Over ten years ago it was suggested that I should write up the early history of the North Shore Operatic Society while the memory was still fresh and a fairly large number of the original members were still in the district.
Spare time was very scarce then and it seemed that the early minute books, as well as a ‘scrap‐book’ of the press‐cuttings and photographs, had been lost so the idea was shelved and almost forgotten. At odd intervals the need for such a record was voiced by friends as they became involved with the Society in official positions as realized that the origins and early days were becoming more remote and less known.
Just recently a collection of all the old programmes of the Society’s productions came into my possession. They had been carefully preserved, along with a large number of programmes of other shows, professional and amateur, by Miss Annie Redfern of Greenhithe. Up to her death in 1975 she had been an unobtrusive benefactor of the Society, contributing money and goods to all of our fun‐raising schemes. She was also a stern critic of the stage presentation and the players and after each show we received a detailed account of that she considered was wrong with the performance.
A glance through the programmes acted as a spur to the memory of some of the events of the past and, since I was now retired, I could no longer use the excuse of lack of time to release me from the task of recording those events for the benefit of the newer members of the North Shore Operatic Society. What follows was written during the period when the early minute books were believed to be lost, so when they were discovered during a tidy‐up after some new construction, it was feared that the whole story would have to be re‐written in the light of the official record.
As it turned out, the early minutes are very brief and lacking in detail so this record is required as a supplement to the minutes and very little of it needed to be changed.
The story of the early years is a personal recollection revised after reference to available records and discussions with some of the people who shared those early experiences. It is hoped that no‐one will feel hurt if his or her name does not appear but there were so many who made worthwhile contributions to the beginnings that it would be impossible to mention them all by name.
Perhaps present members of the Society will appreciate the advantages they enjoy in having their own club rooms for rehearsal, set‐making, storage and wardrobe and spare a thought for those who, for six years made‐do with pre‐fabs, bow‐sheds, barns and derelict houses scattered between Albany and Auckland to produce the first ten shows.
From my own observation, the future of the Society appears to be pretty well assured as long as the committee and members continue to bring to the affairs of the Society the enthusiasm which I have seen displayed recently and as long as they continue with the policy of presenting tried and profitable shows interspersed with occasional experimental ones.
H.S.(Jimmy) JAMES. 1983.
The First Twenty Five Years
During the early part of 1963 Florence James arranged with some of her friends, whom she knew were Gilbert and Sullivan fans, to meet in her home at 8 Lake Road, Devonport where they could amuse themselves going over familiar choruses from the shows.
These evenings became quite popular and just over twenty men and women used to meet weekly. It was suggested furing general discussion that there could be many more people in the district with similar musical tasted and, as a result, the following advertisement appeared in the “North Shore Times” of Wednesday July 3rd in the Public Notices column:
Notice to Lovers of Gilbert and Sullivan
A group in the process of formation, at present numbering twenty‐four needs more, active singing
Those interested in joining, phone 73.627 (after 4 p.m. any day) for further information.
The response was not overwhelming, but about a dozen new recruits joined the group. The singing was greatly helped by the late Stan Inwood, at that time the conductor of the North Shore Harmonists, who attended the meetings and put the different sections through their part songs.
Numbers grew and it became necessary to find a rehearsal room in a more central position. The headmaster of Takapuna Primary School allowed the group to use a room with a piano and plans were made to form an operatic society. About this time a clash of loyalties arose when members of the North Shore Harmonists began to find the new group attractive and as a result Stan Inwood ended his conducting of the group.
The basis of the present Society was formed when a committee was selected and the group called itself the North Shore Amateur Operatic Society with the late Dick Hunter, a most reluctant, president, Florrie James secretary and Catherine Roberts treasurer. Somehow, the Society had found that the music teacher of Takapuna Grammar School, Ranald McDonald, was interested and had obtained him as a conductor.
As an introductory programme it was planned to stage a “Coffee Evening” of excerpts from shows and rehearsals commenced in the music room of Takapuna Grammar School, a pre‐fab on the edge of the playing fields. Three teachers at the school joined the Society. Brian Griffiths, possessor of a fine tenor voice, Neville Dawkins, a good baritone and Tony Curtayne.
The concert, entitled “A Coffee Evening of Opera” was presented in the Takapuna Grammar School hall on November 16th 1963. The programme consisted of an excerpt from Act 2 of ‘Il Trovatore’ with Noelene Staveley as Azucena and the late Jack Cooper as Manrico; a part of the end of Act 1 of “The Gondoliers” showing Don Alhambra (Stan Kingswell), Tessa (Florence James), Gianetta (Pat Coleman), Marco (Dick
Hunter), and Guiseppe (Hal Smith); a short scene from ‘Chu Chin Chow’ featuring Abdullah (Neville Dawkins), Abu Hassan (Hal Smith), Marjanah (Joy Kell) and Baba Mustafa (Jim Mullany) and the final item of the first half of the programme was from the beginning of ‘Iolanthe’, the sentry played by Tony James and Lord Mountararat by Colin Grtiffiths.
