The Auckland Central Gang Show Story

Back in 1968 (sounds like prehistory these days, doesn’t it?), a District Scouters’ Council was held in Waitemata District to discuss the many things that such meetings do. Present at that meeting was a very young ASL from St Mary’s 1908 Scout Troop in Parnell, who previously had circularised the other leaders with the suggestion that, as the Auckland Area Gang Show had come to an end the previous year, perhaps the District should mount its own Gang Show. When the time came for this particular item on the agenda, he tur

ned to two Scouters from St Aidan’s (whom he hardly knew) and asked them to second the motion. They did, and a sub-committee was formed to produce the 1969 show. The Director’s experience consisted of having participated in various school productions and having been a member of the South Auckland District Gang Show in 1961 and 1963. Some members of the sub-committee had been involved in the Auckland Area Gang Shows of 1965, 1966 and 1967, but in some cases others had no experience at all. The difficulties encountered by this valiant band were monumental. As usual, there was no money so a ‘float’ of ten dollars from each Group was arranged. Not all Groups were forthcoming, and so about seventy dollars represented the total working capital.

A cast was recruited and some forty two keen performers graced the stage on opening night.

In that very first show:

  • There was no choreography whatsoever, except for a Can-Can performed by the male Scout Leaders.
  • The production was lit by eight 500 watt lights which were switched on and off manually as there were no dimmers, and certainly no 3-phase power supply.  
  • The total costume expenditure was $2.80.
  • The sets were made of light grey card which sagged, ripped and was still being painted at the last dress rehearsal.
  • There was no sound system.
  • The stage was about the size of your average living room and you could see through the curtains.
  • The cast contained a number of cubs, some of whom went to sleep on stage in front of the audience during the performances.

Despite all this the show made a profit of $200.00 and thus began the line of shows that have brought us to where we are now. For two more years (19701971) we continued as the Waitemata Gang Show, each production being more successful than the previous, and all being staged at the St Aidan’s Church Hall where we held our rehearsals for the 1999 Show.

In 1972 we widened our horizons and became the Auckland Central Gang Show, performing at the Epsom Normal Intermediate School hall and the following two years (1973 and 1974), saw the show staged at the Auckland Teachers Training College hall, which no longer exists. 1974 saw us write, for the first time for any Gang Show in New Zealand, a large proportion of our own material – both sketches and songs.

In 1975, due to SCOUTING EXPO at the Epsom Showgrounds, we decided to take a break, prepare a show for a larger and more professional stage and to let people know who we were through our stand at the exhibition. The “larger and more professional” stage we chose in 1976 was the Centennial Theatre at the Auckland Grammar School and with the huge step up in the quality of costumes, lighting, choreography and music came an equally huge learning curve for our production team. The show eventually ran for twelve evening performances and two matinees to very appreciative audiences. This was our last all-male show.

After the 1976 show many of the production team found that for various reasons (marriage, job transfers etc.) they could not do justice to another show in 1977. So at the beginning of 1978 a decision was made that the show would be staged every two years – starting 1979 – whether or not the present members of the production team were available.

Auckland Central Gang Show 1979 ran for fourteen performances at the University of Auckland’s Kenneth Maidment Theatre (more than we do now!) and introduced a number of significant changes. The most important of these was the introduction of girls – in reality young women of Venturer or Rover age – to our cast. Pioneered by Melbourne Gang Show in 1969, the girls have been able to add that extra ‘sparkle’ on stage. Our pioneers of ’79 put in some extraordinary work and came up with a show that put us firmly on the map of the entertainment scene in Auckland. All in all, it was a very successful year. 

Fired by those achievements, the team went to work on Auckland Central Gang Show 1981 which marked a few more advances for us including greater technical achievements and more vocal harmonic work than we had ever attempted before. The end result was a show that we were proud of and one that was well accepted by our audiences.

