Indie theatre is the best theatre

Being a poor uni student (who hasn’t actually started studying yet, but that’s beside the point), I like free things. So in typical Alanah style I was probably marginally too excited when I won a double pass (actually through my uni – they must have already worked out how much I like free things!) to see a play called The Process at La Mama Theatre, Carlton.

The beauty of free things is not simply that they are free. It’s also the way in which they expose you to ideas and avenues you might never experience otherwise. Of course, I’d heard of La Mama. For those who have not, it’s the most famous independent theatre in Melbourne so most Australians with a vested interested in the medium will know it at least by name. However, it not being a commercial venue and being located inconveniently far from my hometown (though only a ten minute walk from my uni, which I’m super happy about), I’d never seen anything there in my life.

Until last Wednesday.

Last Wednesday, I dragged a fellow theatre-loving friend onto the University-bound tram (I’m totally embellishing this story. She got us there… I had quite literally no idea where I was going) and right up to the entrance of La Mama Theatre. And when I saw the building for the first time, I simply fell in love. The venue is an old factory of two stories, made from brick, and I promise you I wouldn’t have given it a second glance had I not known it was a theatre. But since I did, the second I laid eyes upon it I found myself envisaging all the theatrical possibilities that could be brought to this endearing, heritage listed space… and I hadn’t even seen inside.

La Mama Theatre, Carlton, Victoria.

La Mama Theatre, Carlton, Victoria.

Walking through the gate, I fell even further in love and decided, before even collecting our tickets (let alone waiting to see if the show was any good), that I would be spending a good portion of the rest of my life seeing plays here. It’s no secret that I adore unorthodox performance spaces. Last year, I performed in a production of The Crucible staged in a barn at an historical homestead, and it was by far my favourite theatrical experience to date. As Mary Warren, screaming and convulsing on the floor of a venue renowned for ghost sightings and being shoved to the muddy ground by John Proctor in the heart of a Melbourne winter was exhilarating. There were moments when I felt genuine fear, and it was euphoric. Further, one of the most memorable shows I’ve seen, Theatre WorksCut Snake was staged in an outdoor tent in St Kilda.

The vibe at La Mama reminded me in a way of my experience at the barn. The outdoor bar and box office were surrounded by people who appeared to be La Mama regulars. They all appeared to know each other, and it seemed as though they had all been there a while. They were sitting and chatting over drinks and there was an enchanting, friendly community vibe about the whole setup. I felt a little like an outsider walking in, though that’s not to say I felt unwelcome – just that I was a little unprepared, being so used to the hustle and bustle that comes with most theatre.

Our tickets were raffle tickets, torn from the pack by a lovely lady at the box office after I triumphantly bragged about my lucky win. At first I thought this was just a cheap method of issuing tickets (I wasn’t judging – to me, cheap things are second in excitingness only to free things), but I realised once we entered the theatre that there was actually a much cooler story behind it.

Before that, though, I went to the bathroom. Before we stop reading because that’s a gross thing to talk about, I promise I don’t usually make mention of these things in blog posts because I am, in fact, a civilised human. However, this was the most delightful bathroom I’ve ever seen. It was an outdoor unisex toilet, and it was very cramped and a little smelly. But covering the walls were quotes and messages penned by performers and patrons alike. Quotes about life, about theatre, cheeky comments about being on the toilet, messages of thanks to La Mama, people boasting ‘I performed at La Mama!’ Sure, I usually find graffiti gross and unnecessary in public bathrooms, but this was different. There was just something so charming and inviting about the whole venue – and if the friendly messages in the toilet did anything, they gave it more character.

After I’d finished exploring the bathroom, the lovely box office lady gathered us together, had a brief chat to us and led us into the theatre: a tiny, cosy performance space on the first floor of the factory. This is the main stage, but I know for a fact that performances are held in every little nook and cranny of La Mama Theatre. Sitting us down, you could tell this woman loved her job. She made a little speech about how much she looks forward to each opening night (it was opening night), and how she’d been to hundreds of opening nights, and how she couldn’t wait to find out what they’d done with this play and what we thought of it. Then she explained that every night at La Mama there was a raffle, and that’s what our tickets were for. She showed us the prizes, two lovely books, and then drew the raffle. I didn’t win, but the prospect of winning free things simply by attending the theatre is not something I’m going to contest.

