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 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.
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 …
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 end stage. He and Charles Edelman collaborated in its design. The architect was Colin Norton.
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.
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. 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.