Paul Stewart, Jesuit Social Services
When a couple of friends were at a Christmas party in Gertrude Street Fitzroy, they had no intention of creating a charity.
When the mood of the season and a few drinks took hold of them and they launched into singing a number of impromptu carols.
‘We had so much fun doing this we decided to do it again and make it an annual event and unlike a lot of ideas that are talked about at Christmas parties this actually happened.’
This is how Tom Dugdule recalls the birth of the Gertrude Players in 2000, a now much-loved and praised charitable organisation operating in the City of Yarra, which has raised more than $400,000 for various worthwhile organizations.
‘We decided to do a walking Christmas hymns pub tour of the Fitzroy neighbourhood and the first year 35 eager people tuned up,’ he said.
‘Word about our Christmas carol pub crawl quickly spread and each year it’s doubled in size.
‘What we discovered was that people wanted to be involved in singing hymns rather than just watching it on television from the Myer Music Bowl. The whole spirit of the night is give it a go. We even throw in non-traditional numbers like the Gambler by Kenny Rogers.’
The group’s early days saw them raise funds for Fitzroy Cubbies, Save the Children, Fitzroy Toy Library and the Brotherhood of St Lawrence.
Five years ago, the Gertrude Players met with Artful Dodgers Studios (run by Jesuit Social Services) and a unique relationship was born.
The Artful Dodgers facility is a welcoming studio space in Collingwood where young people create art and music with the support of experienced artists and musicians. It is open to young people between the ages of 15-27 who are living with difficult circumstances.
It engages in art forms ranging from silk painting, collage, podcasts and video making to music production and performance. Established by Jesuit Social Services in 1996, The Artful Dodgers is now one of Victoria’s longest running community cultural development programs.
The backing of the Gertrude Players saw more than $100,000 raised to keep the space open.
‘We raise funds for local initiatives,’ says Gertrude Player and leading lawyer Jimmy Hains. ‘We’re currently working with the Artful Dodgers to provide youth with opportunities to pursue artistic endeavours while being mentored by established Australian artists. It’s unreal. I just love the place, the inspirational staff and the young people there.
‘I can easily say it is the one day a month that I most look forward too. Life is not about just making money. The real reward for me is engaging with these young people and assisting them on their journey. I have loved making real relationships with these young people and telling them honestly that they are worthwhile, loved and clever.’
‘We are a collective of friends who all understand what needs to happen and just step in, fill the gaps and get it done.
We share a passion for supporting kids to express themselves, grow and feel the joy of self-worth and belonging; all through the beauty of music and art.’
Recently the Artful Dodgers and the Gertrude Players staged a fundraiser at Collingwood Town Hall, with the valued support of long-time partner the City of Yarra, which paid homage to some of the great women of rock and roll. Led by legendary Melbourne indie rocker Fiona Lee Maynard, the band played songs by the likes of Blondie, Janie Joplin, Patti Smith, Amy Winehouse, The Pretenders, The Divinyls, The Bangles and Suzie Quatro,
Artful Dodgers participants who took turns joining the band included Atong, Olivia, Rebecca and Nixxi Teen.
Nixxi said, ‘When I first started at the Dodgers I just wouldn’t have had the confidence to get up and sing at the Collingwood Town Hall. But with the help of Artful Dodgers staff and people like producer Jesse Sullivan we have found our voice and are set to launch some new music soon and start playing a lot more. It’s one big loving family at the Dodgers and a place where I feel safe, supported and valued.’
‘The Dodgers do great work especially with developing young musicians,’ said Fiona Lee Maynard.
Danny, an Artful Dodgers participant, ended up playing in the house band and played with a talent that is ready for much bigger and better things.
Much-needed funds were also raised by auctioning off donated items.
The head of the Artful Dodgers Studios Angeliki Androutsopoulos said she couldn’t speak highly enough of the Gertrude Players.
‘It really is a wonderful relationship which has seen the Gertrude Players become part of our family for sure. We couldn’t provide the much needed and lauded arts and music programs we do without their wonderful support.’
The Gertrude Players BIG Sing takes place every year from 6pm on the last Saturday before Christmas, 21 December this year, beginning at the Napier Hotel Fitzroy and working its way around the streets before finishing on the steps of the Fitzroy Town Hall. The theme is ‘Everyone welcome, one in, all in’ and most of all ‘Sing it like you mean it’. Vocal talent is optional. See you there.