The play was wonderful: both hysterical and heartbreaking. It was intimate, it was socially relevant (a commentary on Australia’s poor treatment of asylum seekers), it was satirical and it was memorable. I laughed, I cried and I marvelled at each of the three cast members’ talents: Ezekiel Day’s strong, moving presence as an asylum seeker in limbo, Sean Scully’s subtle hilarity in mocking through imitation both right and left-wing politicians and Jessica Muschamp’s melodramatic portrayal of a clueless lawyer and an equally clueless psychologist.

Artwork for The Process at La Mama Theatre, February 2015.

Artwork for ‘The Process’ at La Mama Theatre, February 2015.

Afterwards, the box office lady stood back up, shared with us how much she’d loved the show and invited us all to have a drink with her and the cast, to let them know what we thought. I have never experienced professional theatre with so inclusive an atmosphere (the actors are established Australian television presences – this isn’t just a local show). My friend was hesitant to stay, so we didn’t – we were considerably younger than the rest of the audience and are both quite introverted, so we would have looked very out of place. But I really wish we had. Next time, I will.

On that note, the lack of youth in the audience saddened me. I really want to encourage young people to go and see shows like this. Theatre isn’t just Wicked and Legally Blonde (though I love both of these shows). It’s political, it’s powerful and it’s community-spirited. It’s happening everywhere, for everyone – in gardens, in barns, in old factories, but it’s a dying art form in Australia unfortunately, and I urge you to join me in bringing it back.


“I went out to the world, to see if I could not learn what life had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – ANON

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Let them see ‘Cake!’

Everyone has at least one celebrity… one whose career they follow assiduously and about whom they can recite an abundance of pointless trivia. I for one am an enormous fan of Jennifer Aniston – an obsession admittedly spawned from my incurable Friends addiction. I adore her and all of her films – even the ones with terrible Rotten Tomatoes ratings. As both a comedic and a dramatic actress Aniston receives not near the credit she deserves, and those who believe she lacks the talent to play anything other than her Friends alter-ego clearly have not yet seen The Good GirlDerailed or Office Space. I am genuinely perplexed as to why people plaster hateful things about her across the internet because I have nothing but praise for this woman. She radiates talent, beauty and humility.

I’ll try to stop gushing now.

One of Aniston’s latest films has garnered substantial attention, with the actress gaining weight and ‘going ugly’ for the role. This film made its debut in the Special Presentations section of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival and is entitled Cake. It looks remarkably different from anything she’s ever done before, and it earned her both SAG and Golden Globe nominations, as well as some genuine Oscar buzz. In this film she plays Claire Bennett, a woman suffering from chronic pain following a tragic accident which killed her son and left her scarred.

As if I wasn’t excited enough to see the movie, I discovered that Cake co-stars Australian mega-talent/mega-babe Sam Worthington, and was probably too thrilled to note the use of Worthington’s natural accent in the film’s trailer (but it’s such a rarity in international film). But despite this, aside from a couple of articles pulled from U.S. news sites, Cake has had zero press in Australia, and it seems there’s no plans for an Australian release.

I realise that this post may appear somewhat contradictory to one of my earlier posts, in which I suggested we encourage more Australian-made film and television. I also realise that Cake is only receiving a limited release in America, so it’s not as though we’re missing out on a major motion picture. However, I do find myself wondering how and why Australia always ends up so far removed from the U.S. entertainment industry when we practically live for it.

I’m not going to pretend I know who makes these decisions, because I don’t have a clue. That said, I would very much like to know why so many brilliant films never reach Australian cinemas. Who is responsible for deciding which movies hit our screens and which are left behind? Regardless of who’s to blame here, surely someone realises the money-making potential this particular lonely, under-appreciated film would bring with it. Ten years on, Friends still has a huge fan following in Australia, and obviously so does Worthington, who we fell in love with in the days of Love My Way. With the right marketing strategies, Cake could bring in a fortune over here, and I really, really hope somebody important figures that out – and soon.


“I love strange choices. I’m always interested in people who depart from what is expected of them and go into new territory.” – CATE BLANCHETT

Introspection

Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. – Lewis Carroll.

When I was thirteen, I played the title role in an amateur production of Alice Through the Looking Glass. The show wasn’t that great… but it wasn’t supposed to be. It was youth theatre, it was fun, and I loved every moment of it.

A

Me with my Queens – ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass,’ 2010.

