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!