Arts Asia Pacific expands globally

SYDNEY — At just 31, Torben Brookman is already an industry vet.

The son of Sydney Theater Company g.m. Rob Brookman, he has been around the footlights since birth. His 20s were spent with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Company forging touring routes through Asia, where he developed a network of contacts.

On Aug. 12 his touring and production company Arts Asia Pacific bows a local production of “Avenue Q,” in Sydney. However, even with a lower ticket price than some other legit shows, “Avenue Q” faces an uphill battle during its two-month run at the 1,200-seat Theater Royal, where so far no perfs appear to have sold out. A June run in Melbourne was disappointing, with effusive critics failing to overcome the consumer apathy prompted by an unfamiliar tuner in a saturated market.

Since 2005 Arts Asia Pacific has been expanding the circuit from Oz into Asia. It’s a good time to travel as the Aussie live-performance industry, which saw receipts peak in 2007 at A$1.23 billion ($1.03 billion) for all showbiz genres, has seen a drop in admissions while a number of productions have remained strong in the past year. Gross sales contracted 14% in ’08, and consumers are holding back so far this year, with some U.S. hits such as “High School Musical” and “Monty Python’s Spamalot” falling with a thud.

With wife Richelle as Brookman’s business partner, Adelaide-based AAP has toured “Slava’s Snowshow,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “The Phantom of the Opera” to Seoul, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

“He seems to be really doing a great job in an area that far more experienced players have oft struggled — my hat is off to anyone who makes a go of it in Asia; James Cundall seems to be the resident expert and Torben is following in his footsteps,” says Ross Mollison, producer of “Slava’s Snowshow.”

In June, AAP toured South Korea with new Oz tuner “Metro Street,” garnering great reviews and an award for actress Debra Byrne at the Daegu Music Festival. The show, directed by Brookman’s brother Geordie, world preemed in April with the State Theater Company of South Australia in Adelaide.

For initial investment in “Metro Street” the Brookmans tapped a single philanthropic shingle. Power Arts is the arts funding vehicle of Brisbane’s Power family, who made their money in construction but have close links to the arts. They also invested $1.3 million in “Avenue Q.”

The Powers have enabled Asia Arts Pacific to begin making its mark in Oz, but it’s in Asia where the company has already proven its mettle, facilitating tours for Really Useful, producer Ross Mollison and others.

Working as associate producer for Really Useful Company gave Brookman the experience to run his own shingle.

“Each of those countries is quite different to do business in and the responses from audiences are quite different as well,” says Really Useful’s Oz topper Tim McFarlane.

The myriad languages and cultural differences make working in Asia tricky. In some places there is no tradition of musical theater; in others, a well-traveled elite, often foreign educated, sport an appetite for Broadway and West End tuners.

“I’d be lying to say there weren’t moments when it wasn’t terrifying,” Brookman says.

Still with a family steeped in theater he was never going to stray far from the footlights.

Besides a father who’s running STC for artistic directors Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton and a brother who’s a theater helmer,  there is Brookman’s playwright mother, Verity Laughton. And scribe Nicki Bloom, whose play “Tender” was culled from 1,400 submissions to be included in Gotham’s 2009 Summer Play Festival, is his sister-in-law.

“It is a difficult thing to do, but we’re young and needed to make our mark somewhere, so we just hit the ground in those territories,” Brookman says.

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