We've been around for a long time in Cairns thanks to a bunch of theatre lovers including Jimmy and Lori Barton, Michael Carette and Kevin and Narelle Shorey.
HISTORY OF CAIRNS LITLE THEATRE AND THE RONDO
By Narelle Shorey
What motivates a 27 year old announcer with the local ABC radio in Far Nth Qld in 1954 to ask his listeners if anyone interested in quality drama would like to participate in on-air play readings? Whatever his reason, CLT members today should be grateful because Bruce Webster was delighted when a small but enthusiastic group put up their hands and later, seeing the obvious pleasure the readings were bringing, he asked if they would like to be part of a new little theatre movement. Enthusiastic but with no practical experience in any aspect of theatre, the group of about 8 gathered together, pooled ideas and eventually decided if done in a small venue with a quality script, they would try a small, fully fledged public performance. A management committee was hastily formed with Mr J.J.Bell as president. With no financial backing but spurred on by their collective enthusiasm and courage, they spread the word around town and were amazed at the offers of help and materials forthcoming. So with ‘I Have Been Here Before’ by J.B.Priestley as the chosen script and hard work aided by a carpenter and electrician, ply board sets were built, lighting made from large jam tins and metal dishes, costumes made or borrowed and furniture and props borrowed while rehearsals continued in various homes. An amazing learning curve for all but so much fun. Finally with cast and crew chipping in to pay for the hire of the tiny Methodist Hall, performances by the new Cairns Little Theatre were presented in December for a 3 night season, to over-capacity audiences, proving that Cairns was more than ready for this new amateur theatre group.
1955: 2 more plays were successfully performed and the slightly larger Edge Hill Progress Hall was chosen to be the venue for any further productions. The first AGM was held in July and a committee chosen with Mr Keith Gilbert as president, an annual membership fee of 1 guinea agreed upon, a constitution drawn up and accepted. A decision was also made to hold monthly clubnights to gather new members and to produce a play every 2 months ea year with plans to raise 2,000 pounds to try to build a theatre/club house by year’s end. The last 2 naturally took longer to accomplish.
1956 – 57: The group continued with meetings, rehearsals and clubnights held in various homes, RSL, CWA & Council rooms. In April ’57 they met with Cairns Playbox Players and Innisfail Repertory to form the Far Nth Qld Amateur Theatrical Assoc. and organised an amateur, non competitive Drama Festival. In September, together with groups from Mareeba, Atherton, and Tinaroo Falls the first of the now annual F.N.Q.A.T.A. Drama Festivals was presented. Also in 1957, after 7 previous productions by CLT it was decided to be adventurous and in July ‘Dangerous Corner’ by J.B. Priestly was presented in the much larger Hibernian Hall in Sheridan St. This was the only large performance space in Cairns at the time. There were rows of canvas seats (as there were in all the cinemas at the time) and a proscenium style raked stage which meant no furniture on wheels could be used or it would slowly make its way into the footlights (the fate of more than a couple of dropped props).The lighting desk was left stage beside the proscenium and accessed by a very long ladder and the wings and backstage area adequate but extremely dingy. It was advisable to carry a torch if you were the first to arrive at evening rehearsals as the light switch was approx 10mtrs from the door and the building had more than a few rats. This said, everyone was delighted to be in a ‘real’ theatre and any difficulties were handled with humour and it became the performance venue for many years.
1958: As membership grew and more plays presented, CLT accumulated assorted stage settings so the old, very small, Radio Range Building situated where CPAC now stands was acquired as much needed storage for anything of value. Often on fine evenings with help of an external light the adjacent ground was used for rehearsals and play readings. This became affectionately known by members as The Little Hut.
1959: To benefit existing and prospective members, the services of Mr John V. Trevor, a director for The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust were engaged for 8 weeks to conduct lectures & very welcome acting and directing workshops (including schools) and to direct ‘See the Jaguar’ by N. Richard Nash in August. Following response to the workshops, the CLT Junior Group for ages 13 to 18 was formed in October with Charles Eustance as convenor.
1960: The Junior group flourished and its first play, ‘Lady Precious Stream’ was performed in July. Having earlier launched a public appeal to raise money to construct an intimate theatre/clubhouse, the recreation hall of the old immigration centre in Hartley St, Bungalow was bought for 2,000 pounds meaning many hours of hard work ahead for all to make it into a working theatre.
