The Guild Theatre, Rockdale

The Guild Theatre is approximately a seven minute walk from my house. Since moving to Rockdale in 2017, I can confidently say I have walked (or run, depending on how late I was for the train) past the Guild almost every day. However, I had not once stopped to look at the Federation building or considered attending a Guild play. As a former Newtown Performing Arts student, I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring my two personal loves together for this project – theatre and history. I had always thought of myself as an avid supporter of the Arts, but now I feel I can truly hold that title as my collaborative work with the Guild takes shape.

The Guild Theatre. Photograph by Jim Bar.
The Guild Theatre. Photograph by Jim Bar, 2019.

The Guild Theatre is a member based community theatre group in Sydney’s Rockdale. With over 2,000 members and patrons, the Guild is a vibrant, tight-knit community of dedicated performers and practitioners – brought together by their love of theatre. Branching out of the Rockdale Musical Society in the early 50’s, the Guild Theatre was founded in 1952 by teacher and director Miss Hazel Plant. The first production on the current premises, located on the corner of Railway and Waltz Street, Rockdale, was Quality Street by James M. Barrie on Friday the 18th of March, 1966. On Monday, I interviewed long-time member Alannah Jarman. During the interview, I learned she had played Miss Henrietta Turnbull in the 1966 production of Quality Street. Ms Jarman is an avid performer and a part of many community theatre groups in South Sydney. She remembers fondly the “early days” of the Guild, under the guidance and expertise of Miss Plant.

“We were so lucky, we worked with wonderful people…It was simpler in those days, there is no doubt about it. The director knew us and so she would just ask us to do a part; we didn’t have auditions. When it was a smaller group, a play was chosen according to the people in that group. So yes, we were very privileged.”

Allanah Jarman, 23rd of September, 2019.

I had approached the Guild via email in August and received a positive response from the President, Christine Searle, by the end of the month. Chris had kindly arranged a ticket for me to see the final performance of Where Angels Fear to Tread. After the performance, Chris gave me a detailed tour of the Guild. She emphasised the historical significance of the building, leading my eye to the original brick work and ceiling panels. I began volunteering the following day at the Sunday working bee. Taking down an intricate set was not how I envisioned the first day of Spring, but I was more than happy to get to know the loyal members that make up the Guild.

Souvenir Programme of ‘The Tender Trap’ in 1961. Photograph by Chloe Breitkreuz, 2019.

Since early September, I have been working closely with Chris to determine how I can both boost the Guild’s visibility in the area and create an historical project that reflects the significance of the Guild community and its members. Chris and I began by sorting through past production programmes – all of which need to be categorised. Last week, I proposed to the committee that I create a digital oral history of long and short-term members with accompanying personal achieves such as programmes, scripts and photographs. Inspired by Nicole Cama’s project ‘Different Times, Same Spirit’, I aspire to produce a body of work that reflects the ongoing rich and diverse history of the Guild. I am incredibly thankful I have the support of Chris and the committee, who are as enthusiastic about the project as I am.