I can’t help but notice a strong shift in my attitudes when reflecting on theatre from then to now. I’m incredibly passionate about the medium, that much certainly hasn’t changed. But that passion used to inspire an eagerness to immerse myself in any theatre, anywhere at any time. Now it’s clouded by the influence of a world in which critics rip to shreds the work of just about every artist to have ever lived.

As we grow up in theatre we become much more selective, sometimes even snobby. I wish I could go back to the innocent mindset I lived by back in 2010; that all theatre was good theatre. I wish all theatre was good theatre. And you know what? Maybe it is. Who am I to judge? Who is anyone to judge? Beauty is, after all, “in the eye of the beholder.”

The thing is, 9 times out of 10 I’ll see a piece of theatre or a film that critics and friends have labelled ‘bad’… and I’ll enjoy it. Sure, I can identify the features which made it ‘bad,’ and will happily discuss them at length with my fellow, equally judgemental peers. But at the end of the day I enjoyed the ride. I had fun.

I got something out of it.

And maybe that’s all that matters. Lately I’ve been considering how much more enjoyable life would be if only we would take some time to enjoy the simpler things rather than scrutinising every insignificant detail of every single experience. Because life is too short to waste complaining of half-empty glasses.

Having finished high school in November, I’m currently in the midst of a two-month-and-counting existential crisis. I’ve been frantically attempting to plan the rest of my life, to figure out where exactly it is in this crazy world that I belong. Last week I received my official offer to study Arts at the University of Melbourne, and with that extremely exciting news found myself stressing about money, careers and the future. To add to the madness, my two best friends are moving interstate to study this year: one in a week and the other in June. These two have supported me so wonderfully over the past three and seven years respectively, and the idea of not having them in my pockets at the beginning of this terrifying journey is unfathomable.

And so with that, I decided I needed a creative outlet. The day before I received my offer I started this blog, which I’m loving already. I’ve always enjoyed writing and in 2015 I intend to do more of it. Because this year, I want to persevere with everything I set out to achieve. In the past I’ve given up far too easily and that stops here.

I always thought of Lewis Carroll’s notion of believing “six impossible things before breakfast” as nonsense. Wonderful nonsense from a book I have nothing but praise for, but nonsense nonetheless.

But it’s not nonsense at all.

Because often the things we consider ‘impossible’… aren’t. A little out of our reach? Maybe. But not impossible.

never give up

In 2015 I plan to do more of what makes me happy. I want to act, I want to sing, I want to write. I want to go on long walks, visit the meerkats at the zoo, go ice skating, meet new people, go on picnics, drink tea and snuggle up on a cold night with a book or an episode (or ninety) of Friends. I want to try new things, too. I want to meet new people and try new things with them. And I want to experience art that makes me happy, no matter what anyone else says.

Because life is too short to waste on the things you don’t enjoy.


“Sometimes the paths we take are long and hard, but remember those are often the ones that lead to the most beautiful views. Have the courage to make that journey.” – DAINERE ANTHONEY

The Spectacular

I’m a firm believer in the importance of providing youth with a strong performing arts foundation. Too often, music, dance and drama can be swept under the rug in early childhood development, kudos to the ever-increasing focus on academia and physical education in schools. We tend to forget, amidst attempts to combat learning difficulties and obesity, the unparalleled power of the arts in increasing the confidence, empathy and insight of young people. Drama was never offered to me in primary (elementary) school, and it wasn’t until my parents signed me up for a local theatre company that I had any sort of exposure to the medium I subsequently fell in love with. From there, I developed from an awkward, alarmingly introverted child into a fully-functioning human being.

While performance programs in primary schools often leave a lot to be desired, high schools (in Australia, high school refers to years 7-12) tend to step up to the plate and invest quite heavily in the arts. Private schools generally have large sums of money to spend on music and performance facilities and such schools will build theatres and enormous performing arts centres, fully equipped with instruments and recording equipment, a dance space and the latest in theatrical technologies.

But where does that leave public schools? While many are able to successfully allocate at least some funds towards arts education, there’s no doubt that state school students will never have access to the same standard of facilities as students at private educational institutions.

At least not within their school.

But luckily there is an outlet for these kids – and it’s nothing short of awe-inspiring. Over the past three decades, education departments in Australia’s most populated cities have successfully developed three unique programs, isolated in administration but united in purpose, which provide the nation’s state school students with a professional and highly rewarding arts education experience.

sydneyspec

Sydney’s ‘Schools Spectacular.’