1961-64: During the late ‘50s CLT had sponsored visiting artists and groups (Aust Ballet, Opera, various Professional Drama Co’s) to help Cairns audiences experience high standards of performance, thereby seriously depleting the group’s funds and forcing members to plead with and eventually persuade the Qld Arts Council to form a Cairns Branch to take over the reins in 1961. With hard work continuing on the building in Hartley St, increasingly varied plays continued to be presented successfully in the Hibernian Hall until Nov. 1964, making a total of 30 since 1957. Among the most successful were ‘Toad of Toad Hall’ by A.A.Milne which had a large cast of all ages with imaginative costumes and make-up to suit the animal characters, ‘Paint Your Wagon’ by Lerner & Lowe which was the first venture into musical theatre, and ‘Gigi’ by Collette & Anita Loos which played to a season of standing room only, even after additional seating was provided in the side aisles. Also in ’61 & ’62 the original High School Assembly Hall was hired to provide a small venue for 2 controversial plays, ‘Look Back in Anger’ by John Osborne & ‘Waiting for Godot’ by Samuel Beckett. Attendances at both proved Cairns audiences were ready for more challenging theatre.
1965: After the past 4 years hard work and dedication, the Hartley St hall was transformed into CLT’s own Hartley St Theatre. The stage was extended, the auditorium floor raised and sloped, a foyer constructed with a canteen area and lift-up seats purchased from a closed Melbourne cinema bolted to the raised floor. Backstage area was converted to dressing rooms & wardrobe and some theatre lighting & sound purchased and fitted together with the existing home made lights. It finally opened in April with ‘Dial M for Murder’ by Frederick Knott, in a truly transformed space. It did however have one serious problem; Rain – The corrugated iron roof made it almost impossible to hear when it rained, so performances would pause until it eased. Audiences, luckily, took this all in their stride. This was also the case with cast & crew when the backstage area flooded in the worst of the wet season. After paddling barefoot until required onstage, the cast, armed with a small towel and shoes in hand, climbed the 4 steps to the wings in enough time to put on shoes to make an entrance. In fact, instead of complaining everyone joined in the ‘fun’ of it because they were finally performing in their own, hard-earned theatre.
1966 – 74: The building was paid off in ’71, but in spite of presenting 23 mostly well attended plays from ’66 to ‘73 the membership of the group gradually declined so in June ’73, in an endeavour to encourage people to join, a Workshop Group was formed following a Cairns Post ad. Starting with a very enthusiastic 12 people (late teens and 20 yr olds) meeting every Wednesday, the group grew throughout the year. In July ’73 CLT was served with a letter from the Council to ‘show cause’ why notice should not be given requiring repairs to their building within 90 days to make it fit for use and occupation or cause it to be demolished. There was a public outcry and after meetings with the Council an agreement was given by them that providing repairs were carried out and fire regulations met, the theatre could remain indefinitely. An appeal was made for help with these repairs and raised over $500 and valuable building materials. Members rallied with fund raising and the Municipal Band and local Rural Youth helped raise funds as well. A professional builder was employed to renovate the building exterior and construct an extension to the toilet block as well as improvements to the interior. The building was saved! However, in a reversal of fortune, in January ’74 vandals broke into the building causing major damage. Attempted to light a fire in the foyer, poured paint over a sound recorder and piano, broke into the props and wardrobe causing damage, completely covered a treasured antique chair with paint, threw paint over the refrigerator, threw paint, ink and duplicating fluid over the leather seats in the auditorium and smashed every light in the building. Their final act was to defecate over most of the tables. To give some light in all this gloom, members, their families and friends turned up in force and in a mammoth effort cleaned the theatre from top to bottom. Unfortunately some of the damage was not covered by insurance putting finances under a strain so the Workshop Group decided to pool their talents to avoid paying performance rights and wrote a revue based on current TV programmes and advertisements and performed to sold-out houses. The group also represented CLT in the entertainment offered at the official opening of the Cairns Civic Centre.
1975-76: A further 3 plays were presented but as audiences dropped and membership finally consisted of only the workshop group and a few stalwarts it appeared the CLT would fold. A last ditch meeting decided that as it was apparent audiences were being drawn to the new, much grander Civic Centre, CLT would bite the bullet, use whatever funds were left and call in much needed help from family and friends to try their luck there. Using imagination, old flats from the Hibernian Hall days joined by lengths of angle iron, an unimaginably heavy old telephone box and a mock-up lift, the Willis & Hall comedy, ‘Say Who You Are’ made it to the Civic Centre stage in June ’76. Audiences grew through the run and to the amazement of an exhausted cast, crew and helpers, CLT had turned a corner.
