New theatre company puts Parramatta and the nation on stage

As Australia's newest theatre company, National Theatre of Parramatta will represent the growing artistic hub of Western Sydney.
New theatre company puts Parramatta and the nation on stage

National Theatre of Parramatta's inaugural season opens in April. Photo via Riverside Theatres

Parramatta is emerging as an important voice in Australian theatre, with the announcement last week of the country’s newest theatre company.

National Theatre of Parramatta was launched last Thursday to showcase diverse and powerful artists. As the fastest-growing region in Australia, it’s no surprise Western Sydney is undergoing a cultural renaissance.

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The new company will be resident at Western Sydney’s premiere performing arts venue, Riverside Theatres, which sits on the banks of the Parramatta River. Riverside hosts more than 1,000 events a year to an assorted range of audiences through its seasonal, education, screen and community hire programs.

National Theatre of Parramatta executive producer Joanne Kee said the company is a ‘wonderful catalyst’ for both the development of the area and artistic opportunities ‘for the people that live and work here’.

Backed by funding from Parramatta City Council, Arts NSW, Crown Resorts Foundation and Packer Family Foundation, the company is led by an impressive directorate of four arts professionals: Paula Abood, S. Shakthidharan, Wayne Harrison and Annette Shun Wah.

Shun Wah, also executive producer of Performance 4a, said the company ‘aspires to create bold, contemporary works that draw their inspiration from the rich diversity and untold stories of Western Sydney and beyond’.

Part of this inspiration, said Kee, is the unique mix of grit, beauty and community that makes Parramatta so different from the rest of Sydney.

‘There’s just this wonderful microcosm of diversity, people and environment,’ said Kee. ‘It’s an exciting place, because there’s so much going on.’

National Theatre of Parramatta’s inaugural season opens in April with award-winning playwright Stef Smith’s Swallow, as part of Riverside’s 2016 program. The play was embraced by audiences and reviewers during its premiere at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

‘What’s really exciting and special about Swallow is that Kate Champion, who has until recently been founder and director of Force Majeure, is going to direct it,’ said Kee, who added that the play marks an exciting shift for Champion from movement and physical theatre into a text-based work.

Stef Smith's Swallow. Photo via Riverside Theatres

The 2016 season will also pay tribute to the Indigenous community of Parramatta, which is one of the largest in Australia, as well as Riverside Theatres’ unique history as a storytelling site.

‘Riverside Theatres is built on a site that used to be the local baths where people told tales,’ said Kee. ‘We want to acknowledge and respect that.’

A highlight from the 2016 program is a new interpretation of Jane Harrison’s Stolen in June, which will be the first fully staged professional production since 2000. The play, which showcases a collection of experiences from survivors of the Stolen Generations, is also highly anticipated by both teachers and students as part of Riverside’s dynamic education program, which is the largest in the state.

Kee said the pairing of choreographer and director Vicki Van Hout with NTofP director Wayne Harrison is an exciting collaboration that will result in a fresh interpretation of the much-loved play.

‘It’s an incredible opportunity for us to be showcasing a new voice within the text sphere, and also we are hoping that we’ll be giving Vicki extra opportunities by working with her in this way.’

Also tying in with the theme of storytelling is National Theatre of Parramatta’s inaugural Telling Tales festival in October, which will unravel stories over traditional and alternative spaces to celebrate the diverse voices of Western Sydney.

At The Hakawati, audiences will hear intimate stories over coffee and bread, while NTofP director Annette Shun Wah teams up with photographer William Yang in Who Speaks For Me, to explore with locals what gets lost in stories that span different generations, languages and cultures.  

‘We really want to engage with people by the telling of stories, and to welcome people into the theatre,’ said Kee.

To ensure the growth of the company and its place within the Western Sydney community, National Theatre of Parramatta will also focus on providing opportunities and growth for local artists through educational and mentoring programs.

‘For all our productions we have opportunities – whether they be internships or mentorships – so that artists can develop and flourish.’

Equally important, said Kee, is for theatre practitioners and people who work behind the scenes to have opportunities to develop their craft, make connections and network.

‘I’m really excited about the possibilities that it opens up for people.’

As National Theatre of Parramatta gets ready for the future, Kee hopes the company will represent an important voice in Australian theatre – both at home and abroad.

‘We’re putting the nation on stage,’ she said.

Find out more about National Theatre of Parramatta’s 2016 season here.

Megan Anderson

Thursday 26 November, 2015

About the author

Megan Anderson is a Melbourne-based writer.