The second half of the concert was ‘Papageno’ from ‘The Magic Flute’ by Mozart, the parts of Papageno, Papagena, Monostatos and the Queen being played by Brian Griffiths, Alison Boak, Tony Curtayne and Betty Smith. There was a chorus of twenty four women and twelve men, pianist Joeleen Cantrell, stage staff of two, wardrobe supervisor Betty Zuccani, electrician, B.Phillips and house manager, Alan Hill.
Admittedly the items of the concert were selected with the very limited resources of costumes and scenery in mind but the quality of the voices was sufficiently high as to provide an entertainment there
was no need to be ashamed of. The local paper gave a very good report of the concert and praised the efforts of the new group. So, in a very modest way, the Society was launched.
The proceeds from the first concert were sufficient for the Society to consider a bigger production. The programme had been selected and rehearsals began for “Cox and Box” and “H.M.S. Pinafore”. It had been arranged that the ”Peasant Cantata” should be prepared and presented in some form of concert round about Christmas time and in the early part of 1964 but in spite of putting in a great deal of work into rehearsals the Society could find new opportunities for performing this work and there was actually only one, given to North Shore Women’s Club.
By the time “Pinafore” was presented in August 1964 there had been some changes in the structure of the Society and additions on the performing side.
Our reluctant president had resigned his office and Stan Kingswell was now president, the work ‘amateur’ had been deleted form the name of the society and we had a musical director who was able to gather an excellent orchestra to provide a sound basis for the first full scale production.
The cast was strong and well balanced. Richarh Hall was a most impressive Captain Corcoran, Brian Griffiths fitted the part of Ralph to a T, Neville Dawkins looked a truly villainous Dick Deadeye and Joy Kell was a more than adequate Josephine. The part of Sir Joseph Porter could not be filled at the auditions and it was a causing quite a few headaches until Colin Peffers, who had played the role for Auckland Operatic Society, agreed to take the part. This was a real stroke of fortune. Colin wrote a musical play “Under the Greenwood Tree” which was produced at Northcote College but unfortunately he lost his life in a tragic fire two years after his first show with us. The local theatre lost an extremely talented comic actor. A new recruit whom very few persons saw was Elizabeth Edwards (Later Elizabeth Torrens) who designed costumes and added the important touched to the painting of our very amateurish sets.
With the rehearsal room as part of the school and the place where we had to build the set, it needs very little imagination to see how difficult it was to carry out the construction and painting. Saturday was the only day when work could be done and it was literally a case of ‘wet paint on opening night’. Worse than that, the producer was guilty of hammering the last nails into the set of ‘Pinafore’ while ‘Cox and Box’ was being acted on stage.
Those who have worked backstage or in the making of sets and production of effects will have found that producers invariably require some device or design which involves the workers in a great deal of work for a result which seems hardly worth all the trouble and expense. In ‘Pinafore’ the producer required the mast to be sufficiently high as to be secure in a trapdoor in the stage ceiling and for one of the leading characters to make his entrance by climbing down the mast, quite ignoring the fact that seamen never came down the mast but slid down lines. Because the mast had to be about seven meters long and was made in some‐one’s home it had to be in three parts, bolted together and fitted with foot and hand‐ holds. After all that work, no‐one really noticed how Dick Deadeye arrived on stage.
We were economizing at every stage of production using second‐hand timber when we could, borrowing costumes when the players didn’t have something of their own they could modify and using the cheapest materials when we had to buy. We had a piece of luck when it was found possible to buy sailors uniforms from naval stored for five shillings (50 cents) each, so our sailors were well‐dressed even though we had to make the hats ourselves.
The small amount of money earned by the “Coffee Evening” was not enough to finance a show even along such economical lines as we were following, consequently we had to raise money through stalls were we sold anything we could induce members and others to beg borrow or steal and, of course, what they could bake.
In spite of the preparations being barely completed at opening time, ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’ was a success. The soloists performed well and the chorus work was good. An odd feature introduced by the producer which required a sailor of the 1850 to 1870 period to use an electric vacuum cleaner in the opening scene, did not meet with the criticism some people feared it would. There were one or two minor incidents. The cast seemed to have been liable to periods of loss of memory. One who was afflicted in this way went to the trouble of typing all his words on a card and securing it to the side of the mast concealed from the audience and fell victim to a practical joker who removed the card. In the final scene one night when the bumboat women was ‘reveling the truth’, she completely omitted at least one verse and our hero ‘languishing in his dungeon call’ feeling sure that he had another few minutes to spare, had to make a hurried dash to the stage to pick up his cue.
