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Golden age of university theatrics

15 February 2019
Drama at Sydney
A new book, co-authored by Laura Ginters from the School of Literature, Art and Media, celebrates the student days of many of Australia’s greatest cultural figures.
Two women reading a book

Many of Australia’s greatest cultural figures – and the innovative theatre and outrageous revues they once produced and performed in – are celebrated in a new book charting the golden time when the University of Sydney became a powerhouse of performance.

The Ripples before the New Wave: Drama at the University of Sydney 1957-63, co-written by Senior Lecturer Dr Laura Ginters from the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies and alumna Robyn Dalton, reveals how students had a bigger influence on the nation’s cultural life than any other single group, creating a new wave of Australian theatre and film in the 1970s.

Among them were budding critics Robert Hughes and Clive James; feminist and writer Germaine Greer; actors John Bell, John Gaden, Maggie Blinco and Arthur Dignam; filmmakers Bruce Beresford and Richard Brennan; columnist and festival director Leo Schofield; writers Ron Blair, Bob Ellis and Kate Cummings; and directors Richard Wherrett and Ken Horler.

It’s as though the artists of the new wave swelled up from nowhere.
Co-author Robyn Dalton.

“But this underresearched blossoming of artistic activity at the University came when professional, amateur and student theatre shared more of a crossover, before arts funding and formal institutional training led to a defined professional industry.”

Dalton and Ginters interviewed dozens of participants and researched archives, journals and newspapers to tell the story of this generation and the theatre productions, topical revues, music-hall and experimental films they produced.

“Driving it was this fierce rivalry between the Sydney University Dramatic Society – Australia’s oldest theatre company – and the newer Sydney University Players,” Ginters says.   

“With so little non-commercial theatre then in Sydney, audiences flocked to see both the Australian – and even world – premieres of significant contemporary European plays.”

Published by Currency Press and extensively illustrated, the new book is a vivid account of the feuds, gossip, ambitions and theatrical accomplishments of a remarkable generation at the University.

Robyn Dalton and Laura Ginters will celebrate the launch of The Ripples before the New Wave: Drama at the University of Sydney 1957-63 on Wednesday, 27 February 2019. The evening will be hosted by Mr Leo Schofield AM and feature special guests and performances. Click here to register.

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