Here we are, the fourth week of rehearsal for Return to the Dirt!
The fourth week is often the time when the play is lying in pieces on the floor of the rehearsal room, when the actors are all wrestling with the impossibility of animating the hardest moments, and when I feel like I will never be able to put it all back together again in time for opening.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this play. When I first read Return to the Dirt in the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award, I was deeply moved and quietly thrilled by the theatrical voice conjuring the story of a young man’s ‘getting of wisdom’. Reading it in 2020, in the height of the first phase of Covid, the words on the page offered warmth and perfectly ordinary hope, reminding me of all the reasons we need to see our own original stories on our stages. Australian hope is very different to American or British hope. And I knew that if we were to make it to the end of a risky 2021 Season, we would need a big bucket of Australian playwriting hope to look forward to.
And here it is, one week to go until first preview. From the streets of Toowoomba, a story to remind us that in the hardest of times, we can find strength and inspiration in the people around us, if we listen. Steve Pirie has woven a story of small-town care and love and humour from some threads in his own life, but the cloth he has created dresses the characters of every town in Australia. I didn’t grow up in Toowoomba, but I grew up with these characters. This play is a remarkable reminder of the knowledge and labour and resilience that is hived in communities around the country. This play is a love letter to hometowns. They are where we can go back to when we need to rebuild — they are a source of strength.
Steve Pirie is our contemporary Australian answer to Thornton Wilder’s very American vision of hope with which we started the year at Queensland Theatre. Thank you for being on the journey with us this year. I hope this final play of the 2021 Season offers you complex and uplifting thoughts to see the year out… It could offer some very interesting conversations to every family at Christmas!
I hope to see you in the foyer soon.
It’s open! Finally! Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe is on the stage. Tim McGarry's adaptation is bursting with life and colour and character and laughter and tears and poetry and stubbies and thongs and Eli Bell’s smile… it is a joy to finally be sharing it with Brisbane! We will never know what it would have been like to do this play last year – in a world without Covid – but I do know that this is a story we need to experience now. It is hope in a bottle. Seeing 800 people a night walk out of a theatre happy…. Well that’s why we do what we do.
Back home on the Bille Brown Theatre stage, there are a lot of happy high school students performing their versions of Matt Whittet’s We Are the Mutable each day as part of The Scene Project. Thank you to all the spectacular teachers who have worked with their students to create these performances despite the obstacles of the year. Your commitment to giving students access to the arts in their education is deeply moving, and in the long term, invaluable. Big shout out to the Youth and Education team who are leading this project around the state, and to the team of actors performing the show each day.
Believe it or not, we are gearing up for the 2022 Season Launch, we are starting rehearsals on Steve Pirie’s Return to the Dirt on Monday, and we are crossing every finger and toe that we all stay healthy so we can stay open. We are so lucky to be able to enjoy Brisbane Festival. Big love to all our theatre family and friends down south – please know that we are not taking these moments for granted. The best thing we can do with the freedom we have at the moment is to not waste a minute of it. Get out and see something in the Festival – music, dance, theatre… it doesn’t have to be Boy Swallows Universe! See Dead Puppet Society’s work Ishmael, see Weredingo from Karul Projects at Metro, enjoy Camerata’s The Conference of the Birds. Just see something LIVE on a stage while we have the chance.
Wear masks, use QR codes, wash hands, get vaccinated, and stay healthy so I can see you in a foyer!
Believe it or not… Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe adapted for the stage by Tim McGarry starts tech today! Tech is shorthand for Technical Rehearsal which is when we put the play on the set in the theatre and add all the lights and sound and video design and costume elements. It is a frantic time as everything finally comes together.
The enormous set has been standing in our workshop for a year ready to go. On Saturday they packed it in a truck and took it over to the Playhouse, QPAC where it is now reassembled. Brilliant Video Designer Craig Wilkinson finally has walls up to play with his projection creations at scale. Movement Director Nerida Mattaei is at last able to see her in intricate formations in situ. Wonderful Lighting Designer Ben Hughes is focusing lights. Nathalie Ryner and the wardrobe team are backstage doing last minute alterations to costumes and wigs (shout out to Michael Green!) while Designer Renee Mulder can finally see all her sketches walking around on the bodies of the actors as they take to the stage… LIVE! And the sounds of this universe!!! Hearing the music and effects (thanks to Composer/Sound Designer Steve Francis and Associate Sound Designer Matt Erskine) coming through the big theatre speakers rather than the little tinny ones in rehearsal…. This great big beast of a show is starting to stand up and walk.
This Monday night (Covid-willing) it will take its first steps with an audience. It’s a new play. And the magic of a new play is that we really don’t know how it is going to work until it meets its first audience. As a director, this is the best of weeks and the hardest of weeks, as you see everything you have planned come together. There is never enough time, but with Director Sam Strong at the steering wheel, you know you will get to your destination. The preview audiences next week will tell the team how to sculpt the play into its best shape. For those of you coming to previews, thank you for being on the ride with us. Know that your laughter, your breath, your surprise and your applause will feed in to the making of this extraordinary story.
And it is extraordinary. A story like this doesn’t come along very often. We have all been waiting so long for it. There have been so many obstacles thrown in its way – borders, quarantine, lockdown, masks. But the bigger story is a celebration of how it is storytelling, live storytelling, that is bringing us all back together as a community. Our arts will rebuild our communities show by show.
So, we are crossing our fingers that the theatre stays open, that there is no outbreak that shuts us down. If there is, we will figure it out. Thank you to everyone this year who has been so gracious and flexible with all the emails and phone calls to re-schedule the shows we have had to cancel. Thank you for dealing with the QR codes, thank you for wearing masks, thank you for getting vaccinated. Thank you for loving theatre as much as we do.
See you in the foyer!