Without modest ambition, it was a financial success too. We had the magnificent sum of almost £350 available at the end of the show which we could invest in the next programme and we also received a grant of £25 from the Arts Council. To the interested people in the district it seemed that the Society had made a good start and with no other similar Society on the ‘Shore’ we only had to continue on our present path to be assured of success. The original society had begun with the object of concentrating on ‘G & S’ but the more recent members who had gained a significant voice in decision making had other ideas.
The essential object of the committee of the Society is to follow a policy which will ensure the continued existence and prosperity of the Society. What occurred at this time has probably happened in most young societies. Those concerned with the administration and long term progress have to be conservative in their attitude. Having found a financially successful formula they would tend to stick to it until the Society was in a sufficiently strong position to withstand the set back of a financial flop such as could occur from taking the risk of presenting an ‘unknown’ show. Like the statement attributed to a cynical Greek “First acquire wealth, then acquire virtue’ the maxim for operatic societies is “first acquire wealth, then take a few risks’. Opposed to this attitude, there are producers and musical directors with ambitions who want to exhibit their talents in shows which are not so familiar to the public. This conflict of ideas came to the surface during the selection of the next show to be presented by the society and, with the musical director already on the committee; it was no surprise that his choice, ‘The Gypsy Baron’ was selected.
The operetta has all the necessary ingredients for success. Lovely music, much of it familiar, comedy, colour and romance but it is not well known, rarely, if ever, presented in New Zealand and therefore in the category of risks the society could not afford.
After the single set for ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’ we not had two outdoor scenes and a ballroom. There were period costumes of the mid‐eighteenth century, gypsies, hussars, ladies in ball‐gowns, and we needed a ballet.
We invited Gay Dean to produce the show but, when she eventually decided she could no longer continue with the work we were able to persuade John Barningham to take over. He was working in AKTV2 and it was through this contact that we obtained the assistance of Ian Morton (not the singer who later became chairman of the society) as ballet master.
With the loss of Ranald McDonald and, with him, the use of the music‐room at Takapuna Grammar School, we had to find another rehearsal room and somewhere to build and store sets. We managed to obtain the church hall in Stratford Avenue for rehearsal and it was most suitable for our purpose. The only worry was that the hall was due to be removed to some other site and the use we had of it was only temporary. Fortunately for us the move did not take place for about three years. Scenery and sets were another problem. Tom Barker allowed us to use a vacant house off Onewa Road to paint and store small pieces of scenery and a cow‐shed on another of his properties on the main road at Albany was made available for us to build the larger pieces. Still more was made in private homes. The set designer, Elizabeth Edwards who, incidentally, was responsible for designing the Society’s badge, required a back‐
cloth depicting a stylized forest. The sewing of yards of light canvas and fitting eyelets was done by one of the woman members and the painting was done on the floor of the music room at Seddon High School, the only flat space large enough to which we had access. The cost of scores and orchestral music was a very heavy expense in relation to our assets and royalties loomed as a financial hurdle.
In Auckland, it is often the case that excellent singers and actors are involved in ‘small’ local Societies which present shows of a very high standard but have to compete with professional shows being presented in the central city. Shows of the same caliber, presented in a smaller provincial centre, would be considered tremendous successes both artistically and financially. In the city they often pass almost unnoticed.
This was our experience with ‘The Gypsy Baron’. Colin Peffers, with us still after ‘Pinafore’ was excellent. Terry Barry, Peter Kuluz, Richard Hall, Brian Griffiths, Florence James and newcomers Carol Norris (later Carol Kimberley) and Margaret Marker were all singers and players of talent and experience. It was an extremely strong cast. The chorus was good, many of the airs were familiar, there was an orchestra of 28 members – in fact, we had a show to be proud of, but the audience didn’t arrive.
It had been decided that we would make it as easy as possible for the public to see the show and we played it in three separate places. We opened at Westlake Girls High School on Saturday 24th April and continued on the following Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The show was moved to Rangitoto College on Friday and opened for one night on Saturday. From there it was moved to the other side of the
harbour to Seddon High School for three performances on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. None of the school halls had been used for presenting shows of this type so that in each case the stage workers had to work like slaves to prepare the stages and to adapt the show to different size stages and lighting set‐ups.
After all that work, if it had not been for the money from ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’ and the fund‐raising activities, the Society would have foundered in its first full‐show.
