BESTRIDING the Canberra Theatre like a colossus, the late theatre director Ralph Wilson staged 300 plays in the national capital, bringing light and fiery debate into the theatre scene and introducing Canberrans to the great classics of the stage.
A brilliant linguist and educationist who had topped the NSW Leaving Certificate in German, he was principal of Canberra High School (1970-1981), where he taught generations of school children and became famous for remembering the names of all his pupils.
A senior producer for Canberra Rep in the ’50s and ’60s and an aficionado of German, Russian and Polish film and theatre, he later joined the Australian Theatre Workshop, co-founded the Classical Theatre Ensemble, and later formed his own Rawil Productions.
In 1976 Wilson joined a campaign for the ANU Arts Centre and in October, 1976, launched the space with Roger Pulvers’ edgy original play, “Drop Drill”.
After his retirement in 1981, he devoted time to directing. He was awarded an OAM in January, 1988, and in March of the same year he was named Canberran of the Year. Gorman Arts Centre later launched the “Ralph Indie Season”, to honour his memory.
Now to mark 25 years since his death, a group of Canberra theatre identities are mounting a grand celebration of his life in “The Ralph”, the theatre in Gorman Arts Centre that was named after him.
From lunchtime to evening on Tuesday, May 28, the exact 25th anniversary of his death, there will be reminiscences, moving and still imagery and excerpts from the plays he loved, performed by actors including Liz St Claire-Long, Peter Robinson, Phillip Mackenzie and John Cuffe.
A special treat will be performances by the young actors of Daramalan College Theatre acting sections from one of Wilson’s favourite plays, “Mother Courage”, by Bertolt Brecht, directed by Joe Woodward.
An unusual feature will be the display of watercolour sketches recently unearthed in the ACT Heritage Library, which show Wilson visualising his own productions.
As well, a plaque in his name will be installed by his son Kyle outside the Ralph Wilson Theatre, where his ashes lie.
The organisers have set up a crowd-funding campaign at gofundme.com (enter “remember Ralph Wilson” into the search box) and are seeking contributions to help pay for the plaque, catering, a program and framing.
Ralph Wilson Day at “The Ralph”, Gorman Arts Centre, Braddon, 12.30pm-5pm, Tuesday, May 28. It’s free but register at eventbrite.com.au
Helen Musa is the author of an entry on Ralph Wilson published in “The Australian Dictionary of Biography” at adb.anu.edu.au