Did you know that firefighting was one of the sports in the Paris Olympics of 1900? Professional and volunteer firefighters competed and won medals. I think that would be a great discipline to bring back in Brisbane ’32! Our great Aussie firefighters travel around the world assisting other nations in fighting the increasingly fierce infernos we face these days, so I think we would have a fair shot at winning gold.
I am spoiled for metaphor choice this week as we get back into the rehearsal room after the lockdown. It feels like we have successfully fought off a Covid spot fire before it turned into a huge blaze. The fact that we have to keep wearing masks everywhere seems fine to me, as long as we can get Prima Facie back onstage and Boy Swallows Universe can open Brisbane Festival. Sure, it’s a bit uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as being shut down or catching Covid.
We have lost some property to the conflagration… Othello won’t be performing in Cairns next week and we are sending our love up to our friends re-organising the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair — we hope to see you in November! And, of course, around the country the fire is still raging – big love to our Sydney and Melbourne theatre family.
But seriously, I feel like Brisbane deserves a gold medal for managing to lockdown and control the latest outbreak (see what I mean… too many metaphors… I am not a good writer, just an enthusiastic one!). I know we must keep being careful and follow the government restrictions but the thought of losing Boy Swallows Universe again was a bit overwhelming, so thank you Brisbane.
And thank you to all the Olympic athletes for bringing us such inspiration in these difficult times. I watch these amazing sportspeople and wonder how to catch their stories in a bottle to put them on a stage — it is so hard. We have never had ‘the great Australian swimming play’ despite the way the sport dominates our psychology. I’ve directed a rugby play once which was great fun, but it was hard to find actors who could convincingly throw a rugby ball around the stage. I have to say though, looking at the Bille Brown stage we could totally build a BMX ramp and put the story of Logan from Logan on it…. Come on playwrights, entries to the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award close next month!
Despite The Scene Project not being able to head out west last week because of the lockdown (sorry to all the schools who have done so much work!), we will soon be announcing the winner of the Queensland Theatre Young Playwright’s Award. The shortlisted plays are a great collection of stories, from the smartest and most innovative creative young writers from around Queensland. As our young sports people play for Australia, our young artists are making plays for Australia. Look out for the announcement.
Thank you for staying with us through all the ups and downs. Rebook your tickets to Prima Facie and I will see you in the foyer!
So you can’t go to Tokyo to see the Olympics, but you can come to the Bille Brown Theatre to see an Olympic-sized performance by Sheridan Harbridge in Suzie Miller’s Prima Facie. She is the only actor on the stage but you will see a whole world in her work. Or you can head up the coast to Cairns to catch Jimi Bani and Jason Klarwein’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello — they have one more week in rehearsal here before they travel to premiere their production at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair. This week, The Scene Project has been to Rockhampton and Mackay, and next, the team travels to Charleville. And of course Boy Swallows Universe is in the middle of rehearsals…. It feels like we have our own theatre Olympics happening at Queensland Theatre at the moment!
As all the athletes keep reminding us, we are lucky to be performing at all and we send our love down south to the Triple X team who have had their season postponed again by Covid to 2022. Love too to the White Pearl cast, we hope your Sydney season happens. And to our friends at Griffin, thank you for working so hard to make sure Prima Facie made it up to Brisbane — our audiences are so happy to have the chance to see such an extraordinary piece of writing.
Thank you to everyone who is contributing to keeping our theatre open. Thank you for your patience with all the QR codes everywhere, thank you for continuing to use buckets of hand sanitiser, thank you for wearing masks in the theatre, and thank you for vaccinating. Eventually we will get back to a more relaxed theatre-going experience, but until then we are happy to be able to keep ‘playing’ for Australia… just like our athletes are.
See you in the foyer, even though it’s hard to recognise people in masks!
I am writing this late on Wednesday night following the first preview of Suzie Miller’s Prima Facie.
It’s the latest show in our COVID-bedevilled year, and we are so aware
of how lucky we are to be playing to full houses (and so thankful that
everyone is willing to wear masks in the theatre to make this possible)!
The theatre for a first preview is filled with people who like to feel the electricity of a play coming to life before an audience for the first time. They are curious people, drawn to the unknown. They are risk-takers. They are brave. It could be terrible. No one ever knows how a first preview is going to go. Lines are often forgotten, entrances missed, rhythms might be all over the place or stage machinery fails — the glue holding things together is often not quite dry. “Why would you go to a show that is not yet ready?” I hear the loyal fourth-week attendees cry. “Aaaah! To be the first. To boldly go where…” You get the drift. No one has told them yet what to think of the show. They make up their own minds. They can be the ones to pick up the phone in the morning to friends with knowledge to share. And sometimes they experience a unique alchemy of an actor landing the play for the first time. It can be truly special.
But for a director, it’s always petrifying. I am useless from about 5.30pm until the lights go down. I will often just hide in the bathroom until the last minute. I barely breathe throughout the whole show, so I end up with terrible pins and needles at the end. I frantically write notes in the dark about all the things that need to be fixed, and then spend the rest of the night trying to decipher my scrawl. I scan the faces of audience members, trying to feel if the story is reaching through the space and catching them. Years’ worth of work is tested on this night.
First preview audiences are my most feared and most favourite people. The work may not be finished yet, but you can feel whether the production will ultimately work or not. The end of the first preview is a moment of truth.
Tonight, the lights came up at the end of Prima Facie for Sheridan Harbridge to take a bow… and people started to applaud, and then stand and applaud, to thank her for what they had seen. It’s going to work —the audience told me. There is still a bit of work to do — some tightening, some relaxing, some rhythm — but when the show opens this Friday it will be built on the generous responses of that brilliant first preview audience.
I want to thank them for taking a leap of faith and seeing the first preview of this new Australian play. I need them. The theatre will always need them. I hope one of them calls you and tells you about the new play at Queensland Theatre that you must see.
I hope to see you in the foyer really soon.
