Fremantle’s original & only Community Theatre
In December 1963, Harbour Theatre was formed by eight enthusiastic amateurs, led by Jimmy Quinn, a very competent and experienced director. The upper floor of the Evans Davies Library in South Terrace, Fremantle (above what is now Dome) became Harbour’s first home. Conditions were very primitive at the beginning, but enthusiasm overcame all difficulties and the group expanded rapidly. By 1965, Harbour was able to present 4 full length productions a year and an Associate Membership scheme was started (and is still one of the largest memberships of Community theatre in Perth). The Mayor of Fremantle at that time, Sir Frederick Samson, was presented with the first Honorary Life Associate Membership of Harbour Theatre, which he gratefully accepted.
In 1975, the Evan Davies Library moved out and the building was scheduled for demolition to make way for a car park. Due mainly to the efforts of Harbour Theatre, The Fremantle Society, and a grant to the Fremantle City Council by the Heritage Commission, the building was saved and partially restored. At the same time, the theatre underwent a major restructuring, resulting in the stage and seating being completely changed, thus allowing for larger audiences and better facilities for the actors. The work to the theatre was due to the group's own physical labour, with funds raised by themselves and their supporters. In November 1989, Harbour Theatre performed its 100th full length production. With an Associate Membership in the hundreds (over 750 in 1995), Harbour Theatre has always been self sufficient, never having to call on Government or other funding bodies for support. But then things changed….
Unfortunately, due to commercial circumstances beyond our control, in March 1995 we were forced to find another venue at which to perform. Thus Harbour Theatre departed from the Evans Davies Building, our home for 31 years. As a temporary measure, Harbour Theatre performed at the Tivoli Theatre, in the suburb of Applecross, for about 18 months, while searching for a location back in Fremantle.
After exhausting every avenue with the Fremantle City Council for help in relocating back in Fremantle, a lease was finally arranged privately at the Princess May Building (previously known as the Princess May Girls’ School), and Harbour Theatre was able to return to Fremantle at the end of 1996. The next few weeks were very hectic as the theatre space in the Princess May Building had to be completely re-built, including the stage, seating and lighting, in time for our last play of 1996 “Table Manners”, by Alan Ayckbourn and directed by Stan Brannick.
1997 went reasonably well as Harbour Theatre settled into its new home. Unfortunately, no change is not without some consequences, with the Associate Membership dropping dramatically from 600 to 400, and a long standing and founding member, past President & Secretary, Joyce Birch, leaving the Theatre. The situation looked even gloomier the following year with the first two plays of the 1998 season cancelled due to the unfortunate withdrawal of lead actors. Harbour Theatre was on the brink of collapsing. Then came the success of the 4th play, Oscar Wilde’s “A Woman of No Importance” directed by Anne Smithdale, followed by Harbour Theatre winning the inaugural Sheila Buchanan Memorial Adjudicators Encouragement Award at the annual Independent Theatre Association (ITA) Finley Awards. The Theatre President of the time, Jo Sterkenburg, said “It was a real shot in the arm. It was nice to be recognised for overcoming adversity”.
Harbour Theatre continued to perform in the Princess May Building, putting on 4 full length plays and a season of 1-act plays every year. The Theatre also hosted the ITA's DramaFest, an annual competition of 1-act plays, from 1998 to 2001. In 2002 we performed our 150th full length production ("Last Of The Red Hot Lovers" directed by Stan Brannick) and in December 2003 celebrated 40 years of performing in Fremantle. Then in December 2008, Harbour Theatre, in conjunction with many other community theatre's in WA, were successful in receiving a grant from the Ignite Funding for WA Community Theatre by the Department of Culture and Arts. The grant was used to install an intra-theatre wireless communications system and to upgrade and replace our aging lights (most from when the theatre started over 40 years ago) and resurface the similarly aged flats.
And then, yet again, due to circumstances beyond our control, in December 2009 we were forced out of the Princess May Building, our home for the last 13 years. Intense lobbying by the Harbour Theatre Members (both Active & Associate) and the general public to the Fremantle City Council resulted in a temporary venue at the Port Cineaste Building on Adelaide St, until a more secure home could be found...
And so, while Harbour Theatre continues to grow and change, Jimmy’s Golden Rule has never changed:
“Always love and respect theatre, and above all, love and respect each other.”
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