Gympie thespians lash out after Mary Poppins canned

NOT HAPPY: Ian Wenzel, Donna Lyden, Nick Rinehart, Peter Blyth, Monika Habel, Char South and Ken Welton at an earlier protest about the need to upgrade sound and lighting at the Gympie Civic Centre.
NOT HAPPY: Ian Wenzel, Donna Lyden, Nick Rinehart, Peter Blyth, Monika Habel, Char South and Ken Welton at an earlier protest about the need to upgrade sound and lighting at the Gympie Civic Centre. Tanya Easterby

A LEADER of the Gympie region's performing arts community has slammed council bureaucrats over their decision to cut planned upgrades at the Civic Centre which has this week forced the cancellation of a local production of Mary Poppins.

The director of Zodiac Players, Peter Blyth, said yesterday "bureaucrats" within the council had cut the provision of stage lights and adequate microphones from a proposed lighting and sound upgrade in the Heritage Theatre, citing "budget overruns".

The decision was made without the knowledge of the two councillors responsible for the Civic Centre.

A council spokesman agreed yesterday delivery of the Civic Centre project was overdue and "council agrees with Mr Blyth on that and the necessity of working within the budget provided has extended the timeline".

The spokesman said the council had made a number of funding submissions.

"It is important to note that the budget for the theatrical component of the upgrade has never changed and council remains committed to improving the quality of the sound and lighting," he said.

"It was acknowledged early in the process that the upgrade would not meet the requirements for a full scale musical production but would result in a system that would allow for additional components to be connected into the system when required. It must be acknowledged that the Civic Centre is a multi purpose facility.

"Touring shows that have used the Civic Centre in the past have always brought their own lighting and sound and annexed to the system.

"This has been their preference as they report there is great variation in equipment supplied in regional areas and self provision allows for consistency of production wherever the venue."

Mr Blyth said the booking for the musical had been made last year after incumbent Mayor Mick Curran assured Zodiac Players the upgrades would be completed by early 2016.

"He gave a commitment to take the project 'under his wing' and see it through to completion," he said.

"When he assured us that the necessary theatre upgrades were definite we negotiated and were granted the rights for a Gympie production in November this year.

"We were well advanced in securing the hire of almost 200 costumes for the show and auditions were scheduled for May this year.

"The deadline for confirming the booking was Monday this week and the prospect of having no performance venue we had to let it go.

"The cancellation will devastate the dozens of performers, many of them children, who were looking forward to being involved in Gympie's first major musical since Oliver in 2009.

"Because the council bureaucrats miscalculated the cost needed in the council budget and following the council's consultants advising that the council estimates were well below actual costs, the decision was made by the same bureaucrats to cut the stage lights and microphones from the budget.

"What is staggering is that neither the mayor or councillors Gate and Sachs, whose portfolios encompass the Civic Centre, were present at the meeting when the decision to cut was made. In fact, by their own admissions this week, both councillors are unaware of what has happened.

"To me this is complacent negligence on their part. Such an important decision should not have been made by two bureaucrats."

Mr Blyth said only seven events were booked into the theatre for the remainder of this year leaving it unused for around 98% of the time.

"Hardly statistics the mayor and councillors can be proud of," he said.

"We are very disappointed that Mayor Curran has not carried through his promise to oversee the implementation of the upgrade.

"The project has been a shambles right from the start. Unlike other Queensland councils, Gympie failed to apply for Federal Government funds offered for Civic Centre refurbishments by the previous Labor Government. This failure cost Gympie ratepayers between $300,000 and $400,000.

"I did the ground work for the councillors and bureaucrats by taking time out from my business to undertake a study of why other Queensland Civic Centres were so successful in fulfilling the cultural needs in their communities. Subsequently, I presented a comprehensive report to a council meeting. Wayne Sachs was not present at the meeting.

"Tenders for the job are about to be called for a third time after the previous two failed. No one knows when the modified project will get started.

"The consultants engaged by the council have been on the project now for almost 12 months - the cost to ratepayers must be enormous.

"When the council CEO asserted that the desired upgrades would cost over $500,000 in addition to the amount already budgeted, I engaged the services of Travis Macfarlane, a well respected and qualified lighting and sound technician working in professional theatre.

"After reviewing the plans for the proposed upgrades he advised that acquiring the minimum number of lights required for a musical production would cost $29,000.

"In addition an extra $10,000 will be needed to acquire the minimum number of extra radio microphones. A total of $39,000. A figure well below the CEO's wild guess of $500,000.

"If we want good management we need to adopt the management model for the Civic Centre including the Show Pavilion which works so well in other Queensland Civic Centres. Under this plan the centres would be overseen by an incorporated board comprising councillors and community people with experience in the arts.

"The board would oversee the employment of a manager with a high level of technical, entrepreneurial and administration skills. The council bureaucracy would no longer be involved in the centre's management. The first thing the board and manager would do would be to prepare a business plan for the centres for the next 10 years. ".

"If re-elected Mayor Mick Curran must step up and immediately remove the control of the project from the inexperienced bureaucrats and oversee it to a completion that will meet the community needs."

Gympie Times

Topics:  actors civic centre gympie regional council election 2016

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