After several years of touring, Vanessa Hutchins has come home to Newcastle. Touring now means spending four nights a week watching live performances around the city, plus shows at the Civic Theatre, where she was appointed manager this year.
Hutchins has honed her skills in fine art production with her fingerprints on major shows in Australia as well as touring Australia acts around the world. She was stage manager for Bjork’s performance in the Opera House forecourt as part of the Sydney Festival in 2008. She worked Nick Cave’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival on Cockatoo Island in 2009. She was production manager for the Bangarra Dance Theatre for several years.
Now, she has brought her energy, enthusiasm and keen head for details that living a life on tour requires, home to Newcastle.
She knows the Civic well: her grandfather brushed the first coat of paint on the building; at age 16 she learned the ropes of unloading a tour truck at the Civic’s doors.
“I used to write on my [resume] program, ‘you can take me out of Newcastle but you can never take Newcastle out of me,” Hutchins says. “It was the really unique theatre environment here that actually fostered me.”
She was involved with Aftershocks, the documentary play drawn from the traumatic recollections of members of the Newcastle Workers' Club, which was destroyed in the 1989 Newcastle earthquake. And the production of the Blackrock play. And Freewheels Theatre Company.
“It was a dynamic period of growth,” she says. “I became passionate and I haven’t lost my passion.”
Since returning to the city, she has reconnected, reaching out to the more than two dozen theatre and dance companies in the city, attending their shows, listening to their observations. Partially as a result, she was involved in adding a locally-produced show, The Age of Consent, starring Jerry Ray and Amy Wilde, to the Civic Theatre’s 2017 subscriber season.
“That was the show I heard everyone missed out on in 2015,” she says. “I started investigating it. I found Too Tall, a very early-stage company. I saw S-27 [another Too Tall production] this year, at the Royal Exchange. I thought wouldn’t it be fantastic where they have the opportunity to engage a larger audience. It was time to give them that opportunity to lift it a level.”
The show is just a hint of the intellectual challenges the 2017 Civic season will present to audiences. And Hutchins, who had a hand in developing the program along with Newcastle City Council cultural director Liz Burcham, couldn’t be happier about the selections.
“Our big risk,” she says in response to a question about that factor, “is bringing what we think are intelligent, interesting theatrical pieces to Newcastle that we know are going to invigorate our audience. But our audience doesn’t know they are out there.”
Along with The Age of Consent, the program aims high:
The Merchant of Venice by Bell Shakespeare (September 1);
Jasper Jones, a Kate Mulvany adaption of this funny and wise story about prejudices in small-town Australia, direct from Belvoir Theatre (March 1-4);
Velvet, a three-week music and circus extravaganza starring Marcia Hines done Spiegeltent-style in the Civic Park( for three weeks starting May 17) ;
The 7 Stages of Grieving, a modern classic on Aboriginal history from the Grin & Tonic Theatre Troupe, to be performed in Civic Playhouse (May 30-June 3);
Therese Raquin, a thriller based on 19th century France, with immense staging (June 16-17);
Our big risk is bringing what we think are intelligent, interesting theatrical pieces to Newcastle that we know are going to invigorate our audience.
Dracula, from Shake & Stir Theatre Company, for one night only (March 17);
Blue Love, a satirical take on pop culture, through dance and multimedia, from Shaun Parker, who previously brought the challenging dance piece, Happy As Larry, to the Civic (October 20-21);
The Witches, a mind-boggling one-man show based on a Roald Dahl work aimed at children (June 3-5);
Double Delight, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra plays Haydn and Mozart (May 26);
Gudirr Gudirr, an intimate dance solo and video work by Dalisa Pigram, from the Broome-based Marrugecko Theatre (September 22-23);
Piano Lessons Anna Goldsworthy and Helen Howard star in this music theatre work about Goldsworthy’s musical awakening. Goldsworthy will also perform a recital in Newcastle Art Gallery on October 7;
There are two additional productions for children, Landscape With Monsters by Circa, and Mr Stink, based on the book by David Walliams.
Civic Theatre season subscribers also receive discounts to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow (June 9-11) and Sydney Comedy Festival Showcase (September 8).
The new season’s marketing theme is based around “memories: make some”.
“For an audience, it’s not just the work, it’s the night,” Hutchins says. “It’s the experience on the night. You are taking that punt yourself to believe, there is something in live entertainment.
“That’s what we are trying to promote, some escapism, to get out of the reality and come and see something that is going to change your reality, make you change some memories.
“And that for me has always been the central theme of why I am passionate about theatre. You know, it’s an interactive experience. It doesn’t matter if it’s a local company that’s aiming big, or an international company or a national company, what they present to us gives us the ability to become a part of that. That’s what live performance does for me.”