary Adelaide teacher Nora Stewart was an early influence on Helpmann. She “taught me to appreciate classical music and to understand what dance meant,” he said. Among Helpmann’s first ballet appearance was in the chorus at Adelaide's Theatre Royal for the 1924 premiere of Kenneth Duffield's musical Hullo Healo. By 1926, Helpmann had joined the touring dance company of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. Highpoint of his dance career was the Sadler's Wells Ballet tour of the USA in 1949, when he partnered Margot Fonteyn in the lead roles of The Sleeping Beauty. Helpmann appeared in many films, including the Powell and Pressburger ballet films The red shoes (1948), when he was also choreographer, and The tales of Hoffmann (1951). In 1942, he played the Dutch Quisling in the Powell/Pressburger film One of our aircraft is missing (1942) and the Chinese Prince Tuan in 55 Days at Peking (1963). Helpmann is remembered through the national awards, the Helpmann Academy and a theatre named after him at Mount Gambier.


Joanne Priest a major influence on national dance through pupils such as Stephen Baynes

Joanna (“Joanne”) Priest, born in Adelaide in 1910, became a major figure in the developing dance in Australia. She influenced the theatre designer Kenneth Rowell and her students that rose to have major careers in dance included Stephen Baynes who become resident choreographer for the Australian Ballet in 1995. Baynes also created works for La Scala Ballet, Sydney Dance Company, Queensland Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and New York City Ballet’s Diamond Project. Priest also helped start the dance careers of Jacqui Carroll, Rosetta Cook, Roma Egan, Lisa Heaven, Josephine Jason, John Nobbs and Paul Saliba. She received her first dance training in Perth from Linley Wilson. In 1930, Priest went to London with Wilson, taking classes with Marie Rambert and Ruth French. Priest returned to Australia in 1932, and opened a dance school in Adelaide. This was followed by another new studio in Adelaide in 1937 and, in 1939, she founded the South Australian Ballet Club. In 1954, Priest opened her Studio Theatre in a converted church in Adelaide, presenting performances of original ballets. Between 1959 and 1964, she spearheaded development of Southern Stars, a children’s television program screened regularly by Channel 9.


Elizabeth Dalman's Australian Dance Theatre a modern survivor from 1965

Adelaide’s Australian Dance Theatre was the first modern dance company in Australia. Elizabeth Cameron Dalman – a pupil of Nora Stewart – started the company in Adelaide in 1965, with Leslie White, a former Royal Ballet soloist, performing modern and classical works. When White moved to Brisbane in 1967, Dalman made Australian Dance Theatre the nation’s first modern professional dance company. Now based at Norwood, it remains Australia’s leading modern troupe. Dalman’s vision was nurtured by modern techniques she saw when she left South Australia in 1957 to pursue a dance career in Europe, and returned seven years later married to Dutch photographer Jan Dalman. She also brought back ideas from Martha Graham and her teacher and mentor, African-American choreographer Eleo Pomare. Training dancers at her studio in Gays Arcade, and later Gouger Street, Dalman made works confronting subjects such as the Vietnam War, Aboriginal culture and the Australian landscape with classical and contemporary music. Dalman found her own role curbed in 1974 when the Australia Council gave funding that insisted on a structure for the company that included a board. Tensions with the board saw artistic directors Dalman (1975), Jonathan Taylor (1976-85), Leigh Warren (1987-92), and Meryl Tankard (1993-99) all depart. Garry Stewart brought stability to the company from 1999

Leigh Warren gives Adelaide its second world-class dance ensemble and Lab

Leigh Warren gave Adelaide a second world-class dance company when he left the Australian Dance Theatre in 1993 to start his own group. Leigh Warren and Dancers has combined with the talents composers, musical groups and visual artists of different cultures to present new Australian dance of an international calibre over 21 years. The company has performed extensively overseas: Edinburgh International Festival, Holland Dance Festival (The Hague), The Turning World Festival (London), Seoul International Dance Festival (Korea) and in Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and the USA. After a distinguished career with the Australian Ballet, Ballet Rambert, Nureyev & Friends and Nederlands Dans Theater, Warren, in 1987, was appointed artistic director of Adelaide-based Australian Dance Theatre where he created 14 works and toured the company in Australia and overseas. He launched his own company in 1993, winning Australian Dance awards, a national Sidney Myer performing arts award, Green Room awards and Adelaide Critics’ Circle awards. In 2016, the Leigh Warren Dance Hub opened in Fowlers Building, North Terrace, Adelaide, where dancers could hone skills through residencies and workshops, It hosted the first Australia-Asia Dance Lab, an OzAsia Festival initiative, with 11 professional choreographers from Australia, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong sharing skills and possible projects.

No Strings Attached and Restless Dance let disabled bring their creativity to the stage

No Strings Attached and Restless Dance Theatre are providing a creative stage experience for people with a disability. No Strings Attached, now based at Stepney, was started in 1993 by performer, writer and entrepreneur Helen Flinter Leach to lead the way in training and providing career chances for disabled players. Founded in 1991 by Sally Chance and Tania Rose, Restless Dance Theatre works with young disabled and non-disabled people to create dance theatre and run workshops. City-based Restless Dance Theatre has become one of Australia’s leading dance companies. Its choreography doesn’t rely on the traditional mode of mimicry or acting but integrates the individual stories, experiences and emotions of the dancers. The cast is varied and can include dancers with learning disabilities and dancers who have physical and sensory impairments. It allows integrated young disabled and non-disabled dancers to express themselves to a diverse audience. The company has three broad areas: a community workshop (education) program, the youth ensemble and the company that tours the regions and nationally. No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability creates original theatre through the perspectives of its performers who live with disability. It produces locally, tours nationally and discover new talent in weekly workshops designed to the individual needs of participants.


but 'Emerald Room', backed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, crashes 

Jack Fewster, Tom King, Edith Aird, Evan Senior and Lloyd Prider create Adelaide musical shows

Adelaide was fertile ground for original musical productions in the 1920s. The first professional Australian musical, F.F.F., opened at Prince of Wales Theatre (formerly Tivoli, now Her Majesty's) in 1920. The next year, Jack Fewster and Frederick J. Mills created Yantabingie about a theatrical troupe on a remote sheep station. It had one performance at Thebarton Town Hall. Kenneth Duffield's Hullo Healo at the Theatre Royal in 1924 had a young Robert Helpman in the ballet chorus. In 1926, Jack Fewster worked with musician Tom King and book writer Edith Aird on Yvonne, about an Adelaide heiress. It ran for three nights at Norwood Town Hall and was the first Australian musical broadcast in its entirety on radio. The 1930s saw another Australian first with On The Airr  written for radio by 5DN's Evan Senior, who in 1926, at 20, was the youngest Australian radio station managing director. Fewster, King and Aird's Dutini – A Song of India  (1931) had eight performances at the Theatre Royal and was broadcast on 5CL. The Moon Dream (1932) was the last Australian musical at the Theatre Royal. By Dr. T.D. Campbell, its cast included Harold Tideman, later The Advertiser theatre critic. Lloyd Prider Playbox Theatre kept the Australian musical flag flying in World War II, with music by Maurice Sheard, at The Australia Hall (now Royalty Theatre) in Angas Street, Adelaide.


