Hugo Weaving, Marton Csokas and Susie Porter, three of Australia’s most sought-after thesps, toplined the ensemble rock band reunion drama "Riflemind" in the STC’s 330-seat Wharf 1 Theater.
"All those actors would never have worked at that level," says Upton, who penned the script for the world preem production. "They all delivered their best performances, and they would acknowledge that."
As Upton and his co-artistic director wife Cate Blanchett settle into their roles steering Australia’s pre-eminent theater company, securing occasional topnotch international guest artists will be one of the key goals of their tenure.
They’ve already announced that Liv Ullmann will direct Blanchett in "A Streetcar Named Desire" next year; the rest of the 2009 season remains under wraps until the duo unveil their first program later this year.
Until then they are caretakers of the final season curated by Robyn Nevin, and they’re learning how to run a company that has three theaters, 100 permanent staff and another 100 temps at any given time.
Busy doesn’t come close to describing their shared workload.
Each has tried their hand at directing recently: Blanchett with David Harrower’s "Blackbird" and Joan Didion‘s "The Year of Magical Thinking"; couple welcomed their third son, Ignatius, April 13; and Blanchett has a couple of pics to promote, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."
Balancing all of this could be a tricky predicament, given the company has recorded deficits for three successive years, subscriptions for season 2008 are down 10%, and costs have increased to cover Nevin’s final season, rich in new, big and creatively ambitious productions.
STC general manager Rob Brookman tells Variety he is confident the company is financially sound as a result of a slight increase in federal funds and because single-ticket sales are making up for the shortfall in subscriptions.
"The thing that had made all the difference this year is Mr. Armani’s generosity," Brookman says.
Blanchett’s fashion designer pal Giorgio Armani late last year traveled to Oz to personally deliver a generous, undisclosed donation.
Philanthropy in the arts is only recently beginning to take root Down Under, where the traditional funding model for companies like the STC has been a mix of public funds, box office and corporate sponsorship.
Fostering philanthropy, however, takes considerable resources and time from the company principals, a workload Upton admits they have not yet balanced with their creative ambitions.
Blanchett and Upton’s programming of the ’08 season of STC’s second stage, Wharf2Loud, sheds light on the approach they hope to bring to their mainstage program.
"Manna" promises to be "part poem, part song cycle, part radio play," while "Frankenstein" will mark the directorial debut of designer Ralph Myers.
"Cate and I are both hoping and encouraging for ("Frankenstein") to be as out there as it can because that is the opportunity for people to really experiment," Upton says.
STC’s second stage, which has previously been curated by Baz Luhrmann, Michael Gow, David Berthold and others, is the place to experiment because STC subscribers are as conservative as any.
Hoffman’s "Riflemind" drew a mixed response, and, Upton admits, "it was probably a generational thing".
He’s on a steep learning curve about the tastes of Sydney’s theatergoers.
"We have a vigorous correspondence," Brookman says. "A lot of those people have been coming to the company’s work for a long time and they provide feedback on every conceivable matter, whether its programming choices, particular production choices, the food in the restaurant."