It’s tough to break through and make it in any role in Australian theatre. Not only is it a small industry, but it’s usually dominated by the big names who can sell tickets (2014 is set to be the year of David Williamson in Sydney, with seven of his plays being performed professionally). Thankfully, there still seems to be room for innovative young people and innovative young collectives and companies to shake up the scene and make their voices heard.
Here’s our list of 21 young actors, writers, designers, directors and companies who have made big waves in 2013. Some have been hanging around the traps for a few years now but have really made their mark this year, whereas others are shiny and new. And with only 21, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Nakkiah Lui – playwright
Lui’s debut professional play This Heaven, an unapologetically fiery piece set in the parks and streets of Mount Druitt, premiered in early 2013 at Belvoir’s downstairs theatre. She writes from her own experiences as a young indigenous woman and recently won the Balnaves Foundation Indigenous Playwright’s award. Her next play, Koorioke is about indigenous karaoke competitions.
Sisters Grimm – playwrights/directors/performers
Ash Flanders and Declan Greene (Sisters Grimm) have been playing around with indie queer theatre in Melbourne for quite a few years now, but 2013 has seen them gain mainstream attention. Their hit play Little Mercy, which premiered in 2010 at a car park in Collingwood, was picked up as part of Sydney Theatre Company’s mainstage season. And their Civil War melodrama Summertime in the Garden of Eden (pictured left) moved from a backyard shed, to Theatre Works, to Griffin Theatre. Next year sees their new work Calpurnia Descending, with Paul Capsis alongside Flanders, play at STC and Malthouse.
The Danger Ensemble – devisors
The Danger Ensemble (led by artistic director Steven Mitchell Wright and associates Ben Hughes and Chris Beckey) began at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2007 as part of Amanda Palmer’s Spiegeltent residency. Since then, they’ve gone into street theatre and collaborated with younger artists and major companies including Queensland Theatre Company and Metro Arts. This year, they created one of Brisbane Festival’s biggest hits; a bold reimagining of The Wizard of Oz which played at La Boite.
Tim Watts – devisor/performer
Perth-based Tim Watts and his company Weeping Spoon had massive, international success in 2009 with The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik, a low-fi spectacular mix of black-light object-theatre and Pixar. That show is still touring the world and is booked solidly through until mid-next year. They’ve also had big hits with It’s Dark Outside and this year’s Bruce (pictured right, image by Jamie Breen, Brainlock Creative), a piece which used a yellow sponge as its main character.
Luke Mullins – actor
Mullins has been involved in some of the most popular productions in Sydney this year, having played the Prior Walter in Angels in America and Orestes in Small and Tired at Belvoir, Roger in Little Mercy, and Lucky in Waiting for Godot at Sydney Theatre Company. Mullins even managed to make it down to Melbourne to direct Night Maybe at Theatre Works. He’s one of the most in-demand stage actors in Australia at the moment and next year plays Tom in Belvoir’s production of The Glass Menagerie.
Hilary Cole – singer/actor
Cole made her professional music theatre debut this year with an almightly splattering of blood in the title role of Carrie the Musical. Critics were astounded by both her dramatic prowess and crystal clear, yet powerful vocals. She’s still studying, so it might be a few years before her star well and truly rises. But it seems almost certain it will.
Taylor Ferguson – actor
Ferguson has had a fair few roles in television and film, but this year made her professional stage debut in Belvoir’s Miss Julie (pictured left). While some critics weren’t completely sold on Simon Stone’s adaptation, the praise for Ferguson was unanimous. She also made a brief but memorable appearance in the film version of Tim Winton’s The Turning.
Kip Williams – director
In 2012, Williams made his Sydney Theatre Company debut with Under Milk Wood before becoming Resident Director for 2013. Since then, he’s directed a vibrant modern production of Romeo and Juliet, and an all-female production of Lord of the Flies for Malthouse. Next year, he’ll turn the Sydney Theatre inside out, putting the audience onstage and the performers in the auditorium for a production of Macbeth starring Hugo Weaving.
Little Ones Theatre – devisors
Led by director Stephen Nicolazzo, Little Ones Theatre is a small collective devoted to queer theatre. They’ve had massive success in 2013 with their production of Charles Busch’s camp classic Psycho Beach Party (pictured right) at Midsumma Festival and Brisbane Festival, as well as their production of Salome, presented as part of Malthouse’s Helium season. Little Ones Theatre will be a part of MTC’s Neon next year.