Gilbert and Sullivan Society of South Australia drifts into operetta and musicals

The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of South Australia, established in 1937, has had the support of gifted professional performers, including Vincent McMurray (singing with both Australian and UK opera companies and J.C. Williamson), Richard Watson, who appeared with the D’Oyly Carte Company (the original operetta company established by Gilbert & Sullivan in 1879), Kevin Miller (ex-Sadlers Wells/English National Opera), June Bronhill (also Sadlers Wells and international opera star), Kevin Mills (Sadlers Wells) and Dennis Olsen, a consummate Gilbert and Sullivan performer. Although dedicated to promoting Gilbert and Sullivan, the society also stages non-G&S operettas and musicals ranging from Die Fledermaus, Orpheus in the Underworld and The Merry Widow to My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, Camelot, Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music and The Secret Garden to Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and Into The Woods. In 2008, the society staged Les Misérables with an encore season in 2009. Similarly, the 2013 season of Oliver! had a return season. The society also staged Jesus Christ Superstar, staged at Her Majesty’s Theatre in 2010, starring Luke Kennedy as Jesus. The society has been blessed with long-serving members such as Jack Higgs, a founder continuously involved for 76 years.

Gilbert & Sullivan great Dennis Olsen adds his Grainger role in 'Percy and Rose' to favourites

Adelaide-born Dennis Olsen, singer, actor, director and pianist, became one of Australia’s leading “patter” exponents of Gilbert and Sullivan opera, Olsen originally trained for a professional career as a pianist. He decided to become an actor and attended the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney, graduating in 1962. He has appeared with the Old Tote Theatre, the State Theatre Company of South Australia, Melbourne Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company. His roles  included The importance of being earnest, The crucible and The Venetian twins. After success with Opera Australia, Olsen briefly joined the D’Oyle Carte Opera Company in London. He returned to Australia in 1971, playing in theatre as well as Gilbert and Sullivan over four decades. He also directed sang Noël Coward songs in cabaret and acted in films (including South Australian Film Corporation’s The Fourth Wish), television and radio. Olsen experienced highs and lows with the South Australian (later State) Theatre Company. He was a desired performer for every director before Jim Sharman arrived in 1982. Sharman rejected all but one of the established local performers for his Lighthouse group. During Sharman's time, a second professional company emerged in Adelaide and Dennis Olsen created a favourite role: Percy Grainger in Percy and Rose.


Robyn Archer's 'Songs from Sideshow Alley' open 1980s with Nick Enright's 'Wallaby'

Robyn Archer's Songs From Sideshow Alley was the first Adelaide musical of the 1980s. Robyn Nevin played Trixie, while Archer was Pearl. Set in a seedy sideshow alley, Trixie and Pearl mourn the passing of the Royal Show as it used to be. As they nostalgically plan one last show, they perform all their old tricks. The show played three performances at Mount Gambier before moving to Adelaide’s Union Hall. A regional South Australian tour starred June Bronhill and Isobel Kirk and a Sydney version had Maggie Kirkpatrick and Nancye Hayes. Also in the 1980s were Nick Enright's musicals On The Wallaby, a musical documentary about an Irish family during the Depression, and Buckley's, about unemployed youth, both produced by the State Theatre Company of South Australia, where Enright had spent time as an associate director. On The Wallaby had a successful run at the Playhouse with a cast including Nancye Hayes and Phillip Quast. There were further productions in Sydney and Perth. Buckley's, in 1981, had music by Glenn Henrich, lyrics by Enright and a book by David Allen. Phillip Quast was again in the cast, as was Enright and, in keeping with the theme, free seats were available for the unemployed.


Peter Combe's version of 'Snugglepot & Cuddlepie' attracts 20,000 to Elder Park in 1992 Festival

Peter Combe’s highly successful musical adaptation of May Gibbs’ classic Snugglepot and Cuddlepie played to 20,000 at its first performance in Elder Park in 1992. Produced by the Adelaide Festival of Arts, it was a concert version with the Adelaide Festival Chorus, the Adelaide Girls Choir and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. A production in the Festival Theatre in 1993 featured Ruth Cracknell. As a music teacher at Prince Alfred College junior school in the 1970s, Combe started writing songs and his first operetta – Bows Against the Barons (based on Robin Hood) – for his students. In 1975, he moved to Sydney and appeared in Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club rock musical. In between teaching and performing in pubs/clubs, he wrote a children's musical Frederick WhatsHisName & his TwoLegged Six String Guitar. Another musical was based on Norman Lindsay's The magic pudding. In 1977, Combe went to England where he presented Music Times, a BBC TV educational program, and, back in Australia from 1979, he did ABC radio's Let's Have Music. His Australian-first children's music video, “Toffee Apple”, during children's programming on ABC TV, turned Combe into Australia's first kids' pop star. 

'Emerald Room' bombs despite its big backers; 'Lovers and Haters' has mixed reviews in 2008

With seed money from global musical giants Cameron Macintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Emerald Room, produced by the State Theatre Company at the Dunstan Playhouse in 1994, was the last show for the Australian Musical Foundation set up by Jim Sharman and Michael Turkic. The show was crucified by the critics. By composer Chris Harriott and lyricist Dennis Watkins, The Emerald Room was set in a nightclub and concerned the relationships between a singer, the club manager and a songwriter, with a female impersonator doing Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin and Bette Midler. Paul Capsis was the drag queen, Judi Connelli the club manager, Nick Carrafa the songwriter, with Helen Buday the singer. Dutch Courage (1997), Scam! (1998), The Pink Files (2001) and Everything's F**ked – The Musical were four musicals by Sean Peter that premiered in Adelaide. Rob George and Maureen Sherlock's Lovers and Haters  (2008), using satire and revue, with music by Quentin Eyers, to portray the secret life of South Australia's 1970s flamboyant premier Don Dunstan, met critical reaction. 


ADELAIDEANS CREATE MAJOR FESTIVAL AND GIVE IT CENTRE with other festival spinoffs; festival centre trust as entrepreneur

Adelaide Festival luring some of the world's best in drama, music and dance since 1960 start

From T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the cathedral (1960) to Peter Brook's all-night production of The Mahabharata at The Quarry (1988) to Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s modern take on Shakespeare's Kings of War (2018), the Adelaide Festival brought internationally acclaimed theatre, along with an eclectic array of world-class musicians, dance pieces, renowned writers and striking visual arts to Australia. The festival began with efforts by newspaperman Lloyd Dumas in the late 1950s for South Australia to stage an event similar to Edinburgh International Festival. In 1958, Dumas gathered prominent members of Adelaide business, performance arts and government. The festival board of governors was formed. The event was shaped by Dumas and Adelaide University music professor John Bishop. Adelaide City Council gave £15,000 and major sponsors included The Advertiser, Bank of Adelaide, John Martin & Co., Adelaide Steamship and Kelvinator. John Bishop directed the first Adelaide festival in 1960. Artistic directors since have included Robert Helpmann (1970), who premiered his ballet Don Quixote; and Peter Sellars (2001) who resigned after a brief controversial stint.