OK, so lockdown. Not great. Triple X in Sydney has delayed Opening Night by a week — big love to you Glace. The wonderful White Pearl actors are on hold here in Brisbane, hoping that they can be back onstage on Friday night. Our Young Artists’ Ensembles are hoping to perform their show Metamorphoses next weekend before school goes back.
Thinking back to this time last year, we are all so much more used to the processes of cancellation and rescheduling now. No one likes it. It’s horrible for businesses. But every person we have talked to has been so calm about it all. Thank you to everyone who has been so nice to our Ticketing team on the phone. Thank you for all the supportive emails. We will get through this. Safely.
Thank you too for all the donations to our 2021 Workshop and Wardrobe Appeal, including on our first Giving Day last week. Queensland Theatre is supported by the Queensland Government, by sponsors, by ticket sales, and by generous donors who help us dream bigger each year. Thank you for helping us to build our dreams with solid materials!!
It’s been rainy for the last couple of days and from my window at home, I see the huge dark clouds moving in. I try not to read anything into it. But at the end of each day, beautifully, the sky has opened up enough to let the most gorgeous sunsets happen. And I am more than willing to take that as a message!
Even with this lockdown, things are so much better than they were at this time last year. Then, there was no vaccine and no idea of when there would be one. We didn’t know when, or even if, the theatre would be able to open up again. Now we know we will work our way towards living with Covid. It is complicated, and we will always be washing our hands a lot (really that’s a good thing anyway!), but scientists around the world have actually pulled off an enormous feat in creating vaccines! I’ve had my shots and there is an amazing relief in knowing that while it is not 100% effective, it will help keep me out of hospital. If you haven’t had yours yet, I hope you have made an appointment so that you can enjoy that same relief
I am looking forward to a night in the theatre, with no masks, when everyone can truly relax into the play and not worry. Last year that seemed an impossible hope…. Now, just my slightly optimistic vision for the 2022 Season.
Keep washing your hands and crossing your fingers, and I look forward to seeing you in the foyer for White Pearl from tomorrow night…
Thursday 17 June 2021
This week has been the start of Queensland Theatre At Home. Partnering with Australian Theatre Live, we captured a live performance of Taming of the Shrew
for you to watch at home. So now everyone around the country gets to
see the great performances we enjoy here in the Bille Brown Theatre. We
are hoping to capture two or three shows from each season for you. Over
time, this will build up a library of great recordings of Queensland
Theatre’s productions. I wish I could see some of the great shows from
the past that people talk about — and I know that if you can’t make it
to the theatre, being able to catch it later on screen can be a pretty
good consolation. Over the years I have really enjoyed NT Live
productions (much cheaper than a flight to London obviously!) but I have
always wanted to be able to share great Australian work with them,
rather than just seeing what they are producing. So here we go!! One of
the silver linings from Covid is that we have taken our first big steps
in this regular digital program. You have until Sunday to check out Shrew, and then later this year we will be capturing Steve Pirie’s Return to the Dirt and Robyn Archer’s show. Please let me know what you think of them!
I know a recording will never replace the live experience, but for people who can’t make it to the theatre it can help fill the gap. This is why we are making it available to residents of community care facilities free of charge this year. If you know someone in care who may enjoy a digital visit to the Bille Brown Theatre please get in touch with our team and we can make it happen.
Of course in the live space, we are very much alive with the new season of White Pearl opening on Saturday. A comedy about the train smash of office politics by Anchuli Felicia King, there should be plenty of heat in there to warm you up through these winter weeks.
And we are all gearing up for the arrival of the teams working on so many shows: Othello (preparing for performances as part of the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair in August), Boy Swallows Universe and The Scene Project. There is one weekend where we will have over 50 artists in the building. Keep washing your hands, get your vaccines so that you can enjoy that same relief and keep our theatres open!!
Enjoy Taming of the Shrew from the comfort of your couch and I will see you in the foyer for White Pearl!
Stay warm, Lee.
This is the last week of Taming of the Shrew. Thank you all for being such great audiences. The cast has enjoyed you all enormously!
We will miss them, but are looking forward to welcoming the cast of White Pearl — an office comedy set in Singapore! While we are not taking it for granted (big love to our friends in Melbourne enduring the current lockdown), being back in the office is not always a joy for everyone, and the intricacies of office politics in Anchuli Felicia King’s play provide close-to-the-bone comic moments we will all recognise.
Away from the office though, if you are looking for a fictional space to escape into can I recommend a collection of short stories curated by Ellen van Neerven. Titled Flock, she has gathered 19 First Nations stories from the last 25 years from around the country. I read the first short story by Tara June Winch, called Cloud Busting, standing in the bookstore and it made me smile so much I had to buy the book! I am a sucker for a good short story.
From the contemporary to the classics, a big thank you to Queensland Symphony Orchestra for their Mozart and Brahms concert on the weekend. I don’t go often, but the feeling of immersing yourself in the sound of an orchestra playing live is extraordinary! How good is live music? Seeing all the parents there with little kids made me thrilled. Babies hearing Brahms!
I guess I have the same thank you to Shakespeare, Tara June Winch, and to Brahms this week for sweeping us away from daily life for a few minutes and filling our minds, ears, eyes with ideas and beauty. Our artists help us to breathe through all the mess of daily life. Whereas I hope White Pearl will help us laugh at it!
See you at the LUMINOUS Lantern Parade on Friday.
Thank you for all your responses to Taming of the Shrew. The conversations have been passionate and thrilling. The season is nearly sold out, so if you want to see for yourself, hurry up and make sure you grab a seat. We will be filming this production as the first play in our digital series, Queensland Theatre at Home. The play will be available to stream online for one week in June, so if you liked it and want to share it with friends, you can invite them all over to your place and watch it again. Later this year we will be filming Steve Pirie’s Return to the Dirt and Robyn Archer: An Australian Songbook. People around the city, the state and the country who can’t make it to Brisbane can share in some of the magic created in the Bille Brown Theatre this year.
