Celebrating the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild

A production by UATG, actors on the stage waiting by red curtains

This year marks the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild’s 85th anniversary! Join us as we celebrate this important milestone with a display highlighting the history and achievements of South Australia’s second oldest amateur theatre company. 

Where: Level 1 South of the Barr Smith Library, North Terrace campus, University of Adelaide
When: until Friday 8 September 2023


A concise history of the UATG

The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild was founded in 1938 after Dr Thomas Draper Campbell, then Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry, suggested the establishment of a University organisation for drama at a meeting chaired by Jury Professor of English, John Innes Mackintosh Stewart.

The original constitution had the Theatre Guild governed by a committee with Stewart as its first president. In the early 1950s the committee was replaced by an elected board of management, and a decade later the Theatre Guild was granted recognition as a University society. Since the 1950s it has been a tradition for the role of Patron of the Theatre Guild to be filled by the University’s VC.

For its first two decades, the Theatre Guild’s performances largely took place in The Hut, a wooden structure directly to the north of Elder Hall that had formerly served as the University’s chemistry laboratory.  In 1958 the opening of Union Hall transformed the capacity of the Theatre Guild and aided the company’s more expansive aspirations. This was exemplified in the 1960s by Australian playwright, Patrick White, choosing the Theatre Guild to stage the world premieres of a trilogy of his new works. With the completion in 1974 of the final stage of the Adelaide University Union complex, the Theatre Guild had access to an alternative, more intimate venue in the Little Theatre, a unique theatrical space designed by Ralph Middenway and Robert Dickson. After the demolition of Union Hall in 2010 the Little Theatre became the home of most Guild productions and remains so to this day.

A key objective of the Theatre Guild, throughout its history, has been to produce a combination of both international and Australian classic plays, as well as modern edgy theatre and new Australian work. While presenting audiences with works by myriad playwrights, from Shakespeare to first time local writers, it has brought together Adelaide’s arts community, students and enthusiastic volunteers for more than eight decades to create hundreds of high-quality, award-winning productions. 

Through these productions, and its many other creative initiatives, the Guild has been a significant stepping-stone in the careers of many highly regarded and successful South Australian writers, directors, designers and performers working in both the professional and amateur spheres.

In 2020, due to the impact of Covid, the University withdrew the long-standing funding for the full-time position of Guild Administrator. The company now self-funds this vital role in a part-time capacity. The University, recognising the integral role played by the Guild in campus culture and University arts, maintains support for the company through access to facilities including use of the Little Theatre. Producing three or four Main Stage productions every year, as well as running workshops, theatre masterclasses and play readings, the Theatre Guild and the Theatre Guild Student Society, continue to enrich the University’s campus culture, enhance student experience and mentoring the next generation of South Australian artists.

The Theatre Guild is justly proud of its longevity and the key role it continues to play in amateur and professional theatre in Adelaide and Australia. That a small amateur theatre company, run primarily by volunteers, has had such an important cultural influence on the development of arts in SA is remarkable and worthy of celebration in its 85th birthday year.

It’s a company which I think has often led the intellectual life of the city. It’s been a company which has inspired a city and a city that has been inestimably richer for its work… The longevity of the company is due to many things, but especially the commitment of the University which must always be acknowledged and praised… (The Guild) serves the interests of the University but the University serves its interests.Peter Goers, quoted in Kerrie Round, As Many Lives as a Cat? (1998)
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