Queensland's Gold Coast arts scene boasts a community theatre group which celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 2015, has been going strong since 1955 and shows no signs of slowing down.
The Spotlight Theatrical Company started life as the South Coast Revue Company, under the guidance of one Joyce Forbes, who wrote and directed the shows, originally staged at the old Diggers Hall in Scarborough Street, Southport - no-one on the Coast was doing musicals in those early days. Music was supplied by Isobel Williams, who continued with the company and played in about 85 of their shows until her 80th birthday.
In the early days all profits from the shows were donated to local charities; performers purchased their own costumes (and forget mikes and footlights!) and rehearsals seem to have been very interesting affairs, with the cast meeting at an agreed point to find out where rehearsals would be that night. There was a party after every rehearsal, and the shows were well received by an entertainment-starved local audience. The very first show was High Jinks, and the company continued to stage musical revues until TV arrived, when they began to present musical theatre book shows.LOOKING FOR A HOME
The first big musical was Brigadoon in 1962, followed by White Horse Inn and Calamity Jane. In 1966 the company moved to the newer Diggers Hall to stage Annie Get Your Gun. A stream of major musical theatre productions followed in the 1970s and 80s, with the publicity shots for Showboat (1978) being shot on the new paddle steamer at Dream World before it was open to the public, and shots for Pirates of Penzance (2007) were taken on the pirate ship at Sea World!
The company's next home was the Southport High School Hall, with costumes and sets stored in private homes and rehearsals held all over the place. Later the shows were seen in the Miami High School Great Hall, on the road in Murwillumbah and Beaudesert, Twelfth Night Theatre in Brisbane, the Albert Waterways Community Hall, and Spotlight was the first community theatre company to stage shows at the new Gold Coast Arts Centre, for which they had acted as advisors during the building process. They had also assisted in raising money for its construction. However the venue was not financially viable for them and although they staged several shows there (with five losses in a row), it was clear that another venue had to be found.
They became trustee-owners of the Benowa Community Hall in Ashmore Road, the site of the current theatre. The original title on pigskin with the seal of the Colony of NSW bears the date - pre-1857. They bought the block of land next door, paid it off in twelve months and built a rehearsal hall. At last, Spotlight had a permanent home for rehearsals, although the shows continued to be staged at other venues. The rehearsal hall was joined by a proper theatre in the late 80s and the company performed there until they built their brand new theatre in 2001. Two musicals a year have now become four, and the Basement Theatre is home to at least two straight plays/ comedies, plus a variety of shows from the extremely successful and busy Youth Theatre.DIVERSIFICATION
Since 1990 the Company has boasted a "senior" entertainment group, "The Golden Girls", who entertain at around 60 shows a year in nursing homes and retirement villages. From 1969 to 2012 Spotlight ran The Entertainers' Festival, a major competition for all ages; a week long program for nearly 600 entrants, many of whom have gone on to perform in the professional theatre. Among other income streams, this extremely successful company also runs its own professionally staffed Costume Hire business. From the early days when costumes were stored and hired out of a garage on the Isle of Capri, Spotlight Costume Hire now brings an excellent return to the theatre, and exposes the venue to a wider public.
Does the theatre have a ghost? Maybe. Long-time theatre supporter Reg Ebbott died tragically of a heart attack at the company's Annual General Meeting some years ago; his son continues to appear in Spotlight shows.60 YEARS ON AND STILL GOING STRONG
These days the theatre is one of the busiest buildings on the Coast - with Costume Hire open 6 days a week, plus hirings, performances and rehearsals being held in both venues, the Youth Theatre, the Golden Girls and a myriad of other events in the two theatres.
Long time members put its success down to the strong "family" culture in the organisation; they see themselves as "Custodians of the standards of all those that have gone before; Spotlight is a launching pad, a place where people can display their art and go on to other things". The infrastructure is strong, with a solid team of front of house, bar, box office and technical people working in a tight and financially secure environment under a forward-looking committee.The company continues to move with the times and, with a membership of over 1200, to present a wide variety of traditional and new shows.
From humble beginnings as the South Coast Revue Company, raising money for local charities, The Spotlight Theatrical Company is now regarded as big business: SHOW BUSINESS!