Sport for Jove and ICE celebrate success

1-SFJ dollshouse01Sport for Jove Theatre Company has achieved another milestone in its short but distinguished life. It is joining the Seymour Centre as a new resident theatre company alongside Critical Stages, SIMA and Shaun Parker & Company. The Seymour Centre is the performing arts centre for the University of Sydney and in its 35 year history has become an urban hub for cultural exploration, arts education and audience engagement. It hosts major festivals, large scale theatre, music and dance performances and partners small and emerging companies to develop and present innovative independent productions. Click here for more information.

SfJ - Damien RyanSport for Jove began with an outdoor Shakespeare Festival at Baulkham Hills and Leura in the Blue Mountains in 2009. The company was the brainchild of managing artistic director Damien Ryan, left, whose mother’s love of Shakespeare’s plays inspired him during his Mt Druitt childhood. A career in acting, directing and education, in both secondary and tertiary sectors, followed, in Australia and the UK. He taught at NIDA, worked with young artists in schools and authored Bell Shakespeare’s teacher kits. The partnership with the Seymour Centre began in June 2012, when Sport for Jove launched a major theatre education program for schools with a production of Hamlet. The photo above is from their critically acclaimed  2014 production of A Doll’s House at the Seymour Centre.

Damien says, “The exhaustive interrogation of thought and human behaviour in Shakespeare’s plays is honest, compassionate and it changes the way I think, the things I feel, and the way I see the world, and it does those things for all of us when that special connection comes in the theatre. His plays are fuelled by a faith that we like Prospero or like Cordelia have the capacity to change, to forgive and to tell the truth.”

SfJ - The Merchant of Ven 2015Clearly his vision has inspired others. Sport for Jove is a repertory theatre company, an actors’ company where everyone participates in creating the work and aspires to the highest standards. While their focus is on presenting unique and insightful productions of classical theatre, they are also dedicated to developing and producing new Australian plays. School students are clearly inspired by their experience of Sport for Jove productions and young people comprise a large and enthusiastic portion of all their audiences. In May this year, they will present a new production of The Merchant of Venice (see photo, left) at the Seymour Centre and Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, and then John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, at the Seymour Centre in July.

Champions of the West logoCelebrating their success in the recent Champions of the West awards conducted by The Daily Telegraph, is Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE), at Parramatta. ICE has been awarded $10,000 as winners of the Arts section for their Family Creative Hub.

The Hub is a family support program for recently arrived refugee and migrant mothers with preschool children living in Parramatta, Auburn and Holroyd. Families are supported in successful transition to life in western Sydney through mentorship and iPad-based creative learning that facilitates social inclusion, and builds their social, English and digital skills. ICE welcomes contact from female artists who speak more than one language, in particular Farsi and Hindi, and who are interested in working with families. Living in western Sydney is a plus. Please email or call 9897 5744.


Celebrate summer with dreams, nightmares and magic in Sport for Jove’s theatre season

SfJ - In rehearsal for Crucible 3Join Sport for Jove Theatre Company this summer for a transformative journey through dreams and nightmares – a double bill of magic and the spirit world, and what happens when all hell breaks loose in the woods…

Since he began presenting The Sydney Hills Shakespeare in the Park programs at historic Bella Vista Farm five years ago, artistic director of Sport for Jove Theatre Company, Damien Ryan, dreamed of presenting The Crucible in the atmospheric old barn, which dates from the early 19th century. This year, Arthur Miller’s famous play opens there on December 12 and will continue through the Leura Shakespeare Festival until January 25.

Lizzie Schebesta, above, plays Abigail in The Crucible – photo: Seiya Taguchi.

Damien says “The barn is perfect for a play about the ways people fill their imaginations with things that scare them. I love that it feels remote from the day-to-day life of Sydney.” He says Arthur Miller “wanted The Crucible to be all-inclusive, more than just a comment on his times. He’s asking how does a society turn on and wipe out its women? Why do communities and nations poison their own democracies?”

