The winner: Urban Theatre Projects

RealTime

Kira Carden, Mechanix

Kira Carden, Mechanix

Kira Carden, Mechanix

Based in Bankstown in Sydney’s west, Urban Theatre Projects has been a distinctive and highly purposeful venture, now rewarded for its courage and adventurousness with a prestigious Sidney Myer Group Award for $35,000.

Death Defying Theatre, UTP’s famous precursor, was formed in 1981 and in the 90s decided to create a base in the suburban west. Following the DDT directorship of Fiona Winning and, later, a triumvirate of Winning, Monica Barone and Gail Kelly, the appointment of ex-Sydney Front player John Baylis as Artistic Director in 1997 established a new name and firmly set the agenda for works that fused community collaborations with open-ended, experimental and often site-based approaches to performance.

The sites—railway stations, a prison, a variety club, residential streets, a town plaza—have provided not only performance and design challenges but also a means to work with communities and with a range of strategies for engaging audiences. You always leave home for a UTP show with an open mind. The company is equally at ease at Performance Space or in a warehouse adapted for performance, as in The Longest Night (2002).

The range of often unusual and surprising subject matter has been similarly impressive. In 1991, the company presented Cafe Hakawati, an Arabic community show in Auburn about the impact of the first Gulf War. Noroc (Performance Space, 1996) explored cultural difference in a dynamic news/talkshow format. In 2000, the company toured Alicia Talbot’s tough-minded show about homelessness, Cement Garage, through Sydney suburbs and developed the sequel, The Longest Night, for a 2002 Adelaide Festival commission. Brian Fuata’s solo performance, Fa’afafine (2001) lyrically explored cross gender sexuality from a migrant Samoan perspective. The company’s new show Mechanix (from April 2) is a spectacle of machinic and sculptural inventions performed in the Old Town Plaza, Bankstown.

Executive Producer Harley Stumm, who started out as administrator with the company in 1995, has been integral to the company’s life for 8 years, helping shape its conceptual development and programming. He’s proud of UTP’s sizeable list of productions and achievements, especially of its “politically contentious work, its queer work, the range from community-based to straight professional work, and all with a strong commitment to social justice and cultural diversity…”

On behalf of the company, Artistic Director Alicia Talbot and Stumm received the Sidney Myer Award for outstanding achievement in the Performing Arts from veteran actor Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell at the awards ceremony in Melbourne—yet another UTP cross cultural moment.

The Myer Awards, established in 1984, celebrate outstanding achievement by Australians in drama, dance, music, opera, circus and puppetry. Other recipients this year included Yirra Yaakin Noongar Theatre which (WA) won a $10,000 Indigenous Facilitator’s Prize and actor Aaron Pedersen (Wildside, Water Rats) won the Indigenous Individual Award.

The Myer Awards, Cranlana, Melbourne, March 6

RealTime issue #54 April-May 2003 pg. 47

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1 April 2003