With optimism we opened our doors to a new year rejoicing in having audiences and our community back at The Street, filling our theatre foyer and cafe with intoxicating energy and life.
2021 proved to be far more difficult than the year COVID first hit Australia. We had a program packed with live comedy, music and theatre. From late May the year unravelled and uncertainty coloured everything with ongoing pandemic related disruptions. Border closures and restrictions forcing us to cancel or postpone, sadly including The Last Great Hunt’s New Owner, and re-schedule all remaining shows, many times. Doubt and insecurity impacted on the company as well as the health and wellbeing of artists and arts workers. Lockdown saw us remain flexible in working from home and strengthened our focus on support and investment in artists.
Our theatre may have been closed for months but there were still many great moments from the year to savour. With COVID-safe systems in place, we once again embraced artists with unexpected collaborations and mesmerising performances. Marking the essential nature of creative exchange there were so many riches in music-making from the award-winning session Ugly Beauty with the Wayne Kelly Trio to PhEno magic and Jack Biilmann deep song.
To see the decade-long journey of The Street recognised as the recipient of a 2020 Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award for Outstanding Achievement was a high point of 2021. This award belongs to all who have been a part of The Street endeavour. Who have shared our passion for our artists and Australian performance work that talks to the world; and, our commitment to Canberra’s professional performance community and diversity in works produced and presented at The Street. It is inspiring our company into the next phase of our work.
Play-making in 2021 got underway with Street grown and produced work Milk after 18 months heralding the return of live theatre produced by The Street and potent storytelling filled with drama, humour and the meaning of personal reconciliation.
We celebrated with Dylan Van Den Berg when he won the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting for Milk in the 2021 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. A significant career milestone, the work itself is a testament to the pursuit of truth in playwrighting. Accolades followed at the end of the year with Dylan receiving the ACT’s Helen Tsongas Award for Excellence and Milk being shortlisted for the 2022 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.
After 15 months since the world premiere of Peter Cook’s Breaking The Castle and tour postponements, we finally were able to send the visceral, fierce, and uplifting play to Victoria where it received enthusiastic audience and critical response at HotHouse Theatre. Our second World Premiere of the year was stopped in its tracks after four weeks in rehearsal with the set in and lighting and sound designs ready to transport audiences into the worlds of Twenty Minutes With The Devil by Luis Gómez Romero and Desmond Manderson. Playwrights, Director, Cast and Designers, all locked out of the theatre. In quarantine in Canberra, Luis never even made it to the rehearsal room. We moved the production to November continuing to rehearse via zoom but could not escape the inevitable and were forced to postpone the world premiere opening until 2022.
Artists gave us new stories with strength in words. The Street’s writing program was back for its 10th year with a livestreamed showing of Katie Pollock’s evocative People Inside Me, and a showing with cast via Zoom of David Atfield’s Eurovision queer story Just Wrong. Emerging playwright Rebecca Duke worked with a dramaturg Emilie Collyer and cast to progress her play Church Sweet Church.
In a partnership with Canberra Youth Theatre, I’ve Been Meaning to Ask You saw young Canberrans performing on our stage under the direction of award-winning performance collective The Good Room. A conversation across generations, I’ve Been Meaning to Ask You was an amazing personal journey for all, giving voice to young people of Canberra, asking the hard questions and with very clear themes emerging for adults and children alike.
Together Alone came to life on the wall and online with hyper-real images of a man wearing a blue surgical mask and holding a skull recalling Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and a mandala with theatre-inspired elements in a creative expression of the journey of theatre over this time of uncertainty.
Our artists and creatives continued to face turbulence in the arts with work lost, rescheduled or suspended and difficulty balancing life and work in their lives. We responded with a skills-based practice supported by ACT Health. Re-Storying: The Resilience Project, led by arts doula Zsuzsi Soboslay, embraced creativity and imagination and empowered participants to help themselves; redefining the currency and value of their work as artists. Curated by Abbey Dobson, @creativerestore was created as an online space for sharing, and inspiration, allowing artists a place of connection and exchange. For an entire industry plunged into lockdown, ACT artists welcomed this support and connection to help them begin to rebuild and rejuvenate their future practices.
Our Early Phase program supporting a collaborative concept development process continued into its second year with ongoing investment from The Street and donations from its Supporters. We welcomed four new artists in 2021 – Liam Budge, Emily Clark, Farnoush Parsiavashi and Maura Pierlot – selected to work within our company context to develop their exciting new ideas. 2020 artists Adam Broinowski and Dylan Van Den Berg progressed to stage two commissioning to write first drafts of their concept treatment. Assistance was given to Associate Artists Stefanie Lekkas and Anna Johnstone to develop Mud, a new physical theatre work for children with a showing to a handful of 4 – 7 year olds; and to CJ Bowerbird for development of his play Coward’s Punch. We moved forward with The Street Ahead commissions selecting Jess Green as composer for a new music theatre work.
