Yes, this blog does have a future – building on each other’s achievements!

Well, hello again! It’s more than two months since my last post. In that time, I have been sorting and culling files, books and other records and generally downsizing. Many were used in the writing of my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney, published in 2013 and in the subsequent publication of this blog Western Sydney Frontier – beginning in 2014. Simultaneously, it has meant a chance to reflect on the last 45 years of arts and cultural development I have witnessed and the monumental changes that have occurred across the region.

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In the midst of this period, I was honoured to open the first exhibition of the recently formed Blacktown Studio Artists Collective, Blank Slate. It is a perfect illustration of what has happened in that 45 years. Distance and isolation remain facts of life, but population growth, cultural diversification, growth in social infrastructure like education and the arts and the determined advocacy of hundreds of passionate individuals has produced  extraordinary change.

Above is Blacktown Sun’s photo of the exhibiting artists, Jan Cleveringa, left, Nazanin Masharian, Suzannah Williams, Rosalind Stanley and Alex Cyreszko. Nazanin says “Blank Slate is a metaphor for the collective; we’re not sure what we’re going to be yet. We’re open to the energy of the group and what comes up,” They are all well educated, widely experienced and willing to explore their own histories in a context of local and global issues like displacement by war and colonisation, the impact of changing technologies, and climate change. They came together under the auspice of Blacktown Arts Centre and are also committed to Blacktown and its future.

ian-zammitThen last week I had the immense pleasure of an evening of conversation over dinner with two inspirational people, Ian Zammit, left, and Natalie Wadwell, right below. Our evening resulted from both of them contacting me after I questioned whether this blog has a future. Having reached the age of 75, I am increasingly reminded of my own mortality and the need for me to pass on the baton of networking, support and promotion. Both Ian and Natalie grew up in western Sydney. Each was creative and imaginative, but frustrated by the limited opportunities available locally. Ian grew up in Emu Heights, pursued music and theatre studies and completed an honours degree at Middlesex University in the UK, in 2006. He returned to live in Penrith and for five years worked at Carriageworks arts centre in Redfern. Then he took a gamble on working full time to develop Emu Heights Theatre Company with a group of local artists, teachers and business people and the support of his wife Michelle. The company survived five years of successful productions and work with local schools, but decided to close last year when facing unending struggles for money and resources.

Far from giving up, Ian recognised the need for more collaboration and mutual support among theatre people and established Theatre Links in the West, which meets monthly and shares theatre information through its Facebook page. His track record is leading to increasing professional employment opportunities for him in Penrith and Liverpool performing artsNatalie Wadwell - ARI forum.

Similarly, Natalie has been confronting the frustrations and challenges for young people in her local area and continually investigates, analyses and instigates creative solutions. With an appetite for learning, strategic thinking and a commitment to improved opportunities, she established an online presence with Wadwell Initiatives, giving her own background as a writer and creative instigator and a summary of her projects, writings, ideas and vulnerabilities. She has a Bachelor Art Theory/History (First Class Honours), UNSW Art and Design (2012-2015).

Earlier this year, she graduated with 16 other young people from the inaugural accelerator program conducted by the School of Social Entrepreneurs for young people wanting to drive social change in Western Sydney. Now, she is working with Lucinda Davison, founder and editor of the online publication State of the Arts to develop the site as an online platform promoting a more inclusive arts and culture conversation across New South Wales. “It aims to bring together creatives, art writers, performers, musicians and art organisations to investigate, engage and promote the diversity of creative initiatives and cultures. From the northern plains to the southern basin of NSW, including Greater Western Sydney and the ACT, State of the Arts will be a guide from country to coast.