Speaking of Steve Pirie, he is currently in Charters Towers working with students there on The Scene Project. Every year we work with students and teachers from about a hundred schools across the state to make a new Australian play. A play is commissioned, then each school creates their own version of it. We gather local schools together in their regions to share their versions and we also share a professional version made by Queensland Theatre. It is an extraordinary project that really celebrates the talents of young people and teachers across the state. At the moment all the students are rehearsing We are the Mutable by Matthew Whittet and we have teaching artists goingout to schools to work with them. So hi Steve, we hope you are having a great time in Charters Towers!
A little piece of inspiration — the best book I read this week was Africola by Duncan Welgemoed and James Brown. It’s a cookbook. Great recipes and great writing. It’s about the food he cooks in his restaurant in Adelaide. I haven’t ever been to the restaurant, but I will now that I’ve seen his book. I’m hoping that our digital series will work a little bit like this book – that someone on the other side of the country will take a look and decide to visit Queensland Theatre.
Oh, and if you have any family from out of town who want to see Boy Swallows Universe tell them to book soon as it is selling very quickly. A great problem for us to have, but a terrible problem if you have promised your sister-in-law and her five friends who all loved the book so much….
Have a great week and stay warm!
Full tilt. I love it. Upwards of 60 artists in the building every day. Twenty in the Taming of the Shrew team, over 20 young artists each night in the Ensembles (92 each week), 18 Griffith University students in rehearsals, and all the talented new hands on deck in Wardrobe and Workshop building imaginary worlds for you. The Scene Project has begun in schools, with teaching artists now out on the road connecting with teachers and students around the state. The buzz is electric. A lot of coffee is being drunk, and not a lot of sleep is being had. Hats off to the team who got up at 4am yesterday to film a Tiger Moth plane for Shrew.... you are just going to have to come and see it to make sense of that sentence. We are getting ready for our first preview on Saturday night! Kimberley and the team are stocking up the bar and I am sure the whole Company is looking forward to cracking open a cold Newstead (one of our great sponsors!) late on Saturday night to celebrate the beginning of the season. But there is a lot to do before then.
I know it is the same for everyone — we are all in the thick of the year. I got to visit St Patrick’s College in Shorncliffe on Tuesday to present an award for the Performing Arts Student of the Year to Jackson Hughesman in Year 11. The Australian Performing Arts Teachers Association selected him for their national awards program from nominations are the country. He had time to accept it before going onstage to perform the role of Gomez in their production of The Addams Family musical. I was able to see the opening number and I was blown away by all the work, creative energy and talent up on that stage... to say nothing of the extraordinary makeup! In schools around the state, teachers are putting in so many extra hours to give their students the opportunity to come together and make shows. I just want to say thank you to all of the teachers who make theatre in schools possible. You are laying the foundations for a lifelong love of the arts for all your students. I know Term 2 is impossibly busy for you, but after no school shows last year I think we all appreciate the joy you bring a lot more. (OK my Mum is a teacher so I I have big love for teachers especially this close to Mother's Day. Speaking of, have you considered a digital ticket to Taming of the Shrew for your Mum as a last minute Mother's Day gift? She can be anywhere in Australia and enjoy a night in the Bille Brown.... yes Mum, your ticket is in your inbox! Happy Mother's Day.)
So a big shout out to everyone getting a show onstage this week! Stay safe, keep washing your hands, you can catch up on sleep when the show closes, and I hope to see you in the foyer!
So NASA flew a baby helicopter called Ingenuity on Mars! People are still managing to work and create and invent despite the pandemic obstacles. As the world continues to focus on the challenges of re-opening, we are in the middle of rehearsing Taming of the Shrew. The feeling in the room is delightful… the thrill of working with a big and talented cast to bring a classic play to life. There is some connection I am reaching for between the feeling of flying a helicopter on Mars and the magic of animating Shakespeare’s words centuries later — the ancient and the future all colliding in my head this week. Trust me, this play is going to be awesome!
Queensland Theatre is humming with energy. The workshop is full with the Shrew build, the costume department is all hands on deck, single tickets to Boy Swallows Universe are going on sale to the general public next week, Play Club is reaching new audiences around the state and around the world, the Young Artist’s Ensembles are buzzing. Our Artistic Associates are all immersed in different projects: Isaac Drandic is working away up in Cairns on new stories and new plays, Dan Evans is having dog auditions downstairs, Steve Pirie is cooking up plans for The Scene Project to go around the state, and Renee Mulder has been overseeing the launch of the Boy Swallows Universe campaign. And of course, we are reading plays, plays, plays!
Taming of the Shrew is rehearsing downstairs in the Diane Cilento Studio which last year was renovated so that it can be a functional, small blackbox theatre. It has lights and a sound system and seats 80 people. It is the home for our work with young artists and it will also be a new space for small shows… even more intimate than the Bille Brown Theatre. It has been wonderful hearing all your feedback about how much you are enjoying watching plays on the Bille Brown stage. It is brilliant to be so close to the actors, isn’t it? Of course, I love a big play on a big stage as much as you do and honestly I can’t wait to be at QPAC with Boy Swallows Universe — but I love that the Bille Brown is proving to be a terrific theatre for the kind of stories where you really want to be right in the room with the action. And the new Diane Cilento Studio will be the perfect container for those little jewels of plays that work best in miniature.
Thank you again to all the people who supported the creation of these new spaces. We are dedicated and thrilled to be making great shows to fill these special spaces.
See you in the foyer soon!
