Showing posts with label Newcastle theatre history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Newcastle theatre history. Show all posts

Monday, 21 September 2015

Music in the genes - Betty Lind

When Disney’s Beauty and the Beast opened in Newcastle in 2006, three generations of the Lind family were involved in its production. Carolyn, daughter of Betty Lind and her late husband Frank, directed. Another daughter Kathryn played Madame de la Grande Bouche. Three of Carolyn and Kathryn’s children played ‘enchanted objects.’

Betty Lind taught hundreds of Novocastrians singing, drama and piano; performed in opera, musicals and drama; designed and sewed countless theatre costumes; and was Secretary of the Newcastle Dramatic Art Club (NDAC) for 35 years. She would not formally retire until 2008, at the age of 78. One of the things that gives her great pleasure in her retirement is continuing to hear from countless numbers of people of the pleasure and enjoyment they received from her singing and performances.

With a father like Colin Chapman, who founded NDAC in 1938, it is no wonder music and theatre are in Betty Lind’s genes. [1]

‘I grew up with music and theatre as the mainstay of my life,’ Betty says.

Even so, she is the only one of Chapman’s five children to follow this path.

Betty Lind, née Chapman, came to live in Hamilton as a teenager when her parents moved to Gordon Avenue in 1944. Her father established not just one, but two Roxy Theatres in Hamilton.

Leaving school, Home Science High, at the age of 15, Betty joined her father in his Academy of Music, teaching piano. She’d been studying piano since she was 6 years old, first in Newcastle, with Ethie Sadler and then Ellie Dodsley, and later at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music with Alexander Sverjensky and Frank Hutchens.

Betty Lind (left) with Raymond McDonald  and Ellie Dodsley
Photograph from the personal collection of Betty Lind

But who better than her father to teach Betty singing?

Still, it was not until she was 29 that Betty made her singing debut, in the lead role in ‘Tosca.’ It was 1959. Betty says that at 14 she had been told she had ‘a big voice but a rough passage out.’ As a result she didn’t sing in public until she was 28 years of age.

When Betty sang Tosca opposite Ray McDonald, at the time one of Australia’s leading tenors, she showed her father what she was truly capable of. Other roles quickly followed – Bloody Mary in ‘South Pacific,’ and Josepha in ‘White Horse Inn,’ where she played opposite the man destined to become her husband, Frank Lind. They married in 1962, setting up home in Hamilton North.

Betty Lind as Bloody Mary in ‘South Pacific’ c.1060
Photograph from the personal collection of Betty Lind

Frank and Betty’s passion for music, performance and theatre was intensely shared.  Frank became NDAC President after Colin Chapman’s death, keeping his legacy alive. That passion has been passed on to their daughters, and four grandchildren.

I ask Betty what were the highlights of her career.

‘I was part of an international cast, and one of just four Australians, chosen to appear at ‘Night of Stars’ on the last night of the season of ‘My Fair Lady’ at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney. It was a fundraiser for cancer – starting at midnight and going until 4 am.’

Betty felt terrified to be performing in such illustrious company. She explains:

‘To perform on the stage at Her Majesty’s was an exhilarating experience. I sang ‘Happy Talk’ from South Pacific, with David Williams (who had been one of Dad’s students in the 1940s) and Chin Yu as Cable and Liat. Both were international stars with me. The experience was something I will always remember’.

Betty also performed with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Town Hall under the baton of Georg Tintner. In her hometown, Newcastle, and in the two Roxy Theatres of Hamilton, Betty has performed Grand Opera, musical theatre, dramatic presentations, revues and farce.

Betty associates the birth of her daughters with shows she performed in.

‘Kathryn was born 13 weeks before we opened “Call Me Madam,”’ she tells me. ‘Frank and I both had leading roles, (Cosmo and Madam). Carolyn was born two months after we finished “Flower Drum Song”, in which once again, Frank and I had leading roles. My costumes had to be made very full, and I had to remember not to put my hands on my hips.’