The oldest and largest of these is the Arts Unit’s Schools Spectacular, founded in Sydney in 1984. Schools Spectacular is a variety show produced annually at the Qantas Credit Union Arena and televised Australia-wide. It boasts a 3000 strong cast and orchestra comprised exclusively of New South Wales’ state school students. The Spectacular is the largest variety show in the southern hemisphere, which is pretty cool stuff. The finale of Sydney’s 2014 Schools Spectacular can be viewed here:

Schools Spectacular (Sydney), quick stats:

  • 31 years old
  • More than 3000 students, including principal and massed performers, from 450 schools
  • Attended by 30,000 people at Qantas Credit Union Arena
  • Televised nationally
  • Hosted by John Foreman
  • Alumni: Human Nature, Anja Nissen, Angus and Julia Stone

Similarly, the Victorian State Schools Spectacular was founded eleven years later by Joining the Chorus (now renamed Performing Arts Unit) in Melbourne. Also boasting a 3000-strong cast of state school students, the Victorian State Schools Spectacular is performed at Melbourne’s Hisense Arena and televised across Australia.

Here’s a montage of their 2014 Spectacular.

And a behind the scenes mini-documentary.

Victorian State Schools Spectacular (Melbourne), quick stats:

  • 2o years old
  • More than 3000 students from 130 schools.
  • Attended by 10,000 people at Hisense Arena
  • Televised nationally
  • Musically directed by Australian musician/producer Chong Lim
  • Alumni: Harrison Craig, Jaz Flowers, Vanessa Amorosi

The baby of the three initiatives, Queensland’s Creative Generation – State Schools Onstage is now eleven years old and showcases a cast of 1800 students at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. Like the others, State Schools Onstage airs nationwide.

  • 11 years old
  • More than 1800 students from 115 schools
  • Performed at Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
  • Televised nationally
  • Student big band led by composer/arranger James Morrison

Being from Melbourne I’m only really familiar with the workings of the Victorian State Schools Spectacular, of which I am a proud two-time alumna: I featured in 2013 as a backing vocalist, and in my final year of high school (2014) as a principal vocalist. To describe the experience as ‘surreal’ isn’t enough. Even ‘euphoric’ doesn’t do it it… there’s honestly no word that can capture the moment you walk onstage, in an arena that One Direction and Nicki Minaj have played, and open your mouth to sing for thousands of people.

Me (left) and two fellow principal vocalists in a promotional shoot for the 2014 'Victorian State Schools Spectacular.'

Me (left) and two fellow principal vocalists in a promotional shoot for the 2014 ‘Victorian State Schools Spectacular.’

Each year, hundreds of students audition for a place in the principal cast. While (obviously) they don’t all receive one, these roles comprise only a tiny portion of the production’s ensemble. The Victorian State Schools Spectacular allows all government school students the opportunity to participate, through a 1500 strong choir and a dance troupe of similar magnitude. Hundreds of schools sign up. It’s huge. The roles of the performers, at least in the Victorian Spectacular, are as follows: Vocalists

  • Principal vocalists (25): perform solos, duets and small group numbers, as well as leading full-cast numbers.
  • Backing vocalists (15): sing from the orchestra to provide greater depth of sound.
  • Performing Arts Unit choir (around 20): a smaller, select choir chosen based on the initial auditions. They sing one number independent from the massed choir.
  • Massed choir (1500): a group comprised of students from participating schools.

Dancers

  • Principal dancers (25): perform advanced numbers with opportunities for solos/duos, learning from some of Australia’s most acclaimed dancers and choreographers.
  • Ensemble dancers (25): perform some numbers in the fashion described above, but are primarily a group of strong, accomplished dancers positioned around the arena as a guide for the massed dancers.
  • Massed dancers (1500): a group comprised of students from participating schools.

Other

  • Orchestra (80): an auditioned group of talented musicians. They play each of the songs in the show, with the exception of those played by guest ensembles.
  • Specialty acts: ensembles invited to perform at the Spectacular, including, but not limited to: circus arts, roller skaters, cheerleaders, intellectually disabled music ensembles, by ensembles from specialised performing arts schools, Taiko drummers, ballet etc.

The massed cast rehearse at their home schools and are provided with CDs, sheet music, videos and other necessary reference materials. Dancers are visited by the Spectacular’s choreographers, while choir members attend a rehearsal at the Melbourne Town Hall a month out from the show. There, they meet and sing with the principal cast for the first time.

