Eileen Kerr’s long career as an actress/director of stage/screen has led her to develop the exciting new Hastings Youth Theatre, where young people can learn theatrecraft and performance.
> How long have you been involved in theatre?
I started at the age of 5 in Sydney and then developed in professional acting, training at NIDA. I was a performer in Sydney, performing with Johnny O’Keefe and was on Brian Henderson’s Bandstand. I also appeared on television as well as in theatrical performances on stage. I’m just a Sydney girl and definitely a stage actress.
> How did you come to live in Port Macquarie?
I retired here in 1990 with my dear husband, but I still wanted to be involved in theatre, so joined the Players Theatre almost immediately. I was with them and still am with them, for 19 years, directing and acting.
I then started in 2000 with the pantomimes. I’ve always loved working with children. In Sydney I taught scripture in the schools, and they loved it because I would have little acting segments and I play guitar, so it was a bit more exciting. I really loved it!
My first pantomime in 2001 was Cinderella. I had 75 in the cast and the majority were children – they just flocked in! These kids we have in Port are so talented, but because we are a country area they don’t get the opportunities to perform or be in productions like they do in Sydney.
So this was my idea for them to have their own youth theatre, where it is entirely the youth doing everything from the choreography and behind the scenes to the acting on the stage.
> What inspired you to start the Hastings Youth Theatre?
I was involved in directing the pantomimes with Players for 8 years, from 2000, and I always had lots of children involved. All my years of acting and directing really inspired me to pass on my skills by teaching children.
I find that there are very minimal places for children in the Hastings to display their talents – especially for productions on stage. So I decided to start the Hastings Youth Theatre to give actors, dancers and singers the opportunities, from 9 years upwards, to gain experience in theatrical performances on stage, to have fun while displaying their talents, working with other young people as a youth theatre of their own – not only on stage, but behind the scenes.
The advantage of youth theatre is that rehearsals and performance are only during daylight hours. This suits the parents a lot, because they don’t have late night rehearsals which tend to interfere with their school – particularly for week nights.
> As a new not for profit in our area, have you had a lot of support from local businesses?
Yes, we have fantastic sponsors, including Panthers, Rotary Club West, Buzz Coffee, Ultratune Port Macquarie, Hydro Photographics, Sandy Gulenburg Podiatry Clinic, Constable Printing and Amy Longworth. We are being auspiced by ‘Break a Leg’ inc. They are supporting the arts, and they have taken us under their umbrella.
This was necessary, so we had the funding to take out public liability insurance – essential for any group which provides transportation to its members.
We currently rehearse in the theatrette at Sea Acres, but are looking for a permanent home with more facilities including a stage and hopefully sound and lighting, so the children can learn all aspects of the theatre – even a school that has a stage that is not being used over the weekends.
We only need the rehearsal space for a Saturday or Sunday afternoon each week for 3 months of the year.
> Tell us about the performance schedule you have with the theatre.
‘Utter Garbage’ is a comedy by Les Ellison with lots of music and dance. It is an environmental play about rats living on a garbage tip and a young rat called Dumpster who wants to live in a better world. So that’s where the environment part will come in and be attractive in teaching and educating the schools.
As another first, I will be taking my production to the schools. We have the Hastings Choristers, the Hastings Youth Band, the Young Guns and now the Hastings Youth Theatre. We already have bookings for August, and if any schools are interested they can contact me on 6584 5695.
We have 13 rehearsals this year and then the premier performance of ‘Utter Garbage’ will be at the Panthers Auditorium, July 19th at 2pm. Cost $10 children, $18 adults, members of Panthers $15. For bookings contact Panthers.
> Can other local youth become involved with the theatre?
Yes, most definitely! There are so many people wanting to be involved; I already have a waiting list of six, and we’re only just starting! So I’m very excited, as you can tell! Anyone interested can just give me a tingle.
We currently only have one production a year but if all goes well, particularly with gaining a permanent venue, we may be able to do another.
> Do you need any experience to become involved?
No, because that’s what we are doing; we are teaching them speech and drama, and backstage – all aspects of the theatre. At the moment, not having a home means we don’t have any lighting or sound, so the children can’t have hands on experience with that. They can still learn make-up, backstage, choreography, that type of thing.
> Thank you Eileen. We look forward to seeing The Hastings Youth Theatre’s debut production.
For further details phone Eileen Kerr on 6584 5695.