After the 2009 program, the co-directors of the Sydney Theatre Company, Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton, ”want to bring back a sense of levity”. If their first year in the influential post signalled the promise of a re-energised, broad-based collaborative hub, then 2010 is likely to reveal that substance and style need not be mutually exclusive.
”Next year has heft,” Blanchett says. ”There is meat on the bones,” adds Upton when outlining the new works, adaptations and classics on the 2010 bill. Their vision is to connect the STC closely to the community and make it a firm part of the international theatre world.
”The fork in the road represented by the American elections and the shifts happening to find answers to the big global issues informs part of the program,” says Blanchett, who stars in the STC’s acclaimed A Streetcar Named Desire, which tours to the Kennedy Centre in Washington and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in November. ”Our second year has a stronger feel of what we are about and where we see [the company] going.”
There is an accent on international collaborations, notably Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Britain’s Frantic Assembly and Artists Repertory Theatre in Oregon. However, the company’s alliances are predominantly with Australian theatre-makers, including Griffin Theatre, Melbourne’s Malthouse, Perth’s Thin Ice, Adelaide’s Border Project, The Suitcase Royale and Australian Theatre for Young People.
”The diversity of the stages we are presenting on means we can do the epics and present ensembles of the magnitude of Steppenwolf as well as smaller, edgier plays,” she says.
The 2010 season, announced at the company’s home at The Wharf yesterday, is potentially one of the STC’s most star-studded, weighty and ambitious programs.
Highlights include Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, adapted by Upton and starring Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh and John Bell; Steppenwolf’s lauded staging of Tracey Letts’s August: Osage County; the hit musical Spring Awakening; Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, starring William Hurt and Robyn Nevin; Tony McNamara’s latest satire The Grenade, featuring Garry McDonald; Joanna Murray-Smith’s Honour, starring Wendy Hughes, Paula Arundell and William Zappa; the return of the Oscar-winning Philip Seymour Hoffman to direct Sam Shepard’s contemporary classic True West; and Thornton Wilder’s seldom-seen 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winner, Our Town.
”We love the Wilder play,” Upton says. ”In the wrong hands it could be sentimental mush but it will be great to see Ian Sinclair [who directed a potent Killer Joe at Belvoir last year] get his hands on that.”
Says Blanchett: ”It starts off like The Waltons but the level it goes to in the life cycle it depicts becomes a revelation.”
Upton and Blanchett’s lively intelligence brings with it a sense of open engagement and inclusiveness as they build on initiatives forged in varying degrees and forms by their predecessors, Wayne Harrison and Robyn Nevin. The recent introduction of the permanent acting ensemble, The Residents, most immediately affirms the generational shift. The troupe, which works on the main stage and behind the scenes, is expected to have a strong impact in the development and longer-term aspirations of the company’s cultural life. The Residents will be seen at Wharf 1 next year in Tom Wright’s Oresteia, an adaptation of Aeschylus’s trilogy of Greek tragedies.
As with Company B Belvoir, the STC is opening its doors to some of Australia’s fast-rising theatre talents, notably the directors Matthew Lutton and Geordie Brookman, the actors Arkos Armont, Ewen Leslie, Leanna Walsman and Socratis Otto, and the designers Alice Babidge, who becomes the STC designer-in-residence next year, and Zoe Atkinson.
The STC’s three major venues, Wharf 1, the Drama Theatre and the Sydney Theatre, are curated and branded differently to reflect the company’s broad interests and approaches.
Wharf 1 is for riskier, more challenging fare, such as Lutton’s staging of Kafka’s The Trial and the physical performance piece Stockholm, staged by Frantic Assembly’s Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett (the choreographer of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch).
The Drama Theatre leans to more populist or familiar choices, be it the new McNamara satire with McDonald or Murray-Smith’s contemporary classic Honour, to be directed by Lee Lewis and designed by Babidge.
The 850-seat Sydney Theatre has become synonymous with festival events where ensembles are able to play at scale, be it plays, musicals or physical theatre productions.
”There are four plays in each of the venues [next year] … We love this precinct [Walsh Bay] and want to see the BAM-ification of the Sydney Theatre,” Blanchett says. ”You can achieve epic things in that space. As an actor it is thrilling to be able to look right up to the roof of the theatre. I’ve not performed in a space like it.”
It will be a season of contrasts, generational and thematic. In February, there is teenage angst in Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater’s hit Broadway musical Spring Awakening – its young cast mainly plucked from open auditions in Sydney and Melbourne. In the November climax, Australia’s acting royalty converges for Uncle Vanya.
”Hugo and Rox [Roxburgh] haven’t been on stage together before,” Blanchett says. ”You’d be hard put to get a better line-up,” Upton chimes in. ”It’s a shameless list of classics … We just hope that people will want to come.”
The opening attraction, as part of the Sydney Festival, is Tom Wright’s Optimism, directed by Michael Kantor and starring Frank Woodley, who won the prestige Herald Angel Award when the production toured to the Edinburgh Festival this year.