‘Both girls grew up in theatre,’ Betty continues. ‘It is a way of life for the family. They both have excellent voices which have been passed on to their children.’

Carolyn, whose first on-stage performance was at the age of two, has established herself as a Director of considerable repute. Kathryn followed the path of her grandmother, Aileen Chapman, who was NDAC wardrobe mistress for 45 years. In the 2000s, Kathryn costumed all the shows presented at the Newcastle Civic Theatre. These days, Carolyn lives in Brisbane with her trumpet-playing husband and children; Kathryn in England, with her husband and children.

Kathryn’s daughters love music and musicals; Carolyn’s son and daughter love theatre, the performing arts and sport. Whatever career paths they choose – astronomy, biology, writing, music, visual arts and sports are on the cards - the legacy left to them by parents, grandparents and great grandparents will nourish every day of their lives.

Betty Lind (right) in one of her favorite roles as Mother Superior in a publicity shot for
‘The Sound of Music’ c.1970
Left is Colin Chapman, centre is Betty’s daughter Kathryn
Photograph from the personal collection of Betty Lind

A post about the Roxy Theatre, Hamilton is here.

A digital recording of an interview with Betty Lind by Rosalind Evans as part of a project done by Open Foundation students at The University of Newcastle in the late 1980s is available online at


Thank you to Betty Lind for providing photographs and information for this story.

[1] A digital recording of an interview with Betty Lind by Rosalind Evans as part of a project done by Open Foundation students at The University of Newcastle in the late 1980s is available online at

Monday, 18 May 2015

The Roxy Theatre

When I first heard Colin Chapman’s name spoken, it was in reverential tones. ‘Of course, you know of Colin Chapman.’ I didn’t, then – but now I understand the reason for the revered expression.

Most of us are fortunate if we know one person like Colin Chapman in our lifetime.

Colin Chapman was a singer, teacher, conductor, producer, director, actor and playwright. A leader and a visionary, he was able to gather round him others who shared his vision and were prepared to personally volunteer their skills, effort and time to achieving it.

Colin Chapman, 1904-1984
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

Novocastrians didn’t realize it at the time, but in 1938 when Colin Chapman established the Colin Chapman Students’ Club, later to become the Newcastle Dramatic Art Club (NDAC), he would be giving Newcastle its first long lived theatrical company.

NDAC would buy and sell two Roxy Theatres in Hamilton, and despite financial ups and downs, continue to operate for over 70 years until 2010.

Chapman would also be giving hundreds of individuals the opportunity for self expression, friendship, service to a shared cause, and for some, career advancement. NDAC has been described as ‘the fount from which much of Newcastle theatre has flowed.’ [1] He would be giving the Newcastle community endless delight in performance art, and an appreciation of a world of music and culture far beyond the boundaries of this industrial city.

Not just the fount from which Newcastle theatre flowed, the association was where many met and married their future partners. Betty Lind, Colin’s daughter, estimates there could have been as many as 150 weddings.

Who was Colin Chapman?

Colin Chapman was born in 1904 in Boorowa, NSW, one of two children. His father was a soldier; his mother had theatrical leanings she was unable to pursue.

Chapman’s working life began on the railways.
When Chapman married Emma (known as Ailey) Field in 1929, he was Night Officer at Cardiff. Always a lover of music and singing, Chapman began formal studies under Gladys Davis in Newcastle.

Not only did he become the youngest stationmaster in NSW at the time, based at Arthurville, but he also became known as ‘the singing railwayman.’

In 1934 Chapman entered the City of Sydney eisteddfod and was successful, and again in 1935 and 1936 when he won the Operatic Championship. Part of the prize was to participate in a season of grand opera the ABC was presenting on radio with the famous conductor Maurice de Abravanel.

‘My father toured for the ABC throughout Australia,’ explained daughter Betty Lind, ‘but he couldn’t afford to travel overseas to continue his career. By then he had a wife and family. He became a well known soloist in Newcastle and featured in many of the musical events of the city at this time.’