The principal cast, backing vocalists and orchestra rehearse weekly at the Performing Arts Unit and Jason Coleman’s Ministry of Dance. Throughout this process they are guided by some of Australia’s most distinguished arts practitioners. In addition to being educated in vocals and dance, they learn interview technique and healthy performance habits, as well as participating in photoshoots and on-camera interviews. Additionally, young, up and coming theatre technicians and crew work with professional stage managers and sound and lighting designers, learning how to utilise blocking charts, plot lighting, coordinate cast members and fit microphones among other things… and designers have a lot to work with, given that the production utilises more lights than any other show in Melbourne.

The 'Victorian State Schools Spectacular' 2014 finale.

The ‘Victorian State Schools Spectacular’ 2014 finale.


Australia’s Spectaculars are a totally invaluable educational experience – both for those who intend to forge a career in the arts and those who are in it for the friends, the fun and the memories. The impact the experience has upon the young people involved is remarkable – I actually received fanmail, addressed to my school, from two young girls last year. Reflecting upon the impact I must have had on these sweet young women reminds me of a younger me, and how she, too admired the older performers she crossed paths with. It’s so unbelievably gratifying to be on the receiving end of such admiration.

I’ve researched quite extensively (i.e. I have skimmed the first three pages of Google) and have been unable to find a similar program to the Spectacular anywhere internationally. I’d be very interested to know whether I’m missing something… because if I’m not, the world is missing something. I genuinely hope that there are international equivalents to the Spectacular, because I got more out of this two-year journey than I could ever begin to describe, and I believe that everyone deserves to experience a similar emotional, spiritual and educational adventure.

If you’re interested in learning more, each of these organisations’ Facebook pages can be accessed here:


“Theatre remains the only thing I understand. It is the community of the theatre that I have my being. In spite of jealousies and fear, emotional conflicts and human tensions; in spite of the penalty; in spite of tears and feverish gaiety – this is the only life I know. It is the life I love. ” – SIR ROBERT HELPMANN

Australia and the [imported] sitcom

Since the inception of Digital Television, Australia has acquired a plethora of new free-to-air channels – most of them unnecessary if I’m honest, but I digress. Today, I present to you a list of sitcoms scheduled to screen on Melbournian free-to-air television alone on this the 19th of January, 2015:

  • That 70’s Show
  • Arrested Development
  • Seinfeld
  • The Big Bang Theory
  • Everybody Loves Raymond
  • The Brady Bunch
  • Frasier
  • Clueless
  • Taxi
  • Cheers
  • The King of Queens
  • Laverne and Shirley
  • Happy Days
  • Becker
  • Friends

Other frequent visitors to our screens include Modern Family, M*A*S*H, Mom, Two and a Half Men, 2 Broke Girls, Friends With Better Lives, New Girl, Hot in Cleveland… I’m sure you get the picture. It’s indisputable that Australia loves a good sitcom. But the common thread here? Every last one of these slot-fillers is produced in America.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I grew up watching and loving (though not understanding; I was seven) early episodes of Two and a Half MenThe Big Bang Theory was another of foetus-me’s favourite time-wasters, Frasier and The King of Queens were forever screening in my lounge room and don’t even get me started (because I’ll never, ever stop) on my current Friends addiction.

The One Where I Watch Way Too Much of This Show

‘The One Where I Watch Way Too Much of This Show’

And while I genuinely can’t get enough of these studio comedy gems, even if they’re not “artistic” or “intellectual” or whatever television is supposed to be in order for the more pretentious of critics to appreciate it, I can’t help but wonder where the local love has gone.

So where are all the Australian sitcoms? Well, they don’t exist. That’s right – we haven’t made a sitcom since Kath & Kim wound up shooting in 2007.

Even so, most of the U.S. comedies listed above are re-runs… couldn’t we at least do that? Where are the re-runs of shows like Mother and Son and Hey Dad? Neither of which I have ever seen, by the way, on account of the fact that they get zero 21st-century screen time despite this being the very country that spawned them. It doesn’t exactly take a genius to figure out how popular they were, either – they ran for ten and six years respectively, which is quite a bit longer than many of the U.S. sitcoms listed above. According to Wikipedia, only 32 noteworthy sitcoms have ever been created  in Australia and to be perfectly honest, I’m ashamed to say I’ve heard of maybe three. I’m not assuming they were all great. Not all U.S. sitcoms are, that’s for sure, and Australian humour in the 80s was… interesting, to say the least. That said, I’m willing to bet there’d be at least one diamond in the rough that modern Australian audiences would enjoy, if only we were given the chance.