State of the Arts brings together the broad experiences of art and culture “out there” to take art off its pedestal, because culture is everywhere.” Natalie is determined to ensure that western Sydney is well represented and the platform provides scope for lots of participation. Do check it out and consider contributing. State of the Arts is a more than worthy successor to Western Sydney Frontier and for the time being, we can gladly cross promote each other’s posts. In the meantime, those people who left generous comments supporting the continuation of my blog can feel pleased.

wagana-becky-chatfield-and-jo-clancy-2016While most of the arts and cultural achievements in western Sydney are the result of sustained collaborative effort and many disappointments, some require even more commitment than most. For Becky Chatfield, above left with Jo Clancy of Wagana Aboriginal Dancers in the Blue Mountains, there are daily encounters with casual racism and denial of her own deep sense of identity. Statements like “Aboriginality is just unnecessary. It’s not really in the best interests of Aboriginal people. It’s not good for Aborigines to remain Aborigines.”

A week ago on Facebook, she posted “I tossed up whether or not to watch First Contact last night but decided I had to, the issue is too important. So many people saying ‘ignore it, don’t worry about it, give it no energy’. But unfortunately, I feel that I must indeed give energy to it and I believe we all should, because David Oldfield is not the only one with these sickening views, Australia has many people who think the way he does and I can’t close my eyes to it. I have a responsibility to my daughter and to all of our children to at least try. I will continue to spread the beauty of our culture, and I will call out the bullshit.
I want change and it won’t come unless we actively tackle the situation together.”

Then out of the blue came a contact from Anton Arets, an artist I hadn’t seen for 30 years. It was followed by a completely unsolicited response to my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney  – one that reflects the views of Ian and Natalie. “I have Blog - PPM book coverjust finished reading it. It is such an excellent, well researched and insightful publIcation . . . This book will help everyone contemplating a career in any of the many art forms and cultural support networks, to appreciate that its not an easy road, that there will be challenges, disappointments, limited budgets, rejections, lack of community support and opportunities – just to mention a few.. But they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They need to build on the foundation set by the many dedicated artists and artisans before them, and capitalise on every opportunity that presents itself or is even self created, regardless of how small it appears on the surface. Effort always pays dividends.

“Just thinking….. What the book highlighted in my mind, amongst other things, was how the Aboriginal community and also the European/Asian Migrant population, the New Australians, were basically told to bury their identity or ‘shut up and fit in..’  Art gave them their voice back, and helped them research and regain their identity as individuals worthy of dignity and respect. Its a voice we cannot afford to lose.

“As the powers-that-be continually implement and endorse the time tested quality of not listening to the general populace, this may end up being the only voice we have.”

In officially launching Blacktown Studio Artists Collective exhibition Blank Slate, I gave each of the artists a copy of Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney to thank them for their inspiration to the rest of us and to let them see themselves as part of a rich continuum of creative arts development in western Sydney. They work in a wide range of media to give expression to their ideas. Blank Slate continues at Blacktown Visitor Information and Heritage Centre in the original Blacktown Primary School, Civic Plaza, Flushcombe Rd, Blacktown, (across from Blacktown Library), until January 28, 2017. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 3pm.

It’s a pleasure to know that Ian Zammit and Natalie Wadwell are looking forward as much as I am to getting together again early next year. All good wishes in the meantime.

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Could this be Penrith’s creative hub for the future?

Breuer Building - Penrith 1Local artists and theatre makers are holding their collective breath that an appropriate buyer might purchase a building currently on the market in Penrith. For some years they have been seeking a suitable space as an arts and cultural hub, where people can work together to create events and products, to teach and learn from each other and to provide a flourishing centre of inspiration for the entire community. The building is the only one in Australia designed by modernist architect Marcel Breuer, whose most famous work is the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. It was one of several around the world originally designed for the Torin Corporation, manufacturers of air moving equipment. The building was designed in collaboration with architect Harry Seidler and landscape architect Bruce Rickard. It was completed in 1976 and state heritage listed in 2009.