As we end the year we are regrouping and rebuilding from the dramatic events of the last two years. We’re very grateful for your messages of support right through 2021. We hope you’re inspired by our year of highlights – and the work we did when the lights were on and off – and what lies ahead for theatre in the ACT.
By Dylan Van Den Berg
From First Seen to World Premiere in our theatre, The Street has worked with multi-award-winning Indigenous playwright Dylan Van Den Berg to bring Milk, his powerful story of reconciliation to the stage. Our first production of the year saw excited creatives gathered together in person to begin rehearsals to make the feels, looks and sounds of the playwright’s first professional production, Ngunnawal leader Selina Walker, the granddaughter of Ngunnawal Elder Aunty Agnes Shea, spoke of the importance of all of our roles in reconciliation, giving welcome to country and sending the company on its creative journey.
A story of longing, of connection and the ghosts of the past, Milk is a deeply personal story, which fiercely reverberates in a society disconnected from the wounds and concealed violence of our past. The premiere season during National Reconciliation Week featured a stellar Indigenous cast of award-winning actors Roxanne McDonald and Katie Beckett and the award-winning playwright Dylan Van Den Berg. The talented creative team led by director Gin Savage with designers Imogen Keen, Peter Bailey and Gerry Corcoran to illuminate a metaphysical Flinders Island.
Dylan Van Den Berg and Roxanne McDonald pictured above.
BREAKING THE CASTLE
By Peter Cook
A powerful story of redemption and rollercoaster ride into David’s world of alcohol, drugs, women, gambling and whatever it took to escape the bark of the black dog until he was given an unlikely lifeline, Breaking The Castle was first produced by The Street in 2020. Peter Cook’s play and performance, described by one Canberra critic as having the power to transform through its writing, acting, design and relationship with its audiences, was reworked after the 2020 season. Using feedback and making changes to its beginning and ending, navigating border closures and working closely with Hothouse Theatre, we finally made it to Albury and the creative journey continued. The Currency Press publication of script and theatre program was snaffled up in Canberra and Albury.
TWENTY MINUTES WITH THE DEVIL
By Luis Gómez Romero and Desmond Manderson
Developed and made right here in Canberra, Luis Gómez Romero and Desmond Manderson have woven an original narrative inspired by real life events leading to the capture of El Chapo, Mexico’s most notorious drug lord in 2016. Part thriller, part black comedy, part magical realism, Twenty Minutes With The Devil is a powerful story that playwrights in a remarkable cross-collaboration express through a parable for the crisis of law and justice in the 21st century. Designed in a voyeuristic cage-like room on stage, walls and objects turn fantastical as characters face life and death in and beyond the room. Despite disappointment in not being able to stage this year, Director Caroline Stacey, cast PJ Williams, Joanna Richards, Raoul Craemer (pictured above) and designers Imogen Keen, Anthony Hately all will return in 2022 to do justice in bringing this new Australian story to life.
I’VE BEEN MEANING TO ASK YOU
“Children’s and adults voices in authentic dialogue.”
In partnership with Canberra Youth Theatre, we brought to our city the award-winning performance collective The Good Room, who use the anonymous experiences of ordinary people to create extraordinary theatre works, to stage I’ve Been Meaning to Ask You with young Canberran performers. We searched for Canberra kids aged 9-13yrs, from those who do drama weekly to those that never have. Our young cast then put the hard ask to the Canberra community through an open survey, creating a conversation across generations tackling the big (and little) questions that life throws at us. Over the school holidays, audiences converged on The Street Theatre for a riotous, theatrical experience putting young voices at the centre of the work and a sparkling transformation of the theatre space, with The Good Room’s Nathan Sibthorpe and Cienda McNamara very generous in sharing the creative process during the season.
Together Alone is an artistic response to ‘Why Theatre?’ drawing on discussions with artists, volunteers, workers, board, residents and precinct neighbours. Our partnership with the City Renewal Authority and the commissioning of international acclaimed artist Luke Cornish (E.L.K.) offered a chance to examine and respond to the shared experience of loss, crisis and an urban desert in the City West cultural precinct during the COVID 19 pandemic, to bring what we do inside to The Street outside, and to go to the core of what connects us as humans and a community.
Online and live, creative responses by dancer William Tran and videographer Craig Alexander and Creswick Collective kicked off the transformation of The Street Theatre’s North Wall in April, followed by weeks of live art from Luke with assistance from Dan Macginnity (byrd) and community conversations on the street. Each day hyper-real images emerged – a man wearing a blue surgical mask and holding a skull recalling Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and a mandala with theatre-inspired elements in a creative expression of the journey of theatre over this time of uncertainty.
