Anthea Williams, Associate Director-Literary at the Belvoir Street Theatre in Sydney, writes about the company’s 2015 season, which is full new and innovative writing.
In late 2009, I was working at the Bush Theatre in London when Ralph Myers came to visit me to discuss how the Bush developed writers and new plays. It was one of those moments when the world felt very small. I went to UNSW in Sydney and vaguely knew Ralph at the time. He designed a friend’s B Sharp show at Belvoir’s downstairs theatre, and went to Newtown High with my best friend. Now, I was an associate at the Bush, and he was about to take over as Artistic Director at my favorite theatre company, Belvoir, in Sydney. We spent a few hours discussing writers and development. Our track record at the Bush was pretty stellar; during my time there, James Graham, Nick Payne, Penelope Skinner, Alexi Kay Campbell, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Jack Thorne, and Lucy Kirkwood all had work developed and shows produced, among others.
Then Ralph told me of his plans for Belvoir, a focus on Australian theatremakers: radical adaptations of classics and only new plays by local writers. Furthermore, Belvoir Street Theatre had an 83 seat venue Downstairs that had been housing a curated but independent season. Much of the work was innovative, but artists weren’t paid Equity rates and the company’s control of who was developed there was limited. The plan was to produce work in this space to develop artists for Belvoir’s mainstage. I was convinced; this was a mainstage company that was ensuring it had the facility to develop new voices. In early 2011, I left The Bush to join the Artistic and Programming team at Belvoir.
Cut to 2014, we’ve just launched our 2015 season, and I’m a bit proud of myself I have to confess. There’s more new work in this Upstairs season than ever before. The plays are excellent – inventive, important, captivating works; great craft and innovative theatre-making. None of these writers have ever had a show in our mainstage space before, but much as this season is exciting and unique, it’s really no surprise that this has been programmed.
Over the last four years, we’ve brought writers into Belvoir and developed their work in a number of ways. We’ve had six writers-in-residence and commissioned a large number of playwrights. I’ve set up a co-commission program with the University of Wollongong and The Balnaves Foundation Indigenous Playwright’s award has granted an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander writer a commission each year. Important as well is our fabulous Downstairs Theatre; 83 seats and permission to experiment. Every one of our playwrights with a show on Upstairs has had work on in our smaller space in the last few years. They know the audience and theatre-makers on staff, they know this beautiful space, and they know that at this company we’re artist lead, and we want the best and most innovative work, and we’ll help writers make that.
Our first new work next year is Nakkiah Lui’s Kill the Messengers. She’s a true black maverick writing with great heart and wit about institutionalized racism in Australia as she re-thinks what black theatre in this country could be. (I’m directing, I’m thrilled.) Matthew Whittet has written a beautiful tale of a group of young people on the cusp of adulthood making great decisions in their lives called Seventeen. It’s been specifically written for our country’s great senior actors, all in their sixties and seventies. Mortality, heartbreak, bravery, the big decisions of life – and pashing. And finally, Angela Betzien’s Mortido, a crime drama, revenge tragedy, and morality play all rolled into one. And of course, there are radical takes on some of the best classics with the country’s best writers working with each director on the adaptation. Downstairs, as usual, we’re taking courageous risks with a mix of radical theatre-making and new writing. Take a look at our website.
I’m thrilled with the season. It feels like we are reaping the rewards of several years’ development and experimentation. We took a leap of faith by backing new writers, giving them space, time, and development, and in return, they have become contemporary, innovative and mainstage voices. I don’t believe our 2015 season will be an exception. This year we had other new works we would have produced had we had the resources, and there are other great works currently in development. The plan works.
Anthea Williams is Belvoir’s Associate Director – Literary. For Belvoir, she has directed Forget Me Not (Tom Holloway) and Old Man (Matthew Whittet) and been dramaturg for This Heaven (Nakkiah Lui) and Small and Tired (Kit Brookman). Her work has toured Britain extensively at places including The Drum Theatre Plymouth, The Ustinov Bath, and the Latitude Festival.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.