On their feet: The Boy From Oz at EPC Toowoomba

It takes a lot to get a house full of Toowoomba people on their feet for a standing ovation, but it happened last week at the opening night of The Boy From Oz directed by Lewis Jones. This is the latest big musical production from Empire Theatre Projects Company (EPC) based at the gorgeous hard-top Empire Theatre which just happens to be celebrating its centenary this year. I hear that audiences stood again at subsequent performances.

The EPC's productions of plays and musicals - a couple a year - are hugely popular and, more often than not, draw full houses. By the way The Boy From Oz concludes today with an additionally-scheduled Sunday performance, and I have no doubt that delighted audiences will rise as one yet again. Why wouldn't they?  By any standards it's a terrific production led by Tye Shepherd as Peter Allen and Bernadette Pryde as Judy Garland. Besides, Toowoomba needs a good shot in the arm, and this joyous, sensitive production is just the tonic. The Boy From Oz is a community production and proudly so, but it defies any kind of pigeon-holing in terms of its definition as either amateur or professional. As far as the scope of its work goes, labels just don't stick on the EPC - unless it's the 'extraordinary' label. The EPC has been working non-stop for the past few years under the Artistic Direction of Lewis Jones. It runs regular drama workshops for children and young people in Toowoomba and other centres in its regional catchment area; mentors and provides production experience for local artists and small independent groups as well as higher education students and trainees, and provides professional development seminars for teachers. It also provides employment for artists, creatives and technicians. Continue reading On their feet: The Boy From Oz at EPC Toowoomba

Review: April’s Fool – Empire Theatre Projects Company at Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)

Originally published August 12, 2010.

A disclaimer: I serve on the Board of Empire Theatres Pty Ltd. My opinions are entirely my own and should be understood as distinct from any affiliation I hold with this or any other business or arts organisation. The only barrow I push is that of theatre per se.

At the Ekka last week, and quite by chance, I came upon a sign with an arrow pointing up some stairs. It said something like 'Queensland Quilters' Association.' My sister, who knows about such things, insisted we investigate, so I dutifully trotted up the stairs to find a quite superb exhibition of quilts large and small. Now, I know only a bit about quilting: it's traditionally a woman's craft, and that quilts can tell a story - they can be in honour of a cause or a special event like a birth or wedding. Quilts are often worked in a communal setting, are usually composed of patches drawn from various sources, and each one is done with extraordinary care. One of the most beautiful pieces in this particular exhibition was done by a woman during the time that her husband was being treated for terminal cancer. She embroidered his favourite rose on each square of the quilt. I imagine this unknown woman stitching piece after piece, keeping busy, staying focussed on something apart from awful reality - at least for a time. It now remains as a chronicle of a life event and will endure as a testament of her love. As a piece of art and in form and intention, David Burton's play April's Fool reminds me of nothing so much as a quilt - one created out of pieces of grief, regret, anger, guilt and love. The scraps and fragments are drawn from interviews with friends and family, as well as extracts from David Terauds' diary, kept as his son lay dying in hospital in the first week of April 2009.  Using the diary's timeline as the thread to bind the patchwork together, David Burton has skilfully assembled these pieces into a quilt that enfolds family, friends and, indeed, the entire community.  For anyone who has wondered why or how this family could permit, even encourage the telling of events surrounding the death of their eldest child Kristjan from complications following prolonged and excessive drug use, there is, perhaps, the Greek word: katharsis. More directly, perhaps: The story that lets us laugh and cry begins our healing. April's Fool in its creation and, especially, its telling provides a healing. Continue reading Review: April’s Fool – Empire Theatre Projects Company at Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)

Getting things right: Barbara Lowing – (Interview 11)

