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.


Passion for theatre finds focus in Penrith

Ian ZammitThere’s energy and enterprise aplenty when theatre makers get together at Theatre Links, in Penrith, on the first Tuesday of every month. Initiated by Ian Zammit, left, of Emu Heights Theatre Company, Theatre Links gives western Sydney theatre people the chance to swap notes about productions, auditions and professional development opportunities. The atmosphere is totally informal and intended to provide simple face to face networking, which can produce some very fruitful connections.

Ian’s mild and unassuming manner belies a passionate commitment to theatre and his local community. He 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 from 2007 to 2012 had a key development role at Carriageworks arts centre in Redfern. At that point he took a gamble on working full time to develop Emu Heights 1-The Crucible - Emu Heights TC 2013Theatre Company with a group of local artists, teachers and business people. They are all committed to delivering high quality theatre experience to local students and the community and to developing a range of opportunities for them to become actively involved in creating their own theatrical expressions. Left is a scene from their 2013 production of The Crucible, presented at Penrith’s Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre.

Ian is inspired by the role of Q Theatre at Penrith, in the 1970s and 80s, when it was under the direction of Doreen Warburton. He is aware of the high quality of training and production offered by David Hollywood, when he ran his Blue Mountains company Out of the Blue in the early 2000s (see The Book). His vision finds support elsewhere in western Sydney, too. Sport for Jove‘s artistic and managing director, Damien Ryan says “Emu Heights Productions represent precisely the sort of the initiative this country and this region needs – home-grown, high-quality theatre drawn from and giving back to the local community too often starved of a representative voice that genuinely reflects their local space and culture, and access to classical theatre particularly”

Discus1-Theatre Links 0614sions at the June Theatre Links meeting, held 6pm at San Churro, Riley Street, Penrith, covered lots of ground including Emu Heights’ upcoming production of The Merchant of Venice, previous film work done by Leo Domigan for National Parks to introduce visitors to the convict built Great North Road, at Wisemans Ferry, and Steve Donelan’s role in Pygmalion, at Riverside Theatres. Freelancer David Attrill is working on an independent production based on one of Shakespeare’s most enduring characters and Sari Hickey is sharing her time between working for Henry Lawson Theatre and The Acting Factory. In the photo above, David Attrill, left, Leo Domigan, Katherine Knight, and Steve Donelan.

Theatre Links welcomes newcomers. The next meeting is Tuesday, July 1.