In the programme of ‘The Gypsy Baron’ it was stated that the next show would be La Belle Helene’. There had been no formal meeting of the committee to reach this decision and it had been obtained by a couple of members of the committee who buttonholed the remaining members and gained their agreement, a very unsatisfactory method. The latter half of the year was always difficult for casting shows. It is the busier time when examination work and the ‘finished before Christmas’ jobs seem to pile up. After the financial failure of ‘The Gypsy Baron’ it seemed to be tempting providence to introduce a new, untried show with a tough casting list and, worst of all, a foreign name. It was on these grounds that some of the more conservative element of the Society called for a general meeting to try to prevent the Society from going ahead with the production of ‘La Belle Helene’. The attempt failed, for various reasons, but nevertheless the production had to be postponed because it was found to be impossible to cast it. There just weren’t the players available. Instead it was decided to produce ‘Ahmal and the Night Visitors’. The length of time taken by the operetta was insufficient for a full entertainment so arrangements were made to co‐operate with the Belmont Singers and the North Shore Youth Choir to present two separate programmes, one at Rangitoto College with the Belmont Group and the other at Northcote College with the North Shore Youth Choir.
The Society’s presentation was up to a very high standard. Simon Harvey played and sang the name role well and Alison Boak as his mother did everything the part required. It would have been hard to find a more suitable trio of voices for the Kings then Brian Griffiths, Terry Barry and Fanie Johnson.
In the New Year the question of ‘La Belle Helene’ rose again and the committee decided to produce it. John Barningham was not available but Peter Meikle appeared on the scene as a producer. This young man was not popular with everyone but he produced some very good shows. A feature of this work was the simplicity of stage set. A number of platforms of different heights and sizes were the basis of his plan
and a change of scene was a fairly simple matter of altering the lay‐out of the platforms. Years later, a local producer, on this return from a visit to England, spoke enthusiastically about the ‘new’ method he’d discovered in productions in England and described the method used by Peter Meikle. Peter’s mother had a tremendous talent as a wardrobe mistress and could work wonders with her needle so she was a valued member of the production team.
The cast of ‘La Belle Helene’ had a large number of new names. The leading player, Elizabeth Swane, was a real asset. A very good actress, she learnt her part thoroughly and could be guaranteed to perform with confidence. It was an amusing, enjoyable show with many familiar tunes but on some nights the cast outnumbered the audience. ‘La Belle Helene’ was presented at Northcote College for three nights, then moved to Rangitoto College for three nights. We were becoming accustomed to moving shows but it was getting no easier. The simple set cut down the amount of work involved in the actual move but a change of venue required technical rehearsals because of different lighting layouts and different stage sizes. After
the show closed at Northcote on June 14th we had to dismantle everything, transport it all to Rangitoto
College, re‐erect the set, hold technical rehearsals all in one day and open the show on the following day.
It wasn’t as though we were always popular with the staff.; Our presence created some disruption to their music‐room, staff‐room and stage so, while the principals might have been keen to support a cultural activity such as ours, the staff members were mort likely to make a big issue about someone forgetting to put a teapot back in the right place. This meant that the committee had to be concerned about a much greater range of details.
The audiences for the show did not improve so the second attempt to present an unfamiliar production, no matter how excellent the music and performance, resulted in financial loss again.
More than ever we were relying on other sources such as raffles, stalls and grants from Timesword and Auckland Savings Bank for our money supply.
At last the committee managed to agree on a G&S for the next show but instead of a guaranteed money spinner like ‘Gondoliers’ the producer and musical director swayed the selection to ‘Ruddigore’. This is not a popular show compared with the others by G&S and the final results were not unexpected. The cast included Joy Kell, Brian Griffiths, Terry Barry, Rosalie Zigliani, Anne Thomasen (now Anne Hodgetts), Richard Hall and Ashley Pepperell. The producer was once again John Barninghan and Graeme Young the musical director. Natalie Dumbleton was the choreographer. Elizabeth Torrens designed the set and painted the ‘ancestral portraits’. The paintings were so well done and the scene so well arranged that the appearance of the ‘ghostly ancestors’ was probably the highlight of the show. With a cast of such high quality and a well presented show we should have had no difficulty in filling the halls, especially when this was our fourth year and we should have been getting well known for the high standard of the shows. Attendances were poor. The people on the North Shore were apparently not interested in attending or encouraging theatrical performance locally. The Society was keeping its head above water financially by different fund‐raising activities by its members but the shows themselves were losing money.
