By Luke Voogt
Saving Geelong Repertory Theatre Company from “the brink” and building another group from the ground up was a “marriage of art and practically”, according to Elaine Mitchell.
In 1989 Geelong Rep, which Mrs Mitchell joined decades earlier as a 17-year-old actress, was struggling with rising costs and falling audiences.
So she and late husband Dennis renovated a Geelong West wood joinery into the Woodbin Theatre, which 32 years on remains the group’s home.
She and Dennis, a tradesman, theatre critic, actor and director, knocked out bricks to make arches, built a green room and rescued old theatre seating from across Victoria.
“He had the practicalities and I was the artist,” she said.
In 1993 they remade the old bluestone Ceres Temperance Hall as the home of Mrs Mitchell’s new company, Theatre of the Winged Unicorn.
“The acoustics were absolutely perfect,” she said.
“The space is only as small as your imagination.”
They also built a studio at their Ceres home when Mrs Mitchell retired as an arts teacher.
Theatre “is an absolute way of life” for Mrs Mitchell, whose passion this week earned her an Order of Australia Medal.
But she was keen to acknowledge the many other locals completing “a kaleidoscope of jobs” backstage.
“The audience don’t see the administration, the costume sewers and the hours spent in the dark and cold building the sets,” she said.