The then unnamed Australian Performing Group (APG) from Melbourne started out in 1967 as a group of writers and actors working together at La Mama theatre in Carlton. In 1970 the APG was officially formed and then set up a theatre in a former pram factory in Drummond Street, Carlton. Here, and in other venues throughout Melbourne and other parts of Australia, the ensemble presented alternative, experimental, avant-garde and radical plays, stage shows, street theatre and circus acts, using comedy, drama, music and dance to entertain and to turn the spotlight on its concerns about social, political and feminist issues. The ensemble also produced a record album (“The Great Stumble Forward: Matchbox and the APG at the Pram”) and a feature length movie (“Dimboola”). Many of the hundred-plus works performed by the APG between 1970 and 1979 received critical and popular acclaim. APG performers and writers had a major impact on the nature and content of live theatre in Australia. Their government-subsidized organisation provided acting, designing, and playwriting opportunities to many artists who might not otherwise have had the chance to create.
But by 1981 the group had disintegrated. The only surviving part is “Circus Oz”, an APG off-shoot formed in 1978 when the APG’s Soapbox Circus and The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band joined with the New Ensemble Circus of Adelaide. It continues to perform in Australia and internationally to this day (July 2013).
Actors, performers, writers, directors and artists
Listed below are writers, actors, directors, artists and others who were part of the APG and/or its Soapbox Circus during its heyday, and whose names may be well known to “mature-age” lovers of Australian alternative theatre, circus, film and television. As others have said, “some (of these people) had a brief connection with the APG; others were there for a long time and were instrumental in its success”.
de Winter, Roz
(As I think of/become aware of others I will add them to the list.)
Like most of its productions, management at the APG was also radically different. Instead of a conventional, hierarchical structure, the APG was run as a self-managed collective. Nevertheless, the roles played by John Timlin (publicity and administration) and Jon Hawkes (acting and administration) at times approximated that of manager or overseer.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, management became somewhat chaotic as the APG grew and conflicts between sub-groups arose. Several influential members departed, some because they became tired of attending the many committee and group meetings held.
It has been estimated that the APG performed/staged up to 150 theatrical productions. Of those the following are probably the best known from the group’s heyday (alphabetically):
A Stretch of the Imagination
A Toast to Melba
At the Feet of Daniel Mannix
Back to Bourke Street
Betty Can Jump
Beware of Imitations
Chris Langham’s One Man Show
Diary of a Madman
Domestic Contradictions – Socialism in One Room
Dreamers of the Absolute
How Grey Was My Nurse
It’s a Mad World My Masters
Mary Shelley and the Monsters
My Foot, My Tutor
On Yer Marx
Phar Lap – It’s Cingalese for Lightning, Y’know
Radio Active Horror Show
Smak’in The Daks
The Bob and Joe Show
The Floating World
The Golden Holden
The Hills Family Show
The Ship’s Whistle
White With Wire Wheels
Yours for the Masking
History and Opinions in Books, Papers and Online
Thousands of words have been written about the Australian Performing Group and the Pram Factory Theatre. The best that I have read are:
The Pram Factory website, developed by Suzanne Ingleton and with the support of
The Myer Foundation: http://www.pramfactory.com/.
“When The Way Out Was In: Avant-Garde Theatre in Australia, 1965-1985”, by Adrian John Guthrie, University of Wollongong. A thesis. 1996. See pages 57 onwards. A copy of the thesis, in PDF format, can be downloaded from HERE.
“The Pram Factory: The Australian Performing Group Recollected”, by Tim Robertson, 1997, Melbourne University Press. Currently (April 2017) the book appears to be unavailable from sellers of new books, but may be available on Ebay or its like.
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