Melbourne Theatre Company 2013 Season
Founded in 1953, the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) is the oldest professional theatre company in Australia and one of the most vital institutions to this city's artistic heartbeat. Approaching its Diamond Jubilee in 2013, and while constantly evolving, progressing and revolutionising both Melbourne and Australian theatre, the Company still holds its treasured mission foremost, "to produce classic and contemporary Australian and international theatre with style, passion and world class artistic excellence in order to entertain, challenge and enrich audiences in Melbourne, Victoria and Australia."
"Theatre is where I came from," notes new Artistic Director Brett Sheehy. The 2013 season will mark his first with the MTC following his succession of Simon Phillips, and while Sheehy's recent history is deeply embedded in festival territory, following roles as Artistic Director of the Adelaide Festival, Festival Director and Chief Executive of Sydney Festival and his current role as Artistic Director of Melbourne Festival, he shares that theatre is his first and most cherished love.
"I studied at University, even though I never obtained a degree. I stuck it out there for eight years and dropped out three times," he laughs. "But obviously in that time I got to study a lot of stuff, and one of the things I loved was when I took English Literature and I focused on dramatic text. Not performance, but just dramatic language. That was my great love, dramatic writing. I moved to Sydney in 1983 and I started reviewing for a street paper called On The Street, it wasn't very lucrative but I just loved theatre," he continues.
"Then a job came up at the Wolf Theatre as an usher and I just thought 'How cool, I'll get to see every show,' seeing as I had very little money. Then a full-time job as a gofer came up for the directors at the Sydney Theatre Company and I just grabbed it. I was at the Sydney Theatre Company for 15 years and I just loved it. The reason that I went over to festival land was really just to try something new. But theatre's really where I come from and what I love, so I'm really happy to be going back to it."
Unveiled last Thursday, Sheehy's inaugural season will feature the world premieres of Joanna Murray-Smith's True Minds, Simon Stone's The Cherry Orchard and David Williamson's Rupert, the Australian premieres of Nick Payne's Constellations, Sharr White's The Other Place, Jon Robin Baitz' Other Desert Cities, Lara Foot's Solomon And Marion and Katori Hall's The Mountaintop alongside a banquet of other nationally and internationally revered plays including One Man, Two Guvnors and highly anticipated adaption of Arthur Miller's classic The Crucible.
"I went a different way around from what my experiences are of how Artistic Directors put a season together," shares Sheehy. "That was not reading 500 plays and saying 'these are the 12, now we need to find a director, we've got to find actors, we've got to find whatever.' Given the need in any artistic pursuit for it to succeed it needs to be born of absolute committed passion I thought, 'Why not see what the theatre-makers are passionate about?' I was able to go to Simon Stone, Jacki Weaver, Sam Strong and David Williamson and say 'Forget everything about what you think MTC wants or their audiences want, what do you in your heart of hearts most want to do?'
"That's what drove the selection of 80% of the work in the season. It was really selected by the artists themselves. I have to believe that we're already a third of the way there, to a production being a great success, if the lead director, writer or performer would kill to do what's on stage. That has to be better than just picking a script and flogging it around the nation."
Another landmark innovation of the 2013 season will be Zeitgeist. In an audacious move Sheehy has decided to leave one slot, the final, of the performance calendar unfilled. "One thing that's always troubled me, even back when I was at Sydney Theatre Company, was that when we were launching seasons it'd usually be four to six months before the first play and then eighteen months before the last and in that you'd commit every single space for art-making," he details carefully.
"Therefore there was no capacity to respond to anything new for one and a half years. So if tomorrow one of our commissioned writers comes and says 'Brett, that's the play,' and I read it and it's pure gold I have to say, 'Well for one and a half years that can never be seen by anyone in the country,' and that's madness to me.
"I understand why - in terms of subscription and marketing we have to go out this early, and every subscription company in the nation whether it's opera, orchestra or theatre company does it, but I just wondered if we could leave a big space like the Sumner [Theatre] open. If we could leave the last slot of the year open in case something extraordinary comes along. And I know something will. Every single day we get new submissions or hear of plays overseas. It's giving us that chance to remain open to respond with a level of immediacy if something amazing comes up."
The 2013 season, which will also feature the Neon festival of independent theatre, the renaming of the MTC Theatre to Southbank Theatre, amongst a host of the other specialised programs and initiatives, will undoubtedly embed Sheehy's brilliant vision into the artistic world of Melbourne. But he's already looking towards the legacy that he can leave through his work at the helm.
"When I leave, I hope that Melbourne – and by this I mean the entire four million citizens – feel that this is their theatre company, that they're invited to be a part of it and that we're presenting the kind of work that could appeal to each and every one of them in some way," he notes. “I hope that when I leave that the definition of the work that a state theatre company does has expanded and I hope there is an understanding of what great theatre is, and that it isn't just a dramatic play on stage. I hope that the broad artistic community feels that this is their home."
BY TYSON WRAY
For the full season highlights and further information head to mtc.com.au. The season begins on Saturday January 26, 2013, with The Other Place at the Arts Centre's Playhouse.