We had no real home. Rehearsals were being held in adequate halls, churches, private homes and schoolrooms. Most of the places were available to us only through the generosity of various people, as were the places where we made and stored our sets, so we had no security. We were always in the position of being liable to lose the use of our current rehearsal room and be forces to find other accommodation in a hurry. The question of where to perform and for how long was always a difficult one to resolve. School halls were the only reasonably satisfactory venues for performances and the dates when they were available was governed by the needs of the school so we were very restricted in our choice of dates. The Society performed in Westlake Girls’ High School, Northcote College, Rangitoto College, Seddon High School, Mt. Eden War Memorial Hall and Takapuna Grammar School. The best of these from a financial angle was the latter but it involved a great deal of work and inconvenience. The stage had to be restored each evening to the state of readiness for school assembly the following day. Between the end of classes and the opening time the stage had to be cleared of seats, the set erected, the
whole seating in the body of the hall had to be rearranged and the seats lettered and numbered. Large numbers of chairs had to be stacked in a narrow passageway immediately behind the stage and these restricted movement backstage. The main dressing rooms were in a building separate from the hall so wet weather was a problem. Evening classes were in progress and ended midway through the show followed by frequent appeals of owners of cars to shift their vehicles which were blocking exits from the parking area. Caretakers also presented problems. An unsympathetic one could add to our difficulties by not unlocking rooms in time or keeping system too low for comfort. The principal of Rangitoto College was keen to support the Society’s efforts and was most helpful when we performed at the College. The society has the unusual distinction of having presented the first theatrical performance in the halls of Northcote College, Rangitoto College and Seddon High School. This record carried with it the ‘teething troubles’ in each of these halls and did not make production any easier.
As early as 1965, before ‘Gypsy Baron’ was presented, we had raised the subject of lack of theatre on the North Shore and, as a result, the local paper carries articles deploring the lack of a sufficiently large hall with suitable amenities in which to present major productions. The completion of the North Shore Teachers’ Training College went some way towards easing the situation but even the use of that hall is dependent on other requirements. The Society considered itself fortunate when the College opened and the principal proved to be co‐operative and sympathetic to the Societies’ difficulties but, for the years up to 1969, finding places in which to perform was a continual problem.
For some time, several years in fact, we had been using a church hall in Stratford Avenue, Milford, for rehearsal. It was quite good for our purpose but we knew that the site was to be developed into pensioner flats so our use could be terminated at any time. We had been searching for a suitable alternative and the PumpHouse was one of our first targets. The building was due to be vacated so we examined it with a view to turning it into a combined practice hall and theatre. Our investigation showed to us, as laymen, that the building could be converted to our use so we approached the Takapuna City Council to see if we could have a tenancy. Their response was to send their engineer to examine the building and give a report. His report did not agree with our opinion so our request was turned down.
Our hopes were raised when a project to turn the Tudor Cinema in to a theatre was under consideration. A number of meetings were held with the prospective members of the trust which would alter and operate the new theatre but the conditions the owners placed on the project were such that the whole idea was uneconomic as far as local groups were concerned. It was during production of ‘The Gondoliers’ that our luck really changed. In the cast, playing the Grand Inquisitor was Lyle Kennaway, a surveyor on the staff of Birkenhead Borough Council. When he learned of our dilemma he suggested to we apply to the Birkenhead Council to be allocated a site in the War Memorial Park in the area set aside for community purposes. The result was that we received permission to use our present section for a building. Present members need only look out of the north windows to see what it looked like when we first saw it.
The physical task of clearing seven‐foot high gorse with stems like small tree‐trunks was easy compared with the job of raising the money to build. The hall we were using at Stratford Avenue was to be sold by tender for removal and would have been ideal for our purpose. We put in an offer and gave the use which would be made of it. We felt that some consideration should have been given to a cultural organization such as ours so we were disappointed when a peculiar association of scouts and a boating club had their tender accepted.
We applied to every public body we could think of to try to get a house we could put on the site and modify for our use. The Harbour Bridge Authority was one of our hopes but in the end we had to accept the fact that we were not going to get any assistance from outside the Society and we would have to build from scratch.
During the next year two full scale productions were mounted and the clubhouse was built at the same time as we were raising the money to pay for it.
We had the use of the Stratford Avenue Hall until 1968 when we moved into the church at the end of Northcote and Taharoto Roads for rehearsals. This was very inconvenient but was all that we could find and it served us until we got into our own clubrooms.