With such experience, and a growing reputation, in 1938 Chapman began teaching singing. His first studios were in New Lambton and Maitland, later expanding to Newcastle city, Charlestown and Goulburn.

Advertisement for The Academy of Music
Program for The White Horse Inn, from the personal collection of Betty Lind

It was at the first annual recital at the Maitland studio that the formation of the Colin Chapman Students Club was announced. The new Club would give his students ‘a stage to perform on.’

The Club went from strength to strength, presenting musicals at Newcastle City Hall and the Victoria Theatre. Throughout the second World War, many concerts were given to troops in the area.

‘Club members gave unstintingly,’ says Betty Lind. ‘They were holding down their ordinary jobs during the day and supporting the war effort at night.’

The Colin Chapman Students Club became the Colin Chapman Dramatic Art Club and then, in 1950, the Newcastle Dramatic Art Club (NDAC). With the last change, Colin Chapman remained as producer and became Club President.

By this time, Chapman had established his family in Hamilton. They lived in Gordon Avenue from 1944 until 1970. In the 1960s Chapman moved his ‘studio of opportunity’  to Hamilton, where it occupied three different sites over time, including 34 and 124 Beaumont Street.

In 1953 NDAC became the first amateur company in the world to produce ‘Oklahoma.’ It was performed in the Victoria Theatre, Newcastle. [2]

Over these years, Colin Chapman had nurtured a long held dream – that NDAC would one day, have its own theatre.

That dream was realized when the first Roxy Theatre, at 99 Beaumont Street, [3] opened on Friday 14 October 1955. It became Newcastle’s premier live theatre venue, from 1955 until its closure in 1971. NDAC had around 130 members.

Before then, however, for 25 years, the Roxy had been a popular picture theatre.

The Roxy’s life began in 1913. Newly built for Union Pictures Pty Ltd on land occupied since 1883 by George Gilbert’s mixed goods shop, [4] the wood and metal structure was opened on 3 May 1913 by Mayor CG Melville. The band of the Hamilton Superior Public School performed in front of hundreds of people. It was the days of the ‘silent movies,’ and a 7-piece orchestral group provided the sound track from the orchestra pit at the front. [5]

In 1923, William Herbert, who owned theatres at Islington and Broadmeadow, added the one in Hamilton to his group. The story is told how a couple of boys were given the job of carrying the reels from one theatre to another on their bikes, racing to get there in time for the scheduled show. [6] After 1929, the Hamilton theatre was renamed the Roxy, and showed ‘talkies’.

The Roxy Theatre, Hamilton (n.d.)
Photograph courtesy Greg and Sylvia Ray, published in their book ‘The Missing Years’

With the advent of television, cinema audiences were in decline. The Roxy cinema is remembered with immense fondness by Newcastle children, teenagers and adults alike. Many high tales are told of early picture going adventures!

When NDAC purchased the Roxy, it was on the condition they did not show films.
NDAC modified the front of the theatre (facing Beaumont Street) including the orchestra pit, creating an auditorium that could be used as a basketball court. This is where the Newcastle Basketball Association began. Hire revenue helped NDAC’s bottom line, not just from the NBA but also from other theatrical groups and organisations.

Program for ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’ Roxy Theatre 1966
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

The next 16 years in a permanent home allowed NDAC to flourish, with several productions each year. An opera season saw packed houses of up to 500 patrons to see Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, and Faust.  Musicals such as ‘Kismet’ and ‘South Pacific’ were hugely popular, as was ‘The New Moon,’ the show that celebrated the opening of the Roxy Theatre.

Writing in the Souvenir Brochure, Matt Hayes, Dramatic Critic for the ‘Newcastle Sun’, said –

‘The history of this achievement is essentially a story of personal effort and sacrifice, of courage and patience and dogged determination; and the full extent of this can on
only be appreciated by those who have shared intimately in it.’ [7]

A full window display in Gow’s Drapery Hamilton advertising
an upcoming NDAC show
From the personal collection of Betty Lind
The story of Gow's Drapery is here.