In 1983, our tenth anniversary, we set to and produced a show full of brand new material written specifically for this show including a visit to hell in the “Lucifer Rock” sequences. It’s worth mentioning here, that throughout our early development we were roundly criticized by all in the New Zealand Gang Show scene for writing and producing our own material instead of assembling the show entirely from pre-written material by Ralph Reader.  Comments such as “It’s not a real Gang Show” abounded but our production team of the time were resolute in their commitment to developing our own material….and the result…judge for yourself, so many years further on.

“Broadway” and “Great Scott” marked our 1985 show with some fantastic costumes and great effects but the real star of the show was the finale with the I.Y.Y and Scout and Guide symbols on cards, like the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games Opening, each member of the cast had their own piece of the final picture.

1987, who could forget the Pirate Chief’s entry via a flying fox from the balcony of the theatre or the smashing steins, collapsing swords and “Mac Words”. Choreography, too, faced some challenges in this production.  The orchestra had to be on their best behavior this year as they were also on stage.

The show in 1989 included some great items including a new look at one of our own earlier efforts, the Greek sequence, but with a different ending. Also a little item written to cover a major scene change, went on to became a hit of its own – The Ninety-Nine Second Fairy Tale – a quick look at the story of Snow White. Foot stomping audience participation during a Country and Western Hoedown was rudely interrupted with a visit from a spectacularly made-up Heavy Metal group from “below”.

1991 once again was a great show, remember those sports-minded hockey-playing assassins in “Up Girls and At ‘Em”, the demented owner of a frog in a box (which people were still talking about two years later), the blue hair of the Boompas and an inspirational rendering of “Kiamau Te Aroha”, one of the theme songs from the opening of the Auckland Commonwealth Games.

We took a little tour of the past with our show in 1993 as our Time Lord took a young boy on a journey of discovering himself and meeting a variety of off-beat characters and situations along the way including “Super Scout”, some Undertakers, St George and a rather cowardly dragon. As with all good stories our young lad finally realized that “You Can Be Your Own Hero”. This was our first and so far only foray into a “theme” show, which tells a story from beginning to end.

The 1995 production again tried a few innovations, both with the orchestra and vocal harmonies. We saw what Little Red Riding Hood was really like in an all-American 50’s rock-‘n’-roll diner. Alice fell down a rabbit hole and met a variety of characters in her travels, pink cats in top hats, two mad tea party picnickers with a blue cookie monster in the teapot and finally the fearsome Queen of Hearts. And Cyril, the fastest Cub Scout in the West, finally overcame the evil Bulangalang Gang with the help of a few musical “notes” from the orchestra. As this year marked the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War Two, we paid tribute to those who fought and died in one of the worst atrocities of the twentieth century.

Due to a change of management philosophy (and significantly increased costs) at the Maidment Theatre, 1997 marked our return to the Centennial Theatre, twenty-one years after our last show there. Ethel Bulangalang returned to avenge her father’s untimely end, and to attempt to destroy the Scout Association. We went on a little foray “Under De Reef” with some ultraviolet fishy friends, had an encounter with the Muppets and made a quick visit to “Well-Soul”, our version of the life beyond now that our very own New Zealand government official is in charge. This show also marked an advancement for us in self-sustainability, a number of our senior cast from previous years took on production roles, namely in choreography, design and music

And to the next show in this little trip through history, 1999: again this show was mostly written by our own team and involved a number of smaller shows packaged as one. The good folk from Squiggleton Wood went looking for their supposedly extinct Squiggle with the help of Faithmistress; the Gypsies came out to play; and Long John Silver with the help of his singing parrot helped us locate the missing treasure. The second half produced some very interesting results with the cast having to learn to sing in Latin amongst swirling fog, a retro seventies number with the Rhythm of Life and a finale again using the Scout and Guide symbols cut into pieces and reassembled on stage by the cast like a huge jigsaw puzzle. 