During 1967 we had produced ‘Calamity Jane’ with Alma Gorham in the title role and this was the Society’s contact with the Mortons. Shirley played one of the principals and, a few years later , her husband Ian became president of the Society. For a change this show was presented for a week at the one place, Takapuna Grammar School. It was a successful show but it did not make as much of an impression as did the second show that year, ‘The Gondoliers’. In spite of our having difficulties in getting men for the chorus (the show was almost cancelled for that reason) and the musical director pulling out at the last minute, this was a tremendous success. If it was ever necessary to select one performance which stands out in my mind I would unhesitatingly choose the final night of ‘The Gondoliers’. The hall was packed, the performers were at their peak and the audience was most receptive. Graham Young had not been available so we had advertised for a musical director and received a reply from Harry Bloemendal. Shortly before the opening night he fell fill and we were extremely fortunate to have Ian Harvey to step in to the breach. The cast, which included Ken Bond, Lyle Kennaway, Pamela and Maurice Renouf, Rosalie Zigliani and Elizabeth Swane, was very strong and the shortage of men was overcome in Act 2 by having girls dressed as men but having their backs to the audience.
It was at this time that we were granted the section on which the clubrooms stand and from there on there was intense activity. From the beginning the Society was greatly indebted to Peter Roberts. He had helped with making scenery form the earliest days, he set out and laid the foundations and was the man‐ in‐charge‐ of building the clubhouse. Under his supervision we laid the floor and erected the wall frame in sections, then, at a time when gang‐nails were a new thing, we made the roof trusses and lifted them into position. It would be difficult to over‐estimate the value of work done by Peter Roberts, John Smith and the rest. The committee at that time put in long hours during holidays and weekends and the Chairman, Les Martin, shed a great deal of blood on the building.
The completion of the clubhouse to the point where we would actually close and lock the door was achieved on the last week‐end of ‘Brigadoon’, with one group taking down the scenery at Takapuna Grammar School while another was doing necessary work on the clubrooms. The feelings of the small party who were there at about 7pm on a Sunday night when we locked the door on a heap of props and scenery dumped in the middle of the 30 ft square building were of triumph tempered with fatigue. We had a home at last.
We had bought the Brown’s Bay Tennis Club building and had had the use of it for storing and making sets but it had to be demolished in six months. As our deadline drew near the organization of an operation to transport the contents of a two storey building to Birkenhead, stripping and removing the building itself provided us with quite a problem. One fine week‐end in November 1968 we held a working bee at Browns Bay, and with the assistance of two trucks ran a continuous transport service from Browns Bay to the clubhouse with the pieces of the tennis club building. Peter Roberts sawed the floor into manageable pieces and levered them to the ground to be loaded on the trucks. By the end of the day we have fulfilled our obligation to remove the building to clear the site, but it was amazing that the operation had been completed without any of the amateur workers suffering serious injury.
With the shifting of material from Browns Bay to the clubrooms we were beginning to collect everything in one place. There were still parts of the wardrobe in private homes but the improvement in our position was tremendous.
Of course, no project of this type is ever complete and it was only a matter of time before the question of extensions arose. There was not enough space to rehearse and still accommodate workers. The additional 18ft of length including wardrobe, kitchen and extra working space was a big project and occupied a large numbers of volunteers for a long time. The height of the building at the Northern end was an asset when considered working space below but created problems in building. There problems were overcome, however, and the Society had a place where it could build and store its sets and costumes as well as holding rehearsals and social functions.
The early phase of the North Shore Operatic Society was over. There are many people closely associated with the Society who are aware of what has happened since that phase ended. A glance at the programmes will show that there were many who joined the Society for a while, contributed their share and departed. It would be impossible to mention all of them by name so I have deliberately kept names to a minimum.
It is hoped that this summary will fill in some of the background of the Society for the benefit of some of the newer members.
H.S.(Jimmy) JAMES JULY 1983.
1968 ‐ 1988
The establishing of permanent headquarters in the Birkenhead War Memorial Park was certainly a milestone for the Society and so begun another chapter in our history.
1969 saw the completion of the North Shore Teachers College hall, and while the facilities were not ideal the flat floor was certainly a drawback from the audience point of view – we had at last found a venue where we could setup a show and ‘stay put’ for the full run of each production.
Our first show there was ‘The Merry Widow’, a successful and popular attraction, followed by ‘Kiss Me Kate’ at the end of the year. This was acclaimed as one of our best shows to date but failed to draw good audience numbers. It has already been recorded that this was the case with several of our ‘second’ shows and the trend continued for some years.
The shows from the pen of Rodgers and Hammerstein are always popular, and ‘Carousel’, ‘South Pacific’, ‘Sound of Music’ and ‘The King and I’ all had successful seasons. ‘The Desert Song’ in 1971 just broke even, saved by a small profit on tea and coffee sales! The presence of a donkey in the cast posed some problems for the properties team. “Porgy” was kept in a paddock near the college and each night the girls had to lead him along the road, and then, armed with carrots, entice him onto the stage up a specially built ramp – not an easy task! This was achieved with the help of the stage crew, but on many nights at least one was left in the wings or dashed on stage with burnous askew.
