The Third Decade: 2000 – 2009

TW began its third decade in much reduced circumstances. Arts Victoria continued to support venue rental and some infrastructure costs but there was very little left over; casual staff wages and other expenditure were funded from earned income. GM Kim Webster was succeeded by Heather Gourley; operations as a venue for hire continued and with careful management, the company was in a position by the end of 2000 to begin to take some control of its own creative strategy and direction.

From 2001 – the company began to steer its own course once again. TW hosted Live @ Theatreworks, a day of works in progress by local artists, as part of the St Kilda Festival. TW was also happy to partner with City of Port Phillip on the Bless Your Big Blak Arts Festival 2001-3, which included a notable production of No Parking by John Harding (2001) and on a co-operative agreement (2002-3) which supported the development of three works, Triptych by company in residence Born in a Taxi, Dead Tragic, the first scripted work by long term TW hirers Impro Melbourne, and St Kilda from the Ground Up, a performance based workshop program for local financially-disadvantaged youth.

2002 – saw the establishment by the TW Board of a hardworking (and all-volunteer) Artistic Subcommittee which oversaw use of the company’s accumulated resources in a ‘bootstrapping strategy’ to attract artists, build audiences and improve the creative quality of works presented at the Parish Hall venue. Chaired by Alison Richards, members up to its reorganisation in 2009 included Kaarin Fairfax, Heather Ruck, Amanda Douge, Nadine Nabout, Sarah Austin, Richard Vabre and Naomi Edwards, with strong support from Kathryn Ross of Ballyhoo Publicity, GM Heather Gourley and later Operations manager Angela Pamic.

2003 – the TheatreWorks Companies Initiative program was announced – 22 submissions were received for limited packages including reduced rental, with technical and PR support offered to 2 selected companies. TW’s goal was to partner with leading independent companies, and to extend greater curatorial control over works presented.

2004 – TW presented the first two Companies Initiative productions, Shakespeare’s Macbeth by regionally based The Old Van Theatre Company directed by Fiona Blair and Catalan playwright Sergei Belbel’s Caresses by Vicious Fish Theatre, directed by local artist and long term TW staffer Scott Gooding. Reviews for both were positive, heralding a revival in critical attention. This was followed in September of that year by an equally well-received curated season of short works, St Kilda Bangs!

2004-8 – the success of the Companies Initiative program was seen over the next five years in improved audience attendances, greater critical and peer recognition and success in project submissions to funding bodies by successive GMs Heather Gourley, Nic Clarke and Angela Pamic, whose title was later changed to Operations Manager to reflect her combined administrative and technical expertise. Small project grants from CoPP were followed by the company’s first successful national level project grant application in many years, from the Community Cultural Development Board of the Australia Council for a project with local young people, Tribes of St Kilda, co-ordinated by Stefo Nantsou and John Butler, with students from Swinburne’s Small Companies and Community Theatre program.

Productions to achieve recognition with awards and award nominations included liquidskin’s Aoroi (Melbourne Fringe Festival Movement Award 2004), a Melbourne Fringe Festival Most Outstanding Production Award for the collaboration between TW’s Companies in Residence, Rawcus and Born in a Taxi Not Dead Yet , plus the Melbourne Festival Award to Rawcus Artistic Director Kate Sulan (2005) and Green Room Award Best Ensemble nominations for Ignite Theatre’s Jet of Blood directed by Olivia Allen (2005) and the Stuck Pigs Squealing production of Lally Katz and the Terrible Mysteries of the Volcano directed by Chris Kohn (2006). Luke Mullins was nominated best male performer for his role in Little Death Productions’ Mercury Fur in 2007 and Kellie Jones best female for Complete Works’ Inky in 2008.

TW’s long term involvement with St Kilda based inclusive company RAG Theatre, facilitated by Scott Gooding and Trudy Radburn with the support of CoPP, was recognised with the inaugural Melbourne Fringe Festival Community Cultural Development Award for Crisis and Rhapsody, a collaboration with SPARC Theatre (2007) and a Highly Commended nomination for the same award in 2008. This period also saw TW’s strong relationship with artistic director Aaron Joyner and Magnormos, Melbourne’s own innovative music theatre company, rewarded with Green Room Award nominations for Sue Goessling’s musical direction on Magnormos Prompt!’s production of Mary Bryant (2007) and Lyall Brooks’ performance in The Thing About Men (2008).

2009 – at the end of a difficult decade, TW was once again making its mark as a creative leader and a venue of choice for independent artists and companies from Melbourne and interstate. The venue was nearing full occupancy, audience numbers had increased by 15% and, after years surviving on annual funding, TW was finally successful in its application to Arts Victoria for triennial funding in 2009-11. The increased funding allowed staffing to rise to the dizzy heights of 1.7 EFT! including the new ongoing positions of Administrator (.625) and Senior Supervising Technician (.2). In a major rebranding exercise, the company’s name was finally established as Theatre Works (with a space), resolving the TheatreWorks/ Theatreworks confusion inherited from its early days. The Companies Initiative program was rethought and renamed with two streams, Selected Works and In the Works. 32 companies were supported in the course of the year, including through specialised seasons Moving Works (Dance) and Circus Works (Circus) coordinated by Operations Manager Angela Pamic.

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