SfJ - In rehearsal for Crucible 2While The Crucible is about the trial of The Witches of Salem in 1692, its themes of fear, hysteria, half truths, accusations and counter accusations, hidden agendas and religious intolerance have powerful contemporary relevance. Alongside is a rehearsal photo from the show.

SMH theatre critic Jason Blake says “Damien Ryan can marshal a fit and youthful ensemble better than just about anyone else in the country right now . . . clarity, energy, humour and invention are the hallmarks of Ryan’s style.”  Independent company Sport for Jove won plaudits at this year’s Sydney Theatre Awards. Damien directed Bell Shakespeare’s 2014 production of Henry V and played the role of the husband in Belvoir’s production of Nora earlier this year.

A new pro1-SfJ - Midsummer Night's Dream 2duction of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Susanna Dowling, is the Shakespearean component of the program and opens in The Hills on Friday, December 5. Alongside is a production photo by Seiya Taguchi.

In addition to these two plays, Sport for Jove is again presenting a Second Age Project developed with students in The Hills District. Will-I-Am will be seen for three nights at 5.30pm, from December 19 to 21. You are invited to “Follow the journey of William Shakespeare and 17 of his best students as they desperately try to save his complete works from ending up in the deep bosom of the ocean buried, and try to answer that age old question ‘why are we still studying these plays?'” It promises great fun and interest and is all part of the company’s continuing commitment to provide a bold, vigorous and inventive program of syllabus-based works for NSW students and teachers through its ‘Rough Magic’ Education Program . Click here for more detail.

Click here for more information about The Sydney Hills Shakespeare in the Park dates and bookings. Click here for more information about the Leura Shakespeare Festival dates and bookings.


More western Sydney arts milestones

1-1985 image - KK FacebookIn the eight months since Western Sydney Frontier  was launched the blog has attracted more than 3000 views by about 1500 visitors. While most of the visits and views come from within Australia, this week alone has included views from the US, UK, Indonesia and Ukraine. So word of activities in western Sydney is getting around. Special thanks to everyone who has added links to the blog from their Facebook pages, Twitter, LinkedIn and many other connections.

1-SfJ - Bell - Henry V 2014The Joan at Penrith presents Bell Shakespeare‘s Henry V from October 16 to 18. Described as an “unflinching” production it is the first directed for Bell by Damien Ryan, artistic director of award winning independent theatre company Sport for Jove. Damien had to think long and hard about whether he could bring a fresh and meaningful interpretation to the play, but after intense study of the text, he is confident it has powerful contemporary relevance. “Is King Henry V a courageous leader, a cowardly manipulator or simply a little boy lost?” Click here for booking information

It’s almost 20 years since Guildford artist Jacqui Douglas began work on a project, which evolved into The Early History of Guildford 2161 Report by academic historian, Michael Flynn. Guildford’s postcode is 2161 and the report will be launched at Guildford Leagues Club, Wednesday, October 29, 5.30 to 7pm. Everyone is welcome to attend.

From 1-History 2161her own indigenous background and her expressed “longing for belonging”, Jacqui’s interest was sparked by a reference to the small township of Portland Place, near Prospect Hill, which had disappeared from the historic record by 1802. Was the land simply unsuited to cultivation, or was it Aboriginal resistance that led to abandonment by settlers? Holroyd Council supported the first stage of historical research in 1997 and Michael Flynn prepared the first report. Even before that, Jacqui had initiated the Guildford Road Project with three other local artists. Their primary purpose was to capture the essence of the Guildford Road neighbourhood and to share their affectionate observations with the local community.

Preparing the report has been a labour of love, assisted by many others along the way, and now Jacqui will have the pleasure of returning to Guildford for the launch. Historian Michael Flynn will speak at the event. Copies of The Early History of Guildford 2161 cost only $10 and will be available from Friends of Linnwood.

