A Commonwealth of Theatres

29 August, 2009 by No Comments

Suddenly it’s apparent how much performing arts touring is being done throughout Australia. Not that we haven’t always had small and large companies on the road most of the time since white settlement – well, maybe a little after white settlement – but it’s really, really visible right now.

For the past few weeks, corporate and personal social networks have been going off with news from companies on the road. Twitter, Facebook (it seems the app of choice for theatre artists), My Space (ditto for musos) have been constantly updating with news, images, and glimpses into the life of the touring companies. Big and small – from the AMPAGs to the Indies – are out there, criss-crossing the map. This is good, not only for far-flung audiences, but for the companies and their members, and the arts economy of the nation. It’s also adding to the profile of Australian performing arts, no bad thing at all.

For all the dreariness of suitcase-living, there’s really no better way to see your country than this way, certainly no cheaper one – and I remember it well from my own days on the road. I got to and played places that would never have been possible otherwise.  My friend Bille Brown and I were once talking about the pros and cons of a titular ‘National Theatre’ for Australia. Bille got it right when he said that the many Australian companies operating around the nation (but mostly in the states’ capital cities) were its national theatre, and rather than one centralised institution housed exclusively in a building somewhere, a better way to think of it was as a ‘commonwealth of theatres.’  This wealth of talent is never more visible or more endearing I think than when it gets outside the walls of home base, and hits the road. Maybe our national theatre isn’t even developing any more, maybe the commonwealth of theatres has just grown up under our noses, and just is.

Anyhow I got to thinking about this last night.  I was at the opening night of Joanna Murray-Smith‘s ‘Ninety.’ It’s a touring Melbourne Theatre Company production with Kym Gyngell and Rachel Gordon – a beaut play, fine performances, and a top production from Simon Phillips – one of those really satisfying nights in the theatre.  MTC was on the road and being hosted by Queensland Theatre Company, which itself has two other companies currently on tour: ‘The School of Arts’ by Bille Brown (about a touring theatre company) and ‘Maxine Mellor’s Mystery Project’ for kids.

I was delighted to sit beside the delightful Joanna Murray-Smith during the play and to chat about this and that as you do.  Her plays have been produced successfully not only in Australia but also around the world.  When I was in London last summer, it was great to see the marquee on London’s Strand for her satire ‘Female of the Species‘ which featured Eileen Atkins in the eponymous lead role.  I understand from Joanna that Annette Bening is set to play it at LA’s Geffen Theatre later this year.  But for now, Joanna Murray-Smith had to be on the plane back home to Melbourne this morning for the dress-rehearsal of ‘Rockabye’ her new play which premieres at MTC soon.  Happy trails everyone!

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