The new Canberra Theatre season ranges across everything from a revival of Bran Nue Dae to a one-woman version of Wake in Fright. Throw in Carmen, and a video gamer exploration of the Woomera detention centre, and it’s a heady brew for the 2020 program.
A packed theatre full of subscribers heard this week from acting director Gill Hugonnet about a new David Williamson production that brings refugee issues sharply into focus, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner style; Bell Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with a female lead; and Circa’s exuberantly sexy Peepshow.
One of the classic Australian novels, My Brilliant Career, takes to the stage not far from where it was originally set, the Wharf Review tours for the very last time and former ABC Canberra radio producer Melanie Tait’s A Broadcast Coup skewers media fame. And that’s just the beginning. There are 15 shows in all, beginning with an uproarious Monty Python rip-off called Spamalot.
“This is a time of great change and renewal,” arts minister Gordon Ramsay said, referencing both the changes ahead with the plans for a new theatre and also the departure of long-serving director Bruce Carmichael, who is retiring after 12 years at the helm.
“Art and culture are an integral part of our lives in Canberra. They are a key part of the social and economic fabric of the community and region, they define our community’s identity, give expression to our community’s values, and make the city a vibrant place to live and an attractive destination for tourism and business.
“The shared experience of enjoying art in one of its many forms is a key way we connect to each other. We are so fortunate to have a progressive, innovative, accessible theatre in the heart of our great city. Succesful art fosters inclusiveness and cohesion,” Minister Ramsay said.
The Canberra Theatre has also focussed social outcomes: audio description, tactile tours and captioning services, including a new translation capacity, were all evidence of outreach across the community as was the social capital program that has gifted more than $330,000 worth of tickets to people who couldn’t otherwise afford to attend the theatre.
The space is also among the top 12 venues presenting First Nations performing arts work in Australia.
Mr Ramsay made the point that the numbers also stack up in terms of both direct theatre revenue and wider economic impact across the ACT.
“Last year we attracted 275,000 patrons not just from Canberra but across the region and beyond. That generated $33 million economic impacts,” he said.
In addition to production, the Canberra Theatre runs a school drama program in association with the ACT Education Directorate and Sydney Theatre Company. Working with CIT, the theatre has also pioneered a Certificate III in live production services, enabling students to train in lighting, audio and production on live shows.
The Canberra Theatre is at the centre of the government’s plans for an arts precinct centred around Civic Square and developments on the city’s lakeside fringe.
Planning is underway for a new theatre, most likely on the site currently occupied by the overflow carpark leading around Vernon Circle from Northbourne Avenue.
The business case was funded in the last budget and will explore several options for whether the current Playhouse can be reconfigured and reoriented or retained in its current form. The current Canberra Theatre would likely be repurposed to a flat floor with retractable seating, maintaining the current capacity of 1200 with an estimated 2000 standing.
The full business case for the two approved options will be considered by Cabinet for inclusion in the 2020-21 ACT Budget. Project approval is due in June next year.