2020 is in full swing and our arts centre is celebrating 39 years of operation. Four incredible individuals take us back through the decades, and share a glimpse of life, both on and off the stage.
“My family came out to Geelong from Canada in June or July ‘81 – so ‘GPAC’ had just opened. They took a whole lot of photos because I was working in a theatre back in London, Ontario and said, “They’ve got their own theatre and it’s all new and beautiful!”, and so without much convincing I moved here when I was 19-years-old.”
Much has changed in just under forty years, the Blakiston Theatre is now known as the Drama Theatre, the Plaza Theatre became the Ford, which then became the Playhouse. Buildings came down and new ones went up but a constant through all of this has been one Tina Rettke.
Tina has been with Geelong Arts Centre longer than any other. She started waiting tables at Poirot’s, the former arts centre restaurant and now finds herself leading the front-of-house team as the Manager of Visitor Services. Tina’s impact here hasn’t always been behind the scene.
“This was actually the very first stage I had performed on in Australia.” Tina said, “It was my first big role. I auditioned for another show and was told “Darling, just audition for shows that are American because with that accent you can’t play anything else.” I thought OK. I knew they were doing Pygmalion, so I got the record out of the library – with Diana Rigg as Eliza. I practised and practised. Got the part and played Eliza on that stage. That was in ’82. I met my husband during that show and we were married in ’84.”
Skip forward to 1992 and a 19-year-old Dean Taylor, now Head of Lighting, was getting the big break that would lead him to tour Australia with Sir. Paul McCartney and countless other music legends, “For my first few years, I was just in awe of my surroundings. When I started here, I had also started working for some major companies in Melbourne. We learned a lot of areas fast because you can’t just be a lighting tech here, you have to know how to do a bit of everything. So, to be able to take what I was learning and to put it against a massive concert at the MCG, it elevated my craft so much.”
“That kind of learning doesn’t happen anymore – there was no university degrees for what I did then. The backstage side of the music industry wasn’t accessible, so to come on board and be accepted as well as I was, was incredible.”
For Angelique Helman, who joined the team in the mid-naughts, the people that she’s met through the centre and the shows that she’s helped through the Presenter Services Team has remained the highlight.
“I love dealing with high profile acts. It’s exciting when a big production wants to do a regional tour. But I love, just as much, dealing with community theatre and community groups. It’s often a really collaborative experience where we can provide advice and support to make their big event a reality. And, when that show opens, we get to experience that delight alongside them. That’s my favourite part.”
Seven years ago, while working full-time in the corporate jungle, Emily Donoghue – now Associate Producer – took an after-hours ushering position to be closer to the venue that helped nurture her love for the arts.
“When I started working here, it felt like coming home. I know this building like the back of my hand”, she said. “Some of my earliest theatrical memories happened in the Ford Theatre.
“I did my first ever singing performance on the same stage. My social connections with my friends and with my family were strengthened in this building, so my connection to it now, is that it’s not only a job that I love and that I’m proud of, it’s that I get to do that somewhere that means a lot to me.”
Looking back is a great reminder of how lucky we have been to share our journey with the remarkable people who made the centre what it is today. And now, as we turn our attention to the future, a team of exceptionally talented staff, architects, engineers and acousticians, are imagining how this world-class arts precinct will look and feel for the coming four decades and more.