1975 saw the curtain open at Corrimal Uniting Church Hall with a cast of 60. Rehearsals were at East Corrimal, where the director Brian Gillett was Group Leader. Brian's experience in 10 Corby Gang Shows while living in London put him in an ideal position to start up a show. And so Korimul Gang Show was formed.
In 1975 and 1976 (also at the Corrimal Uniting Church Hall), the show was known as the 'Gong Show (short for Wollongong - get it?). However, in 1977 we received the rights to the Gang Show name, and the show was performed as Korimul Gang Show for the first time at the the Wollongong Town Hall. (One of our first members clearly remembers those early days.)
From there, the show didn't look back. Seasons 1979, 1982, 1984, and 1986 were staged at the Woonona High School. In conjunction with these performances, "road shows" were taken to the Nowra School of Arts in 1977, 1984, and 1986, and to Goulburn in 1984 - where a sound system catastrophe was fixed with the last microphone being put in place just five minutes before opening!
The Illawarra Performing Arts Centre (IPAC) opened in 1988, and Korimul Gang Show moved house and staged shows in 1989, 1991, 1993, and 1996 at the new venue.
The 1991 show saw perhaps one of the most spectacular numbers staged over the years with a tribute to Mt Keira Scout Camp on it's 50th Anniversary. The Camp Warden rode his motor bike onto the stage, and a bunch of Rovers abseiled from the top of the stage.
1992 saw KGS put on a special performance for victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, who were visiting Australia to recover. Our favourite finale song "Together" was sung in Russian for the occasion.
Over the years, cast members have been involved in numerous other Gang Show endeavours. These included Australian Gang Shows at Jamborees (including the World Jamboree in 1988), and the Australian Gang Show tour of Thailand. A branch of KGS, the KGS Players, has also staged a number of theatre restaurant productions over the years.
More recently, the Korimul Team dominated the first PASSPORT (Performing Arts in Scout Shows - Pooling Our Resources and Talents) camp at Pennant Hills in 1994, bringing home the PASSPORT Cup for Theatresports. Members also attended the second PASSPORT in Melbourne in 1996.
All of the cast members think they are having all the fun on stage when the show hits the boards...well, not!!! After 20 years of involvement in the Gang Show, I can tell you there's plenty of fun backstage. On the first night the atmosphere is electric, the activity is frantic and the attitudes are positive (three "A's" instead of three "E's"). Onstage it is all happening for the audience and everything seems to be running smoothly - but behind the scenes it is often chaotic - when someone misses their cue or a prop has gone missing or a sound effect doesn't come in at the right time - or hilarious when someone is desperately struggling with a zip or a quick change.
In the Performing Arts Centre (IPAC) it's very different from the early days. It's all high-tech now. Sets are flown in and out on fly bars rather than being pushed, shoved and lifted by anyone available; lighting and sound is computeristed; and the curtain opens with the touch of a button. Whoever was given the task of curtain operator had a very responsible job and I felt they were very brave as they would cop an earful if the curtain didn't open and close at the correct time.
The dressing room setup at the Corrimal Uniting Church was simply "all in together this fine weather"! Screens were erected to try and maintain a sense of decorum, but when the show was running, most cast members became so caught up in the momentum of the show that all thoughts of modesty were forgotten. I've lost count of the numbers I've seen in their undies rummaging around in boxes or on the floor for that lost sock or belt or hat.
For one show our make-up artist was very experienced in the job. Someone made the comment at dress rehearsals that the cast looked very pale on stage. Little wonder - our make-up man was a mortician!
At Woonona High School, the dressing room arrangements were only a slight improvement. There was a big group sent to the dungeon under the stage. Lights were rigged up with extension cords draped overhead and underfoot, so that everyone became expert at ducking and weaving so as not to trip or choke.
Quick changes have always been one of the most exciting, though stressful, parts of the Gang Show. Very often someone has an unbelievably quick change just for a few seconds walk onstage. Mike Barnes, as Groucho Marx in Statues, sticks in my mind as he had to get a moustache and makeup, as well as change costume just to walk across the stage smoking a cigar. But no matter how rushed, I've noticed that cast members love having a quick change. I guess it's the adrenaline rush.
In 1975, when our son came home from the first rehearsal of the first show and announced, "This is going to be great and Dad, Mr Gillett says more people are needed. No experience necessary! Why don't you come next week?" I had no idea of the richness of experience it would bring to our family. I hope all people in the Gang Show will feel the same way when they look back in years to come.
In 1932 the Chief Scout commissioned a London Rover Scout and theatrical director, by the name of Ralph Reader, to produce a show involving Scouts, Rovers and Leaders to raise money for a swimming pool. The show opened at the Scala Theatre in London on the 30th September 1932 and played to packed audiences.
Except for a break during World War II, the London Gang Show played every year from 1932 to 1974, and its success was the envy of many a show producer and entrepreneur in the West End.
In 1937 the Gang Show appeared at the London Palladium in the Royal Command Performance - a singular honour for an amateur theatre group. There followed many pageants and shows produced by Ralph Reader. He wrote and produced the first American Gang Show in Chicago in 1953.
Ralph produced 150 performances at the Royal Albert Hall, and Gang Shows in London from 1932 to 1938 and 1945 to 1974. He also published many musical items and sketches during his long career.
As the Gang Show idea caught on, Gang Show sprang up in cities and towns throughout England and eventually spread to all English speaking countries. In Australia, there are Gang Shows in Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra, Brisbane and Sydney, as well as other large (and not so large) regional centres. Here in Wollongong the Korimul Gang Show has been going since 1975.
Ralph Reader is gone but his music and sketches will live on to be performed by Gang Shows around the world. The enjoyment and enthusiasm created by Ralph Reader is his gift to Scouting, a gift that we will cherish and nurture in years to come.