Ian Willis is a Camden historian who writes the blog Camden History Notes. In his most recent post, he describes The Camden Theatre Group, which operated in the area for more than 20 years from 1953. Local identities who played leading roles in company operations include the late Liz Kernohan, subsequently state member for Camden and local mayor. Click on this link to read Ian’s story.

Hawkesbury ValHawkes Valley Heritage Tours - Clint's Barnley Heritage Tours are conducting a special interest tour of their region, on October 31, from 9.30am to 5pm. The tour will be conducted by passionate local historians Carol and Geoff Roberts with leading local artist Greg Hansell in conjunction with his annual studio exhibition. Visitors will be taken to a selection of historic sites depicted in Greg’s current porfolio of works, including Tizzana Winery, the gardens of Greg’s historic homestead Tara and his studio, and Richmond Lowlands, where UWS Riverfarm is located. The photo above is of Clint’s historic barn. The full day coach tour includes morning tea, lunch, cheese and wine tasting. Enquiries 02 4577 6882 or click on website

1-PFFP - Silent Systems launchParramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project launched its latest publication at Parramatta’s Wisteria Gardens Festival last month. Silent System – Forgotten Australians and the Institutionalisation of Women and Children is a collection based on a public history conference in September 2013 and edited by Paul Ashton and Jacqueline Z Wilson.

The history conference was another collaboration between PFFP and UTS Shopfront as they continue to research the history of more than 500,000 children who grew up in “out of home” care in more than 800 institutions in 20th century Australia and its intergenerational impact. The project has been driven by former “Parragirl” Bonney Djuric, seen here with Parramatta MP Geoff Lee, left and Professor Paul Ashton. Click here for book information.

Wagana prepares for DenmarkFresh from the excitement of participation in the Commonwealth Youth Dance Festival in Glasgow, in July, Wagana Aboriginal Dancers are preparing to travel again next year. Here, group members rehearse Sum of My Ancestors for performance at Dance and the Child International next year in Denmark. There is no funding but plenty of passion and commitment from Jacinta Tobin, Jo Clancy and Becky Chatfield for teaching and sharing NSW Aboriginal dance stories and song. Wagana managed to raise $45,000 for their Scottish tour and are aiming to do something similar for Denmark. Join them for their fundraising Island Night on Saturday 29th November at the Grandview Hotel in Wentworth Falls. $35/head which includes finger food, live music and prizes for the best dressed. Click on bookings.

The List, a multi-disciplinary arts project addressing youth culture in Campbelltown, continues at Campbelltown Arts Centre to October 12. Das Platforms and Campbelltown Arts Centre have co-produced a series of video interviews with artists Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Zanny Begg, Pilar Mata Dupont, Daniel McKewen, director Michael Dagostino and curator Megan Monte. Click here to watch the full series of videos.

Campbelltown Arts Centre has just taken delivery of a new supply of my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney, which is the inspiration for this blog. It’s full of great stories, facts and information. Click on The Book for information and purchase details.

Bidwill hones originality and commitment

Bidwell hoopsters 0114It’s clear that having a classical education in theatre and the arts is not a prerequisite for inspired interpretation in theatre production. In fact the lack of it gave Kaz Therese and Damien Ryan the freedom to develop their own approaches.

Both contemporary theatre directors were students at Bidwill Public School when a TV channel helicopter landed on the roof in 1983 and fomented the media beat-up, which became the “Bidwill Riots”. Bidwill is a suburb of Mt Druitt, an area largely developed for public housing in the 1970s and 80s, and a continuing exemplar of poor infrastructure planning by governments and social disadvantage.

