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Decade Deep Dive: The History of Theatre Works – 1990’s

As part of our birthday celebrations and retrospective series, we aim to guide you through the historical events, past productions and creative leaders who shaped Theatre Works into the organisation it is today. We’ve already looked at the 1980s, so now let’s dive deep into the 1990s.

The 90s were a tumultuous decade for the company with lots of change from 1990 to 1999. The decade began with the death of one of the company’s founding members and then artistic director, Caz Howard. After this, the company’s web of artistic collaborators broadened, one notable production from this early period was Max by Patricia Cornelius which was also the first play that Susie Dee directed.

In 1991 Robert Draffin was appointed the artistic director of the company and the company began to explore different aesthetics and languages. One such example being Pericles directed by Draffin which foregrounded the popularity of Mulled Wine at the Theatre Works’ bar by serving it during the show!

Daily Grind looks at the life and times of Louie and Roxy, two women workers in the sex industry. It explores the issues that surround their lives and work with sensitivity and a great deal of humour.

The HIV crisis also began to reflect itself in the Theatre Works programming of this period, with Laura Lattuada and Kate Gillick’s I Don’t Get Paid to Find Dead Bodies, Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart and Vicki Reynolds’ The Daily Grind. This reflected the company’s belief “in theatre as a positive force in our society” as worded in Theatre Works’ 1981 mission statement.

However, by the middle of the decade, Theatre Works was struggling financially, owing to the extensive development periods new productions were given. After some temporary solutions, the company was almost evicted from the St. Kilda Parish hall it had inhabited since the 1980s. Luckily Arts Victoria, and the then MP of Melbourne Ports, the Hon Clyde Holding were able to re-negotiate a lease to secure the future of the company.

Throughout the subsequent half decade, Theatre Works played host to a variety of influential companies, such as the award winning physical theatre ensemble Born in a Taxi and rawcus —an ensemble of performers with and without disabilities that continue to be a close collaborator with Theatre Works today. Collaborations with the School of Creative Arts at Deakin Uni led to many community performance outcomes. This period of creative output also featured one last staging of the famed tram play Storming St Kilda by Tram.

The first major work from the rawcus ensemble was Designer Child presented in 2002 at Theatre Works, as part of the Next Wave festival.

Nevertheless, even with the parish hall secured for the future and the diversity of creative output, the company lost State and Federal funding. Robert Draffin resigned in 1998 and a year later the General Manager Paul Monaghan left as well. At this point, Theatre Works transitioned away from being a producing company and into a strict venue for hire with some annual support from Arts Victoria. The company was then left in the hands of Kim Webster, the general manager and only full time employee. She began investing in the venue, bringing in new seating, as well as bringing up the technical and Front of House facilities to industry standards and building a foundation for the company to grow into the new millennium…

Find out more on our History of Theatre Works page.

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