Thursday 8 April 2021
So it has been a full on couple of weeks since I last wrote to you! If you were one of the people who missed out on the final week of Triple X because of the shutdown I am so sorry. The beautiful cast did not get to have their closing night goodbye, but they did want to thank Brisbane for being such a great audience for this play. I have no doubt Triple X will go on to have a great season in Sydney later this year at STC and that its future is bright. Glace Chase’s play has already been nominated for a number of awards nationally and internationally, but the first audience for a new work is special. Brisbane gave this play its first home, its first laughs, its first assurance that this is a story that matters, and now we get to send it out to the rest of the world. I hope you got to see it — are you part of the club that will never look at avocado oil the same way again?
The Covid times continue, and we are very grateful that we can keep working and that the lockdown ended and we could begin rehearsals for Taming of the Shrew. We have a great big bunch of beautiful actors in the building rehearsing safely (much hand sanitiser!). The set is being built, there are costumes galore, not nearly enough days in the week or hours in the day, but a bucket of happiness that we get to make a new production. And as audiences around the country are getting back to seeing great shows — Come From Away, Hamilton — I think we can all start to see the light at the end of what has been a very dark tunnel.
I hope your house is dry, that you didn’t eat too much chocolate and that you have booked your tickets to Taming of the Shrew — it’s going to be a corker!
Well today the sky is blue and hopefully water is starting to go down and people will be able to go back to their homes. My house flooded last year and it was horrible, so my heart goes out to all the people who are facing sodden wreckage and weeks of cleaning and insurance forms. Be careful, be safe and watch out for all the bugs and animals that have migrated to the high ground of your laundry cupboard. That’s a story for another time.
Luckily we stayed dry in the Bille Brown Theatre where Triple X is enjoying a great run. Thank you to all of you who have been in touch with us sharing your responses to the play. From the grandparents of young trans kids, to all the friends and allies, and to the members of the trans community who are engaging in the complexity of the story — thank you for respecting Glace’s play and for celebrating the quality of the writing. Triple X has been shortlisted for the Nick Enright Prize in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Cross your fingers for Glace!
But this is not about ‘Yay! Isn’t the play great, aren’t we great!’ We do plays like this to generate discussion about ideas in the city and across the state. And so I want to thank, particularly, the few people who have approached us to discuss the difficulties they have had with the play. We welcome the critical dialogue and have been heartened by the capacity people have to articulate opposing arguments in respectful and considered ways. In these increasingly polarised times, we must keep talking, and listening to people. Continuing to exchange ideas and opinions is the only way to navigate out of disagreement. And if that sounds a little Pollyanna to you, it may be that I have just been so grateful for the complex responses to this play, as evidence that the theatre-going community is hungry for challenging writing that engages with today’s world. So onward!
As the theatres around the country are getting back on track and people are getting back on planes, we hope you will take the chance to visit other theatre companies on your travels. Belvoir is opening Sally Sara’s Stop Girl, Wesley Enoch is directing Appropriate at STC, and MTC has the new Joanna Murray Smith play Berlin opening in a couple of weeks. We are off and running! But you should also take a look at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre — they have a virtual membership, because like theatres everywhere outside Australia, they are a long way away from being properly open again. There is a new play they have on called Duchess! Duchess! Duchess! which sounds pretty cool — I haven’t seen it yet, but I am planning on taking a peek and I will let you know.
I know there are people outside Australia who are continue to join in our Play Club readings, so I feel a bit globally-obliged to return the favour and sign up to digital offerings from other countries — a silver lining of Covid!
Come and see Triple X before it closes next week. Enjoy Easter. You can never have too many hot cross buns… my favourites are the Baker’s Delight ones.
See you in the foyer, or at the post-Easter gym,
Did you know that Broadway producers hire ‘standing ovation consultants’ to help ensure the audience feels like standing up to applaud at the end of a show? We don’t do that here in Australia, so when it happens you know it’s the real deal.
On Opening Night of Triple X in the Bille Brown Theatre, the room stood up as one in a glorious cheering standing ovation to celebrate the arrival of a great new Australian play. There is nothing like that feeling of being there for the beginning of something special. Someone in the audience said, “I now know how they felt at the opening night of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll”.
Glace Chase has written a love story for the ages. Yes, it is the first trans love story to grace the stage of an Australian state theatre company. Yes, it’s great that it is happening first in Queensland. But most importantly, it is a great play. Elegantly written by a playwright of breathtaking talent, staged by one of the best directors of new work in the country, with performances so good they will make you weep.
This is the kind of new play that makes you have to come back to the theatre!!
When we had to shut Triple X down last year it was the worst moment in my life as an Artistic Director. Seeing it come to glorious life on Opening Night a year later, after the worst of years, counts as one of the best moments.
We are of course making this play in partnership with Sydney Theatre Company. And once the play has enjoyed a fabulous season here, it will be traveling down the coast to Sydney, giving our friends down south the chance to share it. Co-productions have been nigh on impossible with all the border closures of the last year, and are still really challenging to plan. But I am reminded that Bille Brown was a huge champion of interstate co-productions as our greatest tool for building our national theatre. In Australia we don’t need a building called The National Theatre, but we do need to share stories across the country so that we have a national imagination. After a year that has divided us so literally, more than ever we need to ensure we share our stories across borders. Stories like Triple X will help bring the country back together. Stories like Triple X will also help us to make that future country a better place for all of us to live in. Thank you Glace for writing us towards a new Australia. And a huge thank you to Suncorp, King & Wood Mallesons, Carter Newell Lawyers and Principal Partner RACQ for their continued commitment to making sure this extraordinary work reached the stage.
I will see you in the foyer!
Thank you to every audience member who embraced Our Town and made it such a successful beginning to the year. Thank you for all the letters and emails of support. Thank you for loving the beautiful cast as much as we did! What a start to 2021!
