To be not to be

To be or not to be, that is the question: The Doreen Yeates Interhouse Play Competition Trophy

The Doreen Yeates Interhouse Play Competition Trophy 1971-1997

Grammar girls have been drama queens since the early years of the School as evidenced by the Headmistress (1900 to 1912), Milisent Wilkinson writing the play Kenilworth for her aspiring student thespians in 1902. Plays were enacted from that time on, and probably before, with performances held in unassuming classrooms to public spaces such as the Albert Hall, the Princess Theatre, and the Arts Theatre. Students have always been encouraged to experience the challenges of performing by their teachers and this has resulted in the School producing not only actors, but directors, writers, and theatre and drama group founders. Names that come to mind are Rhoda Felgate (1918), Jean Trundle (1921), Andrea Milliken (1981), Erica Fryberg (1989), Anna McGahan (2005). The list goes on.

1902 “Kenilworth” featuring Elsie Aravandino (1906), Ella Reinhold (1905), Hilda Kennedy (1903)

The Interhouse choral competition was held last week, and it is always one of the highlights of the BGGS calendar. Spending time together as a House to create a musical “masterpiece” is a joyous experience, and then listening to all the other Houses performing their songs is even more fun. However, it was not that long ago that another competition joined the Houses together in creative rivalry. Initially, from 1971 to 1973, and again from 1986 until 1998, the Houses vied for the hotly contested Doreen Yeates Interhouse Play Competition Trophy.

Winners of the Interhouse Play Competition presented 1971 by Doreen M. Yeates

The first school magazine to mention an Interhouse Play Competition was in 1971 when a former staff member, Doreen Yeates (nee Thomas) donated a cup to the winning House, Woolcock. The first official mention of the Doreen Yeates trophy in the 1973 Annual Report detailed that the cup was awarded to Lilley House who had also been victorious in 1972.

1971 VIB Play in the Auditorium.

Doreen Yeates arrived at Girls Grammar in 1951, having been educated at St Margaret’s and the University of Queensland. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1933, she taught at St Margaret’s and was the first female teacher at Toowoomba Grammar School. Mrs Yeates taught History, Geography, and Mathematics for twenty-one years at BGGS and finished in 1971 as the Second Mistress, the term given to what would be the modern-day Deputy Principal. It is not known who introduced the competition, or even if Mrs Yeates had a special interest in Drama, but certainly

House competitions such as choral, debating, and drama attracted enthusiastic participation rates according to School magazine and annual reports.

1971 Miss Doreen Thomas, soon to become Mrs Yeates, on her wedding day.

The 1970s proved to be a tumultuous decade of fashion extremes (where School skirts rose to “minis”); the School magazines were predominately designed by the students seeking a strident voice; and student leadership underwent a dramatic shift where traditional forms of authority were discarded. In 1974, the House system was a casualty of the upheaval and replaced with the more individualistic Form system. This meant the age-old problem of fewer numbers for intramural competition presented itself and offerings were reduced. This reduction seems to have extended to the Interhouse Play Competition as there are no engraved results on the Yeates trophy from 1973 to 1986. In 1980, the House system was reintroduced, and a more traditional range of competitions returned. With a thirteen-year hiatus, the drama competition was revived in 1986 under Principal, Mrs Judith Hancock, and Drama teacher, Miss Suzanne Burrows. In her 1986 Annual Report, Mrs Hancock wrote about her vision for the House system as going beyond the sporting field to encourage girls to work as a team and “to provide opportunities for experience in a wide diversity of activities”. The 1986 winner was Hirschfield House with a play entitled “Maasi”, written and directed by Year 12 student, Josephine Clift (1986). Apparently, the standard was high with a range of styles from melodrama to serious plays and included students from all year levels. By 1987, it was stated in the Annual Report that the competition was so popular that over half the school’s population was involved.

1986 Hirschfeld House – winners of the Doreen Yeates Interhouse Play Competition. Drama staff member, Suzanne Burrows, was a House staff member, seated front row 7 th from the right.

