Sydney Theatre Company (STC) has a mentorship and experience program named after the company’s founding artistic director, Richard Wherrett, and since the fellowship began in 2003 it has helped forge the paths of some of Australia’s most impressive theatre makers. Shari Sebbens (Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner), for example, was 2019’s fellow. Paige Rattray (Triple X), Imara Savage (St Joan, Dance Nation) and Wayne Blair (director of The Sapphires among many other accolades) count as alumni. Last year’s recipient, Courtney Stewart, has been appointed directing associate at STC. It’s a program that consistently leads to opportunities for new work from new voices.

And this year’s fellow is just as impressive. Noongar man Ian Michael, 32, comes to the position with a stellar record as an actor, director and writer after graduating from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (Waapa). He’s worked for Black Swan State Theatre Company, Ilbijerri Theatre Company, Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne Theatre Company and Yirra Yaakin.

Michael has also supported STC artistic director Kip Williams as assistant director on the highly praised Picture of Dorian Gray. He assisted Shari Sebbens on The 7 Stages of Grieving in 2021, and this year he’s back on Dorian Gray for the Adelaide Festival and Sydney’s encore season, as well as acting on Meyne Wyatt’s City of Gold at Perth Festival and in Sydney later this year. All that and he’s backing Williams on his exciting adaptation of Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, as part of STC’s Act Two program. It’ll be a busy (and exciting) year ahead.

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Broadsheet asked Michael to tell us a bit more about what lies ahead.

What’s a Richard Wherrett Fellow?
It’s a year-long position at STC for emerging directors to gain experience and mentorship while being attached to productions. I’m fortunate to be returning as assistant director on The Picture of Dorian Gray and for Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, as well as joining the artistic team in programming future seasons.

What does the role entail?
A lot of time is spent reading plays and having robust conversations about the work and whether or not it resonates with the conversation the company wants to have with its audiences, and seeing and discussing productions and artists we’re excited by and being part of other projects throughout the year. It’s a theatre nerd’s dream!

How did you get the gig?
I had the opportunity to do a directing placement on the tour of Nakkiah Lui’s Black Is the New White a few years back, and I guess I did something right in that room because the year after I was offered The Picture of Dorian Gray with Kip Williams and returned to STC to work alongside Shari Sebbens on The 7 Stages of Grieving. So I guess STC chose me.

Have you always wanted to work at STC?
Eighteen-year-old me at Waapa would be pinching myself; STC was the company I dreamed of working at, and now I get to jump on stage in Meyne Wyatt’s City of Gold and be on the other side of the table in rooms working with some of our industry’s most ambitious and inspiring directors and artists.

Do you have any fun plans for your new role?
The year ahead is going to be busy with developing work and being on productions, but I’m looking forward to being part of conversations within the artistic team and around the company, and to keep developing as an artist and director in the company.

Will you be implementing any big changes?
I feel privileged to be joining a company like STC, which has such a rich history with programming and developing First Nations work and artists, and is committed to the conversation and action around representation and making theatres inclusive and accessible for artists and audiences. I’m hoping to bring something valuable to those conversations and be part of the shift in our industry where our stages and our foyers look more like the streets and communities that we come from and live in.

What’s the best show you’ve seen recently?
Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner is one of the best productions I’ve ever seen, not just in recent years. I saw it twice! Everything about it is what I love about theatre – the script is fire, and it speaks so much to who we are and how far we’ve got to go. The direction and performances are so assured, joyful, moving, unsettling, hilarious. I loved it so much.