OLD FITZ THEATRE REVEALS 2018 SEASON FEATURING WORLD PREMIERES & MAJOR INTERNATIONAL HITS
By Ben Neutze - September 25, 2017
To make great theatre, it’s essential that artists and artistic leaders are able to dream big. But just how big can you dream when you’re Artistic Director of a small theatre in the basement of a Woolloomooloo pub that seats just 60 audience members?
In Andrew Henry’s case, that restriction simply can’t be an impediment to artistic ambition.
“One of the great acting rules I was taught by Amy Morton at Steppenwolf is that complaining is illegal on stage,” Henry says. “So although 60 seats isn’t enough, I’m not complaining about it but embracing the 60 seats.”
Henry has now been Artistic Director of the beloved Old Fitz Theatre for almost three years, working with Executive Producer Vanessa Wright as part of Red Line Productions. The company manages the theatre, producing its own shows and working with other independent producers.
Its achievements over the last three years are particularly impressive: the theatre has received awards and countless rave reviews, premiered a new play by playwriting legend Louis Nowra, and had the local premieres of some significant international works. It’s transformed into arguably Sydney’s most influential independent theatre venue and a breeding ground for creative talent.
But the company’s 2018 season could represent a significant step forward, with Henry seeking a “disruption” of audience’s expectations, and to expand the world of the theatre.
“Up until this point, we’ve done everything on a very contained level,” he says. “A lot of people in living rooms dealing with very domestic stuff — that of course has larger world repercussions — but I really wanted to disrupt what people associate with what we do and make things a lot more theatrical.”
Next year will see multiple world premieres as well as the Sydney premieres of some major international hits, including last year’s Tony Award-winner for Best Play, The Humans, and one of the finalists for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama, The Wolves.
Securing the local premieres for both of those plays is a significant coup for a smaller theatre. Henry says although there’s sometimes some mourning that certain plays don’t receive their Australian premieres in bigger productions, they’re safe at the Old Fitz.
“We’re very lucky to have great relationships with the big American agencies and the big British agencies,” he says. “There was a bit of understanding that needed to be learned over the last few years that this 60-seat theatre, in terms of the integrity of the work, is going to get as good a run as any other theatre. The writers have found trust with us, and we’ve had great correspondence with those international writers.”
Two of next year’s major international hits will both be directed by artists with postings at Sydney’s two biggest theatres: Belvoir’s Literary Manager, Anthea Williams, will direct The Humans and Sydney Theatre Company’s Richard Wherrett Fellow, Jessica Arthur, will direct The Wolves.
According to Henry, this relationship between the independent and main stage theatre sectors is important to foster, both for the health of Australian theatre as a whole, and for opportunities from the Old Fitz to reach bigger audiences.
“I really see us as a birthing place, to have the same relationship with the major theatre companies as theatres in Toronto have with Broadway. This is a place where we can make a work, do it, smash it, and then a brilliant product can be bought by other companies.”
One of the projects he hopes may will have a life beyond the Old Fitz is Louis Nowra’s musical Sherlock and Me. It’s the first musical Henry has produced at the Old Fitz.
“I don’t think Louis would mind me saying this, but at the end of the day he can pretend whatever he wants, but he just loves a song and a dance,” Henry says. “We’ve spent about two years talking about how great the one-man version of Camelot would be at the Old Fitz. It’s obviously not going to happen, but we talk about a lot of musicals.”
Sherlock and Me is a classic buddy comedy with a distinctively Australian voice, set in Texas, Queensland, during the floods. The music, composed by Stewart D’Arrietta, is currently being workshopped.
“It’s written with the affection that makes Louis one of our greatest playwrights — he writes with such affection on outsiders, and that’s the world he’s always been fascinated with. And people tap-dancing on corrugated iron sounds fabulous to me.”
It’s not the first time the Old Fitz has staged a musical, with Tim Minchin and Toby Schmitz trying their hand at the genre for the first time back in 2004 with This Blasted Earth.
One of the stars of that production, Blazey Best, is returning to the Old Fitz next year in a rather different role. Best is known as an actor, but she’ll be stretching a different muscle by directing the premiere of Steve Rodgers’ play King of Pigs.