2001 brought a new millennium, and also the “Gang that wouldn’t quit”!  The Show itself featured a return to the poignant message of Scott of Antarctica, and the difficult transition from the lighter-hearted moments of the beginnings of the expedition with its multiple Penguin appearances, to the serious message gained from the failure of the venture.  Wrap that up with Gumboots, Frogs (once more) in boxes, Angus MacDonald, Neptune, Godspell in clown makeup, and finish it off with the inspiration of You Can Be Your Own Hero, and you have a very powerful recipe for success.  Add to that a Gang who really enjoyed each other’s company to the extent that they were still meeting months after the Show came to an end – a very special time to be remembered and treasured for us all.

2003 was marked by one of the largest casts we have ever put on stage – 103 people faced the audience in the finale.  Again, new songs were written – perhaps the most popular being Flame On Flame – and with lively choreography and colourful costumes, makeup and lighting this show well deserved its accolade as “the best Gang Show in the country” for this year.  New challenges were met and overcome, and the show onstage was augmented by clever orchestrations and a diverting percussionist with a wide range of special effects.  From the audience standpoint, a true success, and one which has raised the bar for us as we tackle Shows for the future.

2005 was a real challenge as we decided on a multimedia format which required two screens, “text” messages to appear independently on each at one point, and a specially prepared video to be shown as a background to a major section of the second half as we paid tribute to the involvement of New Zealanders in Word Wars I and II.  In a stellar show it is hard to pick highlights; among the many great moments perhaps our hippy dance-in to complete the first half, (leaving the audience wanting to join us behind the curtain) is a particular memory.  Spectacular lights, costumes and makeup all provided a showcase in which the cast shone and we earned our place as “best in the country” again.

On a sadder note, 2005 saw the loss of two people who have been important in the history of ACGS.  Gordon Hinds, who as “Kim” was our Gang Show Scout Leader for a number of years, lost his battle with cancer – and John Haynes, our Sound Engineer, long-time supporter, and father of two of our cast, died suddenly while overseas.  A large number of the Gang attended the funerals of these great people, who will be sadly missed by us all.  May they rest in peace, and rise in glory.

2007 was one of those years when a significant number of those we expected back both in cast and team failed to materialise – and when we were confronted with the reality of just how far Scouting in New Zealand was falling in membership.  But the year held two important anniversaries – 100 years of Scouting, and 75 years of Gang Show.  So we rolled up our sleeves and got on with it, and the result was outstanding. We paid tribute to the Founder with a B-P lookalike who (mostly) remembered what he had to say, his Lady wife (who lost her voice), and skipped through the years of Entertainment from 1907 to 2007. Dancing Tables made a repeat appearance amongst Flying Machines, Beach Boys and Razzle Dazzle, ending up with an encore from the finalé of High School Musical which brought the House down.  A Show to remember, followed up by a DVD to remember it by!

2009 brought the fortieth year of our Show, and in many ways it was a fitting anniversary.  The Show itself encompassed Musical Genres as a theme, and we ranged from Big Band to the Beatles, from Beethoven to Broadway, and from the Black and White Rag to Blame it on the Boogie. A number of people felt it was a crowning achievement in terms of the quality and visual spectacle of the programme – but that is a really hard call to make with all that history behind us! As Scouting turns a corner in what for a couple of decades has been a remorseless decline, and begins to look to a future which is brighter, we’re proud of the part we’ve played in keeping the light burning and pointing the way to a time of renewed growth and achievement. ACGS 2009 was a milestone on the pathway we’ve travelled together.

2011 was in many ways a new team effort, as a number of our long-serving backstage and production people took on new rôles, and there was an influx of new blood and new ideas.  The programme was a mix of “something old, something new”, and revisited a couple of numbers which have been very successful for us in the past – although presented with a new twist!  Perhaps one of the greater challenges was the amount of part-singing that had to be learned; for some that was a steep curve and a new experience.  The end result, though, was outstanding as we traversed the realms of (amongst others) KiwiMusic, MovieMusic, QueenMusic, ClassicMusic, Folkmusic, and the Finalé containing some of our best original songs. The Show was interrupted occasionally by a couple from a down-country Gang, and a clumsy Super Scout, to name just two.  In all, another step up, and another step forward.