Adelaideans give big to build Festival Theatre in 1970s ahead of the Sydney Opera House

Adelaide’s Festival Centre had a $90 million facelift in 2017-18 as part of $610 million work on the Festival Plaza precinct. Adelaide Festival Centre, Australia's first multi-purpose theatre centre, was built in three parts for $21 million between 1970 and 1980 and opened three months before Sydney Opera House in 1973. In the 1960s, when the Adelaide Festival of the Arts started outgrowing the city's venues, premier Steele Hall saw Elder Park, on the River Torrens’ banks as a natural choice for a festival centre. Lord mayor Robert Porter, supported by new premier Don Dunstan, launched a public appeal that raised its target within a week, and was soon oversubscribed, to build a festival hall. The surplus was set aside to create a world-class collection of artworks. The Dunstan Playhouse, the versatile studio Space theatre and an artspace gallery were added to the festival hall at the festival centre, designed by Adelaide architect John Morphett. The centre is run by a statutory authority trust that also manages Her Majesty’s Theatre, built in 1913, in Grote Street, Adelaide.


Adelaide Festival Centre Trust becomes theatre/ festival entrepreneur after 'Evita' risk pays off

The trust that runs the Adelaide Festival Centre has become a major theatre producer and entrepreneur. The Adelaide Festival Centre Trust made its first big foray into producing shows with the musical Evita in 1980. The trust and its partners risked $850,000 on the show but made a million dollars after it also toured interstate. The trust, a state government statutory body, has expanded its role to fill the centre’s theatres throughout the year by sponsoring the cabaret, OzAsia, guitar and DreamBIG children’s festivals. In 2017, the trust bought Her Majesty’s Theatre in Grote Street for $8 million and was loaned $61 million by the state government to enlarge it to allow for more productions. OnStage school holiday program in drama, dance and voice for eight to 16 year olds are among the activities promoted by the trust between shows. Visual arts exhibitions at the centre have also had a big increase. In 2015-16, Adelaide Festival Centre attracted more than one million visitors for the first time and recorded its seventh consecutive year of making a profit. 


DreamBIG children's arts festival (Come Out) run by Adelaide Festival Centre since 2015

Australia’s premier arts event engaging children in quality professional arts and the largest of its kind in the world, DreamBIG Children’s Festival has been produced by Adelaide Festival Centre since 2015. A biennial event with international, national and local input, the iconic festival has involved more than two million South Australian children since it started as the state-government-funded Come Out Festival in 1974. DreamBIG is divided into events and performances through schools and the public program for families. Next scheduled for May/June 2019 with the theme “People Together”, DreamBIG will celebrate Adelaide as a UNESCO City of Music and part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network. In 2015, Adelaide Festival Centre saw its theatres, rooms and outdoor spaces filled with young people as more than 100,000 and their families engaged in DreamBIG. A Bridge Across Time launch featured 1,700 children singing “Eagle Rock” on the River Torrens footbridge and a 100-plus choir of Adelaide nursing home residents singing on the other side of the footbridge. Regional shows went to Port Pirie (sold out), Port Lincoln (school performances sold out), Whyalla, Barossa, Roxby Downs, Renmark, Lameroo, Streaky Bay and Kersbrook Primary and Victor Harbor.

Her Majesty's $66m makeover to bring back the greatness of its Tivoli circuit days

Her Majesty’s Theatre in Grote Street, Adelaide,now run by the Adelaide Festival Centre, is having a $66 million revamp to be completed in 2020. The theatre has been an Adelaide landmark since it opened as the Tivoli Theatre in 1913 but changes in the 1960s/70s halved capacity to 970 seats. The upgrade will allow 1,472 seats on three levels, new foyers and spacious backstage areas. The original central front entrance will be restored, with a dramatic canopy using modern technology and celebrating the building’s Edwardian grandeur. The gods section, sealed off in 1970s, will be revealed again. A new entertainment wing will have three levels of bars and the added seats capacity will place Adelaide back on the touring circuit for major productions. Barry Humphries, patron for fundraising for the restored theatre, made his first stage appearance at the old Tivoli (later Her Majesty’s) in 1953. The Tivoli opened in 1913 with British vaudevillian Lillie Langtree and other stars who've appeared there include Lauren Bacall, WC Fields, Judi Dench and Whoopi Goldberg. They and others have signed the preserved autograph wall.


Adelaide Festival Centre scenery workshops earn world repute for design/ building musicals sets

Adelaide Festival Centre’s scenery workshops are internationally renowned as the leading theatre construction houses in the southern hemisphere. The workshops have been integral to most major musicals produced in Australia and Asia Pacific since 1979. The Dry Creek workshop looks after the scenery building and set electrics, props and special effects while the Gepps Cross workshop handles the stage engineering and stage automation design and builds projects. Since 2012, the workshops team created and supported the production of 15 shows including Mouse Trap, Moon Shadow, King Kong, Legally Blonde, War Horse, Jersey Boys, Matilda, Strictly Ballroom, Les Miserables, Phantom, Illusionist 1903, and WA Ballet. Box-off hits such as Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera also engaged the Festival Centre’s workshops to dismantle the set for each move to another Australian city venue. At the 2015 Helpmann awards, Matilda took out 13 honours including the workshops’ sound, lighting and scenic design/build.


Joanne Hartstone's Muriel Matters play a symbolic triumph for Adelaide Fringe theatre

Adelaide Fringe Festival, second largest in the world in Edinburgh, had one of its significant symbolic theatre high points in 2018 with Adelaide writer-performer Joanne Hartstone’s That Daring Australian Girl ­– the true story of South Australian actress Muriel Matters who became a leading figure in the UK’s suffragette struggle – winning five-star raves at the Holden Street Theatres. Hartstone had won inaugural Made in Adelaide Award and The Holden Street Theatres' Award for the 2017 Adelaide Fringe for another solo show: The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign. Hartstone and Martha Lott’s Holden Street Theatres at Hindmarsh are staying true to the spirit of founder Frank Ford who saw the Fringe as a vehicle for quality small-scale theatre that has had to fend off an overwhelming volume off comedy and novelty acts. Lott’s theatres have brought from Edinburgh Festival the brilliant plays of Henry Naylor, including his Echoes that won five major awards at the 2016 Adelaide Fringe, followed by the equally impressive Angel the next year. The first Adelaide Fringe, in 1960 was the response by some local creative artists to start an alternative to the curated Adelaide Festival of Arts. The Fringe became an open access event, allowing anyone with ideas and enthusiasm to register.

OzAsia Festival brings Malay, Timorese, Noh, Taiwanese, Chinese theatre to Adelaide

The OzAsia Festival has brought another dimension of theatre to Adelaide Festival Centre. The theatre aspect of OzAsia was highlighted by its 2018 offerings: Baling by the Malaysian Five Arts Centre used actual transcripts of a secret meeting in 1955 to negotiate forming Malaysia as it separates from British domination. Hello My Name is … was a confronting monologue by Portuguese Australian Paulo Castro, presented by Timorese Jose Da Costa, describing the Indonesian occupation and the massacre in Dili in 1991 where more than 250 East Timorese demonstrators were killed in Santa Cruz cemetery. Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land, by Taiwanese director and playwright Stan Lai, became a Chinese classic in Taiwan and on the Chinese mainland from 1986. Here is the Message You Asked For … Don’t Tell Anyone Else, designed and directed by 30-year-old Sun Xiaoxing, portrayed Chinese teenage girls living in their bedrooms in a cocoon of manga fantasy, glued to their mobile phones; a glimpse into the new China. War Sum Up by Kirsten Dehlholm’s Hotel Pro Forma – also called “Music. Manga. Machines" – brought an unlikely teaming of Santa Ratniece with Gilbert Nouno and UK electronica outfit The Irrepressibles, presenting a chamber opera around three characters from Japanese Noh theatre. 