The BreueBreuer Building - Penrith 2r building is located in Coombes Drive just off Coreen Avenue.  Photos of the building by Max Dupain were published in Architecture Australia, Vol. 66, No. 3 in July 1977. On Facebook Billy Gruner has posted some of the photos, see left and below. He asks “Should this be the new centre for Art, Culture and Design in the West? The fabulous Marcel Breuer building is for sale in Penrith. This building needs to be lobbied as the location of a Centre of Contemporary Arts and Culture in the West. Penrith Breuer Building - Penrith 3set on the river at the foot of the Blue Mountains already houses the Western Sydney University, TAFE, a major hospital and medical centres. Many would like to see this national treasure  turned into a community asset. Please pass this on to friends and associates.” On Theatre Links in the West, Ian Zammit says, “This could be a game changer for our city and our cultural life.”

Penrith was the first local government in western Sydney to provide a home for the region’s first professional theatre company, Q Theatre, in 1977. It opened a regional art gallery in 1981 in association with the Lewers Bequest, and launched The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in 1990. The Joan, as it became known, also incorporated the Penrith Conservatorium of Music.

While these spaces are greatly appreciated and well used, they are too costly and inappropriate for the messy activities and experimentation that can produce the completed works for presentation in these other facilities. The Breuer building looks like a perfect solution. What do you think?

An enterprising thrust in the search for creative space

1-Theatre Links #15Looking for creative space that won’t cost a fortune? Join the queue. Despite big distances that challenge getting together across the region, there is actually a shortage of space. That is, easily accessible, low cost space available for community creativity, experimentation and the chance to fail as well as succeed. At the February Theatre Links in the West meeting in Penrith, above, and then in March, the issue of space was under discussion. Where is there a Penrith venue to host regular play readings, performances of short plays, somewhere to allow testing and development for writing and performance?

It’s the same issue in Blacktown, Campbelltown and many other communities across western Sydney. The established arts centres are very valuable, but the demand for their spaces is strong and hiring charges can be prohibitive for small groups. The cost of public liability insurance can be another barrier. Theatre Links itself meets at San Churro cafe in Penrith led by director and producer Ian Zammit, above right. Blacktown playwright and drama tutor Rob Escott, second from left, has temporarily solved his space problem by conducting activities at home.

WestWords seminar 0216Space was certainly an issue on the minds of participants in WestWordsWriting the West: Future Directions for Western Sydney’s Literary Culture, a seminar and workshop, held at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre on February 4th, left. The first priority to emerge from the event was strategic partnerships with other groups seeking similar resources and services. This led naturally to the second priority – a creativity centre or hub with the capacity to co-ordinate ‘writing mentors’ at satellite sites across western Sydney and to host writers in residence – among other roles.

Someone who has been pursuing solutions to the need of creative space in the Campbelltown area is Natalie Wadwell, third from left, front row, below. She successfully applied to the School for Social Entrepreneurs for training to assist her in establishing The Access Point – an independent art space particularly tailored for the western Sydney community. The Access Point, she says, “will operate at the intersection of community, culture and business; contributing to the region’s capacity to prosper culturally and economically. Investing in this venture means: community activation, artistic innovation and meaningful social collaboration.”

Natalie Wadwell - Social EntrepreneursThe School for Social Entrepreneurs was clearly impressed by her application. Natalie is thrilled with her experience. “I’ve just finished the first block of SSE and had to share with you how amazing the cohort is! They are tackling a range of issues, with three of us focusing on some form of the arts which is great. The commitment and dedication from the SSE team to deliver this opportunity to young people in Western Sydney is nothing short of remarkable. They genuinely care and are invested in us. The cohort is a sample of the diversity of young people in western Sydney. Their ideas and drive to promote social change in the region is inspiring to be around and I cannot wait for the next 4 months as we develop our ventures.” Natalie has been matched with a “fantastic” mentor from an established law firm.

She is keen to start building the network of people who share the same interest and invites you to contact her. Click here.

The School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia nurtures those in our community that see big opportunities where others see big problems – social entrepreneurs drive local actions to meet local challenges. SSE is about helping communities to help themselves.“ – Emily Fuller, Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation

SSE Australia was founded in 2009 by Social Ventures Australia, SSE UK, and serial social entrepreneur Steve Lawrence AO.