Many key people supported Colin throughout, not least his wife Ailey, Secretary Madge Ormerod, and daughter Betty (now Betty Lind).

Aileen Chapman, NDAC wardrobe mistress for 45 years
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

Colin’s first born, Betty had left school at the age of 15, and joined her father as a piano and singing teacher in his studio. She was later charged with the responsibility of establishing his Goulburn studio. Betty’s debut performance was singing the lead role in ‘Tosca’ in 1959 at the Roxy Theatre. Another lead followed followed in 1960,  as ‘Bloody Mary’ in South Pacific. She played opposite Frank Lind in ‘The White Horse Inn’, and they married in 1962. The young couple made their home in Hamilton North.

Betty and Frank Lind on stage in 1970
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

Madge Ormerod was the first Secretary of NDAC, and later served as Treasurer.

‘Madge was a tower of strength. She kept my father’s feet on the ground,’ Betty told me. ‘He was a do-er. She was his anchor.’

Drama was Madge’s great love, and she became acclaimed as an actress in her own right. An executive officer in the rates department of the Newcastle City Council, Madge sometimes relieved as Secretary to the Mayor.

Madge Ormerod, 1960s
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

When Colin Chapman began writing a musical of his own, he turned for inspiration to the story of Tasmanian-born Eileen Joyce. Joyce rose from poverty and hardship to world wide fame as a concert pianist. The genesis of what would become the musical ‘Ragged Ann’ lay in a period of deep despondency Chapman experienced while ill in a London hospital in the 1950s.[8] He’d been told by his treating doctor, ‘Go home and put your affairs in order.’ Feeling hopeless, yet desperate to complete what he thought of as his life mission, he began to read the lives of many of the world’s greats. He describes beginning to write, lifting his head up, and fighting back.

Colin Chapman send-off. Newcastle theatrical producer, and Mrs Chapman, leaving for trip abroad, 
26 June 1956
Photograph courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (hood_25785)

Chapman revisited his original inspiration in the late 1960s, completed writing what he’d begun, and in 1969, the result – ‘Ragged Ann’ – was on show at the Roxy. [9]

A scene from ‘Ragged Ann,’ 1970
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

Eventually the prospect of maintaining the deteriorating building became too much for NDAC, and in 1971, they decided to sell. Little did they know that a policy and funding environment much more sympathetic to the arts – the Whitlam government – was around the corner.

NDAC would be without a home for almost a decade. In 1974, the Club became the first company to use the Newcastle Civic Theatre, which had been newly released from its requirement to only show films. From 1974 to 1980, NDAC presented two shows a year at the Civic.

In 1981, NDAC purchased the former church of the Assemblies of God at 145 Beaumont Street. The new Roxy opened on 30 October 1981 and an exciting and productive new phase would begin.

At the opening of the new Roxy Theatre in 1981, Colin Chapman
played the second lead role in ‘Smilin’ Through’. He was then 77
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

‘The building still had a baptismal font, used for total immersion,’ Betty Lind explained. ‘We built the stage over it.’ When the company put on the drama ‘You Can’t Take it with You’, a hole was cut in the stage so that two actors could disappear down a cellar – into the old font!

An impression of the stage at the Roxy, 145 Beaumont Street, Hamilton
From the program back cover for ‘Merry Melodies’, directed by Frank and Betty Lind
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

In 1984, three years after NDAC bought the new theatre, Colin Chapman passed away. He was 80.

Writing in the program for ‘Merry Melodies,’ President Frank Lind reflected on what NDAC had achieved since purchasing the new Roxy. It was 1989, and the occasion was also a celebration of the opening of the new foyer.