1977: It was decided that for the time being, if finances allowed, all future productions would be staged at the Civic Centre with the Hartley St building used for rehearsals, weekly workshops and all meeting etc. and, as membership was starting to grow again, to ask the Arts Council and the City Council to help to again engage the services of a southern professional director to conduct lectures & workshops and direct the final play for the year. In September. Mr Gilbert Spottiswood from Brisbane directed a very successful ‘Move Over Mrs Markham’ by Cooney & Chapman.
1978: Thankfully performances in the Civic Centre were proving to be successful, very gratefully aided by continued, mostly unpaid, publicity through the Cairns Post. However, from the beginning a more intimate form of theatre had been the preferred aim of CLT membership and realising that the position of their existing building in what was now a growing industrial area meant it would never be successful again, efforts should be made to sell. Hopefully, with the proceeds, helped by energetic fund raising and an application for a Government Grant subsidy, an alternate site could be found for an appropriate purpose-built theatre. Fund raising began in earnest with Vaudeville Cabarets in various venues, raffles, cake stalls and anything that the growing membership could devise to fill the coffers.
1979: The Hartley St building was sold and everything from the interior removed to various sheds around Cairns. This included all the timbers from the stage to be kept for building the stage of a future theatre as well as the auditorium seats which had to be removed in rows and transported through the streets rather precariously balanced on trailers. Very hard work but all carried out in the best of spirits. A 6 member building committee was formed with Mike Carrette as President as well as a 6 member fund raising committee and a Submission for a State Government dollar for dollar Subsidy was lodged with Qld. Treasury. Miraculously 4 plays were also performed at the Civic Centre through the year and a First Nighters Club formed with membership buying a ticket to each first night performance, champagne supper and meeting the cast following the performance.
1980: A Grant for $50,000 State Gov. Subsidy was approved in principal. Without a base, meetings and rehearsals were held in various homes, halls and the Cairns Library where workshops took place every Thursday eve. A Site for a new building was granted in the Greenslopes St Cultural area and plans drawn up for a 200 seat, $100,000 theatre in the ‘in-the-round’ or ‘thrust’ performance style which was becoming very popular in professional theatres. Perth Professional director, Andrew Ross adjudicated at the Drama Festival in June and with a group of local writers and CLT members adapted Aristophanes’ comedy ‘Lysistrata’ with a modern flavour and this was performed in August to large and appreciative audiences. In September a competition was run in Focus newspaper to find a name for the proposed new theatre and at the AGM the membership chose The Rondo, the name suggested by a local pensioner, Mrs Kidman. Imaginative ideas to raise much needed building funds included a very successful Ghost Train ride to Kuranda in conjunction with Oct. Production ‘Ghost Train’ by Arnold Ridley (from ‘Dad’s Army’) and more cabaret shows were written and performed.
1981: The detailed plans for The Rondo were submitted to both State Gov. and Cairns Council for approval but delays with these pushed up projected costs. Fundraising continuing including evening cruises on the Cairns Inlet and special restaurant dinners. The family of a former founding member, Mrs Mary Webb, offered to establish, as a memorial, an annual award for excellence in acting in a CLT production in the previous year. They funded a public competition to design and make a suitable statuette for presentation which was won by a bronze theatrically posed figure by Chuck Keough. Winners of the award to be chosen by a special sub-committee who have seen each of the plays and each winner will receive a certificate and keep the statuette for the following year.
1982: Delays beyond the control of CLT continued so an approach was made to the Cairns Council for a special purpose single donation of $10,000 towards the escalating costs. The application was unsuccessful but was followed by newspaper coverage, letters to the editor, general public concern and a petition by the high school teachers in the Cairns area, particularly as the Council had, at the same time, approved an on-going annual donation of $11,000 to a Townsville based professional group, the New Moon Theatre Co. It was also pointed out to the Council that while CLT contributed constantly to the cultural life of Cairns, it had never in its 28 year history asked for financial help. A further submission was made and subsequently $5,000 was reluctantly forthcoming. (It was voiced by many that the Council’s reluctance was due to their wishes to have CLT continue to use the Civic Centre) Determined to have the theatre built, a bank loan was raised for the short fall with 3 member families using their homes as guarantee. Now the block in Greenslopes St was cleared (including a nest of tiapans being disturbed) and finally the slab of the Rondo was poured in May. Work progressed well throughout the year and performance life continued as well with 4 more plays in the Civic Centre and the Alternative Activities Group establishing an audio lending facility at both the Municipal and Mulgrave Shire Libraries with tape recordings of plays for the visually handicapped. These were recorded by members at the studios of FNQ Channel 10 with the assistance of Stereo World and labels donated by Cairns Plan Printers. Applications to international and Australian playwrights resulted in most waiving their performance fees.
