Theatre & Drama
While a student at Sydney University Ralph Middenway became interested in live theatre. The old Union Theatre was really just a charming old barn, but it was better than nothing. He was in one student revue as a singer-actor.
Then Leo Schofield, in retrospect another significant influence, introduced him to Brecht, Weill, Eisler, and the peculiar craft of writing music for real actors in a real theatre.
Leo and Ken Horler asked him for music for several plays, such as Twelfth Night, with Tanya Verstak,
stage manager Mungo MacCallum,
John Bell playing Malvolio...
Things became more serious when he was appointed to teach music and drama at Tudor House, in Moss Vale, in the
NSW Southern Highlands.
He had to pick up the basics on the run.
This patchy experience came
in handy when he applied
for a job at Adelaide University.
Part of the job was to manage Union Hall.
For several years he worked at university theatre level as actor, singer, conductor, stage manager, stage director, designer and director, mostly in Union Hall. One interesting excursion (for a director) involved taking four student actors to an Intervarsity Drama Festival in Sydney. The play was by Monte Miller; one of the four actors was Robyn Archer.
After working on a fair number of shows it became clear to him that the last thing a student drama group needed was a proscenium-arch theatre like Union Hall that needed a lot of expensive scenery and some expensive technicians. At the time he was Nominated Client on the Union's rebuilding project (now on the South Australian Heritage Register) and during the early sketch-plan stage he saw the possibility of including a small theatre. Robert Dickson was Architect for the project.
Little Theatre - the Union
Over three years Ralph developed the concept of a thrust-stage theatre seating 120, with a small actors' gallery, and with a setup that students could use without incurring wage costs.
Bob Dickson sorted out the architectural fine print.
Acoustics are variable. There is a nice little bar.
It opened for the 1974 Adelaide Festival of Arts with a professional production of a two-hander by Athol Fugard. Ralph also remembers Richard Morecroft playing in Our Town ...
It is still used regularly.
Cinema - the Union
Bob took the lead in the Cinema project. Ralph sorted out the technical fine print.
Theatre & Cinema - The Parks
The Parks Community Centre was built north-east of Adelaide in the middle of a public housing estate. It was intended to provide an integrated range of services, and it did for a time - high school, child-care centre, community health and dental clinics, social workers, craft workshops, basketball stadium, climbing wall, restaurant, cafeteria, swimming pools, playing fields - and a theatre, a cinema, a small studio, an outdoor venue and the means to turn the stadium into
a rock venue.
The facilities are still there, but after Don Dunstan retired as Premier there was a change of government and funding dried up, crippling
the original idea.
The Cinema has a rudimentary
He and Charles Edelman collaborated in its design.
The architect was Colin Norton.
It is used regularly.
The Theatre is a larger version of his Little Theatre,
holding 150 seated and another 100 standing.
It is asymmetrical, with room for two dozen performers.
It has three vomitories for entrances, a gallery, facilities for televising live, and a flexible (prize-winning) lighting setup.
He was theatre consultant; he and Keith Johnson together designed the award-winning lighting set-up.
Colin Norton was the architect.
It is used most days of the week by a theatre workshop group, in Adelaide Festivals and Fringe Festivals. One sees it on TV several times a year.
He was engaged by the State Government as Theatre Consultant for a proposed Thebarton Community Centre, but after a busy month or two and a slack year or two the project was shelved.
A coalition of regional arts groups invited him to Mount Gambier for a weekend to help them come to grips with the problem of performing venues - New theatres. The outcome of the long-term community effort, years later, was the Robert Helpmann Theatre.
He was engaged by the State Government as a consultant in the process which eventually led to the development of the Lion Arts Centre.
He was Script Consultant (and talent) in a documentary film directed by Mario Andreacchio; the client was the then Minister John Bannon.
Plays for Young People
In late 2003 and early 2004 he wrote a set of three plays intended for performance by senior secondary drama students or by youth theatre groups, or for use in Year 11 and Year 12 English classes, perhaps paired with other works - plays, novels or films.
Each of them calls for eight female and six male parts, three to five of them adults, the rest students in Year 11 or Year 12; each lasts about an hour; each is set in and about the school in which (or by which) it is being performed, although looking forward to life after school, and outward to life in the general community; each is intended for low-cost or no-cost production, the sets consisting of the sorts of stuff one finds in any school, the costumes for the most part school uniforms or the sorts of casual clothes in a seventeen-year-old's wardrobe.
Each play is derived from William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado about Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew .
Pros and Cons (completed October 2003) focuses on disruption caused by a sociopathic computer nerd - one character loses his reason as a result of drug abuse, but the ending is sunny. Out of Tune (August 2003) has an Arab Romeo and a WASP Juliet - all the characters except the four parents are associated with the Senior School Concert Band. Sound and Fury (January 2004) is about the healing value of kindness - the three adult characters are all divorced, the young characters help one another out of the morass of domestic violence.
Enquiries about each of these plays are welcome.
There are various ways to buy the playscripts and licences to perform them.
His theatre experience has informed his work as an opera composer.