Raj House in city and The Girls Place at Thebarton join Holden Street as Feast venues

Raj House in Hyde St, Adelaide and The Girls Place, in Maria Street, Thebarton, joined Holden Street Theatres at Hindmarsh as venues for queer performing and visual arts during the 2018 Feast Festival, Australia’s biggest two-week LBTQI arts and culture celebration each November since 1997.  Along with the flurry of other events during the 2018 Feast Festival, the main theatre offerings were: The Purple List (Holden Street Theatres), a Five Star UK production opening on Sam and Derek’s wedding day and exploring how these two gay men as they navigate their way through the care system and the changes in their relationship. Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. (Holden Street Theatres), where women take centre stage to become the aggressors in seductions, demanding what they want from work and trashing supermarkets and masculine egos. The Measure of a Man (Holden Street Theatres), in Gavin Roach’s humorous, raw and deeply candid style, staring into the heart of one man’s sexual anxieties and stories shrouded in years of embarrassment and shame. Dames and Divas (Raj House), Princess Laya’s tribute, to the glamourous dames and divas from Hollywood to London who  inspired her as the showgirl drag artist. My fairy godmother sucks (The Girls Place), with Adelaide’s equivalent to Kath and Kim taking a journey as Georgia wishes for a fairy godmother. 


building on Adelaide lead with Carclew youth centre and Magpie

Tony Roberts' Bunyip Theatre leads to Carclew as Australia's first children's arts centre

Tony Roberts, founder of Bunyip Children's Theatre in Adelaide in 1964, was a catalyst for the start of young people's theatre in South Australia and for it to find a home in the disused Bonython mansion, Carclew, at North Adelaide. Roberts had a background in UK repertory theatre where he met Australian actress Maree Tomasetti. They married in 1957 and arrived in Adelaide with television jobs at Channel 7. A return to working in English television created their interest in children's theatre. Back in Adelaide, Roberts was  a drama specialist for the education department when he created Bunyip, with children's favourites such as Pinocchio, Winnie the Pooh and Sleeping Beauty. At Robert Helpmann's 1970 Adelaide Festival, Bunyip presented children's opera, Julius Ceasar Jones. Bunyip's success led to Carclew becoming Australia's first performing arts centre for children. Carclew was a private home bought in 1965 by Adelaide City Council, with the state government help, and became the proposed site for a festival hall. Instead, in 1971, state premier Don Dunstan announced that Carclew House would become the South Australian Performing Arts Centre for Young People. Carclew Youth Arts Centre started (under Roger Chapman) after an enquiry into youth performing arts in South Australia in 1979 saw the need for it as the focal point: a creative administrative hub of funding, projects, policy and support. Now just called Carclew, the centre funds scholarships and mentoring for young South Australians and funds youth arts bodies working with children and young people. 

Theatre in education makes South Australia leader again through the Magpie flagship

Magpie Theatre in Education became the professional youth arm of the State Theatre of South Australia in 1976 and lasted 20 years before it lost funding partly due ton the Arts SA state government department changes. South Australia was again leading the way when the education department appointed an officer, Christine Westwood, at the new Adelaide Festival Centre. This prompted youth arts programs such as the Come Out festival. Westwood’s idea for secondary schools theatre-in-education team was taken up with a base at Theatre 62 in Hilton. It joined with the Troika drama-in-education project started by Mary Fairbrother in 1979. Youth theatre also was sprouting at the Parks Drama Centre, at the new Carclew Arts Centre with Helmut Bakaitis and Peier Charlton’s Arena Theatre and Drummond Jewitt’s Essai Youth Theatre, plus Unley Youth Theatre under Brigid Kitchin. But State Theatre Company’s creation in 1976 of Magpie Theatre in Education as a professional theatre for young people was a major breakthrough. As a professional company, Magpie was open to criticism for any lapse in its standards and it created tension with other smaller youth theatre groups, such as the Acting Company, that were refused funding by the government.

Patch brings world of children's literature to theatre for children aged four to eight

Adelaide’s Patch Theatre, founded in 1972 by Morna Jones, a pioneer in Australian children’s television and theatre, is aimed at children aged four to eight. After Jones’ death in 1982, the-then Little Patch Theatre found its feet again under Des James, founder member of Troupe and actor with Magpie Theatre in Education for four years; and administrator Margaret Bennett. Later artistic director Christine Anketell developed a relationship with the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust for adaptions of children’s literature. Under artistic director Dave Brown, the company evolved into a highly regarded national and international touring company with a world-class repertoire. Brown adapted eight stories by children's author Paela Allan, producing Who sank the boat? Naomi Edwards, who took over in 2015, has strengthened the company’s links to the classroom and home by collaborating with scientists and educators in creating new works. Patch has performed 105 new works to more than 1.8 million children since 1972. touring across Australia and presenting more than 30 international seasons. Patch Theatre has accumulated  accolades including two Helpmann awards and a Ruby. In 1994, Patch moved from Somerton Park to be part of the Pasadena Hgh School campus.

Windmill an Adelaide flagship for quality children's/youth theatre on international stage

Windmill, South Australia's professional national theatre company aimed at children and young adults, is delighting audiences around the world. The company was set up in 2002 by the state government, with Cate Fowler as founding director and creative producer and Adelaide children’s author Mem Fox as founding patron. Using a project with a South Australian link to start Windmill, Fowler decided to adapt the picture book Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Fox and illustrator Julie Vivas. Wilfrid was directed by Neill Gladwin, a former artistic director of Adelaide's Magpie Theatre, previously one of Australia's leading youth companies. Wilfrid became an Australian children's theatre classic. Under artistic director Rosemary Myers in 2009, Windmill developed an in-house style and expanded its audience to teenagers and young adults. Windmill was behind the film Girl Asleep, adapted from its stage production. Premiered at the 2015 Adelaide Film Festival, Girl Asleep won the 2016 CinefestOz best film, international festival prizes, including the Seattle jury prize, and two Ruby awards. In 2019, Windmill was touring China for the fifth time, with Baba Yaga, a Russian folk tale presented with modern technology, also to be performed in Taiwan, Norway, United Kingdom and Ireland. The company has previous international tours have included North America with GrugBig Bad Wolf and Grug and the Rainbow.  Besides its annual Adelaide season, Windmill also tours regional South Australia and interstate. It also presents a season at Adelaide’s DreamBIG Children’s Festival. 

Slingby crowns its 2017 comeback with the international success of Wilde's 'The Young King'

Slingby Theatre has built international success by creating intimate, magical and captivating worlds for young and young adult audiences, since it  was founded in Adelaide in 2007 by artistic director Andy Packer and executive producer Jodi Glass, who later moved to the State Theatre Company of South Australia. Slingsby has gone international with original theatre that earned rave reviews, overcoming federal grant cutbacks with local donors’ backing. It found a new home in 2018 at the Parkside and Eastwood Institute building on Glen Osmond Road, Parkside. Slingby’s production of Oscar Wilde’s The Young King has been transforming. Opening in the former Dazzeland theme park for Adelaide Festival 2016, it has so far taken the company on tour to Riverside Theatres Parramatta; New Victory Theatre, New York; Sydney Opera House and a six-week tour of USA including seasons in New Jersey, Kansas, Arkansas, Michigan and at the Pittsburgh International Children’s Festival.The Young King, which won the IPAY Victor Award in Wisconsin, was part of the 2018 theatre festival in Dublin – Wilde’s home town. Slingsby had previously enthralled Dublin audiences with The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy in its 2014 Theatre for Children Season. 

