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Young People’s Theatre Newcastle is turning 75

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It’s faced homelessness, a devastating fire and a global pandemic but, like all good productions, the show must go on, and Newcastle’s Young People’s Theatre is now marking 75 years of showbiz. 

In the coming months, the Hamilton-based home of costumes, drama, dance and glitter will celebrate its diamond jubilee with a string of events and social media reflections. 

Together with its 450 students, aged 5-to-18, YPT supporters, families, and stage and costume crew, will turn the spotlight on their past. 

They also share a goal of fundraising $75,000 to kick start the next three-quarters of a century. 

Newcastle couple William and Betty Ford had a dream of creating a theatre for young people by young people.

The not-for-profit, the brainchild of Novocastrian theatrical team William and Betty Ford, was born in 1948.

Its alumni include media personality Tanya Hennessy, comedian Rhys Nicolson, Hamilton the Musical Australian talent Callan Purcell, and All Saints and Wentworth actor Celia Ireland. 

It was once home to Cirque De Soliel’s Alex Waye and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child actor John Shearman, too.

It has also launched the careers of Head of Music Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts Tyran Park, and Director in Residence at Adelaide Conservatorium Erin James. 

Like all good families, YPT’s success is thanks to the hard work of each member, says Chelsea Willis.

Theatre Manager of Young People’s Theatre Newcastle Inc Chelsea Willis.

“YPT was born off the back of the support of its community,” she told the Newcastle Weekly.  

“When it had no home, it was the community that fundraised and helped purchase the Hamilton site. 

“In fact, it was a parent and builder, Paddy Newing, who undertook converting the old church building into a theatre, with the cost to be paid back ‘at the company’s convenience’.  

“It was essentially an interest-free loan, which hugely contributed to YPT successfully creating their theatre space in Hamilton.” 

It was also a dream shared by many passionate local theatregoers, Chelsea adds. 

“Funds were raised by community members and share certificates were sold at $25 to support the purchase and fit out,” she said.

“Yet, we believe these were never claimed and are now YPT memorabilia.” 

That same group of community members, determined to keep theatre alive for youngsters, sourced cost-saving equipment and second-hand fixtures.  

“The auditorium seating was purchased from the Capitol Theatre in Tamworth and installed by a local Rotary club and stage lighting fixtures were purchased from the demolished Century Movie Theatre in Broadmeadow,” explains Chelsea. 

Its opening production was The Wizard of Oz.

With a cast of 50 and crew of 50, the majority of the YPT members were given the opportunity to perform work in and on the production.

The Wiz, as it became affectionally known, played every Saturday until November, closing after 50 performances.

Tickets cost $1 and the production played to full houses with more than 7,000 attendees over 50 performances. 

So, when fire tore through the theatre on 23 September 1995, destroying half of its structure, the community was devastated. 

Fire almost destroyed the future of YPT in 1995.

“The auditorium and costume storage areas were completely destroyed by the fire,” says Chelsea.  

“The company staged the majority of its productions in the Civic Playhouse until, thankfully, local and state government funds and community support, and the sheer tenacity of the Young People’s Theatre members, we opened our new theatre on the existing site.” 

This 148 seat theatre was officially opened on 23 January 1999. 

Today, it is home to six productions with about 100 performance opportunities each year.  

More than 400 students attend weekly classes in drama, musical theatre, dance and voice at a variety of local venues. 

YPT Newcastle

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