5 Things I Learned About Australian Theater

I’m writing this blog on my last night in picturesque Sydney, Australia. I fly back tomorrow.  And somehow I’ll arrive earlier than when I left.  So weird.  I mean, I get why that happens, but I’ll just never get over how bizarro-world it is.

Anywho . . .

I had an awesome time in Australia, and as I always do when I travel to foreign lands, I tried to pick up a few of its theatrical uniqueness so we could all learn from them.

Here’s what I found out:

1.  There are two Broadways in Australia.

In the US, we’ve got one Broadway.  In Australia, two cities have similar sized commercial theater industries.  You’ve got your Sydney.  And you’ve got your Melbourne.  They’re only separated by an hour flight, but both put on the big shows. And from what I gather there seems to be a friendly rivalry between which city does drama better.  Both cities aren’t big enough nor do they have the influx of tourists to support super long runs like we do, but I wondered what it would be like if Boston was almost as robust as Broadway.

2.  Chat Boards?  What Chat Boards?

The fans I spoke to said the chat board community doesn’t exist in Australia like it does in the states, so shows can go about their business without online pot shots.  Of course, the people I spoke to all read the NY chat sites, so . . .

3.  Got a star and a musical? Give me a few weeks.

Here’s something that just doesn’t exist in NYC . . . it’s the limited-run star-driven revival . . . of a musical!  For example . . . Geoffrey Rush just did a dozen or so weeks in Forum.  Our economics haven’t allowed for such a thing . . . yet. (Note to self:  Call FAMOUS AUTHOR to discuss a limited run star driven revival of his musical because this one could work).

4.  When your theater is a tourist attraction, you’ll sell tickets.

My First Time is playing at the Sydney Opera House, along with a bunch of other shows in its many venues.  Well, guess what one of the top things to do is in Sydney?  Duh, it’s “see the opera house.”  Tourists are drawn to the venue like I am to bacon.  So, the venue becomes a lead generating machine, bringing you possible ticket buyers by the ferry boat full.

5.  It could be the new Chicago.

Audiences speak English.  Creatives love to stay there.  It’s cheaper.  It’s no wonder in the past several years, a whole bunch of new musicals have been born in the Bush.  Boy from Oz, Priscilla, Officer and a Gentleman, Dr. Zhivago, and the upcoming King Kong and Strictly Ballroom are just a few of the shows that began their lives in Aussie Land.  I’m predicting we’ll see several more start here over the next decade.  I know I want to bring a show to town.

6.  BONUS:  Everyone is a mate.

They call you mate here, all the time.  And why sure, that’s just the local jargon, but for me it typifies this bonus theatrical trait.  Ready for it?  Here goes . . . the theater people are just nice.  Super nice.  They love what they do.  They love where they live.  And they love welcoming people to their land.  I’ve never felt so at home in a foreign country, so thanks Aussies.  I’ll be back soon.


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below!  Click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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  • There may not be an active “chat board” community in Australia (I’ll take your word for it) but there is an active theatre community on Twitter. I’m connected to, and chat with, a number of them. I’ll share your conclusions with them when they awake later this afternoon, our time.

  • Shane says:

    Glad you’re enjoying your time in my “other home”… and hope you are surviving the heat ok. Of course, you missed the real bonus of the mate jargon which is that it is really helpful when you don’t remember someone’s name. Not to suggest that they aren’t being super nice as well, but just occasionally it might be that they’re being a little forgetful.

  • Kris Stewart says:

    We’re not all THAT nice …

  • Tyson says:

    The unfortunate side of the ‘tale of two cities’ is that you can miss out on stuff you’d otherwise like to see. Larger scale productions (usually) tour, but some don’t make it, and many are designed not to tour. Magnormous and The Production Company in Melbourne do short-runs of musicals so I’m camped there, but I miss out on the great work of Neglected Musicals in Sydney.

  • Margie says:

    But you just arrived! Why not stay and go to Ulhuru and the Great Barrier Reef? Lizard Island is wonderful.

  • Racheline says:

    I attended Sydney Festival in 2005 when I was studying at NIDA. Really amazing event, and I’m still haunted by some of the theater I saw there that I fear will never make it back here to New York. I Thank you for reminding me of it, both as a great experience and as a potential project venue/goal.

  • Tanya says:

    I was in Oz last summer and flew from Melbourne to LA – the time difference thing is beyond weird.

