Speech by Jill Bartlett OAM, President of The Therry Dramatic Society Inc, in accepting the Richard Flynn Award for Sustained Excellence and Contribution to Theatre in South Australia at the 2016-17 Adelaide Theatre Guide Curtain Call Awards Gala Dinner at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre on Saturday, 2 September 2017.

In the 1970s, a now deceased English actress, whose name eludes me, gave some advice to award recipients: the three Gs – be gracious, be grateful and get off – famously plagiarised by Paul Hogan when he hosted the Academy Awards.

A New Zealand schoolboy won quote of the year in 2015 with a spin on the original three G quotation. Expected to live only another three or four weeks, head prefect Jake Bailey surprised his fellow students by leaving hospital to attend the school’s graduation ceremony. From a wheelchair, the words which won him quote of the year were:

Here's the thing — none of us get out of life alive. So be gallant, be great, be gracious, and be grateful for the opportunities that you have.

The Richard Flynn Award for Sustained Excellence and Contribution to live theatre in South Australia.

Richard was a terrific teacher and a life-long devotee of the performing arts. At Therry’s fourth Schools Drama Festival in 1965, the award for best production was won by St Ignatius College for its presentation of scenes from Macbeth, directed by Richard.

Richard taught drama – and taught it very well – at St Iggies. In 2014, the school acknowledged his contribution in a very big way: they named their new theatre The Richard Flynn Theatre. But that was two years after Richard’s contribution to Adelaide theatre in general was acknowledged by the naming of this award in his honour. And what an honour it is.

By accepting this award tonight, I join Rob Croser and David Roach; Isabella Norton; Ian Rigney; the late Glen Vallen and Matt Byrne.  What a motley lot we are.

Way back in 1975, I was the secretary of a workplace social club. One of our most popular outings was to the movies. I organised dozens of them and dealt with the group bookings organiser at Greater Union Theatres who happened to be secretary of Therry. She was always nagging – sorry – always encouraging me to book a group with Therry, or join them on their social outings. That woman was Claire Leahy. She was – let me put this politely – persistent.

Frankly, it was embarrassing to continually to say ‘no’. Eventually, I said ‘yes’. And, one balmy October evening, I joined a group of Therries at the Pink Pig at North Adelaide at a dinner, the reason for which is lost in the mists of time.

Almost 42 years – and tens of thousands of hours – later, here I stand, the recipient of one of Australia’s highest honours (an Order of Australia Medal) and now the Richard Flynn Award for Sustained Excellence and Contribution to Theatre in South Australia.

Sustained excellence? Oh, dear – I think there have been many times when I’ve failed that particular test. But as to contribution: I just might have that one covered.

As with most people who have received this type of acknowledgement, it would be impossible for me to do what I do without the love and support of a very understanding family. My beautiful daughter, Angie, is here tonight: her first ATG Awards Night. But how I wish my parents could have lived to see this year – an OAM and now this honour. They were never less than supportive and encouraging – and they would have been very proud.

When I walked into the Pink Pig all those years ago, I had no background in theatre or performing of any kind. But something about theatre – or was it about this particular group of people? – appealed to me.

Something about this particular group of people still appeals to me.

So what is it that I did and do with no background in theatre?

I still don’t perform – and don’t intend to. Having had the experience of rehearsing and performing in our year 2000 musical Me and My Girl, I simply do not understand why anyone would voluntarily put themselves through the process – but thank the Lord they do. I’ve found a niche, an outlet, a challenge, and a deep sense of achievement and satisfaction at Therry – and made literally hundreds of friends.  

Why this interest above any other? My aerodynamics precluded me from active participation in sport. I can’t paint, or sew, or knit. I’m not a gardener, or a cook, or a potter – nor do I have any other particular talent. I simply organise.

The thing I enjoy most about theatre is the people – wonderful and amazing people.  People of all ages; from all walks of life; from a variety of backgrounds and socio-economic groups – people with abundant talent, specific skills, special abilities – and people who think they have no skill or talent or abilities at all. Every person here knows there’s a place for everyone in a theatre group.

In any given production, Therry has people who could vary in age from teenagers to nonagenarians; people who’ve worked professionally on stage, back stage and front-of-house; people who’ve never set foot on a stage and never want to - but who usher, or sell programs, or make tea and coffee, or build sets, or paint flats, or fix furniture, or sew costumes, or do photocopying – why am I telling you this? This is stuff you all know.

Back to the ‘excellent’ and ‘commitment’ part of this award ...

Adelaide’s community theatre scene is vibrant and active and the standard is excellent – with no government grants or funding. If you occasionally find a production fails to live up to its promise, so what. Learn to learn from it; learn from your own blunders and those of others. But by and large, if everyone involved in a show commits to it 100%, it ain’t going to be a lemon.

If you know what separates a great show from an average show, please put your hand up now and share your knowledge. Whatever it is, we’ll all do it. And the difference between an award-nominated show and something of a lemon? In terms of hours committed to it, absolutely no difference at all.

There is a price to be paid for our involvement in this time-consuming, all-consuming recreational interest of ours. I sometimes think we should have these words tattooed on our foreheads:  “I can’t, I’ve got rehearsal” or “I can’t; we’re in the theatre”.

One of my regrets is the lack of meaningful contact I seem to have with friends (or people who were once friends) who are not involved in theatre. It seems that non-theatre people tend to fall by the wayside of our lives. On the plus side, look around you. That word ‘community’ in ‘community theatre’ means something. It stands for something. We are a community. We care and we share. By building our own audiences, we’re building audiences for others. Success breeds success – and long may that continue.

With work and family commitments, yes, I do sometimes feel overwhelmed. But then I remember the people I have around me; all the merry Therries – office holders, helpers, and all those fantastic people who’ve been involved in Therry shows over the years. I thank each and every one of them for their support and friendship.

I’d also like to put on record my thanks to the team at the Adelaide Theatre Guide for their work. We once paid hundreds of dollars each play to advertise auditions; now we pay zip. That’s just one of their services which makes a real difference to every group. And, without them, there would be no awards.

So, here’s the thing about theatre and life and what can make a difference.

None of us get out of life alive. So be gallant, be great, be gracious and be grateful for the opportunities that you have – and be generous. Show that gratitude: smile as you meet and greet people in the foyer. Smile during the curtain call; acknowledge the applause.

But, simply, let’s all continue to be great.

Thank you again for this honour.