If Barbara Lowing is in a show, you know your night in the theatre is going to be a good one. I love her work, for which, incidentally, she's won a stack of acting awards. I note from her C-V that she was the first Queensland graduate of WAAPA (West Australian Academy of Performing Arts). Apart from being a director-teacher and a terrific photographer, she's also great company, so it's good to catch up with her for lunch last week. Barb's in Toowoomba rehearsing for the Empire Theatre Projects Company (EPC) production of April's Fool by David Burton, directed by Lewis Jones. This production marks a lot of firsts for the EPC: the first fully professional show, the first to tour - it opens in Oakey this week, then Chinchilla, Dalby, Ipswich and a city season in Brisbane at the Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts. April's Fool is possibly also the first-ever home-grown play about a real-life event in the city, the death of a young man, Kristjan Terauds in April 2009 from the complications following illicit drug use. Director Lewis Jones heard of the events from mutual friends of the Terauds. His bringing of the story to the stage has been done with the full cooperation of Kristjan's parents and extended family. The play also offers the perspective of other characters in the play - friends, observers - some of whom take varying points of view. 'It's didactic but never melodramatic,' Barb adds. 'Lewis and David have structured the text so there's no sense of lecturing ever.' We chat about the way the EPC production team have been working on what has turned out to be a verbatim theatre piece researched and scripted by Dave Burton and which the company has created from the ground up. Material has been drawn from interviews with friends, family and others associated with the event which is not yet 18 months old. The play's action spans the 6 days following Kristjan's death, in which his family attempted to come to terms with that most terrible of experiences for a parent, their child's death. Whilst some names have been altered, all characters are 'real' and there's not a word in the play, Barb tells me, that hasn't been taken from interview transcripts, or from the diary which David Terauds (Kristjan's father) kept during the event - as his book of solace, I imagine.  Continue reading Getting things right: Barbara Lowing – (Interview 11)

This Week in Queensland Theatre: August 9-15

Metro Arts facade
Image by Dramagirl via Flickr

Further details on company websites

Opening: April's Fool by David Burton Dir Lewis Jones for Empire Theatre Projects Company (Oakey Cultural Centre) Continuing: The Secret Love Life of Ophelia by Steven Berkoff Dir Brenna-Lee Cooney at !Metro Arts Boy Girl Wall for The Escapists, created and performed by Lucas Stibbard at !Metro Arts I Love You Bro’ by Adam J Cass Dir David Berthold for La Boite Theatre at the Roundhouse (closes Sunday)

The best job in the world … Lewis Jones (Interview 6)

Everything's coming up roses for the Empire Theatre right now.  Lewis Jones and I are having lunch at Encores, the very smart little restaurant attached to Toowoomba's iconic theatre.  As is fitting for the Garden City on the Range, we can see gardenias and overflowing beds of gorgeous pink and white roses just outside the floor-to-ceiling open windows.  There's a crisp autumn breeze, a touch of rain, but there's no dampening of enthusiasm when Lewis talks about EPC, the Empire Theatre Projects Company - he's its Artistic Director.  The Empire goes well with the roses; it's a beautifully restored art deco building that is justifiably the pride of the city.  Lewis is clearly relishing his job at the helm of EPC.  Since his appointment in 2008, his task has been to establish a company to work with and reflect the community of Queensland's Darling Downs region. 'Friends in Brisbane ask me, How are things up there? and they think I'm joking when I say, I have the best job in the world.  I really do.'  I'm keen to hear why he thinks working in a regional city trumps a similar job in a metropolitan centre.  It seems to be all about opportunity, and it's all positive. Continue reading The best job in the world … Lewis Jones (Interview 6)

This week in Queensland theatre: April 26-May 2

Empire Theatre
Image by Dramagirl via Flickr

For further details on individual performances dates and showtimes check company websites

  • Disney's High School Musical, dir Lewis Jones Empire Theatre, Toowoomba (Wednesday)
  • Stockholm by Bryony Lavery, Dir and Choreographed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, Sydney Theatre Company for La Boite Theatre at Roundhouse Theatre (Thursday)
  • Let the Sunshine by David Williamson Dir Michael Gow, Queensland Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre, QPAC
  • Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett Dir Joseph Mitchell, Queensland Theatre Company at Bille Brown Studio
  • Spamalot Dir Ellen Casey, Blue Fish Theatrical, Schonell Theatre UQ
Reviews: High School Musical, Dir Lewis Jones: Empire Theatre, Toowoomba (Kate Foy)