David Fleischer – designer
Fleischer has been designing sets and costumes for various companies around Sydney for the past few years – Belvoir, Darlinghurst, Griffin – but this year, he’s been in very high demand, and as co-designer in residence, has designed four Sydney Theatre Company productions – Little Mercy, Romeo and Juliet, Machinal and Fury.
Jay James-Moody – director/actor
As artistic director of Squabbalogic independent music theatre, James-Moody has brought a style of theatre rarely seen in Australia to local audiences. He’s had hits with Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and his production of Broadway mega-flop Carrie (pictured left). Squabbalogic have yet to announce their 2014 season, but the performances will be in the newly-dubbed Hayes Theatre, intended to be a new home for intimate musical theatre and cabaret in Sydney.
MKA: Theatre of New Writing – devisors/producers
Led by creative directors Tobias Manderson-Galvin and John Kachoyan, Richmond-based MKA is a group of young artists devoted to presenting new writing. Since 2010, they’ve produced innovative work from many writers and have established themselves as a stable force in local theatre. Perhaps most impressive is their ability to get tours up and running. The work they present often travels nationally and internationally.
Rory Potter – actor
After picking up a Sydney Theatre Award and a Helpmann nomination for his role in Medea at Belvoir in 2012, 12-year-old Potter has gone onto star in Sydney Theatre Company’s The Secret River, Storm Boy and Waiting for Godot. With so many successful productions under his belt in the space of just one year, Potter has become the go-to child actor in Sydney.
Sheridan Harbridge – actor/singer/writer
Since winning the Sydney Cabaret Showcase in 2008, Harbridge has performed in musicals, plays and her own cabarets (she even had a role in An Officer and A Gentleman the musical, though that might be best forgotten). In 2013, she’s had wowed audiences with Songs for the Fallen (pictured right), a cabaret that tells the story of 19th Century courtesan Marie Duplessis to a pumping electro-pop soundtrack. She also appeared in Eddie Perfect’s The Beast at Melbourne Theatre Company.
Nicole Car – singer
Car is, without a doubt, the fastest-rising star of opera in Australia. 2013 has seen her continued popularity with show-stopping performances in Opera Australia’s Carmen and La Boheme. The 28-year-old Soprano also won the prestigious Neue Stimmen singing competition in Germany. In 2014, she’ll appear in La Boheme, Eugene Onegin and Don Giovanni for Opera Australia, and Norma for Victorian Opera.
Will O’Mahony – playwright/director/actor
O’Mahony’s work could be described as the theatrical equivalent of Charlie Kaufmann or Murakami. This year, with his company The Skeletal System, he’s written, directed and performed in two sell-out plays at The Blue Room in Perth, Great White and The Improved. He’s currently developing work for 2014.
Adena Jacobs – director
Jacobs was this year appointed resident director at Belvoir in Sydney, after her smash hit Persona toured to Malthouse and Belvoir. Persona (pictured left), an adaptation of the Ingmar Bergman film of the same name, picked up five Green Room awards for its initial 2012 season by Fraught Outfit, for which Jacobs is artistic director. She’s also directed for Melbourne Theatre Company, La Mama and Red Stitch.
Daniel Clarke – director
As creative director for Theatre Works, Daniel Clarke has made a substantial impact in a reasonably short amount of time. The St Kilda company has, in 2013, fully lived up to its brief of supporting artistic exploration, and most impressively, many of those innovative works have proven to be major hits. This year, Theatre Works presented Room of Regret, Summertime in the Garden of Eden and M+M.
The Rabble – directors/writers
Emma Valente and Kate Davis this year had two major, controversial hits. Story of O, presented as part of MTC Neon, was an overtly sexual, pornographic adaptation of the 1954 erotic novel of the same name, and though it won most critics over, it divided and shocked audiences. Room of Regret was a hugely popular immersive theatrical experience, retelling Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Next year they present Frankenstein at Malthouse and Cain and Abel at Belvoir.
Imara Savage – director
Though she may have divided critics this year with her take on The Comedy of Errors (pictured right) for Bell Shakespeare, Savage has won plenty of praise for her most recent production, Machinal for Sydney Theatre Company.
Zahra Newman – actor
Newman has been in strong demand since she graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2008, appearing in plays for Melbourne Theatre Company, Hayloft Project and even large-scale musicals. But 2013 has seen her gain even more traction with roles as Varya in The Cherry Orchard and Camae in The Mountaintop for MTC. Next year she appears in The Effect for MTC and The Government Inspector at Belvoir.