Amateur dramatics go back a long way in the Wyong Shire, with the first recorded performance of the twentieth century taking place on 27th July 1907. Staged by the Wyong Musical and Dramatic Society it took place in the local School of Arts hall. According to a review in the local press "the programme was an attractive one and its production marks the newly formed association with a success." The performances were of Hook and Eye and Joffin's Latchkey.
The Wyong MADS later produced Lady Audley's Secret in 1909 and Milky White in September 1911.In 1921 the Wyong Famous Players presented The Outcast in Gosford Hall and the local press were happy to publish that "through a somewhat shortness of notice and for other reasons, the hall was not as full as one would have liked to see, but this fact had a decided set-off in the appreciation shown by those who were privileged to witness what was universally considered a very excellent production."
One pioneering member of what was to become WDG, Rene Baker (later Mrs Rene Levenspiel) gave a concert in Wyong with her pupils in May 1932. The cast included one Mildred Ede, yet another pioneer of WDG, at that stage still a student. The Levenspiel family were later to become owners of Wyong Motors (later WM-Holden).
On Monday 18 August 1949, Rene Levenspiel organised a revue known as Happy-Go-Lucky in the Astra Theatre. Chorus boys included the three Levenspiel sons.
What was then known as the "Wyong Dramatic Society" began in 1952 with Charity Begins staged in the Astra Theatre (a handsome Art Deco cinema demolished in 1973). The group was formed mainly through the efforts of Geoff Cox, who also produced (directed) this first play. In February 1954 Geoff Cox, who worked for the Rural Bank of NSW, was transferred to the Macksville branch of the bank, and had to resign from the group. There were fortunately enough members left to maintain the group.
1953 a production of Noël Coward's Hay Fever went ahead at the "old" Wyong Memorial Hall and Candied Peel at the School of the Arts. From 1955, productions were mounted in the Wyong Youth Hall in Hely Street. At this venue the group encountered many distractions, including stiff competition from the nightly departure at nearby Wyong railway station of the 9.00 pm steam train. As if its loud puffing wasn't enough to drown out the dialogue, actors also had to contend with a colony of operatic frogs that lived in the dampness under the hall and also the din made on the corrugated iron roof when it poured with rain!
In the middle of 1956 the name of the group was simplified from the "Wyong Dramatic Society" to "Wyong Drama Group". In 1965 the group moved to the new Wyong Memorial Hall in Anzac Avenue which had just been officially opened by (then) Shire President Wilfred Barret, and staged their first play in this hall, Murder Mistaken directed by Gwen Clarke.
From 1987, the group held an annual Bush Bash, comprising a dinner, a one-act play and a bush dance. The first one was to mark the centenary of Wyong. WDG was in charge of the celebrations on the day and the Bush Bash was culminated the day’s festivities. Lady Chatterly’s Bunyip written by resident playwright, Peter Kocan, was an hilarious premiere to the next years. There were to be seventeen Bush Bashes, the last one being performed on Saturday 26 June 2004. Houses had been dwindling in the latter years, and since they were mainly designed to be revenue-raisers, it was decided the group would raise more money by attracting larger audiences to its mainstream productions. This has occurred.
In 1988, WDG became incorporated under NSW State Government legislation, so officially the name was changed to "Wyong Drama Group Incorporated" at this time. However, the "incorporated" part is frequently omitted from the moniker.
In the 1950s through to the 1970s, the Arts Council of NSW held an annual Drama Festival which saw an adjudicator sent to each local production of a full play as the entry, with the four or five finalists sent to Sydney to compete in the overall final.Wyong Drama Group has attended many theatrical festivals around New South Wales and won many awards in all categories.
In 1998, WDG produced a Theatre Festival of One-Act plays with entries encouraged from groups state-wide. WDG did not produce another TheatreFest until 2004, but has organised one on an annual basis ever since. It is currently known as the Central Coast TheatreFest and often attracts over a dozen entries state-wide providing a vehicle for local and not-so-local groups to competitively perform before a professional adjudicator. Many of the festivals around the state that WDG used to compete in are no longer held, due to the financial cost becoming prohibitive to the organisers.
Since 1952 the group has presented over 225 productions. They have played in a variety of venues, including the Astra Theatre (Anzac Avenue, now the site of Wyong Plaza - now known as Village Central), the Masonic Hall (Howarth Street, still extant), the Youth Hall (in Hely Street, now the site of the former Court House) and the Old Bakery (Anzac Avenue, Fred Chapman's stores), as well as the Laycock Street Theatre in North Gosford (twice). But the majority of the productions have been staged at the Wyong Memorial Hall, where we have made our home in the Green Room at the back of the hall. Council Minutes 285 (13 August 1975) and 122 and 151 (24 March 1976) specify the rights given to the Drama Group to occupy these facilities exclusively.
Many well-known local identities have been associated with Wyong Drama Group over the years, including Fred Chapman (local merchant), the Levenspiel Family (WM-Holden), Aubrey A Brown (solicitor, a local firm still bears the name), Dorothy (Bonnie) Bryant, Dr Howard Oxley (in practice currently on the Tuggerah Straight). Probably the most common occupation of a member is a schoolteacher, retired or otherwise.
In 2012 we celebrated our 60th birthday with a huge Rock and Roll party inviting everyone we could find who had ever been involved with the group as well as extending an open invitation to our community. It was a special evening followed by a more subdued but also delightful get together at Wallarah Bay.
In August 2014 the Memorial Hall was demolished to make way for a new Art House incorporating a state-of-the-art theatre and other performances spaces. Meanwhile WDG has moved to a new Green Room on the site of the former Grove Primary School. The Grove Theatre will be our new performance space until the Art House is completed.
With kind permission of Ian Hawkins, author of: Curtain Up - 100 years of Amateur Theatre on the Central Coast of New South Wales, additional material added by Peter Deane and Pollyanna Forshaw based on WDG inc. Archives.
If you would like to see more information and photo's from our shows prior to 2012, please click here and you will be sent to our archive website.