1983: First half of the year was filled with dedicated members finishing the interior of the Rondo including painting large tin cans to be fitted to portaflood bulbs to make the basic theatrical lighting (All designed by Mike Carrette after visiting the in-the-round professional Ensemble Theatre in Sydney and conferring with their experts) All the lighting rig was hung with the accompanying electrical work, the bio box set up (Including the lighting dimmer board also designed and built by Mike ) the original auditorium seats bolted to the raised tiers etc, etc. and the most important item, the stage, built (once again thanks to Mike) from those timbers saved from the stage in Hartley St. Very generous donations from the community helped complete the area around the building with 300 yards of fill from the Marino & Zappala families, Stan Klapworth trucked this from the quarry and Mr R Bartlett brought his bob cat to help members smooth the fill. All this at no cost to the theatre. The first Theatre Restaurant was held at Pandora’s and then, in June, the Rondo finally opened its doors to audiences for a thrust production of ‘Female Parts’ by Dario Fo & Franca Rame with the final night sold out and followed in Oct by the first in-the-round production, ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ by Bill Manhoff.
1984: January saw a very successful joint production with the Cairns Choral Society of Joan Littlewood’s thought-provoking musical ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ staged at the Civic Centre and involving members of both organisations. Very important throughout, was the use of back projection using original glass slides of WW1 very generously loaned by the Australian Film Archives in Canberra, adding an essential emotional impact. A big step forward when the CCCA hall adjacent to the theatre was purchased by CLT for use as a foyer with plans to improve its facilities in the future. It was agreed that the small local orchestras etc who used the hall for rehearsals could continue to do so free of charge. Another financially successful Theatre Restaurant was held and the committee decided that as the Rondo was running smoothly and audiences appeared to be accepting the new theatre, they would no longer use the Civic Centre except for an occasional ‘large’ show and would endeavour to produce annually at the Rondo, at least 4 productions, each for a minimum of 6 performances. In late December there was a break and enter gained by forcing locks on the exit doors but luckily no damage.
1985: In early January during rehearsals for the first play, ‘The Miracle Worker’ by William Gibson, it was discovered that a spotlight and the unique lighting control board, the one designed and built by Mike Carrette, had been stolen. Probably during the break-in in Dec. Police were notified and a reward offered for information. The board had taken Mike 3 months to build after he had spent considerable time with Strand Electrics in London becoming familiar with the currently used circuitry and was made to complement the specially designed Rondo wiring and be useless elsewhere. With less than a month till opening night a new board was made by Mike with the help of CLT’s retired lighting guru, Noel Burke so the play could go ahead. Then to add insult to injury, an extended Qld -wide power strike was called in the last days of rehearsal. Now determined not to postpone performances, a large number of phone calls followed and a generator large enough to run the power requirements of the Rondo was loaned by an extremely generous CLT supporter in Gordonvale. This was slowly moved through the streets to the area behind the theatre and with many fingers crossed (including for the working water pump to perform) a completely sold out, 7 night season of the aptly named play followed. Particularly satisfying as it is a play which reached all ages of audience and was also a testament to the generosity, hard work and dedication of all involved.
1986-89: Spurred on by the growing audience numbers and more directors coming forward, the diversity of plays grew and the target number of productions was reached, then exceeded in 1987 with 6 very successful plays staged. 1987 also saw a lockable bar built in the backstage area, serving out onto the covered cement area when the roller door was raised. This proved very successful financially. Inclusion in the annual Drama Festival continued and in 1988 CLT became Incorporated. ‘88 also included the Australian phenomenon, ‘Dimboola’ by Jack Hibbard, presented at the Hilton Hotel together with audience participation and the small musical, ‘Stop the World I Want to Get Off’ by Newley & Bricusse at the Rondo.
1990: This was a very busy year for CLT: Membership increased, more directors put their hands up, continuing to bring a wider range of productions to the Rondo and club nights continued with committee members being in charge of one each through the year. Another audience involved show was staged at the Hilton Hotel, and the musical ‘Man of La Mancha’ at the Civic Centre (by now called the Civic Theatre) as a co-production with CRC through their entrepreneurial fund. The decision by the committee to add Fringe productions to the season to encourage new directors and actors as well as providing the opportunity to stage less conventional or experimental plays, received an enthusiastic response.
