Amy Hardingham: new director at Tantrum Theatre

PROFESSIONAL theatre director Amy Hardingham was born and bred in Sydney, but a visit to Riverina town Deniliquin a decade ago led to a passion for working with young people in regional theatre.

She spent four years at Hay as artistic director of Outback Theatre for Young People.

Though she returned to Sydney after her marriage, she continues as a member of this theatre's board.

Her work at Sydney's Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) since 2009 included the post of its regional manager.

This saw her running training programs and developing works at places including the Northern Territory's Tennant Creek and north Queensland's Palm Island.

She continued to yearn, however, to live in a regional area, so when the post of artistic director of Newcastle's youth company, Tantrum Theatre, was advertised late last year she applied for - and got - the job.

As Hardingham says, living and working in Newcastle gives her the best of all possible worlds.

She has the more relaxed lifestyle of a regional community, while the proximity to Sydney means that her husband, James Edwards, who has worked as a video editor with the Chaser team, still has the opportunity to commute to the capital for such work.

And 2½-year-old son Leo remains close to his Sydney grandparents.

Although this year's Tantrum program was largely set in place before she was appointed artistic director, her stamp will be on the shows it stages.

Since taking up her post three weeks ago, she has been rehearsing its production of Romeo and Juliet, which will be the centrepiece of the Shakespeare in Gloucester Festival, with performances at that upper Hunter town from March 7 to 9, followed by outdoor shows in Newcastle's Pacific Park from March 21 to 23.

Hardingham has set the play in the 1970s, with the feud between the families of the title characters happening in a caravan park.

Silent Disco, an Awgie Award-winning play by a former Tantrum artistic director, Lachlan Philpott, about a teenage couple trying to find their way amid the conflicting attitudes of friends, will be presented at the Civic Playhouse from July 25 to August 3.

"It's an exciting project for me," Hardingham said.

"I had a bit of involvement in the play's development, when Lachlan was working on a film script version. Some of the characters are indigenous Australians, so I'm hoping to get more members for Tantrum from the Aboriginal community."

She is also looking at developing a play that will deal with teenagers facing mental health problems.

Amy Hardingham became involved in the Sydney University Dramatic Society (SUDS) when studying for a bachelor of arts degree after doing the HSC.

She was initially an actor, then a writer and director, and was president of SUDS for two years.

She became involved with ATYP when a play by university friend Tommy Murphy was picked up by the company's then artistic director, Maitland-raised David Berthold.

A few years later, after obtaining a graduate diploma in arts management, she was an assistant director on a Debra Oswald play called Skate that was staged by ATYP.

The play, about a group of young people trying to get a skate park, had been developed in Deniliquin and Hardingham went there to talk to people who had been involved.

She so enjoyed the experience that when the post of artistic director of the Hay-based Outback Theatre for Young People came up soon after she applied for it. On winning that role, she cancelled plans to head to London to gain more theatre experience.

The Outback Theatre was founded in 1989 to give young people in south-west NSW opportunities to be involved in performing. Works were performed in theatres, barns, railway buildings, museums and other venues. By the time Hardingham left the theatre in 2008 the organisation had become an incorporated company, with three assistant artistic directors employed for several months of the year.

She plans to resign from the Outback Theatre's board, which she chairs, in May.

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