The Interhouse Drama competition became an avenue for keen student playwrights to showcase their talents. The first few years were won by Houses performing plays written by students, notably England’s Erica Fryberg (1989) with “Abracadabra” (1988) and “England Shows the World” (1989) and Gibson’s Katrina Torenbeek (1989) with “Obsessions” in 1989. Erica became an award-winning writer, producer and executive arts manager and Katrina continued her association with Girls Grammar for many years by teaching private Speech and Drama lessons and becoming a well-respected Queensland Arts practitioner. She is currently a producer at QPAC, working for many festivals and theatre companies.

1989 Erica Fryberg’s illustration for her script, School Magazine p101.

Erica, in an alumnae reflection stated, “I did keep writing, going on to win multiple writing competitions across my BGGS years, penning some of England’s winning interhouse drama plays (one of which I recall having to reword at Judith Hancock’s insistence for being ‘too’ controversial).” In her email Erica comments, “What’s been particularly funny (although it’s not really quote-worthy) has been the number of mums or industry colleagues who have approached me over the years since BGGS to say “I remember that play where you sent up Expo, I was a cheerleader/ Munchkin [insert various roles!!]…” or, “I auditioned for you and had so much fun in that interhouse drama play you wrote and directed.” (Fryberg email 01.05.24) Erica noted that these comments came from girls in other year levels, not her contemporaries, which emphasised “one of the strengths of those competitions (which) was the way … it brought together girls from different years and helped them get to know each other better.” (Fryberg email 02.05.24)

1995 England’s Wizard of Oz Interhouse play cast.

1995 England’s Harriette Lawson and Jane Ascough assist Annabel Porter as Dorothy and Brooke Kildey as Tin Man. 1998 saw a change in the structure of the Interhouse Drama competition and, rather than award one House the winner, the top three plays were chosen to perform in a showcase performance. One of the chosen plays was written by a student from the newly established Mackay House. Melissa Chambers’ (1998) play with co-producer and Drama co-captain, Taryn Whiteford (1998), “Hello Dolly” was about the new scientific breakthrough into cloning. The play went on to win the Queensland Theatre’s Young Playwrights Award for Melissa. Post-school, Melissa has enjoyed a

successful acting career which took her to New York for many years and now to London where she has been a leading audio book narrator and now an ensemble director. Melissa shared thoughts of her Grammar playwright days saying, " My practice as an ensemble theatre-maker often deals with the human stories woven into the frontiers of 20th century science. The play I created for the interhouse drama competition at Grammar is my earliest experiment in this form, and the origin of a lifelong artistic interest. The extraordinary resources of the BGGS drama program, and Sybil Edward’s support in entering the play for the Comalco Qld Young Playwrights award set a standard of self-entitlement for my work that has carried me through a 25-year career in some tough artistic marketplaces, contributing to a sense of self in a business where women practitioners continue to fight for equality." (Chambers email 01.05.24) In 1986, the school consisted of only six Houses and the Interhouse Drama competition was held in what was known as “The Auditorium”, a proscenium arch theatre with a very large audience capacity.

2001 Beanland’s Libby Gill as Snow White in the Interhouse play, Snow White performed in the Auditorium .

With the demolition of the auditorium to make way for the current Cherrell Hirst Creative Learning Centre in 2006, and with the introduction of three more Houses, O’Connor, Beanland, and Mackay in 1990, 1994, and 1998 respectively, by the mid-2000s, it became too difficult to find rehearsal and performance spaces to stage the competition. Finding time amongst so many other co-curricular offerings and the great demands that the competition placed on Year 12 House Drama captains were other reasons why the competition stopped. Who knows, perhaps in a different format, with a large new theatre, the Doreen Yeates Interhouse Play Competition Trophy could once again be awarded on Speech Day.

Sybil Edwards (Curtis 1983) Head of Lilley House

Pauline Harvey-Short (1971) Manager, School History and Culture


BGGS Archives History of Co-curricular Drama 1902-2024

Chambers, M. Email correspondence 30.04.2024

Dunlop, B Email correspondence 07.05.2024

Fryberg, E. Email correspondence 30.04.2024 and 01.05.2024

Porter, A. Email correspondence 07.05.2024

The Doreen Yeates Interhouse Play Competition Trophy with copies of archived scripts.

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