Bec Parnell and Sean Riley head SAYarts' rescue of Urban Myth youth arts tradition

The 32-year history of Unley’s Urban Myth Theatre Company, dissolved in 2014, was resurrected as SAYarts. Urban Myth grew from theatre director Brigid Kitchin offering professional theatre workshops for young people in 1981, with support from Unley Council who gave access to the “Cottage” and later the Goodwood Institute. Urban Myth Theatre Company travelled with shows and workshop regionally, nationally and internationally and won many awards for quality. Over its life it employed 5000 professionals training 10,000 young people (aged 15-20) to take part in its 150 plays (70% Australian originals). When Urban Myth had to close in 2014, a collective of its former tutors, directors, writers and professionals gained community backing to resume the strong youth arts tradition as SAYarts. This was led by former Urban Myth general manager Bec Parnell, award-winning playwright, director and specialist youth tutor Sean Riley; theatre maker and actor Claire Glenn; dance teacher and theatre maker Nicole Allen; and guest tutors such as Tamara Lee. With community fundraising, they were able to get the group up and running again soon enough to rescue Sean Riley’s play Warren and have it on stage at the Goodwood Institute with 46 young players in 2014.


from outside and Adelaide talent repays the world in a big way

Wal Cherry's drama course at Flinders Uni blossoms from 1967 into an awards winner

Wal Cherry was foundation chair of drama – a first for an Australian university – in 1967: the year Flinders University started. Cherry built a course that’s unique in Australia by teaching theatre and film drama skills but with the concepts and analysis of a university degree. He came to Flinders University after being founder and director of Melbourne’s Emerald Hill Theatre Company with innovative programmes and bold productions, particularly of Australian plays. In its first year, the Flinders drama department had only Cherry and ex-ABC radio’s George Anderson as staff. It expanded rapidly in the 1970s. A champion of Berthold Brecht plays and theatre theory, Cherry was a key member of the board of the early State Theatre Company of South Australia. In 1971-72, he wrote and directed Horrie's Alibi, with a cast of Flinders students and professional actors.It also toured Israel, playing at kibbutzim as a cultural exchange. Former Flinders drama students have made impressive contributions to Australian film, theatre and television. The Wal Cherry Award is given annually for new Australian playwriting and Flinders University holds a biennial Wal Cherry lecture with the first in 2006 by Dr Noni Hazlehurst (a graduate of Cherry's Flinders course) and the second in 2008 by Dr Robyn Archer.

Colin George brings UK experience, rising audiences and top young talent to State Theatre

Colin George, artistic director of South Australia’s State Theatre Company 1977-80, brought 25 years’ experience as a successful actor and director in British regional theatre, notably in Nottingham and Sheffield, where he was founding artistic director of the Crucible Theatre. He had also been a guest director for the Old Vic Theatre, the Shakespeare Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario and the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. With enthusiasm and maturity, he brought stability and professional focus to the company. His ambitious plans such as altering the Playhouse and the Space didn’t materialise, but he saw audiences in the Playhouse rise and the theatre arts blossom in Adelaide. George worked with the leading Adelaide actors such as Don Barker, Daphne Grey, Barbara West and Dennis Olsen but continued State Theatre's policy of encouraging acting graduates from NIDA to accept year-long contracts. Talents who joined the company were Colin Friels, Mel Gibson, Judy Davis and Michael Siberry whose Hamlet was the springboard for an outstanding career in British theatre, mostly with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Jim Sharman changes State Theatre to the Lighthouse ensemble in Adelaide during 1980s

Jim Sharman was a 20th Century influence on Adelaide theatre with national effects. Sharman was artistic director of the 1982 Adelaide Festival of Arts that was transforming and award winning. While in South Australia, he turned the State Theatre of South Australia into Lighthouse, specialising in radical staging of work by major Australian dramatists, including Louis Nowra, Stephen Sewell and Patrick White. He gathered an ensemble of actors, including Geoffrey Rush, to develop an adventurous tradition that was carried on at Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre. Other actors in Sharman’s Lighthouse ensemble were Robynne Bourne, Peter Cummins, Melissa Jaffer (replaced in 1983 by Jacqy Phillips), Alan John (also composer in residence), Gillian Jones, Melita Jurisic, Russell Kiefel, Stuart McCreery, Robert Menzies (replaced by Robert Grubb), Kerry and John Wood. Neil Armfield, associate director to Sharman for the Lighthouse, left in 1985 to be involved in buying Belvoir Theatre in Sydney. State Theatre’s artistic director from 1996, Chris Westwood, made a similar change when she subtitled the company as the Australian Playhouse that would present only Australian works until the end of the century. Westwood resigned under pressure in 1997 and the company returned to a more orthodox season.


Flinders Uni creative graduates a driving force honouring spirit of Stuart Thompson

Winner of six Tony awards and the manager and producer of more than 70 Broadway and West End shows, Stuart Thompson (who died in 2017) was one of the many success stories for Flinders University drama graduates. In 2018, Adelaide had Flinders drama graduates Douglas Gautier (Adelaide Festival Centre chief executive and artistic director) and Geordie Brookman (State Theatre Company of South Australia long-term artistic director) in key positions determining the direction of the city’s theatre life. Now a partner of Flinders University, State Theatre Company of South Australia mounted its largest ever state-wide tour of 14 venues in 2018. Four of the company’s nine productions had their premiere in South Australia. Several featured the talents of outstanding Flinders alumni, including the next two ensemble productions by artistic director Geordie Brookman – Sense and Sensibility and In The Club featuring Flinders-trained actor Rachel Burke. Rosabla Clemente, head of acting at the Flinders University drama centre, starred in a new State Theatre Company production called The gods of strangers with the premiere in Port Pirie before opening in Adelaide.


Brink Productions an actors' collective that becomes a leading professional company

Started primarily by graduates from Flinders University drama school in 1996, Brink Productions now is a professional company started in 1996 as an actor-driven collective. Inspired by the great theatre ensembles of the world, Michaela Cantwell, Lizzy Falkland, Victoria Hill, Richard Kelly, David Mealor, John Molloy and Paul Moore were joined in their dream by Benedict Andrews who directed two of Brink’s early successes: Mojo by Jez Butterworth and his own radical reimagining of A Dream Play by August Strindberg. In 1998, Brink was awarded the South Australian government’s New Theatre Venture, transforming it from a dedicated collective to a public company limited by guarantee. From 1996 to 2004, the company produced more than 20 shows. In 2000, Brink presented the world premiere of Howard Barker’s nine-hour epic The Ecstatic Bible for the Adelaide Festival of Arts. In 2004, Chris Drummond became artistic director, creating original theatre by working with artists from different disciplines and background. His productions at Brink have been presented by most major Australian theatre companies. Brink staged the world premiere of When the Rain Stops Falling by Andrew Bovell, at the 2008 Adelaide Festival. The play has gone on to have many new productions around the world.