Kaz Therese remembers as a nine year old hearing her street described on 60 Minutes that night as the worst in Sydney. It contributed to her resolution to refute the stereotype and ultimately to develop an international career as a creative producer and artist. Her work is grounded in performance, political activism and community building. She is currently director of Powerhouse Youth Theatre, at Fairfield, and earlier this year directed Fun Park as part of Sydney Festival (see Bidwill Hoopsters above). She plans an extension of the Fun Park experience and has won many academic and arts accolades

Fellow Bidwill student Damien Ryan also has vivid memories of the helicopter on the school roof. The subsequent media hysteria and dismissive stereotyping of locals certainly didn’t deter him from absorbing a passion for Shakespeare’s plays through his mother’s love of the Bard’s work. He developed a professional career in school teaching and theatre. In 2009, he launched the independent theatre company Sport for Jove with the first of a series of annual outdoor productions of Shakespearean and other classic plays in The Hills district and Blue Mountains. In January this year, Sport for Jove won several accolades at the Sydney Theatre Awards for its summer production of Cyrano de Bergerac.

1-SFJ Hamlet 2012Of Shakespeare’s plays, Damien says, “Probably the thing that appeals to me most . . . is that they are so overflowing with life and passion and imagination and incredible poetry, while also being among the most psychologically detailed observations ever made of what it is to be a human being. Young people can learn so much about life and loyalty and love and family and pressure and violence and forgiveness from ‘experiencing’ these plays, not just reading but jostling with them as performers or audience members.”

In 2012, Damien established a NSW school education program in partnership with the Seymour Centre, beginning with a production of Hamlet (see photo above). His philosophy in introducing Shakespeare to students is, “Just plunge into the world of it, make them recognise themselves in it – which it is impossible not to – and they will work out for themselves that some of this stuff is incomparably good. It is far more effective and fulfilling for a student to feel they have discovered something for themselves than to let them share in your ‘ownership’ of it.”

Sport for Jove has increasingly embraced other theatre classics, remaining as faithful as possible to original texts, but offering stimulating interpretations and fresh insights. The latest education program at the Seymour Centre was Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, directed by Adam Cook.

You could hear a pi1-SFJ dollshouse01n drop, so absorbed was the audience in A Doll’s House, last month. Henrik Ibsen’s play was first performed in Denmark in 1879 and has lost none of its power to move and provoke an audience. Although the stifling mores of middle class society and the powerlessness of women within that context has eased, the play still resonates strongly with a contemporary audience.

Outstanding in the controversial role of Norma Helmer was Matilda Ridgway (see photo above with Douglas Hansell as husband Torvald). Her gradual transition from  devoted wife and mother to a figure of distraught disillusion and conviction that she was harming her children was entirely credible and deeply moving. In the Q & A following the performance, students questioned the role of women and men in society then and now. To a question about separation of the actor from her role, Matilda responded that acting required the sensitivity of a butterfly and the hide of a rhinoceros.

Damien Ryan himself can be seen in the production of Nora, Upstairs, Belvoir St Theatre, from August 9 to September 14. Nora is a new work by Kit Brookman and Anne-Louise Sarks written in response to Ibsen’s original. Damien plays the role of Nora’s husband.

Celebrate with Sport for Jove

Cyrano de Bergerac

Sport for Jove’s Cyrano de Bergerac won several gongs at the Sydney Theatre Awards in January. A fantastic achievement for a company barely five years old, founded by Hills Shire residents Damien and Bernadette Ryan in 2009. An independent theatre company, Sport for Jove expanded from an outdoor season of Shakespeare in the Hills district to include venues at Leura and Faulconbridge in this latest summer season.

The company is notable for its refreshing, contemporary interpretations of plays which engage the interest of school students and seasoned audiences. Damien grew up in Mt Druitt, where his love of Shakespeare was inspired by his mother. Bernadette is a graduate of Theatre Nepean UWS.

Now an indoor theatre season celebrates Shakespeare’s 450th birthday in 2014 with a production of Twelfth Night at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, from March 5 to April 9 and All’s Well That Ends Well at the Seymour Centre, from March 27 to April 12. In July, they partner with another company to present The Doll’s House at the Seymour Centre.