IN London in 1932 a young man organised a concert to raise funds to build a swimming pool in his local Scout camp, thus began a global network of annual Scout theatrical productions. The original, the London Gang Show, closed in 1974 after decades of TV specials, a feature film and Royal Command performances, as well as helping launch the careers of young people like Peter Sellers, Dick Emery, and Tony Hancock.
The 66th annual Melbourne Gang Show [MGS] will perform at the Besen Centre in Burwood from 22-30 June – one of three original Scout and Guide performing arts productions that have entertained local audiences for a combined 174 years. Camberwell Showtime (at the Hawthorn Town Hall) and Whitehorse Showtime (at the Whitehorse Centre) perform in August. They are among 24 annual Scout shows in Australia, including seven in Victoria.
Melbourne Gang Show began in 1953 at the Union Theatre at Melbourne University. The same year at the same theatre, the Melbourne Theatre Company began; both have travelled far and wide since. From 1954-1959 MGS performed at Cathedral Hall in Fitzroy and from 1960- 1982 made St Kilda’s Palais Theatre their home. MGS then performed at a range of theatres – the National Theatre, Alexander at Monash University, the Darebin Arts Centre, a brief return to the Palais, and one year at the Princess Theatre – until 2002, when they settled at the Besen Centre at Mount Scopus College, Burwood. (Totally local, Blackburn is their rehearsal venue and their costumes store is in Hartwell.)
Like Gang Shows around the world, many former Gang members have gone on to careers in theatre, film and television. Actor Shane Jacobson (aka ‘Kenny’) is just one who credits Melbourne Gang Show and Scouting for his later success. Camberwell Showtime alumni include Steve Vizard and Andy Lee. Melbourne Gang Show each year presents original stories, with scripts and all music written by its members.
This year’s production is the story of misfit teenager Summer in a steampunk world of mechanical wonder and invention. A story of good versus evil … you can only imagine how this might end! These are stories and toe-tapping tunes for all ages, and many performances sell out each year.
The visuals of Melbourne Gang Show set the standard for Scout shows internationally. The rich costumes and scenery, boosted by stunning video and audio effects, are a far cry from the simpler times of the first Gang Show in London in 1932. But for all its professionalism, every aspect of the show – writing, technical and performance – is actually about learning. Scout shows are an opportunity for young Scouts and Guides to learn and grow, and to get opportunities at leadership. Entertaining audiences of thousands each year is a happy bonus!
Author: Andrew Taylor
Andrew Taylor is Assistant Chief Commissioner (Marketing & Communications), Scouts Victoria, and author of the Melbourne Gang Show history “Don’t worry if there’s no-one there”