'Kath & Kim' - Australia's last sitcom wound up filming in 2007.

‘Kath & Kim’ – Australia’s last sitcom wound up filming in 2007.

The fact is, Australia is becoming (or at least trying to become) more and more like America every day, much to the despair of our older, more patriotic generations… and the delight, of course, of Generation Y. We live for America. We’re disappointed when we can’t go to ‘college’ or the ‘mall,’ or join a sorority. We want nothing more than to eat at Burger King and go to Disneyland, and get a job where people will tip us, because we crave the lifestyle promoted in 95% of the film and television we’re exposed to. Fair enough, if you ask me.

Young Australians are often embarrassed to be Australian, because the world has such a distorted understanding of what we’re actually like. Just to scratch the surface, they think we all speak with the diphthongs of Paul Hogan, ride kangaroos to school and thrive on a diet exclusively comprised of barbecued shrimp and beer. I’ve often heard older Australians refer to this as ‘ignorance’ on the part of the ‘typical Yankees.’ But if you think about it, it’s not that at all. If anything it’s our fault. I mean, what reference material do they have? We spoon-fed them Crocodile Dundee, so it’s hardly reasonable to blame the U.S. – or any other nation – for thinking that’s how we all talk. What else have we given them? Not an awful lot. Wolf Creek made us look like bloodthirsty bogans. Australia epitomises the quintessential Aussie cattle driver image we can’t shake and all Picnic at Hanging Rock does is instil in viewers a fear of the Australian bush.

All are great films, yes. But what we desperately need is a platform or multiple platforms through which we might light-heartedly expose contemporary Australian life in the way American sitcoms showcase their culture. The development of a new sitcom, one which doesn’t rely on the overuse of ‘g’day mate,’ and ‘no worries’ (which are injected with such horrifying excess into every on-screen portrayal of our country that I want to curl up and die) and references to budgie smugglers, Fosters and Vegemite for cheap laughs, but rather tells it straight? That would be something to see. We are so much more than these (borderline-racist) cliches. Sure they’re funny (in moderation, please), but they don’t even begin to define who we are. Australia is a rich, educated, beautiful country, and many of us live very similar lives to the ones projected in the American comedies we’re so fond of.

Beautiful Sydney. Yes, Australia has cities, too... not that you'd know it from the movies.

Gorgeous Sydney. Yes, Australia has cities, too… not that you’d know it if you hadn’t been here.

People of Australia, I encourage you to embrace our country’s unique culture with pride and passion. Don’t be ashamed of your identity. Instead, be committed to sharing the real Australia with the rest of the world… one laugh-track at a time.


“Let the word: Australian! Dignify the lowliest man.” – ARTHUR BAYLDON, POET.

Broadway vs. Downunder-land

For theatre lovers, Broadway is the place to be. I’ve been there. My theatre-going friends can be divided into only two categories: those who have also been there, and those who loathe me for having gotten there first. Chances are, even if you’re not remotely interested in theatre, you’ve heard of it, you know someone who’s been there and you can reel off the names of at least five shows.

There’s no denying it: Broadway is the commercial theatre hub of the world. Its stars are put upon a pedestal, sometimes almost to the extent of Hollywood’s best-loved film and television stars. Broadway greats such as Kristin Chenoweth often make the switch to film and television, but only long after they’ve become household names across the globe. So what exactly is it that makes New York’s theatre culture that much more distinguished than the rest of the world’s?

Kristin Chenoweth - one of Broadway's greatest.

Kristin Chenoweth – one of Broadway’s greatest.

The simple answer? The magic of Broadway is nothing more than bright lights and the convenience of having a string of theatres lined up on one street. Please don’t get me wrong, I adored Broadway as much as the next person. I ate it up like Matilda‘s Bruce ate that cake (albeit with much less apprehension), hanging on every word and musical underscore as I fought through some seriously crippling jet-lag.

