You may well ask what do the widow of the 2nd Mayor of Rotorua, Rotorua R.S.A. and Rotorua Musical Theatre have to do with one another? See Below!!!
Little did Mrs Crowther-McDowell (afore said widow) know what she would start in 1944 when the R.S.A. accepted her gift of a lovely old guest house, on Hinemaru Street, as a residential club for Servicemen and Women on leave at the end of World War II. The house was now to be named Crowther House in honour of her first husband. (The former Mayor was her second).
The Management of the R.S.A. needed to find money to equip the club but most money- raising efforts at the time were going towards the Government’s war expenses. At this point an offer to produce a show in aid of this fund-raising was accepted and in August 1945 Mr Norman Day and Company presented “The Gipsy Rover”- a musical play in 3 acts. The extract below comes from the programme of this show.
Two or three pages later there is the following delightful appeal which proved to be successful. Note the two different spellings for the Gipsy title.
So it was, that after a successful 2 night run (yes 2!!), on Monday 16th September 1945 a public meeting voted to form Rotorua Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society to encourage interest in music and drama in the town. Mr S.O. Parkinson was the first President, with Mr Geoff Sim M.P. as the first Patron.
The first show of the new Society – “A Country Girl”, music by Lionel Monckton-was presented at The Majestic Theatre on Tutanekai Street on Mon – Wed 24-26 June 1946. The first Director was Eva Moore and the first Musical Director was William J Forrest.
This show caused much excitement for its cast and crew. Materials were scarce at the end of the war years. The girls of “The Hunting Ballet” made their own costumes from odd bits of material, cardboard and highly polished school shoes. Auditions were “en masse” rather like the cattle call for modern dance auditions. Rehearsals were at St Johns’ parish church hall, at that time on Pukuatua St. where WINZ is now, and in members’ homes. A wonderful photo of the Ladies of the Chorus shows what even in those days were regarded as quaint and old fashioned costumes. Ann Edwards, 14 year old daughter of the Vice President, Mrs Gordon Edwards, recalls suppers after practises in her parents’ home in Tilsley Street.
Eva Moore was a very well known screen actress in England and had at this time made her home in New Zealand. She was strict but much loved by the casts of her shows, and seems to have done a great deal to encourage up and coming performers and future Directors. The musicians of those days were also of the same level of well trained instrumentalists who were willing to give time to shows. The war years had been grim for so many people and the chance to sing and dance was seized on with both hands.
Not too many people from those first years are still around. In 1995 at our open weekend for the 50th anniversary, five of the original girls from the “Ballet” in The Gipsy Rover stood in front of the photo of their young selves and laughed and wept. As one old gentleman who was a local name in those days said “you are still as beautiful now as you were then”.
The Majestic Theatre? Yes! It was a cinema with a stage and stood on Tutanekai Street opposite what is now Pascoes JeweIery store. If you walk up the alleyway by the side of Capers Restaurant you can still see part of the original building where we would gather at half time!!!!
“A Country Girl” was show number one, the first of 181 productions in almost 74 years. It does take your breath away doesn’t it?
Written by Ursula Schraa, Archivist