1991-95: Membership continued to increase, averaging 100-150 annually. Small improvements to the building and foyer take place where possible and a full season of quality, successful major & fringe productions was presented each year including the introduction of a cabaret style show, ‘Cabaret D’Amour’, in 1993 to highlight the breadth of talent of members and in 1994 the whimsical small musical ‘The Fantastics’ by Jones & Schmitt (In its 4th decade in N.Y.) It had also become apparent through the years that without a stage front curtain and the proximity of the audience, the thrust/round format of the Rondo allowed imaginative use of sets to grab the attention of an audience and set the scene from the moment people entered the theatre. This included using the stage floor itself as never before and in ’95 it was transformed into a green meadow (dyed old carpet) with a hill one end complete with season-changing trees and a flying kite for ‘Sisterly Feelings’ by Alan Ayckbourn. Till now, as well as handling the artistic aspects of a show, directors were overseeing most of the production side as well and this was a heavy load. Therefore it was unanimously agreed that with the growth of the theatre and to ensure continuing the quality of shows being presented, the ‘nuts & bolts’ of each production such as budget, publicity etc should be overseen by a separate person, a producer. To aid this, a comprehensive Producer’s Manual as compiled with the view of being updated each year as circumstances required.
1996: During the past few ‘wet’ seasons there were continuing problems with leaks in the auditorium so the roof had to be replaced and a decision made to also apply a sound proofing surface. It also became necessary to upgrade the lighting and sound system so with assistance of a grant from the Gaming Fund a new lighting/dimmer board and sound equipment was purchased. During the year the kitchen in the foyer was broken into 5 times with windows and doors broken each time. There was also a break-in to the theatre but luckily on this occasion someone was in the building and the culprit apprehended and passed to the police. This prompted an alarm being installed in the foyer and a grille over the front door of the theatre. To aid the authentic appearance of the set for ‘Breaker Morant’ by Kenneth Ross, the stage floor was sanded back, removing 12 years of accumulated paint and realising this had been damaging the timbers, the committee set about organising a false floor overlay to be made. With a very well attended working bee, the exterior of the Rondo was repainted.
1997: The variety of plays chosen expanded as did the imaginative use of stage settings. Information from records of sales through the Civic Theatre showed that an average of 1300 patrons per show were now attending. The sale of annual Season Tickets started with a brochure being printed with information of dates and descriptions of the coming year’s plays. Rondo T-shirts became available for sale. CLT joined the social media with a Rondo/CLT Website launched. It was suggested that, to avoid confusion, ushers should have some form of uniform and white top and black pants or skirt was chosen. This changed later to Rondo T-shirt or black top. Good lighting was added to the parking area.
1998-99: Popular club nights continued, helping to increase membership and became a way for prospective actors and directors to ‘give it a try’. After trailing various forms of auditorium seating (including bench style) following the final demise of the old Hartley St. seats, those from the gutted Odeon Cinema in Grafton St became available for purchase and proved an answer to the problem. New house lights were installed and the green room kitchen was refurbished. In 1999 an annual trophy for drama at the Junior Eisteddfod was begun and after years of dashing through puddles in the rain to make entrances on the NW corner of the stage, a concrete path was laid from the green room door to the NW external door.
2000: To start the new millennium a grant was applied for from the Qld Government to help with a much needed upgrade of the foyer and this was successful by the end of the year. The path from the green room proved very handy but it was apparent that the ideal solution to keeping dry to make entrances would be to build an extension to the green room, finances permitting. Plans for this were drawn and sent out for quotes.
2001: A very busy year all round with a total of 6 productions including finding and casting an alternate play as one of these had to be cancelled (when already in rehearsal) due to an injured cast member. Since the Rondo was built, talk of it having its own theatre ghost has grown, with some individual members (one as young as 8) having seen a woman in a long grey dress passing through the edge of their field of vision or moving into another area of the building and disappearing. Most were naturally reluctant to mention this until mentioned by someone else. However during a performance of the ‘gothic ghost story’ play, ‘The Woman in Black’ by Stephen Mallatratt, an audience member joined this list. The atmospheric production featured a female ‘ghost’ dressed in black but one of the audience was heard to whisper ‘But who was the one in grey?’ Food for thought? Unfortunately only one club night but featuring 3 plays by local playwrights, 2 of whom were members. It was hoped by many that this trend would continue as it provided a platform for writers in the area. The extension to the green room went ahead and in addition to keeping actors dry it provided extra dressing room space for larger casts and much needed space for storage of props. In Nov. the current mayor and local dignitaries attended the opening of the revamped foyer which included new floor coverings, a lockable kitchen and bar area, a new larger amenities area and a cover between the foyer and the entrance to the theatre.