Short films by Craig Alexander and Liam Budge of Creswick Collective documenting the project were featured in the Canberra Short Films Festival during the 2021 season winning The Innovative Story Telling Award.
We were all ears enjoying sound worlds and live music experiences from ingenious musicians. We applauded AMP it Up for helping to support the return of live music from our ACT artists.
Eishan Ensemble led by Hamed Sadegi cast its spell for an inspired concert with its rich musical palette of Persian classical and Western contemporary influences in the Sydney Festival commission of Afternoon Tea at Six. Wayne Kelly Trio gave us a concert to remember with great jazz, original compositions and a capacity audience with big hearts. Guitar lovers feasted on the fiery fretwork, tender melodies and exciting rhythms from Bruce Mathiske in a creative collaboration with composer and percussionist Adam Manning. The Miriam Lieberman Trio brought harmony and hope, delighting us with luscious vocals and soaring string arrangements to soulful collections of stories blending African influences with blues-infused harmonies.
The Street became rhythm central transporting audiences with tantalising sounds from Caribé Havana, led by inspirational jazz composer, saxophonist and band leader Gai Bryant with brilliant dancing by Cuban dancer Adrian Medina. Saxophonist and composer John Mackey and a powerhouse creative line-up of friends fired up jazz fans with a night of bounding grooves and ambient reflections in a world premiere of a new suite of movements.
We were up close with Australia’s remarkable songstress Katie Noonan in a solo performance; went acoustic with Mark Wilkinson; shared the power and passion with Bandaluzia Flamenco; felt and heard the love with The Song Company; and, boogied with virtuoso jazz-blues pianist Jan Preston.
Canberra rocked with Australian music trailblazers – our own Jess Green AKA PheNo, Australia’s fabled electric guitarist, vocalist and composer, brought together her band of leading jazz and experimental pop performers giving us a stellar performance. Award-winning saxophonist and composer Matt Keegan and an all-star ensemble full of youthful energy took us on an epic journey in a music-making memorial. We shared gigging memoirs with legendary guitarist Jeff Lang giving us an insider’s view into his remarkable life; and continuing Aboriginal culture through songs from maverick songman Neil Murray. OMG. Celebrated singer-songwriter Ben Lee was back in Australia and touring again, and in changing times we were all it together.
It was an epic night with Canberra’s ARIA-charting multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Jack Biilmann drama finally bringing his Full Circle Album home. The Chris Johnstone Trio put their own spin on James Brown. With 10+ all-star Canberra musicians on stage, The Burley Griffin, led by Evan Buckley, launched Lost Limbs in what was an electrifying night of music and theatre that kept on surprising us.
After having to pull the plug on live music for four months, we re-opened with a mash-up of sounds to take us out of 2021. Young Australian virtuoso Daniel Champagne came with his guitar and bag of songs. With big-line ups of talented musicians launching new albums and songs, Canberra’s own Kopasetic, explores the limits of roots, reggae and folk music, and Taiwanese Australian singer-songwriter Kim Yang gives voice to personal experiences.
At the beginning of the year, we enjoyed laughs with Canberra’s next generation of comedians with Raw Comedy State Finals from 2020 finally coming onto our stage. Canberra Comedy Festival was to kick off in September at The Street with no laughs found in postponements. We laughed again with Randy Feltface’s and his show of purple fuzzy goodness at the end of the year.
FIRST SEEN: NEW WORKS IN PROGRESS
The Street First Seen season 2021 season featured new works by playwrights that grapple with the big questions of purpose, belonging and loss. The 2018 Rodney Seaborn Playwrights Award winning People Inside Me by Katie Pollock confronted death and loss and attempts to find a way to carry on after devastations; Church Sweet Church by Rebecca Duke went to the heart of small town community and what it means to belong; Just Wrong by David Atfield explored how to make a living being an artist in our times and coming out whilst celebrating all things Eurovision. Each of the writers worked with a creative team for two weeks, addressing their development needs. Two of the works, People Inside Me and Just Wrong, had showings, with the development of Church Sweet Church explored by the writer with a dramaturg and cast. Once again, the artists worked the online space for showings to audiences inviting them to have their say, proving valuable feedback to writers.
CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT AND COMMISSIONS
The Artistic Associates Program champions exceptional local artists and the development of new work for Canberra audiences. Anna Johnstone and Stefanie Lekkas were thrilled to undertake a creative development for their physical children’s piece, Mud, working with Performer Cathy Petocz and musician Liam O’Connell. Spoken word artist and performer CJ Bowerbird has been developing his play Coward’s Punch and musician and composer Jess Green has been commissioned to compose a new music theatre work backed by The Street Supporters.
