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Australian Theatre Company’s New Season Is A Ripper!

How does an upstart theatre company enter the Los Angeles theatre wars and expect to survive?  Well, ask the folk behind the Australian Theatre Company (ATC)Nick Hardcastle, Nate Jones, Joshua Thorburn, and Jackie Diamond.

Building on its success two years ago with their premiere presentation of the late Timothy Conigrave’s Holding The Man, (HTM), ATC is now prepared for a Double Feature, two plays in repertory on which Aussie films were based: Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues, which was filmed as Lantana [2001] and Brendan Cowell’s Ruben Guthrie, released last year.

Their season starts June 6th and runs through June 28th at the Matrix Theatre.  Tongues is to be directed by Australian Jeneffa Soldatic, with Guthrie helmed by Peter Blackburn, who was assistant director on HTM.

Nick Hardcastle, co-founder of ATC, produced HTM.  “We knew the play was great, but weren’t sure how it would go over with American audiences.  But they loved it, and we’ve spent this past year developing our company, auditioning actors, looking for a permanent home, etc.”

The main reason for an ATC is, of course, to create paying work for Australian actors in America or, more specifically, in Los Angeles.  But the other major reason for Hardcastle was to find a place for them in the American cultural scene, better to break down some of the negative stereotypes that Americans might have about Aussies:  low self-esteem, alcoholic, racist, homophobic.  And, art, of course, is a noble way to explore all issues, allowing for a deepening of the relationship between these two countries. 

Nick Hardcastle and Nathan Sapsford in “Ruben Guthrie”

So, first things had to come first:  applying for, and receiving, their not-for-profit status (IRS 501(c)3), building their Board of Directors, getting the word out about finding Australian and American actors for the Company, and beginning a series of play-readings of Australian works, always with the purpose of exploring what both countries have in common.

But why these two particular plays with which to open their season?  According to Hardcastle, “these resonated the best, so we decided to put them into repertory. To save on expenses, we’re using the same set for both, building an iconic look and feel [for which] John Iacovelli has designed a very clever, very simple set, and upon which Jered Sayeg has designed the lighting – both men have worked together a lot so they have incredible shorthand.”

The director for Speaking in Tongues, also Australian, Jeneffa Soldatic, is an acting coach who has directed quite a bit Off-Broadway.  And they have cast exciting actors for both plays in this first-time repertoire, upping their game in town.    

They even booked the same 99-seat theatre they used for Holding The Man, the venerable Matrix, on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood.  But as it’s one of the most expensive smaller theatres in L.A. County, fund-raising became the order of the day, which included an Indiegogo campaign, corporate sponsorships from Aussie corporations such as Quantas Airlines, Penfolds Grange Winery, and the shopping network,, as well as a donation from the Australian Consulate of Los Angeles. 

They’ve also taken on some responsibility of raising money for The Australian Theatre for Young People International Scholarship for Emerging Talents. But the main focus is on developing Aussie stories and voices not heard before. “This kind of hands-on supportive involvement has given us a huge vote of confidence, plus allowing us to work collaboratively with American actors and designing talents.  We aim to be as inclusive as we can, as that’s the very core of our mission here.”

And, considering that they are a new force in L.A.-theatre, they’re determined to shake-up the system a bit – specifically finding flexible agents and managers who understand the value of placing their actors into non-paying roles, working against Actors’ Equity’s addled-brain’d plan to replace the 99-Seat Plan, and experimenting with non-traditional openings such as a Monday and Tuesday for the two plays.  “Flexibility is the key here, plus we’re going to institute free events every Wednesday night in June to allow audiences to watch rehearsed readings of new works by female Australian playwrights.

Kym Wilson and Matt Passmore
Photo by Adrian Wlodarczyck

And amazingly enough, “we think we’re fortunate to be in Los Angeles during this election year where immigration is such a hot topic, but with no ability to participate directly.  Nevertheless we remember that both of our countries are young and built on immigration, and we share painful histories of how we have treated our indigenous peoples. In addition, politically it become easier to work here under our Free Trade Agreement than in Britain since it joined the European Union.”  (Which may even worsen if Britain votes to leave the E.U.) “We have a love affair/interest with you folk, as we grew up listening to, and watching, American culture.”

And to make sure we ‘Mericans can understand Aussie-speak in the plays, they’re adding a glossary in the program, as they did with HTM.  In addition, Nick is performing in Ruben Guthrie and Nate is co-producing, switching roles they performed last time. 

For Nate Jones, moving to USA to continue his acting career made perfect sense. “Many Australians had already established a beachhead here, so Nick and I met here and knew it was a no-brainer to start our theatre company in L.A. We have our own stories to share and want to share them in our own voices. I’ve been here for going on three years now and am very much ready to begin building a world-class theatre organization – something we could hand over to others, eventually.  We also intend to bring in newer folk who want to do a show; not just Australians.  For example, in Ruben, we cast one non-Australian (a Ukrainian). As we’re a multi-cultural country, we recognize the importance of cross-fertilization, so we’re wide open to having Americans in our productions, for the readings, along with technical crews.” 

Stay tuned.