The Guild theatre is a community Theatre Group that was formed in 1952. Our Theatre at Railway Street was officially opened by the Mayor of Rockdale, Alderman R. J. Gosling. The first production in the new premises was the comedy Quality Street by James M Barrie which opened on Friday 18th March. Further plays and festival wins continued throughout the sixties and into the seventies, along with continued renovations and improvements to the theatre.
Community Theatre Productions
The Guild has performed a wide repertoire of plays, which have included drama, comedy, classics, children’s plays, musical plays and Shakespeare.
In recent years, more Australian plays have been included in the repertoire, including the first play performed in Australia, The Recruiting Officer, two hundred years after its production in the time of Governor Phillip.
Community Theatre Members
Our loyal patrons, numbering over 2,000, have been a major contributing factor to the Guild’s success. They fill the theatre to capacity for 4 to 5 seasons a year; each season having 19 performances over a five-week period.
Our membership of dedicated and skilled performers and practitioners ensures that the standard of production and performance has never been higher. Such standards are reflected in the strong patronisation and subscriber base that continues to grow and sustain our efforts.
The comfortable, well-equipped Guild Theatre itself is yet another legacy of the past. The theatre retains its Federation character while possessing all modern conveniences and technical necessities.
History of the Guild Theatre
In 1952 a small group of young people, members of the Rockdale Musical Society, decided to form a drama class to improve their stagecraft and give themselves opportunities to perform. A meeting was convened and the Rockdale Musical Society Dramatic Class, the origin of the Guild Theatre, was created. Their teacher and director was Miss Hazel Plant, a member of the British Drama League, late of Bryant’s Playhouse, with considerable experience in the theatre.
The first venture was a program of four one-act plays performed at the Carlton School of Arts. The performers built their own scenery, improvised a stage with tables and trestles and draped hessian down one side of the hall to create a dressing space.
By 1953 the group, which had now grown to about a dozen, began doing three act plays, the first being Ladies in Retirement. Rehearsals were held in the Kogarah School of Arts and productions were taken to Masonic lodges and church halls throughout the Sydney district. Also in this year, the group changed their name to the Rockdale Musical Society Drama Club.
Soon the group began booking the much larger Rockdale Town Hall and started a subscribers list; a clear sign of their increasing popularity. Name changes continued, and when the group decided to break away from the Rockdale Musical Society in 1958, they became the Illawarra Theatre Guild. A committee was elected with Hazel Plant as director. Later that year their production of The Hasty Heart won the British Drama League Festival.
The early 1960’s brought numerous awards for individual performances as well as Best Play awards at events such as the Arts Council Festival, the British Drama League Festival and the Waratah Arts Council Drama Festival. These awards bore testimony to the high level of talent and commitment within the growing membership, as well as the enthusiasm of their growing audiences. Such commitment also extended to the idea of finding a permanent venue for the Guild, after a failed attempt at securing the Carlton School of Arts. In 1965, after many negotiations with Rockdale Council, the Rockdale Community Hall at Walz Street was secured with a weekly rental fee of 10 shillings. Thus, with 36 members and community fund raising efforts, the long saga of converting a small hall into a modern intimate theatre began.