You’d think that with 16 actors leaving the building that the place would feel empty… but the cast of Triple X is back in the house! It feels like welcoming family back home. When we shut this play down last year, we left the set in place for months because we didn’t know what the plan for coming back would be. Over time it became kind of like our living room. Well now it is back in place and strangely if feels like we have come full circle. The cast are ready to go into the theatre next week, and the whole Company is thrilled to have director Paige Rattray back for a while. There is a little bit of a difference to last year. Last year we were nervous about the play — you never know whether a new play will work until it meets the audience. Essentially you decide whether it is a play that works… it is incredibly nerve-wracking. But I’m not nervous this year because I got to see two previews in 2020 and I know you are going to love it. For all its new world politics, audacious one-liners and racy title, at its heart, Triple X is an old fashioned rom-com with a heart of gold.
We may not be out of Covid times yet, but the building is definitely coming back to life. The Young Artists’ Ensembles are working every night, developments of new work are starting and conversations about possibilities in 2022 are starting. I walked past one meeting that was trying to figure out ‘which room would be best for the dogs’. I don’t know what that was about but I will find out tomorrow. It feels like the beautiful vibrant company I arrived in last year. I got to enjoy it for six weeks before everything shut down and we dismantled the year. There were moments there when we truly didn’t know when or how we would be open again. But here we are. With our fingers crossed that we remain open at 100% capacity, but with great big smiles on our faces to be making theatre again.
If you haven’t got a ticket for Triple X yet, call up a friend, make a date, get here early and sit under the tree in the courtyard, have a drink and catch up. If you really don’t think Triple X is the play for you, check out the new play at La Boite or over at Metro Arts, or see what is happening at QPAC — theatre is coming back all over this beautiful city. I’ll see you in one of the foyers!
How great are strawberry ice-cream sodas? Ask Lucy Heathcote and Jayden Popik who get to have one every night onstage in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Not credited in the program but bringing much laughter to the stage is Anthony Standish’s chicken and Andrew Buchanan’s duck! There are little moments of complete joy in this play that are sending people out into the night with big smiles on their faces. There are fantastic performances from the many loved and talented actors bringing this classic work to life and making it feel like our town. But at the heart of this show is the must-see performance of Jimi Bani. One of this country’s greatest storytellers in one of the great theatrical roles on the planet… please don’t miss the magic he is weaving each night. You have one more week to see it, to tell your friends to see it or to see it again. And then it will vanish, leaving a trail of starry moments in our memories.
Next week the Triple X team arrives, and we will have the strangely wonderful job of bringing back the show that nearly opened last year. It was almost a year ago I stood on the Bille Brown stage and had to break the news to Glace Chase that we were shutting down the theatre and her beautiful show would not be going on. I will never forget her face in that moment. I am looking forward to a champagne with her in the foyer when she finally gets to share her play with the world. It’s a love story… exactly what we all need.
But here we are, right now, with full houses and a freedom to walk around the city that is so precious. Our Young Artist’s Ensembles have started up again and we love having their energy in the building. I know how lucky we are… I keep knocking on wood, avoiding black cats, washing my hands and thanking our government for managing to keep the virus at bay so far. The words of Thornton Wilder keep reminding me to cherish every moment, to take the time to really look at the people we love, and to enjoy every mouthful of an ice-cream soda! We should be selling them at interval.
See you in the foyer.
Tucked in a freezing cold pocket of the Southern Highlands is the little town I grew up in, Goulburn, my Grover’s Corners. Funnily enough, in the first week of rehearsal we spent a lot of time talking about where we all find our own Grover’s Corners: Ipswich, Grafton, Tewantin, Thursday Island were just a few communities we recognised through Thornton Wilder’s lens. He wasn’t writing for America — he was writing for a sense of humanity. He was writing for people who need to take a moment and recognise the importance of family, community and the familiar. He was writing for times like the one he found himself in, —1938 — when the world knew it was heading towards another global conflict, and fear, anxiety and denial drove all conversations.
So back in June last year, when we were trying to imagine what stories people could possibly want to see in a seemingly impossible 2021, my heart reached out to Thornton Wilder’s story. And gathering this beautiful group of actors together in the days after a difficult Christmas, his words started to work their magic on all of us. His scenes and sentences remind us to cherish every moment we have with those we love. This was a voice coming to us from another difficult time — proof that we have survived difficult times before and will again. This playwright had lived through a World War, the Spanish Flu pandemic and the Depression. He gathered bits of wisdom and distilled them into a play we can use over 80 years later, on the other side of the planet when we need to hear those thoughts again. I am always in awe of the power of the playwright!
We are hearing his words in our own voice — I hope you don’t mind. Sometimes we want to travel through a play and sometimes we want to find the play in us. Maybe because the geography of Goulburn is so like the geography of Grover’s Corners, I have always heard this play in Australian voices. And what a collection of voices it is. I want to thank each and every one of the actors for all the life they have poured into the making of this play. It has been such a joy being back in a rehearsal room and I feel incredibly grateful to them all for the leap of faith they have taken in making this play with me. They are our artists. They are our town. Please join me in cherishing what they have created.
Happy New Year from the Our Town rehearsal room! We started work just after Christmas and Thornton Wilder’s glorious writing has wound its way around our hearts and carried us through all the disruptions of these Covid times. The first day of rehearsal with 16 actors in the same room was a joy like no other. Every day the room is overflowing with ideas and talent and stories and leftover holiday chocolates and a huge bucket of relief to be back creating theatre for you.
We had a few days of rehearsing with masks on… lots of ‘eye acting’! Fortunately, we are allowed to do scenes now without masks and we will be able to perform without them! Keep your fingers crossed, keep your distance, keep washing your hands, and at the end of the month you will be able to come to the Bille Brown Theatre and share in the story that is weaving its way into existence out of the imaginations of this beautiful cast.
I can’t wait to share this play with you — it reaches across time and space, speaking to us from the early 20th century in America about things that will always matter to us… family, love, compassion and community. Welcome to 2021!