2002: The 2 air conditioners to the auditorium needed attention so one was replaced and, using parts from the original, the other repaired. To replace the painted canvas banner used at the front of the Rondo to advertise each coming/current play, permanent metal stands were erected. In Sept, it was moved and passed that a rule made earlier re criteria to direct a major production be added to the by-laws. The person must be a current financial member, produce a major production to the satisfaction of the director and direct a fringe production to the satisfaction of the management committee.
2003: Between 7 productions (including one with 15 trees on stage) being cast, rehearsed and presented, much of the year was spent planning the celebration to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of CLT the following year. It was agreed that something should be planned for entertainment that would involve members of all ages and talents. After lengthy discussion it was decided to write a revue style format representing as many past productions as possible with scenes, songs, monologues etc joined by quick descriptions incorporating titles of other plays.
2004: With the work required to organise the 50th celebration, a season of only 4 plays had been planned. A CRC grant was successful to build display cases to hold photos etc from past productions in the Bruce Webster Archives for display in the foyer. Invitations to special guests included members of CLT’s first production, past office bearers and local dignitaries. The Celebrations in Dec. were very successful with specially engraved ‘50th’ wine glasses presented to all special guests (also available for purchase by members), a champagne supper served, the mayor and local member officially opened the B.W. Archives and the well received entertainment represented 50 past productions: One from each year since 1954. Unfortunately work commitments prevented Bruce Webster himself from attending.
2005: A new improved website and logo were launched. Technical improvements continue in the theatre with the purchase of a new 18 channel sound system and a radio mic for use on stage when necessary.
2006: Improvements continue in all areas to help the Rondo to flourish. After years of climbing ladders while carrying heavy stage lights, the constantly weary technical crew were rewarded with a new vertical/scissor lift to lighten their load and the much-patched blackout curtains were replaced. Following suggestions from members, monthly Clubnights were re-introduced to enable those not involved in current productions to remain involved, mingle and keep up to date with future plans and auditions and possibly be involved in the evening’s entertainment. New guidelines for the M.W. Award were introduced to include fringe productions for consideration and for all performances under consideration to be mentioned at the presentation. It was also decided to provide T-shirts with a Rondo logo for members to purchase and wear when working front-of-house.
2007: Storage of furniture and larger props was becoming an increasing problem backstage so an application for a supporting Grant from the Gambling Fund was successful and in April a Mezzanine floor with stairway, trapdoor and winch was built providing much needed extra space. This allowed for much easier movement backstage during productions. The following month racks for the storage of stage flats were built along the back wall under the mezzanine. Security lighting was installed around the complex, new chairs purchased for the foyer and a coloured camera with infrared capabilities was installed to view the stage along with monitors in the lighting box and backstage.
2008: It was decided to suspend club nights as everyone too busy to organise. New guidelines added for the nomination of Life Members. New power supply to the theatre and rewiring. The exterior of the building was painted with a new, more modern colour scheme. Extensions done to the lighting rig and safety chains added to the lights. To comply with safety regulations handrails were installed in the seating areas, luminous tape applied to edge of auditorium stairs and emergency lighting installed.
2009: As well as 4 productions at the Rondo, ‘Amadeus’ by Peter Shaffer, a fully costumed co-production with the Cairns Regional Council was presented at the Civic Theatre in April. In July, for the first time since 1993 a Fringe play was produced.
2010: Improvements continued to be made where necessary including the floor of the Green Room replaced with the help of a generous donation from one of the members, new wiring and controllers for the lighting, platforms and ramps for safety at the N.W. stage corner and new carpet in the auditorium. A series of aluminium and ply modules with adjustable legs were built for levels and ramps to add versatility to stage presentation.
2011: With the prospect of encouraging an interest in non musical theatre, a new Junior Group was formed. To add to the comfort of audience and working members a new combined box office and tea counter was built in the foyer as well as a continued face lift for the auditorium by recovering the seats.
