There has never been a year like this one. Every day a moveable feast with our 2020 not looking anything like the one we’d mapped out. Facing the enormous challenges and changes from the global coronavirus outbreak we’ve navigated unchartered territory exploring the many ways to stay connected to you and our sector.
Before lockdown, we kicked off our planned 2020 season with Breaking The Castle, an incredible journey into addiction, trauma and recovery with Peter Cook’s powerful story and courageous performance. Answering the question Why Theatre? this brave new work opened up a conversation that connected many in our community receiving accolades from audiences and critics. Our house pulsated with the individual sounds of Damien Leith, The Necks, Joseph Tawadros Quartet and Roomful of Teeth. We even were able to laugh with Rosie Waterhouse and Story + Party.
And then we closed our doors March 14.
Lockdown life left us living with uncertainty with some unsure of even what day it was. Empty theatres, devoid of people, expressed our loss and state of crisis. The work health and safety issues attached to the COVID-19 pandemic and theatre practice resulted in a re-assessment of how we developed and made new plays, musicals, operas, and everything in between here at The Street.
The Street Board and Staff determined to continue our commitment to being creative set to working in new ways from turning homes into workplaces to using online platforms for creative development and live-streaming productions – adapting quickly to keep artists working and connected with each other and audiences.
Our First Seen script development program in its ninth year moved into the zoom space connecting artists from around Australia. Three ambitious new works in progress by Nigel Featherstone, Dylan Van Den Berg and Helen Machalias were chosen for being theatrically compelling with strong relevance now. St Nicholas, the creepy tale of vampires and critics by Conor McPherson, was live-streamed from Street Two into lounge rooms with a tour de force performance from actor Craig Alexander straddling cinema and theatre, supported by musician Den Hanrahan and directed by Shelly Higgs.
What an unforgettable night was the Baby et Lulu performance with an audience! With the outrageously talented artists Abby Dobson and Lara Goodridge and their band, we laughed, we cried and felt once again the power of being together in a theatre – amplified by reaching out to homes across globe through our partnership with Screencraft to live-stream the live performance.
Easing of Covid-19 restrictions in the ACT gave us the chance to program live music again from October and shows sold out almost immediately for intimate performances by singer/songwriters Mark Wilkinson, Fanny Lumslen, Chris Sebastian, Tim Freedman and Paco Lara.
With fewer productions on stage during the year, we boosted our focus on investing in the development of Canberra artists and Canberra-created work to professionally produce in the 2021-23 period. We launched a new program, Early Phase, offering seven artists a supported collaborative concept development process within a company context. Over the year, we progressed our commission of David Atfield’s Clean harnessing the talents of UK writers Peter Darney and Jo Clifford. And with the generosity of The Street Supporters, we were able to begin the commissioning process for two new theatre works to be developed and shown in future seasons.
And through COVID support from the ACT Government we were able to upgrade to The Street building itself with ethernet and WIFI connectivity installed throughout the building, a dedicated props and costume room, and significant Street One onstage additions transforming our working space.
The pandemic disruption has brought an openness – to work, artists, audiences, and new sustainable and fair ways of working, connecting, and being in the world. Great art filling our theatres/creative spaces with imagination is essential in taking us to this future – a future that ensures there are spaces for everyone. More great art is needed to bring us together again, to grow us collectively into community, to lift us out of this time. To stimulate, excite, provoke, connect, and bring confidence and hope to all.
We’re very grateful for your messages of support right through 2020. We hope you’re inspired by our year of highlights – and the work we did while the lights were low – and what lies ahead for theatre in the ACT that speaks to you and our nation. We are looking forward to The Street Ahead.
BREAKING THE CASTLE
Written and Performed by Peter Cook
We took Peter Cook’s powerful story of redemption from First Seen to World Premiere. Visceral, fierce, and uplifting Breaking The Castle is an exquisitely rendered gripping tale and performance from creator Peter Cook as a man yearning for connection. For our first, and unfortunately last, live drama production of the year, audiences were taken on a 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. Directed by Caroline Stacey with a celebrated team of designers Imogen Keen, Gerry Corcoran and Kimmo Vennonen and dramaturgy by Shelly Higgs. A standing ovation greeted Peter Cook and the production team at the completion of the performance. Breaking The Castle will tour to Hothouse Theatre in June 2021.
The small space at The Street Theatre created a symbiotic relationship between spectator and actor; creating a powerful experience in theatre. A critic noted this and that in many respects Peter Cook’s play answers the question of “Why theatre?” and that Breaking the Castle has the power to transform through its writing, acting, design and relationship with its audience.