A strange and particular joy is rippling around the country as we welcome home so many artists who moved overseas to work. Awful circumstances have forced you to uproot yourselves yet again, but I can’t help feeling the relief and happiness of families reuniting for a time. Mums and Dads are so relieved their kids and grandkids are back safely for a while. And you can feel the relief in those who have returned.
I was talking to a composer yesterday who has come back home from New York. He and his husband cannot believe the feeling of being able to walk around outside without masks. So you can imagine what a shock to the system Christmas on the Sunshine Coast is going to be for them! There are a lot of families feeling a bit of guilt about how happy they are to get to be together. We are incredibly lucky at the moment here in Queensland.
We are lucky to be able to have the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award play onstage in the Bille Brown Theatre. We are lucky to be finishing up your Young Artists’ Ensembles Program with public performances this weekend. We are lucky to be looking forward to a whole season of stories next year. We hope you are looking forward to 2021 with more hope and that you have found some plays to tempt you away from Netflix... I’m sure you will enjoy the opportunity to get out of your yoga pants and into the theatre foyer!
We need to keep being careful I know, and keep hand washing and distancing. But we also have to grab the moments of joy with both sanitised hands and hold fast for the time that we can. The borders are open. Christmas is coming. And families are finding a window of together time that they never dreamed would be possible. Grab the joy!
We have all been on a wild ride in 2020 and 2021 promises to be challenging in ways we cannot imagine. But imagine we will. Together. Because we have all learned how much we need theatre.
We need to see great big stories that fill us with inspiration.
We need laughter and love and ideas and provocations and magic.
We need to have our artists back at work breathing life into the national imagination.
We need to talk to friends about the play we all saw last night and disagree with them about what it really meant.
We need Australian voices speaking to us about what matters to us right now.
We need voices from other lands and times showing us worlds far and past as we work to plan our futures.
We need our great actors to move us deeply.
We need to be in rooms with other people and share these experiences.
We need the buzz of a foyer.
We need dates in our calendars to look forward to.
We need our culture to come back to life.
None of us imagine it will be easy.
But we have to try.
Because we have lived a time without theatre, and I don’t know about you but I don’t want to imagine a future without it. Thank you for staying with us through this dark age.
We hope you are excited to be with us as we turn the lights back on in your theatre. 2021. Let’s go.
2021 Season Ticket Packages
My introduction to Queensland Theatre started many years ago when Wesley Enoch invited me to be on the selection panel for the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award. I was blown away by the process of this award.
The fact that the winning play receives a full production sets this award apart from any other award in the country. This partnership between the Queensland Government and Queensland Theatre to invest in Australian storytelling is as unique as it is inspiring. It is so much better than just a literary award for a work already made, it is a leap of faith that demonstrates this government’s understanding that theatre is always about looking forward.
Making new Australian plays is the most important thing we do as a theatre company, and it is the hardest. To create a new and original story on our stage adds to the bookshelf filled with Australian plays. It is a way of ensuring that the ideas and voices of our time are preserved for future generations. This award sits at the beating heart of this Company and we could not do it without government support.
In the 20 years this Queensland Premier’s Drama Award has existed, it has created the plays of Sven Swenson, Adam Grosetti, David Brown, Richard Jordan, Marcel Dorney, Maxine Mellor, Daniel Evans, Michele Lee and the playwright whose work is onstage at the Bille Brown Theatre right now, David Megarrity. As we mark 20 years of this award and the celebrate 50 Seasons of Stories at Queensland Theatre — ad despite the devastating disruption of COVID-19 in our industry and in our society — it is a real thrill to end this dark year with a new Australian play.
Wrapped around the production like a big bow is an exhibition of photographs from the last 50 years of the Company. After you have done your COVID check in, grab a glass of something and have a wander through the glorious images of theatre legends. At the end of the production we will put the exhibition on our website, so don’t worry if you can’t get here — it is an inspiring reminder of some of the great stories and great actors who are carved into the cultural memory of this great city. Enjoy!
Welcome back to theatre — to the magic of great actors in a great play happening right in front of you!
It is SOOOOOOO much better than Zoom, or Netflix, or reality TV. Living, breathing, rich language about things that matter to us right now! Honestly, the first day of rehearsal on Mouthpiece was like breathing fresh air outside for the first time after spending months in a stale cramped room.
I feel really lucky to have the chance to put this play on our stage at this time. The only reason we can is because of the extraordinary job our government has done to keep us safe. Talking to playwright Kieran Hurley, as London goes into another lockdown, has driven home how we should not take this for granted. When you come, you can sit in the audience in the gorgeous Playhouse and enjoy our freedom.
You can let his beautiful play get under your skin, the way it got under mine when I first read it. It is theatre magic for me that a Scottish playwright on the other side of the world can conjure a story that can reach across the globe in such a visceral way. It is theatre magic that brings together two great talents in Christen and Jayden — two language acrobats who will fly through the air above the structures the playwright has given to them.
I cannot thank the Queensland Government and QPAC enough for partnering with us to make this play. As I sit in the audience each night and feel everyone drinking in the experience, I feel hopeful that this dark time has taught us never to take the magic of theatre for granted. I look forward to seeing you back in 2021 at Queensland Theatre for more great stories brought to life for you by great actors.
We move into the theatre next week! We will be backstage at QPAC powering up lights and setting up dressing rooms and having tech week in readiness for our first performance of Kieran Hurley’s Mouthpiece next Saturday night. The chance to gather around the campfire in the dark and share a story — that is essentially what we get to do again. And I can’t wait.
The power of great story to move us never ceases to amaze me. Even in its shortest form. There is that legendary short story attributed to Ernest Hemingway:
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
For years I have kept an eye on Larry Smith’s Six Word Memoir website for inspiration. This year, the stories have been a way for people around the world to share their experiences of pandemic dislocation and isolation. One of my favourites is:
“Can’t smell the campfire on Zoom.”