That aside, it’s worth noting that Australia’s commercial theatre is often just as awe inspiring, and America is not the only country equipped to produce quality entertainment. In fact, Australia has some clear advantages. For one, the design of our theatres is leagues ahead of those in the city that never sleeps (which is, by the way, the most mind-blowing novelty ever given I live in a town in which everything shuts before 5PM and nothing is open on Sundays). Our theatres are spacious and immaculate and actually allow patrons a comfortable amount of leg room.

I also made the following observations during my stay on the Great White Way:

  • The line for the toilet at the Shubert Theatre was enormous. I didn’t get to go, because there was only one bathroom with very few stalls. I found this genuinely shocking – we were on Broadway. 
  • Act Two started without a warning bell. It just started. While I was still in the line, busting to go to the toilet. Naturally I rushed away to watch the second half of Matilda (which was written by our wonderful Australian friend Tim Minchin – just thought I’d throw that one in the mix), and within ten minutes began fighting a losing battle with my bladder.
  • In other shows – Newsies, I believe, was one of them – the Australian warning bell was replaced by a display in which the house lights flashed on and off numerous times. This was moderately scary. I nearly fell over.
  • New York theatre patrons are unspeakably rude. I’m talking playing Candy Crush during the opening number, babbling during every other number and leaving (noisily) before bows. That kind of rude. Naturally this doesn’t apply to everyone, but it was alarmingly frequent and very, very difficult for me to fathom. Australian theatre patrons can be rude too, but I’ve never witnessed anything like that here.

But facilities and ill-mannered viewers aside, Australian theatre may be beginning to trump Broadway in other, more significant ways. Theatre practitioners across the world are beginning to find merit in workshopping and developing both new and recycled works in Australian theatres. Acclaimed composer Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber boasts a “very special relationship” with Australia, claiming that he was “never very happy” with Jesus Christ Superstar, and that it was “only when it came to Australia that it really took off.”

In the past, Lloyd Webber has voiced the belief that musical theatre is “international” – that “some of the best theatre that’s happening around the world now is happening in places that are miles away from London or Broadway.” To emphasise his faith in this philosophy, in 2011 he brought Love Never Dies to Melbourne, completely reworking it and shaping it into a critical success, following a very poor response to the original West End production.

"It was only when it came to Australia that it really took off." - Andrew Lloyd Webber

“It was only when it came to Australia that it really took off.” – Andrew Lloyd Webber

And Lloyd Webber is not the only person in the know to have made such an observation. Australian investor Jonathon Feder has observed that “the world of theatre is becoming so much more international” due to the increasing difficulty of funding shows on Broadway. Partners from across the world are now collaborating on new productions, with Sydney being an increasingly popular venue for such projects – so much so that it’s actually been dubbed “the new Off-Broadway.” Indeed, the cost-effective nature of producing a show in Sydney is indisputable: $6 to $7 million here vs. $13 to $14 million on Broadway.

Despite all of this, Australia’s theatrical endeavours continue to go almost entirely unnoticed by the rest of the world. It’s not as though we have a shortage of theatre – just skimming the surface, we boast commercial productions in Sydney, Melbourne’s recently named East End Theatre District and independent plays staged by the Melbourne and Sydney Theatre Companies and the likes of Belvoir, Malthouse Theatre and Theatreworks. It’s unquestionable: our theatre culture is alive and ever-growing, and I believe it needs to be showcased and preserved.

London’s Digital Theatre is a revolutionary website which grants viewers from across the world online access to some truly phenomenal British productions. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we began to showcase our greatest triumphs – both commercial and experimental – on a similar platform? I’ve seen some truly fascinating works in Melbourne of late, including uniquely Australian pieces which would undoubtedly be appreciated on a larger scale if only they were given the opportunity. As a deep lover of theatre, I find it thrilling to observe the ideas that other countries and cultures bring to the medium, and Australia undoubtedly delivers. Thus, I believe it would be highly advantageous for the Australian theatre industry to learn from Digital Theatre and strive to create a digital entertainment platform for the world to enjoy. Because until then, my international friends, you truly have no idea what you’re missing.

Melbourne's 'King Kong,' which is undergoing rewrites before a transfer to Broadway at a yet-to-be-disclosed date.

Melbourne’s ‘King Kong,’ which is undergoing rewrites before a transfer to Broadway at a yet-to-be-disclosed date.


‘The old Australia was like a castle, trying to keep out all possible invasion, cultural or physical. Now the nation is on a cultural adventure, is trying to go everywhere, to take a look at the new world outside.” – DAI YIN