Henry was aware of the play’s reputation after it was read at last year’s National Play Festival. When Rodgers called to ask if the Old Fitz would be interested much premiering the play, Henry jumped at the opportunity.
“Stevie talks really passionately about the world that he sees for his young kids — the difference between his young boy and his young girl — and the different ways in which he sees his young girl growing up in a world of objectification.”
The play unfolds in four separate domestic settings and looks at power and gender.
One of Henry’s most significant ambitions for the year ahead is to see the company’s audience expand and broaden out. He believes the plays and artists selected should help the company to reach newcomers.
“We’re trying to get a much larger base to feel welcome and included in the community we’ve built,” he says. “It’s not so much about needing more numbers — we’re selling so well that’s not an issue — but I want to open it up so that those 60 seats have many more new faces in them.”
Part of that mission is personal for Henry, who grew up in Lithgow and moved to Sydney at a young age to become an actor. He’s acutely aware that many people don’t feel welcome in any theatre, but hopes that the Old Fitz, with its friendly pub vibe, can offer something less elitist.
“My dad’s a truck driver and I never want my dad to feel stupid at theatre, because it’s what I’ve decided to do with my life. But I think sometimes it’s very easy to do.
“Theatre can be for everyone, but everyone needs to take it back. We need to be a gateway drug that gets people hooked on an artform they never thought they would.”
OLD FITZ SEASON 2018
THERE WILL BE A CLIMAX
By Alex Berlage and the company
Directed by Alex Berlage
This boldly theatrical work — featuring a custom-built revolve — premiered at NIDA in late 2016, and will be brought in to the Old Fitz with original cast members.
January 9 to February 3
By Mary Zimmerman
Directed by Dino Dimitriadis
Director Dino Dimitriadis presents a re-imagining of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses for the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. The play is adapted from Ovid’s poem of the same name, and premiered in 1996 before making it to Broadway in 2002.
February 8 to March 10
By Sarah DeLappe
Directed by Jessica Arthur
The Wolves was a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and follows an all-girls indoor soccer team. Director Jessica Arthur is currently a resident artist at Sydney Theatre Company.
March 14 to April 14
By Lucy Prebble
Directed by Andrew Henry
Lucy Prebble’s 2012 international hit The Effect is a romance following two young people involved in a drug trial. It raises questions about the limits of medicine and love, and has previously played a season at Sydney Theatre Company.
April 18 to May 19
STALKING THE BOGEYMAN
By Markus Potter and David Holthouse
Directed by Neil Gooding
Stalking the Bogeyman will have its Australian premiere at the Old Fitz, and is a true story about a man’s quest for vengeance, 25 years after being sexually assaulted. The story has previously been featured on radio show This American Life.
May 23 to June 23
PERMISSION TO SPIN
By Mary Rachel Brown
Mary Rachel Brown’s new play will have its world premiere at the Old Fitz. It concerns a failed rock-star turned children’s entertainer who sets out on a moral quest, and was described by Catherine Coray, director of hotINK Play Festival in New York, as “a cross between Death and the Maiden and Spinal Tap”.
June 27 to July 28
KING OF PIGS
By Steve Rodgers
Directed by Blazey Best
Steve Rodgers’ King of Pigs was developed by Playwriting Australia and given a staged reading at last year’s National Play Festival, where it received an enormously enthusiastic response. The play takes place across four different domestic worlds and explores how men gain and abuse power.
August 1 to September 1
By Stephen Karam
Directed by Anthea Williams
The Humans is one of the biggest hit plays to premiere in New York recently, and last year won the Tony Award for Best Play. It will have its Sydney premiere at the Old Fitz, directed by Belvoir’s Literary Manager Anthea Williams, who recently directed a hit production of Taylor Mac’s Hir.
September 5 to October 6
SHERLOCK AND ME
By Louis Nowra and Stewart D’Arietta
Louis Nowra will premiere his new musical in October, set in Texas, Queensland during a flood. It tells of a conflict between two Sherlock Holmes obsessives, trapped together in unlikely circumstances.
October 9 to November 10
By Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Claudia Barrie
American playwright Sarah Ruhl’s 2003 play Eurydice reimagines the Orpheus myth from the perspective of its heroine. This production, directed by Claudia Barrie (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Dry Land) marks the play’s Sydney premiere.
November 14 to December 15