Dedicated individuals work with local focus, but global influence

Randa SayedAround the region, inspired individuals commit themselves to improving their skills, deepening their understanding of their art and sharing their observations and experiences. It’s a major challenge where distance isolates people from face to face contact with each other. One of those who has been on this trajectory for more than a decade is Aanisa Vylet, left. Finding herself in the last intake of students for Theatre Nepean (University of Western Sydney) in 2006, her initial disappointment became the tool that turned frustration into determination that she was going to pursue an acting career, no matter what.

Aanisa has become an independent actor, writer, director and filmmaker. She is passionate about creating new Australian work and draws extensively on her own experience and observations. After an initial foray in 2011, she undertook the professional course at the Jacques Lecoq School Of Movement and Theatre in Paris in 2014. Most recently, she has created Experience and The Girl and has performed it with Brigitta Brown. It has received rave reviews at Adelaide Fringe Festival, where it continues until February 28. Simultaneous to developing her solo careeer, Aanisa maintains a special commitment to Western Sydney where she has worked on several projects.

At Penrith, it is a similar story for Ian Zammit, below – of pursuing international training and a professional career, while maintaining a commitment to his home town. Ian established Theatre Links in the West, two years ago, with the aim of bringing together professionally-minded theatre arts practitioners and supporters of all levels of experience in western Sydney. After co-founding and operating Emu Heights Theatre Company for five years, directing a Ian Zammitseries of well reviewed productions and working with local schools, he was forced to acknowledge that to continue independently needed greater structural support. Theatre Links is the first step in that process and recent meetings have led to constructive discussions about issues that affect small productions, and the need for readings and critical support for new play writing. Ian is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Music and has a BA Hons in Drama and Theatre Studies from Middlesex University in the UK. Once he returned from the UK, he spent more than five years working at Carriageworks, Redfern, while he and his wife Michelle worked with others to establish Emu Heights Theatre Company.

Natalie Wadwell - with-roy-jacksons-blocking-out-west 1975At Campbelltown, in the south west, another person with a deep commitment to her neighbourhood and a passion for meaningful creative activity is Natalie Wadwell, right, (in front of Roy Jackson’s Blocking Out West, 1975). In growing up in the Campbelltown area, she experienced the difficulties common to many young people with limited access to entertainment and opportunities in the region’s sprawling suburbs. Once she reached the age of 18, there were not the local venues and events attractive to her age group and access to others further afield was restrictive. Natalie took a pro-active approach and began volunteering and seeking mentorship opportunities with creative venues like Campbelltown Arts Centre, 107 Projects in Redfern and Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art to analyse and develop some alternative approaches. This led her to undertake a BA Hons in art theory and history at UNSW, which earned her first class honours last year.

Wadwell Initiatives logoThrough all this, she has become a cultural researcher and critic, a project director and a passionate advocate for creative initiatives that emerge from within communities. Natalie has developed the Wadwell Initiatives website to promote her ideas and community partnerships, and a blog which discusses many of these. Recently she posted: “For all the times I have written about or spoken on panels about the need to make participation more accessible, it is both exciting and overwhelming to see it finally coming to fruition. If anything meaningful is going to happen, it needs to come from small businesses and entrepreneurs operating independent of cultural policy and in tune to local relevance.”

Among other things, Natalie was referring to Live‘n’Lounging, a not–for-profit house/garden gig series supporting Australian singer-songwriters and bands. The shows have been running in a private home in the Macarthur region (an area which includes Campbelltown, Camden and Wollondilly Councils) for four and a half years, with opportunities to expand the popular program emerging. She also said, “Campbelltown is gearing up for its first independent Wadwell - Creative Arts Festivalcreative arts festival. Organised by Brian Laul of the Wizard of Oz Playland (Leumeah) this festival seeks to create an opportunity for Campbelltown’s creative community to have a presence. Laul has experience working in journalism, music and theatre. He is currently taking expressions of interest from creative practitioners – be that dance, theatre, visual arts or film to name but a few – to participate in this independently funded and run event. It is anticipated that the festival will take place in September/October 2016. The only guidelines for EOI are quality and 100% independent. The festival, as I imagine it, will open up opportunities for local creatives to participate in and be more visible in the Campbelltown area. Locals can send their EOI to Brian on info@thewizardofozfunland.com.”

