While it might be an exaggeration to say that Parkes scooped the 2009 CAT Awards, their achievements were certainly the main highlight of the night. The town of 10,000 may be one of the smaller in the Canberra Area Theatre (CAT) Awards’ broad catchment, but it is certainly punching above its weight in impressing the judges, and it was easy to see what lies behind their success in the Canberra Theatre on the night of the 2009 awards on 20 February 2010. Members of the Parkes Musical and Dramatic Society who had made the trek to Canberra for the awards actually managed to applaud their own louder than those from Orange, who usually raise the roof. With four awards going to theatre enthusiasts from Parkes, including the coveted Gold CAT, which went to Lyn Townsend, they had plenty of opportunity to demonstrate just how strong the town’s theatre community is.

This, of course, is the spirit of the CAT Awards. To provide a space where amateur theatre practitioners can be celebrated not only for what the offer to the community, but for their achievements in the art form they’re passionate about. This too, was evident in the gracious speech of Mark Grentell as he accepted his third award for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee on behalf of Don Hillam Entertainment, and proceeded to thank leaders of the company, who gave him an opportunity that has led to the commencement of his career in professional theatre.

Members of Canberra’s amateur theatre community were likewise excited to see the familiar face of Rhys Holden back in town to support the awards. Rhys’s rise through the Canberra theatre scene to a key role in the Sydney Theatre Company is the stuff of legend.

With the Australian theatre industry so heavily dominated by the country’s great metropolises, community theatre diligently encourages a steady stream of fresh talent from the regions, and opens opportunities for talented people from all over the country to be recognised and make their way into professional practice.

The spirit of Parkes’ theatre enthusiasts on the night was infectious, and I am sure we will be hearing much more of them in the coming years.

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