Hayes Gordon AO OBE 1920-1999
After Kate he appeared in JCW revivals of Annie Get Your Gun and Oklahoma! and compered the long-running Ford Show variety series on radio.
In September 1958 a deed formally established The Ensemble Theatre Company, a collective of actors.
From January 1966 Gordon directed a series of scaled-down versions of classic American musicals in a theatre-restaurant setting at Menzies Hotel, Sydney.
Kiss Me, Kate opened at His Majesty’s in Melbourne on 2 February 1952 and toured until
mid 1953. During the long run he gave members of the company lessons in the techniques he had learnt from Strasberg. After Kate he appeared in JCW revivals of Annie Get Your Gun and Oklahoma! and compered the long-running Ford Show variety series on radio. From November 1955 he played Hajj in Garnet H. Carroll’s production of Kismet. He compered the original Late Show on TCN-9, Sydney, and then created an afternoon ‘advice’ program called Medico.
Gordon gave occasional acting classes for Doris Fitton’s Independent Theatre students, but eventually started his own informal school, specialising in ‘The Method’. His pupils’ first public performance, a highly-acclaimed program of Tennessee Williams one-acters, was staged ‘in the round’ in the Cammeray Children’s Library on 11 May 1958. The company included Reg Livermore, Jon Ewing, Robin Lawlor, Clarissa Kaye and Pat Hill. This was the birth of what was initially known as ‘The Ensemble Company’. A few weeks later Hayes moved his company to a room above a cake shop in Berry Street, North Sydney. In September 1958 a deed formally established The Ensemble Theatre Company, a collective of actors with everyone equal – except Gordon: he was ‘more equal’ in that he was firmly in command. As he explained it: ‘On the business level it was a co-operative. On the artistic plane it was autocratic.’ The actors received no pay; box office takings barely covered the rent.
Gordon’s innovative productions drew full houses, but before long the venue was declared a firetrap, and he was forced to look for a new home. He found it in a derelict warehouse on the shore of picturesque Careening Cove, Kirribilli. After intensive fundraising the property was acquired for £6,500. Hundreds of hours of voluntary labour transformed it into the Ensemble Theatre, designed to seat 162 patrons on all four sides of a rectangular acting area. It opened on 7 January 1960 with a new production of Mel Dinelli’s The Man, which had been well-received in its first season at Berry Street. Fifty years later the Ensemble is still in business – Sydney’s first theatre-in-the round and its longest established professional theatre company.
The Man was followed by Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending and the vintage American melodrama The Drunkard – a singular and very successful departure from the modern American repertoire that Gordon favoured, though eventually new Australian plays also found a place in the Ensemble’s repertoire. Gordon directed the vast majority of the company’s productions, simultaneously maintaining his commitment to the Ensemble’s highly-regarded acting school. As well there were readings of Australian poetry, special presentations for schools and occasional film screenings.
From January 1966 Gordon directed a series of scaled-down versions of classic American musicals in a theatre-restaurant setting at Menzies Hotel, Sydney. Oklahoma! was the first, followed by Kiss Me, Kate, Out of this World, Can-Can, Wonderful Town, Brigadoon and South Pacific. The resident company included Lorrae Desmond, Judi Farr, Nancye Hayes, Peggy Mortimer, Rosina Raisbeck, Colin Croft, Reg Evans, Robert Healey and Denis Quilley.
Watch this space
Lawrence Durrant: Hayes Gordon – The Man and His Dream, Hale and Iremonger, 1997
Reg Livermore: Chapters and Chances, Hardie Grant, 2003
Don Reid: ‘Hayes Gordon’ and ‘Ensemble Theatre Company’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia,Currency Press, 1995