Natalie feels optimistic about the burgeoning independent sector in Macarthur and ends her post by saying, “As always, take the local and make it global.”

Self help and mutual support are key components of region’s theatre development

1-Team Australia - PYT A wealth of activity in theatre making continues around the region. Two recent youth theatre productions have demonstrated the diversity of theatre making and the people involved in its creation in western Sydney. After 18 months of weekly workshops developing their self-devised show, Powerhouse Youth Theatre presented Team Australia: Stories from Fairfield, left, last month. After warnings that it was intimate, irreverent and deeply political, it seemed surprising that it wasn’t a more blatant political satire, given that “Team Australia” was a favourite slogan of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Maybe that was a benefit. That Prime Minister had only just lost power and the issues of concern to the young people involved were undoubtedly political in other ways – education, immigration, and the rights and opportunities for young women, among them. As with the problem of a simplistic slogan, Team Australia proved an unruly bunch, who never quite corresponded to the expectations of their trainers. An absorbing experience.

Outsiders - Johnny - Ivan HuiThen Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (CPAC) Youth Theatre, presented their western Sydney adaptation of the 1967 American novel by S E Hinton The Outsiders. It was an ambitious undertaking involving a cast and production team of 60 and engaging local talent and others from metropolitan Sydney, all between the ages of 15 and 25. The Outsiders was the Youth Theatre’s contribution to CPAC’s 21st birthday celebrations and a substantial achievement. Some of the core performers already have fine acting credentials and there were some excellent performances. Perhaps the role that sticks most in my memory is that of Johnny, played by Ivan Hui, above. Ivan provided a convincing portrait of a vulnerable teenager who had been severely bullied, but whose loyalty and commitment to Ponyboy carries them both through dark times.

Outsiders - Ponyboy - Sam NasserPonyboy himself, played by Sam Nasser from Sir Joseph Banks High School, was very credible as a 14 year old with an unusual interest in literature and a flair for keen observation and writing. It’s unfair to single out performers, but among the girls, Ariel Kozelj impressed with her independence and steady demeanor as Cherry, an “insider” who had witnessed the conflict at the centre of the drama.

CPAC Youth Theatre also fosters a close relationship with a specialist school for local students. Campbell House School is a school for specific purposes at Glenfield, which is preparing for their first creative arts festival. CPAC Youth Theatre arranged a fundraising screening of the classic film The Outsiders, with the support of Westfield and Event Cinemas, Liverpool, with proceeds to the school to develop the festival.

Emu Heights TC moves out 1015In the Penrith area Nepean Creative and Performing Arts High School at Emu Plains has been the beneficiary of another local theatre company. Emu Heights Theatre Company is steadily dismantling after five years of a successful program of public productions and workshops tailored for schools. Director Ian Zammit posted photos, left, to EHTC’s Facebook page of the bump-out and farewell to sets and props from Penrith Lock-Up Storage, on Saturday, October 31. He says, “Thankfully we were able to send all our set-pieces and materials to people who will get the most out of it. We are delighted that the legacy of Emu Heights Theatre will continue with bright young creatives in the region: we wish the students and teachers at Nepean many years of usage out of them!”

1-Theatre Links #11Ian is also the founder and administrator of Theatre Links in the West. It is open to professionally-minded theatre arts practitioners and supporters of all levels of experience, based in or working from Western Sydney. From the November meeting, he reported, “Electric discussion on the topic of leadership, with several local & freelance performing artists attending, as well as representation for Nepean Creative and Performing Arts High School, Ruby Productions and the Acting Factory.”

