Geordie Brookman: "Remembering which meetings I have to try and not look scruffy for is a little bit complex."

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Geordie Brookman has just completed his first year at the State Theatre Company of South Australia. His appointment last year was made with the co-appointment of his father Rob Brookman as the company’s general manager. (Brookman senior was the general manager of the Sydney Theatre Company for many years, and had run Adelaide’s Festival Centre, directed the Adelaide Festival in 1992, and was founding director of Womadelaide). When he was appointed, Geordie Brookman said he wanted the STCSA to expand its scope to include co-productions, more touring and provide more opportunities for artists working in the city’s independent theatre.
Brookman’s 2013 mainstage season began with The Kreutzer Sonata, an adaption of a Leo Tolstoy novella by Sue Smith, but it was a baptism of fire for Brookman when exhaustion forced its star Barry Otto to withdraw from the one-man show after only two previews. He was replaced by Renato Musolino who stepped in performing with the script in hand.
Brookman directed the second show of the season, Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler adapted by Joanna Murray-Smith and starring Alison Bell, who won the Helpmann award for best female actor in a play. Brookman’s production was nominated for best play in the Helpmanns. His 2013 season also included Bell Shakespeare’s  The Comedy of Errors, Rita Kalnejais’ Babyteeth, the Australian premiere of UK company Kneehigh’s Brief Encounter, the world premiere of John Doyle’s Vere (Faith),  and the world premiere of Caleb Lewis’ Maggie Stone commissioned by the STCSA and directed by Brookman.
Geordie-Brookman1-350x408This was your first full year at the helm of STCSA. What did you want to achieve by the end of your first season?
I wanted the company itself to be energised and ambitious, to start building it into a leading commissioning and development house, to develop a strong connection with our audience and create a place where artists would be excited to come and make excellent theatre. Hopefully put on a few good shows along the way as well!
How many of your goals did you achieve?
We’ve started down the path to all of them I think. They are all goals that remain relevant over the long term as well as the short term. There’s no room for complacency which is a good thing!
Is the role of artistic director harder or more complicated than you thought?
In some ways more it is more complex in some ways it is simpler. It’s nice to confirm the simple idea that if you make excellent work and shout about it proudly the audience will turn up. Remembering which meetings I have to try and not look scruffy for is a little bit complex.
How is it more complicated?
I think the most complex part involves people management, whether that is staff, artists, audience, sponsors, donors or government. That and trying to pick when a new play is ready to hit the stage.
Was there anything more complex than a lead actor falling ill at the last minute?
Strangely enough the experience with Barry’s (Otto) illness on The Kreutzer Sonata was actually rather simple. The show had to go on, it was just a question of how. When you have that little time you focus quite efficiently on solutions and tend not to get bogged down in the problem. Having three productions on tour at once (The Comedy of Errors, Vere and Brief Encounter) was much more difficult to manage!
What have you learnt about your audiences that you didn’t know before?
The fierceness of their love for the company. The vast range and depth of them.
Have their tastes changed?
I think tastes are constantly evolving but we’ll always be creatures that need story and intellectual provocation in some form. It’s just a question of how it is delivered.
Is your role to lead audiences into new territory?
It’s one of my roles. There’s no point in standing still or the company becoming a predictable theatrical mix tape. For me new work and new approaches to the form are the primary focus.
Have they been willing to follow this year? Are subscriptions up or down?
Absolutely. Both subscriptions and single tickets are significantly up and are on track to rise again next year.
What was your greatest achievement this year?
Being part of a group (artists, audience and staff) that created some really great moments in the theatre. And successfully managing to not call my Dad ‘Dad’ in any big, important meetings. It’s tough training yourself out of a 33 year habit.
Your greatest disappointment (other than losing an actor)?
Having to say ‘no’ a lot.
How healthy is the theatre scene in Adelaide beyond the STCSA?
In terms of theatre for young people it is extraordinary. Between Windmill, Patch and Slingsby we have the strongest children’s theatre sector nation wide. I think there is a lot of potential in the independent scene but that it has a ways to go before it develops the strength of Melbourne’s indie community. Personally I’d like to see more government and corporate support for the small to medium sector. We have some amazing companies here like Brink, The Border Project and Vitalstatistix but none are supported to the degree where they can produce multiple productions in a calendar year. Venues are a problem. Patch is the only theatre company in the city that actually occupies and controls a venue.
Is there a divide between STCSA and the independent scene and if there is, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
I don’t think there is much of a divide and if there is we’re trying to bridge it through our Umbrella program. We try to be as generous with our resources as we possibly can be to any theatre maker who needs the support.
Was your Helpmann success a boost to the company’s confidence?
It was really satisfying both to see Alison’s (Bell) work recognised and to see it recognised in a show that played only in Adelaide. I hope that it made a statement that STCSA is a place for our best actors to come and do some of their best work.
Has it led to more interest in your shows from outside the state?
We’re touring two productions interstate next year (The Importance of Being Earnest and Little Bird) and have another co-production with Sydney Theatre Company (Kryptonite) so the interest is definitely there. National and international partnerships are firming up for 2015 and 2016 as well.
Co-productions among the state theatre companies seem to be scarcer. Is this because artistic directors are protective and only want to champion their own work?
For us co-productions are actually incredibly important because it means our work and our local artists can travel so I hope they aren’t getting scarcer! We aim to have two to three co-productions or touring works a year (there are four in 2014). I find that what drives all the ADs is pretty much the same thing, the desire to make really bloody good theatre. If the way to do that is through a partnership then that’s what you go for.
[box]Featured image: Hedda Gabler. Photography by Shane Reid.[/box]

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