Elder Conservatorium adds degree to wealth of Adelaide training in musical theatre skills

The Elder Conservatorium bachelor of music theatre course, led by George Torbay, started in 2019, adding to Adelaide’s wealth of theatre training. The city already has the Adelaide College of the Arts, Australia’s only tertiary institution housing the study of visual, music and performing arts training in one building, on Light Square. The $30 million TAFE campus has two main theatre spaces, also used for professional productions during the Adelaide and Fringe festivals. On the third floor of the building there are four dance studios with mirrors and bars, four acting studios and a music room. The centre was created in 2001 from the North Adelaide School of Arts and the Centre for Performing Arts  in Grote Street, set up by Dr Barry Young in 1978 on the site of Adelaide Girls High School, next to Adelaide Central Market. An acting course was introduced in 1986, headed by David Kendall. His daughter Kate, best known for TV series Stingers, was a centre graduate. Among self-funded music theatre academies are Pelican Productions, started in 2004 by Jen Frith and Kylie Green. It has an intensive two-week music theatre camp in the January school holidays, for performers aged eight to 19, that ends in a performance. Pelican has also staged full musical productions. 


with regional theatres adding to state's solid base of enthusiasm

University of Adelaide Theatre Guild giving tutorials in quality and courage since 1938

The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild is the second oldest amateur theatre company in South Australia, started in 1938. After 80 years of nearly 400 productions, the guild is still winning awards in a pivotal contribution to both amateur and professional theatre in Adelaide and Australia. In 2018, it won the Adelaide Theatre Guide Curtain Call best show drama (amateur) award for Three Tall Women, with Jean Walker awarded best female performance (amateur). This followed the same awards in 2016 for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Julie Quick in the role of Martha. The guild has won many world, Australian and South Australian premières, most notably the first performances of Patrick White’s The Ham Funeral (1961), Season at Sarsaparilla (1962) and Night on Bald Mountain (1964). The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild has its home in the university’s North Terrace campus and, since 1974, its Little Theatre in the Union building, now heritage listed and designed by Adelaide music/drama legend with architect Robert Dickson

St Jude's Players born at Brighton in 1948; Mos Day/Rosemary Pou start Noarlunga company

St Jude’s Players was born out of a group of parishioners, at the Anglican church in the Adelaide seaside suburb of Brighton, staging a nativity play in Grundy Hall on Christmas Eve 1948. From a one-night season of one-act plays in 1949, the new St Jude’s Players put on the their first full-length play, Ben Travers’ farce A Cuckoo In The Nest, in 1951. St Jude’s became an accepted member of the Adelaide community theatre scene over 20 years with experienced directors from other groups offering to work with them. From 1970-89, 61 major productions included several musicals and four Fringe Festival shows. A group of experienced directors has been established at St Jude's with open auditions now the norm. Since 1990, Australian plays –  including South Australian premières of Kid Stakes, Light Up The Sky, Hotel Sorrento and Communicating Doors – have featured strongly on its programmes. Further south down the metropolitan coast, Noarlunga Theatre Company at the Arts Centre (old Port Noarlunga institute building) was started in 1994 by company manager Mos Day and assistant Rosemary Pou to show local writing talent.

Bruno Knez and his La Mama challenge the standards and style of Adelaide local theatre

Bruno Knez, a Croatian refugee arriving in 1950, became a challenging whirlwind influence on Adelaide community theatre from the 1960s. Knez directed for the Pioneer Players at Brighton, Lutheran Seminary, Therry Society and Adelaide Repertory before forming his La Mama at Hindmarsh, offering experimental theatre.  His 1978 Adelaide Festival production of Steve Berkoff’s East and its stark realities typified Knez’s approach. In the same year, Knez directed street theatre in the then Adelaide Focus Fringe Festival with themes such as questioning overuse of Valium. Knez’s plays reflect his penchant for social and challenging themes: The Crucible, The Christian Brothers, President Wilson in Paris, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Don’s Party, The glass menagerie and A play About Two Lesbian Partners and a Daughter. Knez was a demanding director. In the era of Adelaide amateur theatre eisteddfods, anyone who had him for their entry was a likely winner – but at the cost of cast members being traumatised. Knez also was involved in the 1963 Catholic schools drama festival at Willard Hall in Wakefield Street, Adelaide. Knez had a role as the Reverend Hess in South Australian Film Corporation’s Breaker Morant 1979.

Stirling Players and the Hills Musical Company save 1883 institute from being demolished in 1972

Music and drama saved the historic Stirling Institute building, dating back to 1884, in the heart of the Adelaide Hills. Hills Musical Company and the Stirling Players were both formed in 1972 to give life to the mostly-unused building, under threat of being demolished. The small then-Hills Drama Group, with a one-act melodrama Temptation Sordid and Virtue Rewarded and the musical company, with Kiss me Kate (directed by Didy Pederick and John McGregor with Leith Pederick as musical director, 1973) opened in a theatre without heating, cooling, dressing room or toilets. All money from productions went into upgrading what became the beautiful and historic Stirling Community Theatre. With growing support, in 1976, the renamed Stirling Players started the Hills Festival of One Act Plays, with the first at its theatre. The players have earned a reputation for staging new challenging plays, from success in London and New York, and contemporary Australian drama. Hills Musical Society has produced two shows a year, among them Man of La Mancha, Guys and Dolls, West Side Story, 42nd Street, Jekyll and Hyde, A Chorus Line, Cabaret and Blood Brothers. Many productions have won best actor, best choreographer and best musical awards. 

Rob Croser and David Roach mainstays of Independent's love of classic drama from 1984

Rob Croser and David Roach were honoured with the Adelaide Theatre Guide's inaugural 2018 lifetime achievement Richard Flynn Award for top-quality community theatre with strong dramatic elements, and adapting significant literature for the stage, since 1984. Independent’s work has run the spectrum of theatrical writing, from ancient Greek tragedies to Australian and world premieres of brand new plays. The company was founded by Rob Croser, David Roach, Allen Munn and Pattie Atherton and other committed theatre lovers, all driven by a passion to allow Adelaide audiences to experience theatre not being done elsewhere. The company has drawn on some of the best actors, technicians, designers and theatre staff in Adelaide. Another feature has been Independent collaborating with international playwrights John Logan (for Never the Sinner, 1994) and Sam Adamson, Frank Galati, Jon Marans and Charles Smith, as well as Elaine Steinbeck, while adapting East of Eden. It has also distinguished itself by bringing members of the Indian and African communities of South Australia with productions such as Indian ink and To kill a mockingbird. In recent years, the Independent has settled on The Goodwood Institute on Goodwood Road as its home.

Metropolitan, Northern Light and Marie Clark fill Adelaide's calendar with musical theatre

Metropolitan Musical Theatre Company of South Australia (1958), Northern Light Operatic Society (1966) and Marie Clark Musical Theatre (1974) have added to the stream of musical theatre for Adelaide and suburbs. The Metropolitan prides itself on teaching young talent to present mainstream musicals (Bye Bye Birdie, Mr Fair Lady, Brigadoon, Grease) each May and October at the Arts Theatre in Angas Street, Adelaide. Northern Light Operatic Society (later changed to Northern Light Theatre Company) was formed to stage musical comedies and light opera to residents in the early northern suburbs in the new Shedley Theatre at Elizabeth. Quaker Girl was the first of more than 100 shows by Northern Light. The company has produced performers such as Andy Pole (Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables), Charisa Lynne and Jaii Beckley who went onto professional roles. Tea Tree Gully piano and singing teacher Marie Clark started the company carrying her name when she formed a concert party of her students and local singers to entertain schools and charity groups. In 1974, the company staged the first of 50-plus major shows. Marie Clark also uses the Arts Theatre  – as does Therry Dramatic Society for its musicals.