2012: Variety was definitely offered this year with productions ranging through thought-provoking drama, comedy and historical costume plays topped off in Nov. with ‘Calendar Girls’ by Tim Firth. A large number of props were made by skilful crew members and the brave female cast ‘bared all’ for the photographs to make the fund raising calendar. The extended season played to a ‘sell out’ enthusiastic audience. Congratulations all round.
2013: During the past couple of years it was becoming apparent that if the heavy schedule of plays and fringes in each season and the expected quality of these, was to be maintained, more space was needed for rehearsals of the upcoming production. As the roof of the foyer needed repairs or replacing, it was suggested that it be removed and an extra level be added as a rehearsal space. This proved a very expensive project and an unsuccessful application to CRC to underwrite a $100 loan from Bendigo Park followed. Undaunted, the alternative suggestion from a committee member that the purchase of a demountable building to be erected at the rear of the foyer should be investigated was followed and with the help of a grant from the Gaming Fund plus available funds a combined Rehearsal Room and new ladies wardrobe joined the complex.
2014-15: It was decided that the numbers in the foyer prior to performance and during interval were uncomfortable and crowd funding was launched to help fund an alfresco style extension to the eastern side of the foyer to ease the situation. This proved successful and the extension was built with a further grant from the Gaming Fund helping to make changes to the foyer building to access the extension and make it suitable for air conditioning as well as purchase high bar tables to add to the atmosphere. Unfortunately the archive display cases were not returned to the foyer after the refurbish as they took up quite a large amount of space and the possibility of saving the photos electronically for a rolling display on a wall mounted TV was discussed. It also became obvious that the existing electricity supply to the complex was insufficient to accommodate the new rehearsal room, foyer upgrade and air conditioning to both so a $ for $ grant was generously given by the CRC to upgrade the electricity supply. Acoustic panels were fitted to the walls of the rehearsal room as reverberation was proving a problem and new walkie talkies were purchased for backstage communication with the bio box. In an endeavour to improve advertising for productions corflute signs on stakes were used on suitable major roads. Friends of the Rondo was introduced and proved very successful as Friends of CLT had been in earlier days. During one production the audiences was encouraged to fill out a comprehensive survey including complaints or otherwise as well as suggestions re our facilities, performance area and season of plays. The result was positive and encouraging and proved a valuable tool for the management committee. After much discussion a Christmas Pantomime was added to the 2015 Season, introducing new members of all ages with ‘Cinderella’ by Cath Willacy finishing the year on a very bright and positive note.
2016: Hired back projection equipment had been used to great effect during the Panto last year and as more directors were expressing an interest in doing so this year and in the future, it seemed a sensible move to purchase CLT’s own. A TV was mounted in the foyer to display the archives as planned. As part of improving the Cultural Precinct along Greenslopes St, the CCCA erected pipe barrier style fencing and signage with solar lighting at the front of each organisation’s land. A Charity Night will still be made available for each play (at the director’s discretion) but under a new agreement that would cover CLT’s costs for the night. The round/thrust style of performance always proved a problem with seating late comers so 2 sets of 2 seats at each side of the entrance are now to remain unsold to help accommodate them until interval. 2 permanent metal stands were erected in front of the Rondo to hold large printed corflute signs to advertise each coming production. No doubt the highlight of 2016 was the visit by Bruce Webster, 62 years after founding CLT. He said that while he had remained abreast of all the trials, tribulations and achievements of the group over the years, seeing and experiencing the extent of those achievements proved quite emotional. (Bruce passed away in 2019 at the age of 92)
2017; To the great collective relief of all casts and crew, backstage was air conditioned. The Youth Theatre was disbanded as there were now many avenues available for this training in the city. In May, aided by an Infrastructure Grant, a Shed/Workshop was completed behind the theatre for building of sets and storage of flats, paint and tools allowing for better space and movement backstage. Covered concrete area connecting rehearsal space, rear of foyer and theatre completed. Another break-in to the bar so the grille was covered to obscure contents of the fridge. After 20 years of wear and at least 80 layers of paint, the false floor was replaced. To accompany the trophy donated annually to the Drama section of the Junior Eisteddfod an annual $200 bursary was offered. With 5 major productions, a Panto and 2 fringe plays it was a very successful year both financially and theatrically.
