Origin story of Camden Musical Society

The idea for Camden Musical Society started in the first weeks of September 2019 when it was obvious to founder, Melissa Musgrave (formerly Hawkins) that more interested people than opportunities existed in the community theatre/not for profit, musical theatre space in the Macarthur area. As was Melissa’s way, “build it and they will come”, saw her create a Facebook page for Camden Musical Society before its second member was even recruited. Melissa’s aim was to ensure anyone who wanted to be involved in musicals had the chance to do so and that this team would mentor new talent in both on stage and behind the scenes elements.

Conversations began soon after with our founding members, Craig Davidson (first CMS President), Michelle Newport, Wendy Collins, Sylvie Limare, Tim Hawkins, Murray Bishop, and silent but important partner of Melissa’s, Wayne Whitley.

A meeting was held even prior to this at the end of September 2019 when Melissa Musgrave and Craig Davidson met with council representatives to pitch the concept of a local society dedicated to bringing musical theatre to the LGA and activating the community at large where an inclusive approach to involvement would allow for many opportunities to perform, participate and be involved in the audience. Camden Council advised us to “recruit members” and shortly after the word was put out there with the launch of the ready-to-go CMS Facebook page.

Brainstorming sessions were held before CMS was officially incorporated as a not for profit musical society in October 2019.

We were off and it was then that saw the interest around the community peak with members come on board, such as Joy Pennock, as well as Lauren Waite who created our current logo for Camden Musical Society.

The 2019 Inaugural Board of Camden Musical Society – Promoted on Facebook 23 October 2019

We investigated the history of musical / theatre groups in Camden at the Camden Museum as part of our earliest considerations. (See here)

The first project was a Christmas Carolling Troupe, as we were now heading towards December 2019. A callout saw many enthusiasts come to the Undercroft at the Civic Centre to join our small group to rehearse carols and prepare for events such as a roving troupe at Narellan Town Centre, Light Up Camden, and the Cascades at Mount Annan. We chose to raise funds for the Rural Fire Brigade during our carolling as Sydney was seeing extreme bushfires over that season, and a number of firefighters lost their lives near Bargo.

In January 2020, a small number of us performed at a Bushfire Concert at the Camden Civic Centre to raise money for the Rural Fire Service. We also held a fundraising activity for CMS with a local photographer who was creative in doing Santa photos.

Promotion to the Camden community was in full swing by January 2020 with the team sweltering on Australia Day for the Camden Street Parade. We were featured on the front cover of the local paper.

We then moved to project number 2 which was to perform at the Camden Show, while were were sorting out our processes and fundraising for a larger production. Rehearsals were underway when the first Covid shutdown struck. The Covid years were not kind to the performing arts and Camden Musical Society was just a new entity.

We were, however very keen to ensure the dream of community theatre in Camden remained alive and by June/July 2020 the concept for a concert performance was created. One Night On Broadway was to be performed in October 2020 with auditions being conducted online. Our creative team consisted of Craig Davidson (Director), Melissa Musgrave (Production Manager, Shona Wallace (Stage Manager), Wayne Whitley (Technical Manager), Sam Taylor (Choreographer), and Sally Quinnell. The program for ONOB can be found here – https://anightonbroadway.wordpress.com . The journey to this performance was tricky with Covid restrictions in place and the debate as to whether we could perform a number with six on stage was a very real concern. Our audience seats had to be in groups of two only as people were not permitted to sit together that didn’t know each other.

While preparations for One Night On Broadway were underway the committee was working out how we could stage a full scale production with limited funds and venue/cost issues. The initial productions that were discussed for our first show were – Joseph and his Technicolour Dream Coat and Oliver. Along the way this changed and our first production for CMS became Seussical the Musical. Melissa Musgrave (Director), Sally Quinnell (Musical Director) and Joy Pennock (Choreographer) and Shona Wallace (Stage Manager) put their hands up to create this first show, with Christina Donoghue (Production Manager) rounding off the leadership positions.

In order to raise more funds for the first production CMS decided to host some school holiday musical theatre programs. As our first rehearsal and performance space was the Mawarra School hall at Elderslie, we were fortunate to use that space for the holiday programs both in October 2020 and January 2021. Around 40 young people over the two programs had some fun with our team and we held short performances for the parents at the end of each program.

The money raised from ONOB, sausage sizzles and the two school holiday programs, along with successful grant applications from Telstra and the Camden Council we felt confident to run the auditions and progress towards our Seussical production in March 2021. This, whilst also with fingers crossed about how many people could perform/sing on stage at any one time due to ongoing Covid restrictions impacting the performing arts.

Immediately following One Night On Broadway, CMS went into Seussical mode with auditions held and double casting done to ensure we were covered if the worst happened with covid in mind. Five months of rehearsals, fundraising, set building, negotiations with Council over venue sponsorship, new production teams development, storage issues, sponsor engagement, blood sweat and tears went into achieving what we did to get the first major production on stage at Camden Civic Centre in March 2021.

Seussical was greatly supported by Camden Council with our venue hire over three weekends allowing CMS to raise the well needed funds to set us up for continued financial success allowing for ongoing musical productions. It helped that we were the first artistic group willing and allowed back in the Civic Centre after the Covid restrictions but that was all touch and go at that time.

We opened Seussical in March 2021 to high community praise and success at the box office.

CMS first major production, Seussical in March 2021 at the Camden Civic Centre.

The rest, as they say, is history with CMS with a continuing interest and involvement by our valued members on the committee over the next few years including Kerrie Jiear, Emily Boardman, BreeAnna Lindsay, Sophie Cornett, Helen Boyer, Laura Page and Paul Jenkins. We immediately began planning for the next show which had its own issues with the second Covid lockdown, but with our experience in making things happen in trying times, we succeeded and have continued to become the group we are today.

A special general meeting was held at the end of 2021 that saw the increase of our committee number to allow for more voices at the leadership table and an increase in our quorum numbers.

We have since our early days have had more successful shows, run Event teams and are eager to participate in community opportunities. (See here)