Malcolm Harslett's multi facet Adelaide stage, TV career leads to turning Theatre 62 into Star

Malcolm Harslett is entrenched in Adelaide theatre, television and entertainment since the 1960s through to the 21st Century when his Mighty Good Entertainment took over Theatre 62 at Hilton and renamed it Star Theatres. Actor, writer, producer, song writer, designer, painter and ice skater are a few aspects of a career from his first stage appearance, aged three, in 1951. Singer at Wonderland Ballroom (1964), actor at Olde Kings Music Hall Restaurant and Bunyip Children’s Theatre (1968) to writer, producer, script writer and Humphrey B. Bear actor with NWS Channel 9 in the 1970s to ice-skating compere with The Great Moscow Circus on Ice and the Torville and Dean World Tour in the 1980s – that’s just an outline of Harslett’s early CV. From writing, directing, designing, starring in the Rock’n’Roll Reunion theatre restaurant show (1986), Harslett moved into the 1990s with city council backing to present seniors concerts at Adelaide Town Hall. As owner of Mighty Good Productions, Harslett bought out Johnny Young Talent School and a share in Theatre 62 that became sole lessee in 1999. Besides putting on more shows, from Little Red and the Three Bopping Pigs toTeen Dream musical, Harslett revisited ice shows in Singapore and television, with his Get up tucked adult variety show on Channel 31 winning awards.

Galleon and Blackwood among theatre groups surviving and thriving on volunteers' efforts

Galleon Theatre Group's colourful journey started 1967 as The Mirthmakers song and dance act, operating from a Norwood church hall. Putting on the classic farce Charlie’s Aunt inspired the nameless theatre group to set up in Marino Progress Hall nearer many of the group’s homes. Voluntary work upgraded the hall with materials bought from Hills Industries where one the group, Bill Jordan, worked. It was the Hills Industries advertising department who came up with the name Galleon. The chance to move to Pioneer Memorial Hall (former home of Pioneer Players) at Seacombe Gardens in 1979 saw the group rise to having sellout houses. In 2001, when the Pioneer hall was sold, Galleon’s venue became Marion Cultural Centre. Also coping with moves, Blackwood (Memorial) Players were founded in 1951 by Tina Fairbrother, starting with drawing room comedy, George and Margaret, in the Blackwood, Belair and Coromandel Boys’ Club. For many years, Blackwood Memorial Hall was home. In the 1980s, Blackwood Players became resident at the Tower Arts Centre at (then) Daws Road High School. In 2005, the Players moved to Goodwood Institute and, in 2006, they returned to the Blackwood Memorial Hall, now Blackwood 21. Companies such as Galleon and Blackwood survive and thrive only through the efforts of dedicated volunteers.

Loss of Willard, Union halls balanced by new venues such as Holden Street with Red Phoenix

Adelaide’s loss of Willard Hall in Wakefield Street, Adelaide, and the Union Hall at Adelaide University (2010) as theatre venues has been leavened by the opening of spaces such as the Domain at Marion Cultural Centre (2001), the Holden Street Theatres at Hindmarsh (2002) and the reviving of the Odeon Theatre at Norwood as home to the Australian Dance Theatre. Actor and producer Martha Lott opened the Holden Street Theatres, with several performance spaces including  The Arch ­– originally All Saints Anglican Church, designed by Henry Stuckey in the Norman style, with Bishop Augustus Short laying the foundation stone in 1849. Lott’s interests extend to developing the heritage-listed 2000-capacity Thebarton Theatre, one of Australia’s most flexible entertainment venue workhorses since 1926. Holden Street Theatres have gained local, national and international recognition as the home of quality theatre during Fringe Festival. Red Phoenix Theatre, an offshoot of the Burnside Players, has become Holden Street Theatres’ resident company and is dedicated to producing only Adelaide premieres of provocative plays. In 2017, Red Phoenix won the Adelaide Critics Circle community theatre group award with the best actor gong going to Brant Eustice for The Conspirators and Two Brothers

Feminist Vitalstatistix and Unseen, with Terry Pratchett bent, Adelaide specialist theatre paths

Vitalstatistix and Unseen Theatre are two lively and adventurous special-focus theatre groups in Adelaide. Vitalstatistix is a feminist organisation founded in 1984 with a tradition of supporting women artists. Based in the heritage-listed Waterside Workers Hall in Port Adelaide, it aims to be a vibrant home on the Port River for creative women using contemporary culture, art, performance and progressive commentary. It supports live, multi-discipline works and experiments with ideas, forms and engagement. Performance, residencies, projects, exhibitions, festivals and collaborations are part of its offerings. Unseen Theatre, formed in 1999 by Pamela and Melanie Munt, specialised in the Discworld plays by British author Terry Prachett and has also produced plays such as Gasping and Silly Cow by Ben Elton; Men Behaving Badly, based on the TV series; and Star Trek: the Trouble with Tribbles. Unseen also stages Brien Frield’s Dancing at Lughnase, with Melanie Munt bring a cast of Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) graduates over for the 2006 Adelaide Fringe and combining them with local professional actors like Peter Green. Pamela Munt has continued to adapt stage plays, such as Eric and the The Lost Continent, directly from Pratchett’s novels, at the Bakehouse Theatre in Angas Street, Adelaide. 

Matt Byrne, David Gauci, Emma Knights hone theatre companies from personal passions

Matt Byrne (Matt Byrne Media), David Gauci (Davine Productions) and Emma Knights (Emma Knights Productions) are Adelaide community theatre companies propelled by individual producer/directors. Byrne’s early efforts to write his own productions morphed into a tradition since the 1990s of presenting Fringe Festival comedy shows at Maxim’s Wine Bar on The Parade, Norwood. He has created a full-time entertainment career by juggling promoter, publicist and critic roles with puttin on plays, from 12 Angry Men to The Graduate, through to ambitious musicals such as Wicked, We will rock you and Strictly ballroom. David Gauci, with opera training at the Elder Conservatorium, toured Australia into cabaret and music theatre, writing shows with accompanist Matthew Carey. Since 2013, Gauci has produced and directed award-winning Adelaide Fringe theatre musicals, concentrating on non-mainstream cutting-edge shows. Emma Knights started her company in 2013 after buying the sets and costumes from her tour with Opera Queensland. She brought them back to run the opera Space Encounters in South Australia. To cover costs of staging the opera, Knight put on three concerts, Floating Melodies, that became Emma Knights Productions.

