Fitton, Doris (1897–1985)

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Fitton, Doris (1897–1985)

Founder of the Independent Theatre, Sydney, Australia. Name variations: Dame Doris Fitton. Born in Manila, the Philippines, in November 1897; died on April 2, 1985; daughter of Walter (an English accountant, broker, and manufacturer of cigars) and Janet (Cameron) Fitton (an Australian); early schooling was in Melbourne; attended Loreto convents in Portland and Ballarat; studied acting with Gregan McMahon and at the Melbourne Repertory Theatre; married Norbert "Tug" Mason (a lawyer), in 1922; children: two.

Doris Fitton, who presided over the Australian theatrical scene for four decades, was born in Manila of an English father and an Australian mother. Brought to Melbourne for her early education, she also attended convents in Portland and Ballarat and was infinitely more interested in the school plays than scholastic achievement. After leaving school, she worked as a secretary before beginning classes with the renowned Gregan McMahon. Her first acting role in 1915 led to engagements with J.C. Williamson Ltd. and the Melbourne and Sydney Repertory Societies. After her marriage in 1922, she continued to combine domestic and child-rearing duties with her acting career, taking small roles in the newly formed Sydney Repertory Company and other productions around the city.

In 1930, Fitton joined 19 other actors and 100 associated members to launch the Independent Theatre. Modeled after Constantin Stanislavsky's Moscow Arts Theatre, the Independent pendent operated for the next 47 years, closing in May 1977 due to lack of funding. Through the Independent's long history, Fitton was at the helm, acting variously as director, producer, actress, and drama teacher. (During financial slumps, she was also known to sweep floors when necessary.) The theater, which received no government support, provided exposure for countless young playwrights and fostered the careers of numerous Australian actors. Productions sometimes sparked controversy; in 1948, the staging of Sumner Locke 's Rusty Bugles resulted in the play's temporary banning by the New South Wales government. Fitton, a beloved figure despite her dictatorial nature, was made Dame of the British Empire (DBE) in 1981. She died on April 2, 1985. Her autobiography, Not Without Dust and Heat: My Life in Theatre (1981), is also a history of the Independent.

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