Two very different Canberra theatre companies launched their 2001 seasons on Valentine's Day: Jigsaw and Free Rain. Yet there are strong connections between the two, not the least being David Whitney.
But first, their programs.
Jigsaw's was launched by Director of Public Prosecutions Richard Refshauge, the company's first president way back in the mid 70's, ACT Cultural Council Chair and currently serving on the Australian National University Committee of Review of the ANU Theatre Studies program. (Indications are positive and expect the Report, planned for last December, to appear about the end of this month.)
In true Jigsaw tradition, Mr Refshauge and David Whitney - representing the Australia Council - arrived on stage by ute and were critically examined by puppetry dogs, all part of Jigsaw's main production for Federation called Post & Rail. Asked to explain Federation in a fun way, writer Manuel Aston makes time rather slippery for Tom and Joanne when their ute breaks down and they seek help from a fencer who tells them they'll have to pay two bob customs duty to cross his state border fence and they can't catch one train to Melbourne because of the different gauges - and has a major fit when Joanne's mobile phone rings.
Jigsaw is bursting out all over with Post & Rail in schools and at Parliament House (March/April); Dyna'write at Big Byte Virtual Theatre (www.jigsaw.asn.au/bigbyte); Kings Hall Nine at Old Parliament House (March - April and September - November); Smoke Free Burning Boards Youth Drama Festival moving this year to The Street Theatre in June; The Long Time 'til Tea for 4-8 year olds at Tuggeranong Arts Centre, Gorman House and Belconnen Community Centre (November/December); Kera Putih going this year to Melbourne and Geelong Arts Centres; while The Man Whose Mother Was A Pirate, in its third year, goes to the Sydney Opera House, Western NSW, Adelaide, Melbourne and Geelong.
In addition is a new play by Mary Morris, The Blue Roof, with special funding from the Australia Council, treating a teenage boy's coming to terms with the tragic death of his girlfriend - a sophisticated production for young people at The Street in March/April. And New Direktions expands this year into employing (i.e. paying) Jonathan Lees (writer), Catherine Wright (technical production and set design), Matthew Aberline (costume) and Mike Smith (musical theatre and puppetry).
Free Rain Theatre Company, a risky business venture of its passionate director Anne Somes, has begun to keep its head just above water in this - its sixth - financial year. Focussed on providing for young actors and directors, Somes and George Huitker give particular credit to Jigsaw for major support two years ago as part of New Direktions at Currong Theatre and to Canberra Theatre Centre for administration, marketing and technical support for 2001 in the Courtyard Studio. A future direction will be to set up the now more experienced members into a separate team, while continuing to nurture a younger group.
Productions will be Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, David Williamson's Brilliant Lies, and Peter Nichols' A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. Phillip O'Brien in his launch speech commented on the challenge Free Rain sets itself, and compared the youth energy factor in this company with Richard Tognetti's Australian Chamber Orchestra: a high standard to match indeed.
And David Whitney? Now General Manager of the Canberra Theatre Centre as well as being on the Australia Council for the Arts, Whitney emphasises cooperation and support for the continually bubbling theatre scene in Canberra. People sit around their lounge rooms and form new companies every year, he says. Some collapse, but some prove themselves - like Free Rain - and he sees an obligation under the Canberra Theatre Centre charter to use his established administrative and technical structure to provide as much support as he can.
Whitney sees the Canberra Theatre Centre, Currong Theatre and The Street Theatre as a cooperative central network rather than competitive entities. His aim is to help raise professional standards of theatre in this city through the good offices of the Canberra Theatre Centre, and we can only hope his vision can break down insularity in the Canberra theatre scene.
© Frank McKone, Canberra