The building had been purchased for $83,000. NDAC had borrowed $35,000 from the State Bank, $15,000 from members, and fundraised the balance of $15,000. In an incredible feat, the debt had been repaid in full by August 1988.

At the time of purchase, the Theatre and Public Halls Department asked that as soon as possible, the foyer be enlarged. However, the owners of the adjacent property objected to the necessary extension to the footpath level. Eventually, NDAC purchased that property too, thus eliminating the objection and providing a more spacious home for the Roxy Costume Hire Shop.

The Roxy Costume Hire Shop had long been an integral part of the Roxy Theatre
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

In March 1987 the foyer redevelopment began. It was to cost $60,000 -  almost as much as the original theatre - and involve contractors, volunteers, donations from businesses, fundraising and in-kind contributions on a huge scale. The Newcastle City Council supported NDAC over several years, and the State Government provided a grant of $2,500 – the first time in 50 years NDAC had ever received a grant from the State or Federal government.

In 1988 NDAC received a CONDA award from the City of Newcastle for 50 years of service to theatre in the city. What a pity Colin Chapman was not alive to receive it.

So many NDAC members who began under Chapman’s tutelage, performed in NDAC productions, and went on to bigger and better things have this man to thank.

At the time of the opening of the first Roxy in 1955, John Shaw (later AO, OBE) was performing in a principal role with the Italian Grand Opera in Australia. Rosina Raisbeck MBE, another protégée, went on to become a principal singer at London’s Covent Garden Opera. Barbara Leigh, Mona Malcolm, Betty Benfield, Eric Morrissey, and David Williams are mentioned in the Souvenir Brochure as singers who achieved notable careers, while many others won local prominence.

‘Theatre in Newcastle owes a tremendous amount to my father,’ Betty tells me. ‘Before he started NDAC, professional theatre didn’t want to come to Newcastle. It was known as the graveyard of theatre. Because of the work of everyone in the group, that changed.’

She believes her father was a man ahead of his time. ‘His understanding of the vocal process was so far ahead of current thinking – years later, I began hearing in seminars the things my father had taught. Now they were being scientifically substantiated,’ Betty says.

The Roxy Theatre was sold in 2001. Jeckyl and Hyde was NDAC’s final show, presented in 2010 at the Civic Theatre. It had produced and presented over 300 plays and musicals in 60 years.

The can-do, show-must-go-on spirit which infused the association of people that made up NDAC, under Colin Chapman’s intrepid leadership, is epitomized in a little story told by Betty Lind. Writing about the challenges of extending the foyer of the new Roxy, she says:

‘We had to install a steel pole on the property next door for the electricity. The pole (post hole ) digger we hired was not  long enough, so Amanda Helmers volunteered to go head first into the hole, the guys holding her by the legs, and dig out the remaining depth to make it the required 1.5 metres. That’s what I call dedication.’ [10]

‘There were so many people involved over the years,’ Betty concludes. ‘While Dad was the centrepin, to make things happen there had to be commitment from so many people – we received that… from people in all walks of life. The businesses, business managers, journalists, and the thousands of individuals who were members or supporters of the Club.

In a typical example of corporate support, David Jones took a full page advertisement as a tribute to Colin Chapman, in the program for Ragged Ann
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

‘To the thousands and thousands who saw our shows over the years, the people of the Hunter who supported the theatre, without them there would have been nothing.’

It’s also true to say that without the dedication and commitment of a relatively small number of people who loved theatre with an enduring passion, there would have been nothing.

