Thanks for the musicals: Theatre company turns 20
LONG-SERVING Ipswich Musical Theatre Company co-founder Brenda Ryan has never been one to let work get in the way of a good time.
Despite a lifelong devotion to music and the performing arts in general, she has earned her bread as a schoolteacher, working across different primary schools in Ipswich over several decades, and influencing her fair share of young performers in the process.
To her, the nitty gritty business of funding, organising and directing musicals was always something she saw as a passion, rather than a job.
It has been outside the school grounds that she has done some of her most notable and important work – and all of it since the year she was supposed to retire from the business all together.
Mrs Ryan founded the IMTC in 2001 with fellow former Ipswich Orpheus Chorale member Ken Mundt, at the behest of a group of young performers and their parents who were hell bent on performing the musical Seven Little Australians.
The whole thing came about, as Mrs Ryan explains, by accident.
The Orpheus Chorale, of which Mr Munt was a foundation member and Mrs Ryan had been in since 1970, had planned to put on the same show featuring members of the Young Orpheus Singers.
Mrs Ryan left the Orpheus Chorale, which opted not to put the musical on, and resulted in a splinter group being formed.
“We started rehearsals for Seven Little Australians at the Catholic Women’s League house in April, 2001,” she recalled.
“We needed somewhere to perform so we approached the Civic Centre, who told us we would have to become a company in order to obtain insurance.”
And so Ipswich Musical Theatre Company was born.
Adult actors were brought in to increase the appeal to the general public, and the first show in October that year was a roaring success, which also raked in a profit.
From there, Mrs Ryan’s retirement plans were completely scratched, as she, Mr Mundt and the rest of the new organisation went about staging a big performance each year at the Civic Centre.
There have been 20 major shows at the Ipswich Civic Centre over the past two decades, along with more than 50 smaller productions at the historic Old Courthouse, which has been the IMTC’s home, rehearsal venue and performance venue for smaller/boutique shows, including those performed as entertainment for theatre restaurants, since 2003.
The scale of the performances and the calibre of performers has increased with every year – to the point where the budget for an IMTC show now pushes the $200,000 mark.
Tackling classics like Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, and Les Miserables in recent years, the company has bought in professional directors, musicians, conductors, choreographers and set designers.
As Mrs Ryan proudly proclaims, the company has taken risks along the way, but has always come out on top in terms of bums on seats.
“Phantom of the Opera in 2014 was a big gamble,” she said.
“I remember we had to sell more than 1700 tickets just to break even, but we ended up exceeding that.
“It paid off in the end.”
Though looking after the financials was key to ensuring the company’s survival, the group has served a more important function as a training ground for talented emerging performers.
Sophie Salvesani is just one of many of the success stories.
After starring in IMTC’s version of Phantom of the Opera in 2014, she went on to star in Les Miserables, before joining Opera Australia and playing the role of Maria in Westside Story, which played across Australia and in Germany.
Of those who starred in that very first performance back in 2001, Miriam Slattery and Elizabeth Taylor (nee Drew) are still with IMTC.
“From small and humble beginnings, IMTC is now recognised Australia wide as a major community theatre company capable of staging the biggest and most technically challenging newly released for community theatre productions,” Mrs Ryan said.
“In 2014 we were granted performance rights to stage the greatest musical of the 20th century, The Phantom of the Opera. This production with all the majesty, grandeur and romance, enjoyed a sold-out season with many patrons travelling great distances to attend.
“At the January 2015 Australia Day Awards, this production received the Event award in the Citywide Category.”
The IMTC continues to innovate in the way it presents its massive shows, with one of the more notable recent additions being the introduction of an LED screen for the scenery backdrop in the 2019 production in Mamma Mia.
“Audience members were telling us afterwards that it felt like they were in the Greek islands,” Mrs Ryan said.
To celebrate the milestone 20 years, the IMTC is hosting a three-course dinner with entertainment at the Ipswich Civic Centre on April 17.
The black tie event will feature performances from some of the stars of the musicals over the years, including Miriam Slattery and Elizabeth Taylor (nee Drew).
For more information and tickets, phone Ken Mundt on 0419 786 407.