New blood brings new buzz to Oz stage

Aussie legit gets boost with new bosses

Aussie legit is booming with auds showing strong support for the arts across the board with orgs such as Opera Australia, Australian Ballet, Belvoir Street Theater and the Sydney Theater Company all reporting a lift in year-on-year sales.

This increase, in part, is the result of new artistic directors are putting a fresh stamp on Aussie legit

At least four major theater companies — including the Melbourne Theater Company (MTC) and Sydney’s Belvoir Street — are welcoming creative chiefs and the Sydney Theater Company — recently reinvigorated with the team of Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton — announced a new general manager last year.

“The atmosphere of change is good,” says Simon Phillips, departing artistic director of the MTC. “There is a strong feeling of a changing of the guard at Belvoir, at Malthouse and now at the MTC and that is always a great way to freshen things up. From inside the arts, there is that feeling but you can’t really tell how much of that feeling is translating to the public. Still, there is an energy in attendance at the moment that is very promising.”

In the case of the MTC, however, the incoming artistic director, Brett Sheehy, has commitments that will prevent him programming the 2012 season — and the company has come up with a novel solution.

The 2012 season will instead be created by a trio of guest directors: Robyn Nevin, Pamela Rabe and Aidan Fennessy, the org’s current associate director. Sheehy will join the company toward the end of the year on a part-time basis before hitting his stride for the 2013 season.

“We obviously didn’t want this interim season to have a personality that was directly and idiosyncratically connected to one person, because that needed to be saved for when Brett took over,” says Phillips. “So in choosing those three people it meant there would be a robust discussion and they’d bring different things to the table and there would be an exciting variety of work and that would create a nice buzz and an exciting season.”

Over at Belvoir Street, Ralph Myers’ first season is being met with considerable excitement. Myers took the reins last year after the departure of Belvoir vet Neil Armfield, who bowed out with a stunning reprise of “Diary of a Madman,” starring Geoffrey Rush.

Myers’ season includes the high-profile return to the stage of Judy Davis in Benedict Andrews’ version of “The Seagull,” also starring John Gaden. There is also an adaptation of “The Wild Duck,” starring Ewen Leslie, and Ray Lawler’s “Summer of the Seventeenth Doll,” staged by Armfield.

Myers says he wanted to program a “mix of classics, radically retold, and new plays. I didn’t want to do plays from the West End or Broadway that had been proven. I am more interested in contemporary theater and new plays. We should be doing plays that are more specifically about the world we live in and more accurately reflect our existences and I think we should be supporting Australian playwrights and artists.”

Myers believes that the changes going on around the country — including Wesley Enoch taking over the artistic helm of the Queensland Theater Company and Marion Potts who recently stepped into Michael Kantor’s shoes at the Malthouse Theater — inherently bring a buzz to the theater scene as the new topper goes about finding new people and building their team.

“There’s naturally a burst of energy that happens when things change,” Myers adds.

While the artistic side of the Sydney Theater Company has been stable since Blanchett and Upton took over in 2008, the new blood came in the form of general manager Patrick McIntyre, who took on duties 12 months ago.

McIntyre has presided over a solid year, which saw a surplus in 2009 after years of deficits; he reports that the 2010 season will again be in the black thanks to programming like “Uncle Vanya,” starring a dream Aussie cast of Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh, Hugo Weaving and Jacki Weaver.

What pleases McIntyre about the current boom in the arts is that it is not just one big company that benefits.

“The performing arts in Australia in general at the moment are really strong and experiencing really strong audience support,” he says. “And it’s exciting because it’s not one group growing at the expense of the other. There does seem to be a really strong expression of interest and participation in what we are doing.”

McIntyre points to Sarah Ruhl’s “In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play,” starring Jacqueline McKenzie, and the new Aussie work “Zebra!,” toplining Brian Brown and Colin Friels, as two titles that have exceeded expectations, thanks in part to how the various theaters are communicating with auds.

“All the organizations have got better at marketing and communicating what they do to a broader audience — and success breeds success,” he says.

More from World Report: Australia:
Waking up Oz pics | Best TV dramas play behind the scenes | Up and comers Down Under | New blood brings new buzz to Oz stage | Oz pursues runaways | Oz at Cannes

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