NDAC Committee 1955
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

Productions of opera, musicals and plays at the Roxy Theatre, 99 Beaumont Street (1955-1971) and 145 Beaumont Street, Hamilton (1981-2001) [11]

1955    New Moon (Opening)
            The Reluctant Debutante
1956    Anything Goes
1958    On Monday Next
            The Red Mill
            Julius Caesar
1959    The Lost Prince (Children’s Theatre)
Bus Stop
            Madame Butterfly
1959    Janus
            Kiss me Kate
1960    Separate Tables
            The Glass Menagerie
Wizard of Oz (Children’s Theatre)
            Look Back in Anger
            Leave it to Jane
            South Pacific
1961    Kiss Me Kate
            They Came to a City
1962    Elixir of Love
1963    Free as Air
            Leave it to Jane
1964    Show Boat
            Call Me Madam
            Playboy of the Western World
            Cavalleria Rusticana
1965    Irma La Duce
Il Pagliacci
Il Trovatore
Die Fledermaus
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
1966    Annie Get Your Gun
            Androcles and the Lion
            Blithe Spirit
1967    Look Back in Anger
            Playboy of the Western World
1968    The Poker Session
            The White Horse Inn
            Mrs Gibbons’ Boys
Once Upon a Mattress
1969    Ragged Ann
1970    Ragged Ann
The Fantasticks
            Sound of Music
            Swamp Creatures
1971    Half a Sixpence

The Roxy Theatre was sold in 1971. NDAC continued to produce and present shows in various venues until the new Roxy Theatre opened in 1981.

1981    Smilin’ Through
            The Christmas Cracker Show or Nuts to You
1982    The Sentimental Bloke
            What’s Playing at the Roxy?
            The Stingiest Man in Town
1983    Lilac Time
            Lock up your Daughters
1985    Blithe Spirit
            Sheer Luck Holmes
1986    Annie Get Your Gun
1987    The Boys from Syracuse
1988    The Sentimental Bloke
            The King and I
1989    Merry Melodies
1990    Little Shop of Horrors
            See How They Run
1992    Macbeth
            A Hard God
1993    The Crucible
            Something’s Afoot
1994    Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
            The Importance of Being Earnest
1995    Chicago
            Little Shop of Horrors
See How They Run
            An Inspector Calls
            Fiddler on the Roof
1996    Showboat
            Me and My Girl
            Bedroom Farce
            Red Hot and Cole
1997    The One Day of the Year
            Various reviews
1998    No No Nanette
            Meet Me in St Louis
1999    Call Me Madam
            The Children’s Hour
            Boeing Boeing

Acknowledgements and Note

Thank you to Betty Lind for photographs, mementos and information, and to Jackie Ansell for the introduction.

A post about Betty Lind is here.

This post has focused on the Roxy Theatre, at its two different sites in Hamilton, and Colin Chapman as the driving force behind NDAC. However, no story about the Roxy would be complete without touching on the larger story of NDAC. While we have sought to provide broader context, the account here is not a complete history of NDAC, or its performances and activities elsewhere in Newcastle, the Hunter and beyond.

[1]  NDAC Program notes ‘Ragged Ann,’ Roxy Theatre, Thursday 22 May 1969
[2] NDAC Souvenir Brochure to commemorate the opening of the Roxy Theatre, Hamilton. Friday 14 October 1955.
[3]  The Westpac Bank now occupies the site, at 99-101 Beaumont Street, Hamilton
[4] In personal records kept for historical walks she led around Hamilton, local historian Mavis Ebbott notes that the Bank of NSW built a small bank near George Gilbert’s shop before 1929. The Bank of NSW moved back to the site in 1972, rebuilding the present Westpac Bank. 
[5] Newcastle Morning Herald, 5 May 2013
[6] Personal communication from local historian Mavis Ebbott.
[7] NDAC Souvenir Brochure to commemorate the opening of the Roxy Theatre, Hamilton. Friday 14 October 1955. History of the NDAC. Matt Hayes.
[8]  Colin Chapman was in England 1956-1958.
[9] Information from an article by Colin Chapman in the ‘Ragged Ann’ program: Inspiration …to whom does it come? - From whence does it flow?
[10] From the program ‘Merry Melodies’, in the personal collection of Betty Lind
[11] This listing combines information provided by Betty Lind and found on It may not be complete, and does not include productions performed in venues other than the two Roxy Theatres, Hamilton.