County Arts SA adding cutting-edge theatre to mainstream delights of local musical groups

Country Arts SA in 2018 reached 25 years of bringing thousands of productions – including Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and the Australian Ballet  – to South Australian regions, funding local creative arts and running the major regional theatres: Northern Festival Centre in Port Pirie, Chaffey Theatre in Renmark, Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre in Mount Gambier and Middleback Arts Centre in Whyalla plus the Hopgood Theatre in Noarlunga. Theatre is also kept buoyant in regional centres by groups such as the Whyalla Players who started with Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury in 1956. South Coast Choral and Arts Society at Victor Harbor also staged its first musical The Pirates of Penzance in 1956 at the town hall. Port Pirie Theatre Guild had its golden era in the 1960s under Harry Madigan. In 2018, Northern Festival Centre in Port Pirie saw the world premiere of locally-born playwright Elena Carapetis’ Gods of Strangers, inspired by regional migrant stories. Although commissioned by the State Theatre, it is one of many shows sponsored by Country Arts SA. These include another possible world first by Mount Gambier’s Gener8 Theatre in 2018 with In the Pines, where the audience dons visual reality headsets to experience the plight of the ice drug addiction. 


remembered in Performing Arts Collection and the walk of fame

The Performing Arts Collection records South Australia on stage and behind the scenes

The Performing Arts Collection of South Australia documents, preserves, exhibits and researches the state’s rich performing arts history. Since 1979, the collection has gathered more than 160,000 items including programs, posters, photographs, props, costumes, stage models, costume designs, oral histories, masks and puppets. The collection is in Adelaide Festival Centre, the nation’s first multi-purpose arts centre in the 1970s. Soon after, a performing arts archive was set up by the Dunstan government through the State Theatre Company. Tom Dermody became a project officer, and Colin Ballantyne was the founding chairman. Jo Peoples was on the early staff and stayed for 35 years, becoming curator for much of that time. The collection's items range from Geoffrey Rush’s shirt from the film Shine, Dame Edith Sitwell’s garish jewellery, Cate Blanchett’s costume from The Seagull to the headdress worn by the Indian from the Village People.


Walk of fame salutes galaxy of stars to have enriched the Adelaide Festival Centre stages

Adelaide’s walk of fame honours the diverse artists who have graced Adelaide Festival Centre stages since it opened in 1973. The walk of fame, along the pedestrian path on the River Torrens side of Adelaide Festival Centre, started with 130 names featured. Three names will be added each year, decided by a critics’ choice, Adelaide Festival Centre Trust’s annual award and a public vote. In 2017, Adelaide’s Michael Griffiths won the 2017 public vote, conducted via The Advertiser, after his popular Adelaide Cabaret Festival show Lucky: Songs By Kylie followed up his starring role in the Jersey Boys musical. Internationally-renowned Australian director Barry Kosky, whose opera Saul was the centrepiece of the 2017 Adelaide Festival, was selected by the critics circle. Writer, broadcaster and producer Shun Wah was chosen by the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust. American composer Leonard Bernstein and Frank Ford, founder of Adelaide’s fringe and cabaret festivals, were added to the walk of fame in 2017-18. Among the South Australian walk of fame stars are Elizabeth Dalman as founder of the Australian Dance Theatre and playwright Andrew Bovell, televisionlegend Anne Wills, singer Rachael Leahcar and entertainer Raymond Crowe,

Rachel Healy reaches national peaks as a product of Adelaide's special arts structure

Rachel Healy, artistic director with Neil Armfield, of the Adelaide Festival 2017-19, personifies a product of the creative revolution in Adelaide from the 1960s and how she took that experience to impact nationally. Healy went from Adelaide to 17 years as artistic director of Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre, then director of performing arts at Sydney Opera House and executive manager culture at the City of Sydney. Healy credits her stint as theatre editor of Adelaide University Union’s On Dit magazine for launching this career. Besotted by performance arts from a young age, she joined the Adelaide University Footlights Club after enrolling in 1987 to study arts and law. But it was On Dit theatre editor on Healy’s limited CV that saw her chosen to assistant editor on Lowdown youth arts magazine. She soon became editor and then administrator of the youth-focused Magpie Theatre in Education, part of the State Theatre Company with CEO Robert Love becoming a valuable mentor for Healy. This her up to become general manager at Handspan Theatre in Melbourne and briefly manager of The Australian Ballet before being headhunted to Belvoir Street Theatre. Later, as executive manager culture at the City of Sydney, Healy led the city’s first cultural policy and action plan.

Universities and TAFE help South Australia's creative arts graduates via Helpmann Academy

The Helpmann Academy, formed in 1994, is the only organisation of its kind in Australia. This a unique partnership, unifying the skills and resources of the South Australia’s universities (Adelaide University Elder school of music, Flinders University drama centre, University of South School Australia School of Art) and TAFE SA’s Adelaide College of the Arts in Light Square, Adelaide. The Helpmann Academy supports graduates in creative arts and promotes South Australia as a centre for excellence in creative education. The academy is funded by the state government via each university and institution contributing an equal amount and by the Helpmann Foundation Board that sources money from philanthropic supporters of the creative arts. Main sources of its funding are via mentorships and the annual Maestroes and Apprentices event. The academy provides grants and awards, fellowships, mentorships, masterclasses and seminars, advice and international artist residencies – all tailored for South Australia’s higher education students, graduates and emerging creative artists. The academy, named after famous South Australian dancer, actor and director Robert Helpmann, sponsors courses in music, dance, drama, directing, visual arts, technical theatre production and design. The academy schools have strong links with overseas creative arts institutions and they make exchanges in visual arts, drama, dance and music.

Scotch College's historic theatre beacon of drama education in South Australian schools

Scotch College at Torrens Park has theatre saturating its history and the performing arts are a vibrant part of the educational experience of the college that celebrated 100 years in 2019. Scotch has one of South Australia's few heritage theatres, built in 1885 as part of the home of Robert and Joanna Barr Smith that became the college. The theatre was restored by Scotch College in 1981 to augment its performing-arts tradition that has produced many actors, musicians, dancers and film makers. Drama, usually combined with music and/or dance, is part of the curriculum of other private schools, such as Westminster and St John’s Grammar at Belair, and in state government high schools such as Glenunga International, Golden Grove and Aberfoyle Park. Other government high schools specialise in dance (Charles Campbell College, Mitcham Girls, Seaview) and music (Brighton Secondary School, Charles Campbell College, Marryatville, Playford International, Seaview, Woodville). School courses extend into territory such as performance special study, composing and technology. An example of the intensive theatre that students produce was Golden Grove High School’s 2016 class performing Kindertransport, based on the Jewish experience in World War II.

Ben Francis shining 
as teenager in drama and music; founds 
Promise Adelaide for under25s

Ben Francis, already a regular performer with Independent Theatre and The State Opera of South Australia as a teenager, helped found Promise Adelaide in 2014 to give South Australians under 25 the chance to present challenging drama and music while benefitting charitable initiatives in their community. In the 2016/17 Adelaide Fringe Festivals, Promise produced Musical Moments, a season of musical theatre cabaret with nearly 50 performers. ​In 2017, Promise Adelaide's first play, Private Peaceful, was performed by Ben Francis to critical acclaim. Francis aleady has performed extensively in the United Kingdom and Australia for many years. His credits include: You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown, High School Musical, The Little Mermaid, Wizard of Oz and Pirates of Penzance.In 2015, Francis played the title role in Jesus Christ Superstar, earning a best young performer nomination in the Adelaide Theatre Guide 2015-16 Curtain Call Awards. Francis also has appeared in Carmen (2011), and La Boheme (2012) with the State Opera, as Peter Pan in Peter and Alice, and the Jazz Singer in The Great Gatsby with Independent Theatre. In 2016, Francis had a supporting lead in State Opera’s world premiere of Cloudstreet!, adapted from the Tim Winton novel. 


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