Saying “goodbye” is hard to do – but it’s something we all experience, and the 2011 Gang have had the sad occasion to have to say farewell to Randal Harding, one of the still very active founding members of our Show from 1969 to the very end, who died before our auditions in 2011, Dean Gillard, a young member of the Gang for the last two Shows who died in 2012, and John Hargreaves, a former Musical Director and Rehearsal Pianist in the years from 1970, who died this year. The members of the Gang turned out in force at the funerals of Randal and Dean, and were well represented at John’s service.  May the three of them rest in peace and rise in glory.

2013 brought a number of important developments and crowned all of these with a sense of real achievement as the Show was awarded the highest assessment our Adjudicator has given for the seasons to date.

Because our Gang was hosting the Australia and New Zealand Performing Arts Conference (ANZPAC), we were joined by representatives of Shows from around New Zealand and Australia, and our season was graced by a very widely representative group of people from both countries.

What was interesting (from a performance point of view) was that the cast for 2013 were a very young, new group – only a few had trod the boards before – so this makes the overall sense of achievement even more creditable. The Show itself was a mix of new and old, bringing together Gang Show items written by ourselves, some Australian Shows, Ralph Reader, and combining that with a good helping of recognizable and commercial material. The whimsy of Akelology, the wit of The Brain Surgeon, the hilarity of the diminutive Cubs in Gang Show; the complexity of singing in Welsh in Calon Lân, the fun of The Muppets, a generous serving of Rock ‘n’ Roll, a state of the art dance number, and even the Orchestra with their own “spot” – all these added their individual flavours to the overall offering put before appreciative audiences. It was a special moment, as well (on the middle Saturday performances) to be joined on stage by a significant representation of the North Shore Gang – the first time that the two shows have performed together.

Technically, too, advances were made in the much expanded use of digital lighting, and in the extended use of sound in terms of individual microphone use for sound enhancement, and both these aspects added very considerably to the look and sound of the finished product. So we continue to thrive, and we continue to make progress!

2015 Every season brings its own individual challenges, and for us 2015 was certainly no exception. This year after a bit of a shaky start, we ended up with a very junior cast, one which was gender-imbalanced, and certainly the smallest numerically for about 15 years. That said, the cast we did have fell-to and worked extremely hard to produce a Show of which we were very proud in the end!

We chose and adapted a rock song ”Jump Start” from a Canadian rock band called These Kids Wear Crowns as our theme and Show opener and it proved a very appropriate decision. We were pleased, too, with our WW1 commemoration piece, our very enthusiastic Junior item and many other parts of our Revue-style Show. We successfully reprised and updated a number of items from former Shows, and created a show-stopper with the junior cast “clapping” item, (labelled “Off Pat” in the video list below). As a lead-in to the Finalé, we presented Ralph Reader’s evergreen “These Are the Times”, and reintroduced the verse to this song which is practically never sung in the southern hemisphere, although several British Shows use it. Check it out below, if you’ve never heard it!

Technically we continued to make more and more use of LED and dichroic lighting and employed a greater number of moving head lights in the rig. We also added a greater number of chorus-enhancing microphones to the sound palette.

From the Box Office standpoint, it is getting steadily more difficult. In the climate in NZ, since the advent of the Privacy Act, it is almost impossible for the Show’s publicity team to get hold of the contacts they need – first and foremost the section leaders of the movement(s). Our team valiantly uses every other contact they can including social media, but the job is made so much harder by Political Correctness – it seems extraordinary that a Scouting activity cannot gain access to the Scouting leaders’ list for the purpose of communication!

We enjoyed a great season in the end, despite the quibbles above, and as usual re-energised by that experience, are (at the time of writing) in the midst of preparing the Show for 2017. It will be the 48th year of our life!