By Conor McPherson
Re-imagining theatre in a digital space in direct response to COVID-19, our creative team of artists, director and designers took over Street Two creating the set, including bleeding walls, and a compelling production of St Nicholas. Audiences dialed in from across Australia to watch live-streamed theatre in their lounges and respond in the chat room. This chilling and spellbinding vampire tale by award-winning Irish playwright Conor McPherson was directed by Shelly Higgs, with Craig Alexander (Venus in Fur, War of the Worlds, Tourmaline) taking on the role of a jaded theatre critic who abandoned his ordinary life in Dublin to pursue a young actress to London. Alexander shared the stage with singer-songwriter, Den Hanrahan, and cinematographer Liam Budge (Flight Memory). In this new territory for theatre, music and cameras with live editing provided a journey into the critic’s ego and mind. The set was designed by Imogen Keen (Flight Memory, Metamorphosis) and lighting by James Tighe (Fragments).
Legends and favourites returned, new voices were heard. Singer-songwriter Damien Leith gave tribute to Roy Orbison in a live performance with strings. The Necks squeezed in to perform live to the delight of fans before we closed our doors bringing songs from Three, their 21st album. The Joseph Tawadros Quartet led by the Aria award winning Oud master, in Australia again from London, filled our theatre with fans for a cherished 2020 concert of music that transcends traditional and known formats and is alive with the voice of cultures and heartbeats. Grammy award winners Roomful of Teeth came for the Canberra International Music Festival and shared their experimental approach to reimagining the expressive potential of the human voice in our theatre.
Photo Credit: Creswick Collective
And then there was silence for a few months until . . .
Bravo! Artists came across the border and audiences with restricted capacity were back in Street One in the middle of COVID-19 for our first hybrid production. The live/livestreamed performance by Baby et Lulu with Faux-French sensations Abby Dobson and Lara Goodridge on a set designed by Imogen Keen was truly memorable and a testament to the power of partnerships. Our partner Screencraft Media was announced as a Gold Winner by the Australian Cinematographers Society.
Canberrans showed their insatiable appetite for live performances as restrictions began to lift in the spring. Finally we were able to welcome the effervescent Fanny Lumsden to The Street to perform her critically acclaimed (and ARIA nominated) album Fallow. Fanny enthralled her audience with her authenticity and natural magnetism.
Singer-songwriter Mark Wilkinson brought us together again. With restricted capacity for all shows, we had to add shows to meet demand. With his powerful voice, Chris Sebastian treated fans to a few of his favourites from his season winning Voice repertoire, as well as several originals. Live, old and new music, and the inimitable Tim Freedman came to The Street and we could not get enough of him during his solo tour and restricted capacity solo shows. Heating up our stage at the end of the year with authenticity, culture and artistry, acclaimed Flamenco guitartist Paco Lara returned to launch his first solo album – The Andalusian Guitar. Photo Credits: Creswick Collective Left to Right: Mark Wilkinson, Chris Sebastian, Tim Freedman, Paco Lara)
FIRST SEEN: NEW WORKS IN PROGRESS
The Street First Seen 2020 season featured three plays immersed in Australia’s shores, privilege, truth, forgiveness and reconciliation: The Story of the Oars by Nigel Featherstone, weaving mystery and music around the repercussions of childhood and the power of place; Milk by Dylan Van Den Berg, conversations between three Aboriginal women spanning two centuries, and Barren Ground by Helen Machalias, portraying the asylum seeker experience and the Australian detention system with a uniquely intriguing twist on a well-known classic.
As soon as Covid-19 hit, we fully jumped into what was possible in the Zoom space. We managed to be nimble and flexible and adapt quickly. We were able to extend our reach out of Canberra and bring artists into our space. Artists were very generous. Audiences responded enthusiastically and gave valuable feedback to writers for development of their new works.
We were given the gong by Canberra Critics Circle for all of our work in the online space and our innovation in theatre in response to COVID-19.
CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT AND COMMISSIONS
Clean by David Atfield was commissioned by The Street with partners Meridian through a Capital of Equity grant in 2019. Following development last year, Clean has been further developed this year, with the Street utilising a Zoom relationship for David to work with two renowned UK based playwrights, Peter Darney and Jo Clifford. Peter and Jo were engaged to specifically work in a Peer to Peer relationship with David, providing an international perspective and supporting David to progress this work to its next draft stage. Each of the playwrights brought a unique set of skills to this development, and David felt being able to engage in these peer to peer conversations enriched the work significantly.
At the end of the 2020 financial year, we put out a call for donations to support The Street Ahead to create two new theatre works from extraordinary times in a world changed by COVID-19, giving voice to who we are as we recover and rebuild our society. The vision and generosity of The Street supporters is helping us to breathe life into two momentous new commissions, a music-theatre work and a dramatic/comedic play for us to bring to the stage in future seasons.
