Western Sydney has recently been in the news for all the wrong reasons, which is partly why the artist known as S. Shakthidharan is please to be part of some great news. A new, long overdue theatre company has been announced for the region.
The newly announced National Theatre of Parramatta will be run by a handful of great Australian creatives, including former artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company and chief creative officer for Spiegelworld International, Wayne Harrison. Also involved is television producer, writer, actor and broadcaster, Annette Shun Wah (The Noise, Eat Carpet); and creative producer Paula Abood. Joanne Kees, former business manager of programming at the Sydney Opera House, and currently a director of the Sydney Fringe Fest, is executive producer for the theatre.
“Australia as a modern nation is incredibly diverse and we don’t have that diversity on our stages,” says founding artistic director of CuriousWorks and Carriageworks’ associate artist, S. Shakthidharan. “National Theatre of Parramatta is specifically dedicated to programming that supports that task.”
The third-largest economy in Australia, western Sydney is only getting bigger, yet too often audiences must travel into the Sydney CBD for their cultural fix.
“The idea is to create bold theatre that speaks to western Sydney, but to also bring in some of the best work from overseas. I’ve wanted to set up infrastructure in western Sydney that’s as good as anywhere else, and that is presented with the same respect and standing as what you’d see at Belvoir or STC,” says Shakthidharan.
Based at Parramatta Riverside Theatres, and funded by Arts NSW, Parramatta City Council and Crown Resorts, the company will present three works next year.
Swallow, by the UK’s Olivier-award-winning playwright Stef Smith, is fresh from a critically acclaimed season at the Edinburgh Fringe, and played in Sydney directed by Force Majeure founding director, Kate Champion. Swallow is a tough but darkly funny look at mental health through the eyes of its three female protagonists. It was described by The Guardian UK as “a bloody great bruise of a play”.
Jane Harrison’s Stolen, a collection of stories from survivors of the Stolen Generation, will be reprised by Indigenous performance maker, Vicki Van Hout. Storytelling festival Telling Tales will celebrate and reflect the diversity of the people of western Sydney, devised by the new company’s four directors. “Most people in western Sydney feel like they’re talked about negatively in the media and very rarely do they have a say. This is in a small part about redressing that balance and reconnecting with western Sydney audiences and artists,” says Shakthidharan.