— Melanie Abrams
And I definitely lived this one,
“Social distancing myself from the fridge.”
— Maria Leopoldo
Our first performance of Mouthpiece will be on election night – Saturday 31 October – and then we will launch our 2021 season the following day on Sunday 1 November. Even as I write these dates, I am stunned that we are up to November.
“This is what time looks like.”
— Sylvia Sichel
As we carefully come back to the full sensory experience of theatre in Brisbane I have never been more aware of how lucky we are to have our world start to open up again because in this time:
“The world has never felt smaller.”
— Maggie Smith
Six words: so simple and so complex. Good storytelling: so powerful. There are a lot more than six words in Mouthpiece obviously. It has been a complete pleasure to put myself back into the hands of a great playwright who has shaped his thoughts into words on a page. To watch those words be absorbed into the body and minds of two great actors. And to anticipate seeing those words go out into the audience, transforming into the conversations you will have leaving the theatre and going out into the world.
I can’t wait to share these words with you.
Just near Wanaka in New Zealand is a mountain called Roy’s Peak. There’s a track up it that zig zags steeply to a ridge and a summit with spectacular views. Within the first half hour of the walk I knew I was not fit enough to be attempting it, let alone enjoying it. But turning back? Don’t be silly! I love walking. I’d done it before… I could do it again! That was last year.
This is my first week back in the rehearsal room. It feels amazing — like breathing in all that New Zealand fresh air in the first five minutes of the walk. At the end of the first day I got home exhausted. I am so not show-fit! But every part of me is thrilled to be back in that space with two great actors and a creative team making a play for you.
The whole Company is relieved to be slowly and carefully beginning the process of returning to making theatre. The set is being built, the costumes are being sourced, tickets are being sold, and soon you will be able to sit in the Playhouse enjoying Mouthpiece by Kieran Hurley. It is a big step in the direction of bringing back the cultural life of this city.
So bring on the exhaustion I say! We are so lucky in the scheme of the world to have this chance. I am not going to waste a minute of it, even if my legs are killing me, because I know the view from the summit will be amazing.
Surprise! A new show! We are joining forces with all the home companies to bring everyone back to QPAC and celebrate the arts in this shiny city. The dancers will be dancing, arias will be sung, the orchestra will thrill us, the acrobats will be breathtaking, and we will be doing a play. A beautiful, rich, clever, funny play! It’s called Mouthpiece. It’s written by the brilliant Kieran Hurley, a Scottish writer of immense talent and deep heart. It will be performed by the magnificent Christen O’Leary (small confession here — big moment of wish fulfilment getting to work with her for the first time) and the captivating Jayden Popik making his Queensland Theatre debut (he is going to blow you away). And I get to direct it!!!!!!!!!!!
OK so I’m a bit nervous — first play at QPAC and all that. But getting back into the rehearsal room and piecing together this remarkable story for you is a real thrill, in a year that has not had a lot of real thrills.
We are going to be able to perform to audiences of 50 per cent of the house size. Everyone will be spread out, there will be new rules for arriving and leaving, and tickets and drinks and bathrooms and we can’t have parties in the foyer, and there will be so much hand sanitiser. So it’s going to feel a little different but it’s still going to be LIVE THEATRE! As much as I have loved all the screen work from around the world over the last months, there is nothing like seeing real live story played out in front of us by talented actors. It does something to us as humans that I find irresistible.
I want to say a huge thanks to the Queensland Government for working so closely and rigorously with us to make this happen, and to make it happen safely. Bringing all the home companies together with a collective mission of lighting up our nights again at QPAC has been an inspiration to all of us, and we hope will be exciting for you. So don’t just come and see Mouthpiece, grab a ticket to see the awesomeness of circus, the magic of the symphony, the marvels of operatic voice, and the beautifulness of the ballet. Sit back in your seat and wonder at the talents of this city, and the magic that lives in great art. Welcome back!
Writing original stories is hard. Writing a play is nearly impossible. A lot of writers try. They have a few scenes in a drawer. They have probably dug them out in the last six months and tried to work on them in the last six months. A very small number of writers in the world manage to finish a whole play. An even smaller number go on to write a second.
Every time a new play lands on my desk I am thrilled that the playwright has managed to get the play this far. Every time I start reading a new play I am hoping to find the next great Australian play or hear a voice saying something that matters in a way I have not heard before in theatre form.
Reading the plays of young playwrights is especially exciting. Because if you can see evidence of writing talent on the page and they have had the discipline to complete the whole play, to wrestle their ideas into paper form, you start to imagine how far this capacity will take them in their lives. Because if they have managed to find their thing early, the possibilities are huge. We need our young people to be writing their ideas down so that their ideas can reach out to the wider world. We need their young voices and young perspectives to be speaking to us about the futures they will have to lead. And when they can do that with a play? Wow! It is a win for theatre! Not that it’s a competition. Except sometimes it is.
Like the Queensland Theatre Young Playwright’s Award. I would like to introduce you to the joint winners of the 2020 award. Two extraordinary young playwrights who have each created original stories which show distinctive instinct towards theatre storytelling and the craft to capture voices of the world around them in vibrant dialogue.
Milena Barraclough Nesic and Suki Wallace are two young playwrights to watch. Milena’s play is a sophisticated weave of politics and poetry as she explores the power and the fragility of young love in a violent world. The working title is A play about a play and love and war and other stuff . Suki’s work Carnies is a brutal and funny story about the extreme measures one family employs to survive the predatory banking practices exposed by the Royal Commission. Both playwrights will receive dramaturgical support from Queensland Theatre and will hear their plays read by professional actors. Look out world here they come! Not only have they written full plays, but they have done it in the hardest of times. Now if that doesn’t give you a bucket of hope for the future of theatre in this country I don’t know what will!