Among the topics raised were:

• the need in wider western Sydney culture for our own theatre artists and stories, reflecting the most vibrant cultures from around the world, to be recognised as a vital force for social cohesion and change
• a need for a local theatre hub / venue for networking that also provides access and support for local theatre-makers and companies
• tertiary education for theatre professionals in western Sydney, given growing performing arts school student populations
• more robust and connected career path advice and leadership for theatre arts in primary and secondary schools

Q Lab 15 - Kay Armstrong - If We Are MadThe page also carries notice of Q Lab ’16, for which submissions close, November 20. During the first half of 2016 Q Theatre at Penrith will support four independent artists or groups of artists in the development of a new project. Right is Kay Armstrong, If We Are Mad, Q Lab ’15.

Finally, anyone interested in theatre making is invited to attend Theatre Links in the West’s final gathering for the year. It will be a relaxed and informal dinner at Michidora Korean BBQ Restaurant, Penrith, on Tuesday 1 December at 6.30-9 pm. Detail and bookings, click here.

Deloitte report debunks myths and urges arts investment in western Sydney economy

1-WESTIR map 2011A decision by the state government to relocate the Powerhouse Museum from the Sydney CBD to Parramatta is provoking controversy. There are those who say that Australia’s only Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences should remain on its present Darling Harbour site, where it is easily accessible. One commentator, who was involved in the establishment of the museum at Darling Harbour, describes Parramatta as being on the periphery of Sydney. In fact Parramatta is now recognised as the geographic and demographic centre of Sydney. People in the east still fail to understand the size and characteristics of Sydney’s western region. At its most expansive, the region encompasses 14 local government areas and almost 9,000 square kilometres. Outlined in black in the map above are the 14 local government areas, with the shaded area to the east (right), the rest of Sydney. It is reproduced with permission of WESTIR in my book, Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney.

Specious comments from Sydneysiders resisting the move include that people from western Sydney prefer coming to the CBD for the total experience of an outing. Others claim that people from the west are not interested anyway as attendance figures attest, they don’t want to pay and they have other priorities. A report released shortly before the state election debunks these myths. You only have to look at the map to realise that distance, and therefore travel cost, are the major issues preventing access to Sydney CBD from the west. The DeloittThe Joan PAC - Penrithe report was jointly commissioned by the Sydney Business Chamber – Western Sydney and the regional river cities of Parramatta, Penrith and Liverpool, with statistical input from other councils, including Blacktown and Campbelltown. Right, Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre (The Joan), Penrith – photo, Penrith Council.

Instead of arguing for social equity in funding, the Deloitte report Building Western Sydney’s Cultural Arts Economy – a key to Sydney’s success argues that greater investment in cultural arts in western Sydney creates opportunities for the government to deliver jobs, investment and social outcomes for the region. The executive summary highlights the grossly inequitable funding to cultural arts in western Sydney, which was first highlighted in 1985 in a report by Fairfield Council. The Deloitte report states, “Today western Sydney represents 1 in 10 Australians yet attracts only 1% of Commonwealth arts program funding, and 5.5% of the state’s cultural arts, heritage and events funding” – despite having 30% of NSW’s population. It defines the first factor driving demand for cultural arts in western Sydney as the region’s population.

Casula Powerhouse - L'pool Council“In 2011 western Sydney’s population was 2.03 million, compared to 2.3 million for eastern Sydney. By 2031 western Sydney’s population will reach 2.9 million, overtaking eastern Sydney’s.”  The report discusses culture exclusively in terms of venues and events, but says “the arts however play a unique and central role in cultures development and expression.” Other factors are the gradual transformation of the population to white collar occupations, tertiary educated and a surplus of high value, creative and cultural workers. It states that the cultural and creative economy is a significant contributor to Australia’s economy – contributing a similar gross value as health care and social assistance. Above left, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre – photo Liverpool Council.

