Theatre Spotlight: Ensemble Theatre Celebrates Its 60th Anniversary
Welcome to TodayTix Theatre Spotlight, where shine a light on the amazing theatre companies around the world who are creating and producing productions. We chat with founders and artistic directors of some of our amazing theatre partners to give you an inside look at how they do what they do.
This week, we’re featuring our colleagues at Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre, a not-for-profit organisation that focuses on giving voices to diverse stories through their annual season of plays by Australian and international playwrights. We spoke with them about some of the highlights and challenges from the company’s history and what you can do to support the arts industry right now.
When was your company founded and what is the origin story?
Founded in 1958, Ensemble Theatre recently celebrated its 60th anniversary and is the longest continuously running professional theatre in Australia.
What is the mission of your theatre?
Ensemble Theatre is a welcoming and inclusive theatre for everyone and gives voice to diverse stories by presenting an annual season of exceptional plays by Australian and international playwrights. Each year, we aim to create theatre that is accessible, enlightening, surprising, and above all entertaining. Ensemble Theatre presents theatre for everyone.
What have been some highlights of the theatrical productions you produced? What about these shows really stands out?
Ensemble Theatre has become synonymous with the legendary playwright David Williamson. Since 1995, Ensemble has staged 24 Williamson plays including 19 world premieres and produced 3 national tours. This year Crunch Time marked David Williamson’s final play before retirement.
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks starring Todd McKenney and Nancye Hayes was another sell-out success. The national tour won the Helpmann Award for Best Regional Touring Production and led to a reprisal on the Ensemble stage in 2016.
The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race, a new Australian work written by Melanie Tait and directed by Priscilla Jackman in 2019, was an Ensemble Theatre commission which sold out before opening. They will be back with another new play A Broadcast Coup coming soon.
What is one of the early hurdles you encountered as a theatre company, and how were you able to overcome it?
Sydney has a thriving arts community, so competition is fierce. Former Artistic Director Sandra Bates introduced the subscriptions model in the 1980s as a way of making the company more sustainable, and it was so successful that we now have the third-highest subscriber base amongst theatre companies in the country.
What is one of your favourite moments (either onstage or off) from your theatre’s history?
Under the leadership of current Artistic Director Mark Kilmurry, the 2020 season included an ambitious eight brand new Australian works.
Partnering with Sydney Festival for the first time, Black Cockatoo was a huge hit to start the year. This new play by Geoffrey Atherden and directed by Wesley Enoch was inspired by the culturally significant story of legendary First Nations cricketers Johnny Mullagh and Australia’s first sporting team to compete internationally.
We hope to be able to present the rest of the season very soon.
What do you hope audiences gain from the work you produce?
Ensemble Theatre is a significant influencer in the national performing arts sector presenting established classics and nurturing bold new Australian works. By collaborating with the best playwrights and creative talent to provide unique live theatre experiences Ensemble Theatre strives to stimulate conversations, reflect contemporary society, and trigger the imaginations of audiences across the country.
We understand that COVID-19 has severely impacted the arts community. How has this time allowed you to pivot creatively, and how can people support your theatre at this time?
Ensemble Theatre launched Ensemble Conversations to help people stay connected to the theatre during this period of isolation. Led by Artistic Director Mark Kilmurry, each week tune in on Facebook for Ensemble’s latest news and a glimpse behind the scenes.
Ensemble Conversations, produced in partnership with Damn Good Productions, features interviews with actors and creatives, exclusive scene reads, interactive Q&A sessions, and more. Beloved Australian actor and Ensemble Theatre Ambassador Georgie Parker kicked off the series which has also featured Todd McKenney, Sharon Millerchip, an exclusive excerpt from new play A Broadcast Coup by Melanie Tait and Sydney Festival Artistic Director Wesley Enoch joined Mark for National Reconciliation Week.
Also in the digital space, we’re working on ways to expand our online library of plays so in the future these can be available for a wider audience to enjoy.
Our production team have been (safely) giving backstage a welcome overhaul. Our Head Chef is looking at ways to be even more sustainable starting with our own herb garden and the creative cogs are always churning with planning well underway for an exciting 2021 season.
Ensemble Theatre is a not-for-profit organisation that operates without ongoing government funding. Now without the income from ticket sales, any support would be most welcome to help secure the future of the theatre. You can donate to Ensemble Theatre here.
Is there anything else we should know about your theatre?
Ensemble Theatre also houses Bayly’s Bistro, boasting stunning views across the harbour. With Head Chef Nathan Jackson at the helm, Bayly’s offers modern Australian fare with a classic European influence and an emphasis on local, seasonal, and thoughtfully sourced produce. It’s the ideal location for a delicious meal pre or post show. When the theatre re-opens Bayly’s Bistro will be back with a revamped menu and safety measures will be carefully implemented throughout the venue to ensure your comfort and well-being.