‘Paint Your Wagon’ in 1972 also had its moments. Set Designer Jack Figgins came up with a very ingenious method for this set, based on three trucks with several painted flats on each. The trick was to open these up in their proper sequence, but on several occasions the logs on the cabin were vertical on one side and horizontal on t’other. This caused some mild hysteria among the crew, but possibly the audience never noticed the slight difference.
‘Belle of New York’ and ‘Amahl and the Night Visitors’ in 1973, were well received but the Chairman noted in the annual report that that year it was becoming very difficult getting people to help setup in the theatre. For this reason in 1974 we decided to do only one show, ‘Hello Dolly’.
In 1975 we staged the first production in Auckland of ‘West Side Story’. This was presented first at the Teacher College, with a further week at the Auckland Grammar School Centennial Theatre. A successful venture and the show was well patronized. Out plans to do ‘Trial By Jury’ and ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’ later that year had to be cancelled – we couldn’t get twelve men for the jury and the musical director would not carry on with less than that number.
In 1976 we again played at two theatres. ‘White Horse Inn’ opened at the Town Hall Concert Chamber as part of the Auckland Festival and then transferred back to the College for a further successful run. The opening scene of this show was graced by the presence of a goat which had to be taken each night in a trailer to the theatre – no easy task, especially when trying to offload her in Queen Street. However, being an ever resourceful group, this operation was carried out without too many problems – getting the goat on stage was sometimes a challenge though! Later that year we did ‘Pajama Game; and yet again were faces with small audiences.
Having up until now kept to the ‘tried and true’ shows, in 1977 we staged a relatively new one ‘Viva Mexico’. It was a really fun show, with a good cast and lovely music (all well known tunes with words adapted to suit) but because the show was not known we again had a poor audience response.
This same year (1977) the PumpHouse opened for business and so began our association with the North Shore Theatre and Arts Trust who administer the theatre. Following our setback with ‘Viva Mexico’ and with our finances looking none too healthy the committee felt a period of retrenchment was necessary. At this point the social committee, who were all active performing members, offered to do a Music Hall in the clubrooms. John Antony agreed to direct this and suggested we do a short season in the PumpHouse as well. This we did, and a great success it was. The people were most enthusiastic about this new theatre with its excellent acoustics and viewing. Being in its infancy as it were, there was very little in the way of facilities – we used a builders shed parked outside the double doors as a dressing room. A bit chilly for the performers, but it nevertheless served the purpose very well. As a finale to the year we did another show directed by Bill O’Meara. With our then President, Ian Morton as the Judge, this show too was enjoyed by members and friends who came along.
The committee were quickly aware of the potential of the PumpHouse, and so began a programme of staging two ‘small’ shows there each year, with our main show still at the College, a format which we have followed very successfully and from which we have benefitted in every way, perhaps because of careful planning and choice of shows.
From 1978 until 1987 all of our ‘main’ shows, with only one or two exceptions, went extremely well in the Teachers College (later to become the North Shore A.T.I.), our audience numbers were increasing and the standard of shows, too, were getting better and better.
After ‘The Fantastiks’ and a ‘Flappers’ review in 1978 we through it timely to consider some of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas, as we could see these fitting very well into the PumpHouse. This they certainly did, and from then until 1984 and again un 1986 we stages one of these each year. As well as attracting excellent performers we sound they still had great audience appeal.
In 1982 our planned production of ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ was cancelled as we had very few people at auditions. ‘Guys and Dolls’ had its scheduled season at the PumpHouse and we then repeated it at the Centennial Theatre mid‐year.
The committee had by this time adopted a policy of selecting a variety of shows to give as many people as possible the opportunity to exercise their particular talents and 1983 saw our first rock opera ‘Godspell’. This was extremely popular and was probably the first occasion where we had full houses every night and large numbers queuing for seats. This was also the situation with ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’, ‘Chicago’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’.
In 1987 the committee decided that ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ would be our very last show in the
A.T.I. It was becoming more and more difficult to find sufficient manpower to setup for a show – many hours had to be spent building the stage extension and putting rostra in place to provide elevated seating in the back of the hall before a start was made on the actual set itself, and of course the dismantling of all this took an equally long time. We had also found that we could not very successfully stage ‘large’ shows in the PumpHouse. The improvements to this theatre which had been ongoing for several years, provided easier access to the stage, and some very ingenious set and lighting designs more than compensated for a slightly smaller performing area.