The report argues that additional government investment in western Sydney cultural arts venues and events would provide far greater return on investment than other options. Current urban renewal programs in its identified regional cities provide an opportunity for governments to leverage other economic advantages. It cites international examples of such leverage in successful cultural arts precincts in Newark, New Jersey, Brooklyn in New York and Shanghai in China. It notes that NSW’s overall attendance at cultural venues and events is the lowest in Australia and suggests that cultural arts development in western Sydney is already driving attendance growth in NSW.

Riverside Theatres - ParramattaRecommendations in the report include a commitment of $300 million infrastructure funding over five years to 2020, doubled program funding, relocation of the Powerhouse Museum to western Sydney, the development of a western Sydney cultural arts advisory group, greater coordination between western Sydney councils and “That the state government develops a long term western Sydney cultural arts infrastructure and industry development strategy.” Above, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta – photo Arts NSW.

Among other recommendations are that the Australian Film, Television School and Radio School, along with the National Art School be relocated to the region and that the University of Western Sydney develops new programs to deliver vital tertiary training. Since the closure of UWS Theatre Nepean in 2006, the tertiary education pathways for the cultural and creative arts have been severely constrained.

Right now, there is an example of a talented and well organised group in the Penrith area  facing closure as a result of inadequate funding and resources. Emu Heights Theatre Company is a professional theatre company that has operated successfully for five years. Co-founded by Michele and Ian Zammit, the company’s first production was The Shoe-Horn Sonata by John Misto, the story of two women who were prisoners of war of the Japanese, who meet again 50 years later. It is the production which is now ending the present incarnation of the company and is timely for the 100 year commemoration of the ANZAC landing and the outbreak of the World War I. It is also a fine production, gently nuanced, humorous and deeply moving.

JSPAC 25 years 2In the five years, EHTC has presented seven productions at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, and three sets of Shakespeare seminars taken to schools around western Sydney. It has worked with scores of talented professional artists and engaged the interest of more than 5000 students and their teachers. Public audiences have been growing. The company believes “that theatre is a means for connection and force for change, and Penrith deserves its own theatre company to share these stories with its community. There is also a sense of frustration: we want to continue! We have learned after five years the ins and outs of what it takes to run an independent theatre company, and we now understand we do not have the funds, resource, nor the personnel and business expertise to do so.” Above, at The Joan, artistic director Ian Zammit with his two leading ladies from The Shoe-Horn Sonata, Annette Emerton, left, and Diana Jeffrey.

Give yourself the pleasure of attending the show before it finishes on May 2 and expand your appreciation of the story by participating in a Q&A session with actors and director at the end of each performance. Click here for bookings. You also have the opportunity to be part of creating a new vision and future for the company. Contact Ian Zammit.

The Merchant of Venice

From Ian Zammit, artistic director Emu Heights Theatre Company:

It’s done! “The Merchant of Venice” has wrapped with an ovation- inducing performance last Saturday night.
Wonderful reviews are being received for the for the production – including this wonderful reflection from Sam Schroder, Head Teacher of English at Bossley Park High School. Read and relive “Merchant” brought to the Joan this year.

Merchant - court scene

audiencewithsam

I have read, taught, and marked HSC responses to William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, but I have never seen it performed.

Last week I received a lovely email from Emu Heights Theatre Company, offering me two free tickets to see their production. I jumped at the chance as there were tickets available on one of our very rare, free Saturday nights.

And so, last night, we found ourselves in the third row (!!!) in fantastic seats, in my first ever experience of being ‘comped’ for a show.

The Merchant of Venice is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s comedies, but it is often talked about, at least in my teacher circles, as being more of a tragedy, courtesy of Shylock’s ‘hath not a Jew’ soliloquy. However, both the Director, Ian Zammit’s notes, and my actual audience experience last night, proved the comedy claim correct. There were many, many laugh out loud moments. This was a clear intention by…

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