    Love this blog, managed to see shows in both Sydney and Melbourne and had a wonderful time. Did you manage to get over to the Wharves in Sydney? They have a wonderful two-studio performance space not unlike London’s Southwark Playhouse that produces some brilliant work. I just think it’s a shame that, as you say, there isn’t a market for having several long-running shows. I have lots of Aussie performer friends and they’ve all come over to London because there just isn’t enough work over there for them.

  • Cole Horsfall says:

    Glad you enjoyed your stay, but next time come to Melbourne (sorry, it is the friendly rivalry thing).
    Is MY FIRST TIME touring beyond Sydney? How was the production? Having seen several international productions now how do they differ from your original concept? Pros and cons? Thanks, mate.

  • You shouldn’t rule out Los Angeles. They’ve got a lot of theaters. It’s a “sleeper” and could be the “2nd Broadway”. Don’t know why more productions are not mounted in LA. Plenty of talent of all kinds. I’d like to hear your reasons and/or politics, as you see it. Lots and lots of theaters!

  • glad you enjoyed your time in Oz, Mate! There is one theatre website http://www.ausssietheatre.com that is pretty popular among pundits.

  • Cheryl says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed your visit to Oz, Ken! And I agree with you. Aussies are so friendly and so welcoming, that I also felt right at home there. And let us not forget, it is the wonderful land of Oz that brought us Hugh Jackman!

    BTW, we were in Sydney in 1998, and while visiting the Opera House, we stopped by a shop that had a poster in the window for a new musical called THE BOY FROM OZ. We asked the owner what the show is about, and he told us it’s a bio of Peter Allen.
    We tried to get tickets to the show, and it was completely sold out. Little did I know at the time that the show would eventually come to Broadway and we would all get to see the incredible Hugh Jackman –
    one of the greatest performers I’ve ever seen!

  • Being a new producer (I’m onto my 2nd season with the same one man play, ‘Here Lies Henry’, by Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor), your comments on Oz are timely and well met Ken. Loved reading them.

    We did HLH at the Sydney Fringe Festival Sept’12 and now at Midsumma Festival (Melbourne) in 13 days (aargh!). Even on the Fringe Festival/independent theatre level there is a healthy rivalry between Syd & Melbs! Our marketing, for instance, in this Melbourne season doesn’t highlight a ‘successful, inaugural season in SYDNEY’, just that we’ve HAD a successful, inaugural season! So yes it’s palpable.

    Down the track I’d love to bring something from overseas here too so let’s talk ideas! I’ve got a few.

    Glad you enjoyed our theatre community! And loving the blog. Thanks very muchly.

  • PS: I’m actually producing whilst performing in Asia with Phantom! The Sydney season was produced from Manila and now I’m in Seoul. Your previous blog about the how to get a gig on broadway & the team surrounding you were most helpful! I’d love to sit down in front of your desk and talk possibilities and the virtues of a great team.

  • Maria Lawrie says:

    I am a theatre goer rather than a theatre maker, although I have assisted with the production of a show for the Sydney Fringe Festival last year and absolutely loved it and can’t wait to do it again.

    I live in Sydney but will travel almost anywhere within Australia to see a show, preferably a musical, if I think it is worthwhile. I went to Melbourne three times last year to see shows but unfortunately didn’t get to see Forum which I deeply regret. I am also a Jersey Boys tragic and go to see that show as often as I can no matter what state it is being performed in. Going to Melbourne again in a couple of weeks to see it again.

    If I like a show I will see it more than once. Saw Officer and a Gentleman 12 times and absolutely loved it and can’t understand why the critics didn’t. Have seen Legally Blonde five times and going to see it again before it leaves Sydney and am going to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang again.

    Saw My First Time last weekend at the Sydney Opera House and liked it although I think they could have treated the sad and tragic experiences with a bit more respect. I am not a critic but I think they were trying to make it as funny as possible and just glided over the sad bits. It is still worth seeing though.

    We have a wealth of extremely talented people in this country whether they are performers or the directors, producers, stage managers, dressers et al. It is such a shame that we do not have the population to support them and therefore they have to go overseas to find their fame and fortune. Paul Whiteley is one of the extremely talented ones.

    Thanks for the blog. I look forward to more.

  • Cass levey says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I have always wanted to go to Australia and work in theater there but can’t afford a plane ticket (yet) so would have to have all expenses paid for by the project I was involved with.

    Are there any projects that would take you to Australia with the show, and how do you get in on those new musicals?

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