Reality Check @ WLT

Sitting around contemplating WLT’s rich 66 year long history and marvelling at what that all means and what a treasure we have with this theatre company….but for how long?

As editor of this august journal I naturally get to see the full kaleidoscope of a theatre-year unfold before my very keyboard.  It’s an impressive body of work and activity which must be the envy of many other community organisations, be they theatre-based or not.

One obvious factor when thinking about the theatre is that life has changed dramatically since the mid 1940’s when a small group of Williamstown people decided to form a theatre company.  World War II had only recently ended and life was getting back to peace-time normality.  Entertainment was restricted mainly to radio, cinema, church and related social activity.  Compared with the plethora of distractions available to us now in 2012, those early days were slower and the formation of a theatre company was perhaps an obvious development for a bunch of gregarious, creative and hopefully talented people.

The dynamics of building and establishing a theatre were very focusing for all involved – premises, funds, content, sustainability, aiming for excellence, etc.  Actually, that’s not too different to the dynamics today.

Life then was more local and so WLT became a ‘go to’ place for its members, all largely from the immediate and neighbouring suburbs.  Early years saw the company move around several Williamstown venues before the current premises, an old bakery, was acquired.  Once into the Albert Street property it was go, go, go with a full-on effort to establish the theatre.  It was like one long working-bee, building, reworking and creating the structure and fabric of our fabulous little theatre, of which we are all intimately familiar now.  That sort of activity had a wonderful galvanizing, team-building, bonding, effect which pervaded all that occurred at WLT and continues to do so, to this very day, with the hard core, older, long-term members.

On the stage, from show to show you could be mistaken for thinking it was a repertory company with the same actors appearing in different productions.  This ensemble style theatre continued for many years and is probably the rich tradition that underpins the continued success of WLT – now, dare I say the doyen non professional theatre company across metropolitan Melbourne and beyond.

Fast forward to the present and compare the differences with those early years.

From the diversity of technology – internet, smart phones, etc. to the wealth of entertainment options in theatre, music and all the creative arts, 2012 is prolific in its breadth of offerings.  I haven’t even touched on Social Media – the role Twitter and Facebook play in many people’s lives.  The all consuming world of email, smart phones, internet all contributes to what Demographer Hugh McKay calls “the unrelenting speed and intrusiveness of today’s culture of “busy-ness”. The minds of our 1946 founders would boggle big time at our world now.

Almost every Cues & News we’re promoting some participative activity, over and above our year’s five productions.  This can range from a social night – restaurant, film night, garage sale, AGM, January Working-Bees, etc.  Despite all the colour and movement we try to cloak these events in, to attract the masses, we fail dismally.  The events always occur and are always fantastic and hugely enjoyed by the participants.  The only thing is, that it’s always the same hard core, older, long-term members.

Give or take one or two, the same scenario exists with our committee.  This dedicated small group of people have had long associations with the theatre.  Their commitment and dedication is truly impressive and it’s largely thanks to them, that WLT is the famous and much loved “little” theatre that enjoys such esteem.

Get the picture – reality kicking in?  All these people are getting older and despite their wish to do so, they just won’t be able to maintain the level of commitment that delivers us all the five fantastic productions a year, plus a whole range of other activity, not to mention keeping the fabric of the theatre maintained and comfortable.

So, this maybe stating the obvious but it probably needs to be.  What of the long term future of WLT?

Frank Page


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