Nigel Featherstone inspired us with his new draft of The Story of the Oars, last heard as part of First Seen 2020 and now on its way to a new play with spoken-word songs. Timothy Daley, Australia’s most internationally-produced playwright, delved into The Radiance, his racy political satire full of twists and turns with American rappers, Russian influence-peddlers and Chinese spies.
Early Phase 2021 at The Street offers four artists a supported collaborative concept development process to take the glimmer of an idea, feeling, or impulse through to concept treatment. Selected participants Liam Budge, Emily Clark, Farnoush Parsiavashi and Maura Pierot are exploring different ideas with themes of fatherhood, memory, loss, life and death and are well underway interrogating these intriguing, creative and challenging ideas created with and for The Street.
Playwrights Adam Broinowski and Dylan Van Den Berg are entering into the second phase of Early Phase with Adam adapting It Can’t Happen here by Sinclair Lewis creating a play infused with satire and questioning deeply our world and politics, while Dylan is adapting The Chosen Vessel by Barbara Baynton; a classic gothic thriller reflecting on a difficult history whilst asking questions of our future.
RE-STORYING: THE RESILIENCE PROJECT
“A juicy creative space”, “Transformative”, “Deeply therapeutic”
A skills-based six-module program designed by The Street to be flexible and responsive and led by arts doula Zsuzsi Soboslay, we launched in July with ACT artists and artsworkers joining in at The Street and online. Supported by ACT Health, Re-Storying focused on helping artists re-build, rejuevenate and re-image artistic practices, providing nourishment and reflection through a strengths-based process with exercises including drawing, breath work, movement and gesture.
Offering approaches to creative practice in contexts of such deep challenge, upheaval and change in today’s world, Re-storying attracted a mix of artists from different practices – actors, writers, poets, visual artists – and other creatives seeking to counter the impact of the pandemic on their mental health and livelihoods. With an entire industry plunged into lockdown, work lost, rescheduled or suspended, ACT artists welcomed the support and connection through Re-Storying. While we could not bring artists together in the theatre after the first session, the program continued to be delivered via zoom and livestreaming with the last module in October a featured event in ACT Mental Health Month. Creswick Collective’s Abbey Mackay curated Creative ReStore on Instagram creating a platform to share creative ideas, resources and tools throughout the process and beyond.
We embrace working in partnership enabling us to make a valuable contribution to the cultural and educational life of our communities and are grateful to our community, corporate and government supporters.
Livestreamed in partnership with Screencraft Media, the first showing of Katie Pollock’s People Inside Me gave audiences near and far the opportunity to see the reading come to life with actors in our theatre space. The Street Theatre programs and scripts from playwrights Peter Cook, Dylan Van Den Berg, and Luis Gómez Romero and Desmond Manderson were published in partnership with Currency Press, Australia’s foremost publisher of the performing arts and its oldest active independent publisher, bringing Breaking The Castle, Milk and Twenty Minutes to the Devil to their selection of theatre titles available to schools and bookshops.
During the year, we partnered with ACT Writers to present conversation nights for writers with our playwrights and q & a’s were shared with their community. We were excited to partner with Contentious Character in the genesis of Creative Juices, a new festival in the region at their vineyard and applauded their support of new theatre works and artists in our region including our own Associate Artists.
We have spent time rethinking and reorganising the doorways into all that The Street offers, whilst creating a more welcoming, exciting and contemporary online experience for all. Proudly for 2021, our partner DAMS delivered a refreshed look and feel for The Street website.
Embassies and consuls are a valued part of our community and we joined in partnership with the Italian Embassy to host a very special night celebrating the 700th anniversary of the death of Italian poet and philosopher Dante Alighieri with terrific performances from Sydney-based actor Bianca Bonino from The Divine Comedy.
We welcomed Canberra’s literati for novel launches in our foyer: The Breaking by Irma Gold; The Painting by Alison Booth; and, Believe in Me by Lucy Neave. Ending the year with Joel Swadling, theatre maker and author of If This is the Highway (I’ll Take the Dirt Road) The Formidable Encounters of David Branson, Esq., Joel Swadling brought us together with to celebrate an avante-garde theatre titan and reflect on David’s legacy.
Through fires, a pandemic and lockdowns, artists have continued to learn new skills, create works and give audiences experiences to enjoy. We welcomed Wild Voices Music for a celebration of the lessons learned during challenging times and the hard work that goes into song and dance with showcases of their students of piano and voice, the region’s artists and music ensembles.
We always enjoy when ACT arts organisations come into our spaces. MusicACT hosted an information briefing for the newly announced ‘Amp It Up!’ fund in support of Live Music here in Canberra. A great initiative much needed.
We were able continue upgrade to The Street building itself with a new workshop and storeroom to maximise space in the building, offsite storage space, replacement of Street One roller door and redesign of dressing room. We are excited about a new look for The Street sign and look forward to you seeing it in 2022.
PHOTO CREDITS: Creswick Collective