2018: Advice from the CRC regarding Arts & Cultural Grants being offered to ‘grass roots’ amateur organisations prompted a successful application for funds to completely upgrade the theatre’s lighting and sound system. This to include a new, lowerable aluminium lighting grid together with electric hoists, LED lights to replace the original home-made ‘basics’, new speakers and digital mixing, a computerised control system and electrical upgrade to meet the standards of the new technology. Federal member, Mr Warren Entsch became aware of CLT’s upgrade plans and advised that he had, at his disposal, a Federal fund to be applied at his discretion. He offered to make this available to the group as an Infrastructure Grant towards the upgrade if an application to the Federal Gov. was successful. Committee realised with this money the future plans to carry out work, after the LX & FX upgrade, to improve the building itself would be possible, making the Rondo a truly modern theatre for the comfort and enjoyment of both members and the audiences of the Cairns Region. Therefore plans and quotes were organised and the necessary, very detailed grant application prepared by Paul Hynes was forwarded. On a co-production format, Malanda Theatre brought their production of ‘Venus in Fur’ to the Rondo for a very successful short season. A suggestion was brought to the committee from the Cairns Municipal Band for a proposed co-production of ‘Brassed Off’ by Paul Allen Wayne in the future and met with interest if an agreement suitable to both parties could be organised. Another very successful year theatrically with 6 productions including a panto plus 1 fringe.
2019: Upgrade to Lighting and sound was completed and the Federal Grant money (via Warren Entsch) approved with work commencing in May. This included repairs to the ceiling, a new combined bio box and long needed office with storage under, raising the ceiling in the gents’ wardrobe, complete new kitchen in the green room and the egg cartons for sound improvement removed from the ceiling and acoustic panels installed. The work being carried out inside the building resulted in some inconveniences at rehearsals but were handled in the right spirit and all evidence removed for performances with co-operation from all. Presenting 4 very successful pantos so far had shown the music needed for dance numbers made it difficult for vocalists to be fully audible and body mics should be purchased. This was done in time for ‘Aladdin’ by Ben Crocker & Cath Willacy in Nov. To help local actors the rehearsal space was made available for NIDA auditions. Cabling was extended to the new bio box and an extension to the WI FI system with multiple access points was installed. A suggestion for Crash Test Drama, to be held under the umbrella of the Sydney Theatre Co was to be considered. This proposes a competition for local writers to submit a short play to be judged, prizes awarded (from the entrance monies) and these to be cast and performed by members at the Rondo. Interest of writers is to be canvassed before choosing whether to proceed.
2020: Year started well with a successful February production of ‘Wife After Death’, by Eric Chappell, work continuing on the improvements and some interest in Crash Test Drama being shown by writers. The agreement for a co-production of ‘Brassed Off’ (proposed in 2018) had been agreed and cast and started rehearsals in late 2019. These were continuing when COVID19 caused all activities to cease. Committee meetings were conducted by Zoom (after coaching for a couple of members) and the decision was made to use this ‘down’ time to do all the smaller jobs around the buildings that keep being pushed aside due to time and employ the usual handyman to do the slightly larger ones. Luckily, as an amateur organisation, the doors can be closed without effecting paid staff. There are still running costs such as insurance, rates, some electricity etc but a few successful seasons have insured the budget is healthy. It was noticed that dried leaves from the adjoining park were accumulating under the rehearsal space and creating a fire hazard so security mesh was installed around the base. Following repairs to a couple of major leaks in the plumbing for the original water supply, replacement of all old plumbing infrastructure was carried out. A complete set of new stage flats was built using the ‘Kreg’ system which insured future sets would be of uniform height and flats fit neatly together. Although attendance by live audiences was not possible, the internet provided the opportunity to ‘stream’ live performances and a request was made to the committee by a group hoping to use the Rondo stage to set up a mock kitchen and using their own equipment and technicians, provide a venue for various, unemployed, freelance musicians to perform and broadcast every Saturday evening. This was agreed to because in present circumstances the arts community needs all the support available. While it was hoped the remainder of the planned 2020 season might go ahead, when restrictions in Qld started to ease the room required to distance people would see it play to a maximum of 40 people each night. This was not financially viable so a decision was made to move the rest of the season to 2021 if possible. Restrictions governing outdoor performances improved so to show our loyal supporters CLT is still active, a suggestion to present a comedy, fringe style show to be staged on the al fresco extension to the foyer and facing into the adjacent Jess Mitchell Park was investigated. After much planning and hard work, with permission from the council to use the park, a small CRC grant, hired perimeter fencing and sound and lighting, 70 patrons a night would be allowed to attend. This culminated in a COVID Safe, 3 night season in Oct. of 3 comedies being performed as ‘Comedy After Covid’ to very appreciative audiences. CLT is still alive and well!