Established in 1979, Murray River Performing Group (MRPG) was the birthplace of two of regional Victoria's most successful regional arts companies, Hothouse Theatre and Flying Fruit Fly Circus.
Initially an ensemble of nine artists, mostly graduates of the Victorian College of the Arts, MRPG was a community-based theatre group dedicated to devising, performing and touring theatre productions in a diverse range of venues across the Murray River region and beyond.
The group began full-time operations in 1979 and hit the ground running. Within four months it had conducted workshops and performed in over forty venues, written two shows, performed street theatre, organised 171 circus training sessions and undertook a major project that would become one of their greatest achievements – the Flying Fruit Fly Circus.
1979 marked International Year of the Child and the Flying Fruit Flies project - which took its name from the fruit fly protection zone between the border of Victoria and New South Wales - aimed to give local children a taste of theatre, non-competitive physical activity and "something joyful, useful and rewarding". The first project involved 117 performers from the local area aged from seven to seventeen. It toured to the Sydney Festival and returned to Albury for a sell-out season.
Once children got the taste for circus, they didn't want to stop, and neither did the adults. The project started to grow when circus performers and trainers Pixi and Jim Robertson (also founding members of Circus Oz) chose to stay on with MRPG and continue the project in the long term. They invited Micky Ashton of the famous Ashton's Family Circus (Australia's longest surviving circus) to join them and the 'Fruities' were born.
The second Flying Fruit Fly Circus event, held in 1980, was seen by visiting Canadian playwright Chris Brookes, who suggested that the circus was a great fit for the Vancouver Children's Festival taking place the following year. The troupe was a hit of the festival and returned to Wodonga where a civic parade was held in their honour, the first of many accolades!
In 1987 the Fruit Flies Acrobatic Arts Community School (now the Flying Fruit Fly Circus School) opened. The school, Australia's first, and only, full-time circus school, combines academic studies with circus training and to this day it attracts students from across Australia.
As the Flying Fruit Flies grew, Murray River Performance Group continued to create and tour theatre, with a focus on new Australian works, but by the mid-1990s, the group had reached a crisis point due to declining audience numbers, funding uncertainty and difficulty attracting suitable candidates for the position of Artistic Director, following the resignation of Susan McClements.
The company was relaunched in 1997 as HotHouse Theatre, with a ground-breaking 'artistic directorate' model that brought together the expertise of leading theatre practitioners from the region and from capital cities to develop the company's artistic vision. It was now based at the redeveloped Butter Factory in Wodonga on the banks of the Murray River.
Today, HotHouse is recognised as one of the largest professional theatre companies in Victoria. In addition to presenting and touring award winning productions, HotHouse also plays a key role in the development of Australian theatre by commissioning new works from Australian playwrights, and running an extensive artist development and education program.
With thanks to https://web.archive.org/web/20170214183816/http://40yearsof.arts.vic.gov.au/pages/seventies/milestone25/index.html