The Second Decade:
1990 – 1999
1990 – marked the company’s 10th anniversary, but also a significant change in creative direction following the illness and subsequent death of founding member Caz Howard. With Susie Fraser and Mark Shirrefs holding the fort as joint Artistic Directors, emphasis shifted to work with a broader coalition of Associate and invited artists. In a difficult year, highlights included Adelaide-based The Red Shed company’s In Cahoots and Max by Patricia Cornelius and Susie Dee.
1991- 95 – the appointment of Robert Draffin as Artistic Director led to a significant change in creative direction, marked in July of that year by a watershed production of Shakespeare’s Pericles. The company’s output in this next phase was balanced between work informed by Draffin’s vision of a ‘community of artists’ drawing on mythology, storytelling and cross-disciplinary performance and works by associate and invited artists, such as through the Melbourne Fringe Festival New Short Works Season presented at TW that year.
Strong productions by other artists included the gritty I Don’t Get Paid to Find Dead Bodies, written and performed by Laura Lattuada and Kate Gillick, with further insight into the contemporary AIDS crisis in the US through Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart directed by Tom Healy in October 1991 and Vicki Reynolds’ The Daily Grind, a play about women and the sex industry co-produced with Melbourne Workers Theatre in 1992. The Really Moving Theatre Co., a spinoff from the original company, presented the Tram show in Melbourne and at the Adelaide Fringe in 1992 and 1994, retitled yet again as Storming Glenelg ...
Draffin meanwhile worked with a shifting ensemble of accomplished actors to create a series of new works, mostly adaptations from the classics such as Pericles (1991), The Idiot (1992) and Titus (1993) but also including a successful production of the third play in Tes Lyssiotis’ “Greek Australian” trilogy, Blood Moon (1993).
From 1994, a growing interest in opera and cross-disciplinary performance led to original and revisioned productions including The Last Supper (1994) and the MADMAN, BLACKMAN, FATMAN trilogy, comprising Rigoletto – A Perversion (1994), Otello – A Subversion (1996) and Bodysongs – the fatman tour (1998), based on the character of Shakespeare’s Falstaff. These and other works were devised in collaboration with artists such as writer Humphrey Bower and contemporary composer Richard Vella. The overall program could be described as creatively successful, with The Last Supper touring Japan in 1995 and Rigoletto receiving an Age Performing Arts Award, but their intensive development proved financially unsustainable.
The theatre moved into a ‘2 phase’ stage, describing itself as a company ‘divided into two parts: theatre production and venue management’. Ongoing financial difficulties together with growing internal and external tensions resulted in a crisis; the company was on the brink of eviction from the Parish Hall, but with support from the public and guarantees from Arts Victoria, a new lease was negotiated in 1995 by the Hon Clyde Holding, then MLA for Melbourne Ports.
1996-99 – the company’s financial difficulties continued, with the loss of ongoing State and Federal funding. AD Robert Draffin resigned towards the end of 1998, followed by GM Paul Monaghan in 1999. The Board made the difficult decision to discontinue TheatreWork’s own program of produced works. TW survived, but only as a ‘bare bones’ operation, operating as a venue for hire with annual support from Arts Victoria. Under new GM (and sole full-time employee) Kim Webster, infrastructure available to hirers was gradually and substantially improved. New seating was installed, and both technical and front of house facilities were brought up to industry standards. On the creative side, Company in Residence arrangements were formed with physical theatre company Born in a Taxi and critically acclaimed integrated theatre ensemble Rawcus, a joint initiative with the City of Port Phillip and SCOPE disability services. A formal collaboration with the School of Creative Arts at Deakin University resulted in annual community based performance residencies (1996-1999) including a final revival of Storming St Kilda by Tram. Significant productions by guest companies and artists in this period included David Pledger’s Suzuki method-based Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy (1995) and Chamber Made Opera’s Fresh Ghosts (1997).