September 7, 2012
Cate Blanchett bids farewell next year to her position as co-artistic director, writes Clare Morgan
If there is a theme to next year’s Sydney Theatre Company season, it is partnerships: onstage and offstage; beginning and ending.
To begin with the ending, the 2013 program unveiled yesterday is the last put together by co-artistic directors Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett.
Intending to step down at the end of next year, the couple knew this would be the last season they would program together. What they didn’t know until recently was that Upton will continue as sole artistic director from next year.
Curtain up … Richard Roxburgh and Hugo Weaving will star in Waiting for Godot. Photo: Supplied
The 2013 program features remastered classics and a swag of new Australian works, including an adaptation of Kate Grenville’s Booker Prize-winning novel The Secret River, an adaptation of the much-loved children’s book Storm Boy and new works by Joanna Murray-Smith, John Doyle, Gideon Obarzanek and Matthew Whittet.
Upton says he has always wanted to do a great production of Godot, ”but you have to have a reason to do one. It emerged out of the Vanya rehearsals. Tamas said to Hugo and Richard, ‘one day you should play Vladimir and Estragon.”’
Upton says the 2013 season is in many ways a celebration of that kind of partnership, what Blanchett refers to as ”dynamic duos”.
”I think a genuine consideration in programming the whole was a sense of the collaborative power of theatre,” Upton says.
Blanchett notes the plays themselves contain legendary partnerships: Romeo and Juliet, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern, Vladimir and Estragon, Claire and Solange in The Maids.
”Then you have new partnerships,” she says, ”like Gideon Obarzanek’s Dance Better at Parties, where a man coming to terms with his grief partners with a dance teacher in order to be given back to himself.”
The piece came out of Obarzanek’s 2004 work I Want to Dance Better at Parties, which documented the real-life stories of five men. Dance Better At Parties, the choreographer’s first text-based theatre work, focuses on one of those men.
The work will play at Wharf 2, which will for the first time be available as part of a subscription.
”It’s a really sweet, touching, gorgeous tale and we thought it should be on offer for people who want to build it into a subscription, and not sort of silo-ed,” Blanchett says.
Upton adds: ”We’ve put everything, including Wharf 2, into potential subscription so you can build a subscription from the smaller shows to the bigger ones like The Maids or The Secret River.”
The production of the latter, adapted by the new partnership of Andrew Bovell and directed by Neil Armfield, will begin the year as part of the Sydney Festival and will focus on the Hawkesbury River part of the novel.
”It’s a beautiful novel that we actually began trying to make happen the minute we walked in the door,” Blanchett says of The Secret River. ”It’s a robust tale but it’s also a delicate story so you really need people of the theatrical clout of Armfield and Bovell.”
The other Sydney Festival production is School Dance, by Matthew Whittet, which Blanchett and Upton hope will trigger painful but hilarious recognition of school socials.
”It’s about a few nerds going to the school dance with all their desires and fantasies,” Blanchett says. ”It’s one of those laugh until tears run down your face kind of shows.”
Another comedy is George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession, starring Helen Thomson and directed by Sarah Giles, in which a young bluestocking discovers that her comfortable upbringing and expensive education were funded by her mother’s brothel work.
”It’s sort of a 1910 Ab Fab in that you have a mother and daughter and this conflict between the generations,” Upton says. ”It’s George Bernard Shaw so it’s incredibly witty and intelligent comedy.”
Murray-Smith’s Fury tells of a couple whose world is shattered when their son is caught writing graffiti on a mosque. ”Joanna writes so adeptly and poignantly and wittily about a family unit,” Upton says.
Blanchett is particularly excited about Laser Beak Man, devised by Geelong’s Back to Back Theatre company, which for 25 years has been creating theatre with actors with disabilities.
The play follows a group of hopefuls auditioning for the role of a superhero called Laser Beak Man, a character created by young cartoonist Tim Sharp, who has autism.
”This came about because we went to the Out of the Box Festival for Children in Brisbane,” Blanchett says. ”We got talking to Tim and his mother, who said it would be great if it could find a life on stage.”
Back to Back’s artistic director, Bruce Gladwin, came up with a framework where the character of Tim is auditioning to play the role of Laser Beak Man, a superhero who saves the people of the mythical Metro City. ”What they understand absolutely is the notion of a hero being an outsider,” Blanchett says. ”It’s been remarkable to see how this work has developed.”
The pair remain passionate about the partnerships developed within the company, particularly through the Richard Wherrett fellowship and the STC’s artistic associates. Sarah Giles, Sarah Goodes, Kip Williams and Imara Savage are all directing productions next year.
”Being inside the company and finding a way to graduate through it has been a really important part of our time here,” Upton says. ”How to, not formalise it, but to make sense of it for young directors, and I think that’s taking shape in next year’s season.”
It is a path being forged by other theatre companies, in Sydney and beyond. ”We all had to nut that out, I think,” Upton says. ”The lack or the sort of dearth of directors is not anyone’s fault … But the shape of the opportunities was never so clear as it has been made recently by us and Belvoir. By the sounds of things, the way Brett Sheehy is shaping the Melbourne Theatre Company will make it clear to people how to grow their careers.”
Blanchett adds: ”That’s why we’re really passionate about graduating people into larger spaces, so that we’re not always presenting works in found, small, intimate spaces. While that’s an important part of what we do, and the work that’s presented, some works – The War of the Roses,Gross und Klein, Uncle Vanya – are very different experiences and they vibrate in a very different way when they’re in a space the size of the Sydney Theatre.”
See the full season at sydneytheatre .com.au