In response to the severe impact COVID-19 had on the arts community, we launched a new program for artists to enter into a creative process with us. Grants as part of the program came at a crucial time, with COVID-19 taking a tremendous toll on its earning capacity and work opportunities. The selected actors, composers, artists, directors and playwrights have had their ideas creatively interrogated and advanced throughout the Early Phase program and will pitch their concepts in 2021. In supporting the research phase of creative projects within our theatre company context, we hope to see some of the works progress to full production. This will be a direct reminder of our collective experience during this time of isolation, and its legacy.
Photo Credits: Jessica Conway
Now more than ever it’s important to have relevant, current stories on stage and to develop voices able to articulate a response to these times; to question, to provoke, to create the seeds for change.
NEW IDEAS AND CONVERSATIONS
We were invited by Playwriting Australia to participate in Dear Australia, stories as postcards, and a unique account of these times when a pandemic forced reflection and change. Fifty playwrights were commissioned to write a monologue, responding to questions that went to the heart of where our nation is and where it might go, and filmed by 50 extraordinary actors, many in their own homes. Theatres around Australia were asked for two nominations and we nominated Breaking The Castle’s Peter Cook whose monologue was delivered by actor Stephen Phillips and Tariro Mavondo (The Faithful Servant) with monologue spoken by Carly Sheppard. The works were live-streamed on Facebook over three days in July and the scripts of Dear Australia monologues published by Australian Plays.
Wil Anderson called us a world-leader when it comes to showing how a community acting together can make us all stronger. An incredible melting post of academics, entertainers, communicators, volunteers and production wizards came together for the University of Canberra’s Future Bright & Facebook Live event at The Street. Our partnership provided a space for us to discuss and reflect on our society and envision what we want it to become. The panel discussion facilitated by comedian Wil Anderson for the UC’s 30th anniversary celebration concluded with a live performance and was streamed into lounge rooms via Screencraft Media.
We created INTER-PLAY 2020 in direct response to how profoundly the world has changed in 2020 and an exploration of the interplay between the COVID-19 and theatre making into the future. Facilitated and led by Canberra-based theatre artist barb barnett, INTER-PLAY sessions were open to all playwrights and theatre-makers at all stages of their career. The sessions, designed for the online space via Zoom, saw creatives unpicking and unpacking the convolutions of creating in a world mid Covid-19 – and connecting with fellow creative and writers and those interested in fresh new Australian work.
As part of our Playwrite Sessions, Alana Valentine, one of Australia’s most inventive playwrights and 2020 AGWIE nominee for Flight Memory, was a special guest with playwrights delving into her creative process as she shared her stories.
Nourish/Gesture facilitated by Zsuzsi Sobalasky offered artists from the ACT and surrounding region affected by COVID 19 two free workshops of ideas and ways replenish our energies before the end of this year.
It is a preface to Re-Storying – The Project, a 6-month creative practice resource for recovery and resilience that will run next year. The aim of ReStorying, funded for 2021 by ACT Health, is to provide a multi-disciplinary platform for ACT and region artists affected by COVID19 to re-build, rejuvenate and re-imagine our futures in a combination of live workshop, live-streaming, recorded access and mentored processes
Caroline Stacey, The Street’s CEO and Artistic Director and Shelly Higgs, Executive Assistant of Arts Programs went on the road meeting up with playwright Peter Cook and other artists, producers and presenters in Wagga Wagga to connect region to region, develop artists, projects, and audiences outside major metropolitan areas through conversations hosted by Critical Stages and an Arts on Tour NSW Salon of new work pitches. An inspirational day and great to connect with industry colleagues whose theatres also had been in lockdown for months.
We were delighted to open up our spaces with Covid-19 restrictions for our creative community including a residency by Jess Green and Tracy Bourne during the year.
Salon Canberra took to The Street bringing together thought leaders, influencers and opinion makers to discuss, debate and dissect issues that influence the future of the nation’s capital.
Deep in pandemic lockdown roots-reggae band Kopasetic made The Street their home for a day as part of social enterprise, record label and artist collective Vacant Records.
With COVID support from the ACT Government we were able to make an upgrade to The Street building itself with ethernet and WIFI connectivity installed throughout the building, a dedicated props and costume room, and significant Street One onstage additions transforming our working space.
Photo Credits: Jessica Conway/The Street
The As You Like it Cafe plays an important role in our artistic hub – where people can gather and enjoy their coffees and conversation. It had to close down completely from April. Reopening in July, it was welcomed back by many in our theatre community who were able to reconnect with one another.
We acknowledge the Ngunnawal people as the Traditional Owners of the lands on which The Street Theatre stands and where we live and create. We recognise their continuing connection to land, waters, and culture, and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future.