If Canberra is to have a shot at becoming Australia’s arts capital, we need to start making more creative work here, according to Canberra Theatre Centre (CTC) director Alex Budd.
The Centre’s latest production in partnership with Sydney Theatre Company (STC) is a step in the right direction.
It is the first time the Centre has produced a major work with its Sydney counterpart, and as far as subject matters go, it couldn’t be more fitting for the nation’s capital.
Julia charts the life of former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard through to her impassioned misogyny speech, which turned 10 last year.
A decade later, the two theatre companies have enlisted esteemed Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith to bring to the stage the human story behind the speech that rocked the nation.
“I’ve had the benefit of reading early drafts of the script and learned a lot that I either didn’t know or had forgotten,” Alex says.
“The way Joanna pulls characters off the page, it jogs your memory …
“It’s sometimes deeply moving, sometimes hilariously funny. And with everything that’s happened in the world since – such as the great levelling of #MeToo – it’s interesting to reflect 10 years on how Australia and the world have changed.”
Starring Aussie actress, musician, author and television host Justine Clarke, Julia will be the first major production to have its world premiere in Canberra, which Alex considers a coup.
“Canberra Theatre Centre has, over its life, hosted many great productions from other state theatre companies and beyond, but we haven’t been as involved in the making and producing of work,” he says.
“A show might have a successful season in Sydney, and then if the timing and finances are right, that production might tour other regions or other state capitals and Canberra might be included.
“We’re generally very late to the party, if we get an invite at all. But not with Julia.”
Alex says despite the challenges in developing the arts in the ACT, Canberra punches above its weight.
“Theatre-making is hard at the best of times. However, Canberra Theatre Centre has been very successful in the growth of its activities and the number of people it brings through its doors each year,” he says.
“But our spaces not being of the scale and standard of other state theatre companies has stopped many of the major tours coming here, and that rubs off on the creative fabric of the city.
“We also don’t currently have a major performing arts company based here so we don’t have a lot of employment opportunities for practicing full-time actors and all the staff that go into making places like Sydney Theatre Company great.”
But there is movement.
“We’re now taking major steps in the redevelopment of our facilities to enhance them to a level that puts us alongside the great art centres of Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. That will make a big statement from a bricks-and-mortar perspective and provide a magnet for creativity to happen within those walls,” Alex says.
“We need to find more ways to let Canberra’s creative performance voice be heard outside the boundaries of the ACT on a more regular basis.
“To do this, we need to be involved, and telling this story [Julia] is one step towards that vision.”
Currently in rehearsal in Sydney, the production will move to Canberra about a week before it premieres.
“That’s when our production team kicks into action, bringing the work to life in our playhouse,” Alex explains.
“The most expensive part in making theatre is those production weeks when you spend a lot of time in your venue turning what’s been largely conceptual into something hundreds of people will watch in only a few nights. The benefit to Sydney Theatre Company is that work gets done in a shared and collaborative environment.
“And for Canberra, we can be proud to host the world premiere of a major production and hope that it will be the first of many.”