‘Cinderella’ in late 1987 was our first venture in to the world of Pantomime and this seemed to be enjoyed by children of all ages.
All the while, of course, we have continued presenting shows in our own clubrooms, ranging from ‘You Must Remember This’ through to the modern song and dance reviews like ‘Gotta Sing Gotta Dance’. These have been devised, directed and performed by members and have received enthusiastic support from members.
The very high performance standards achieved in recent years are due to the talents of many people – not only performers but also the directors, musical directors and choreographers. Since the mid ‘70’s many of these personnel have come from the ranks of our members. Almost without exception they are performers who have turned their talents and experience to the other side of the footlights. While it does not necessarily follow that a performer can make this transition successfully, we believe that the society has benefited from the skills and enthusiasm of those who have taken up this challenge.
In other areas, too, many members have played an important part off stage in the success of productions. We have a dedicated and enthusiastic lighting and sound team headed by Brian Potter and the wonderful costumes of our wardrobe designer Carol Rogers have been a feature of our shows for several years. While we seem always to be short staffed in the set construction department we nevertheless can always find some members willing to organize this and with some assistance from members and friends they do a great job in building and erecting sets. Designers in this area too play a big part and again several members have displayed their talents in this field.
The social committee played a very important role within the Society, organizing after show parties, club nights, barbeques and other functions for members and friends. One of two ‘special’ occasions that sprint to mind – several progressive dinners, and an evening to remember at MOTAT when everyone raided the wardrobe and went in fancy‐dress, a double decker bus transported us over the bridge, and a wonderful night was had by all.
All of our activities, of course, are centered on our clubrooms, and from the mid 1970’s it was becoming apparent that more storage space was necessary for our own costumes, lighting equipment, properties etc. In 1981 we began planning for extensions to provide new kitchen facilities, additional wardrobe space and a stage upstairs, and downstairs, a set building area and storage for lighting equipment. Having received permission from the Birkenhead City Council to process, we applied and received grants from three of three North Shore Local Bodies Sports and Recreation Funds, and the Auckland Savings Bank. These monies, together with profits from shows, support from our sponsors, interest from monies invested in a building fund, and other fund raising activities meant that in September 1982 we were in a position to begin the project, estimated to cost $50,000.
The construction work was carried out by one of our members, Jack Rogers, and was finished in December. At this point our available funds were nearly depleted, but a wonderful response from our members to our ‘Buy A Board’ appeal allowed us to complete the interior lining, and a series of working bees saw the whole project completed for out 20th Anniversary in July 1983. Since then we have carried
out more work in and around the building. A new driveway has been constructed, giving direct access to the set building area in the basement (a wonderful asset when moving equipment to and from the theatre) and the installation of mirrors in the main hall has developed this into a very pleasant rehearsal venue. The clubrooms are inconstant use for rehearsals, dance classes and social functions, and we are indeed fortunate to have headquarters so well equipped to cater for all of these activities.
Much earlier on in this history mention was made of the growing need for a larger theatre on the Shore, and in 1984 saw the beginning of this project. An article in the N.Z. Herald to the effect that the Tudor Theatre, Takapuna, was to be sold, prompted us to enquire about the possible purchase of the building. We found, though, that plans were already afoot to redevelop the theatre so that idea came to nought. However, the seed had been sown, and after some discussions we called a meeting in our clubrooms and invited representatives from various clubs whom we though could be interested in the establishment of a multi‐functional theatre and conference centre complex. The meeting was well attended, and a steering committee was formed to look further into the project. From this committee emerged and North Shore Theatre and Conference Centre Trust, and since then they have been working steadily towards this goal. There have been many frustrations and delays along the way, but their planning and determination has been rewarded by the recent announcement that they have been granted a lease from Takapuna City Council of land on Hurstmere Road. One of our members, Angela Antony, is a Director of the Trust, and to Angela and her fellow Trustees we say thank you for your hard work and persistence which we hope till see this theatre established in 1990.
Throughout our relatively short history the Society has been well served by successive Presidents, Officers and committee members, all of whom have undertaken this commitment with the well‐being of the Society at heart. With good leadership and careful husbanding of our resources we are at present in a very sound position. However, we are always aware of the pitfalls which may lie ahead and decisions regarding the affairs of the Society are never taken without careful consideration. This makes committee work sound rather dull – it is anything but that, and the satisfaction in seeing our organization and people do well far outweighs the minor problems that on occasions do arise.
1988 sees the 25th Anniversary celebrations – another milestone in the history of the Society. To all out members we say a very big thank you. We hope your valued support will continue, thus ensuring the well‐ being and future of the Society for the next 25 years and more.
Betty TAYLOR July 1988.