It seems like yesterday that every theatre producer was bemoaning the inability to bring certain productions to Australia due to a shortage of theatres in our key capitals (mainly Sydney and Melbourne). So why have so many of said theatres been dark for a good part of the end of last year and into this year?
Love Never Dies left town this week and as such there will be no mainstream commercial production playing in any of Sydney’s three main commercial venues (Royal, Lyric and Capitol). True, Annie has only recently closed in Sydney to begin a national tour and the Lyric will soon be taken over by all those officers and gentlemen, but the Royal has been dark since Jersey Boys and the Capitol has a bit of a haphazard year. After years of one big production following another, it has only announced little season with Dame Edna, three weeks of A Chorus Line and 3 weeks of Next to Normal (yes, the intimate Next to Normal in that huge theatre) later in the year.
In Melbourne over Christmas every major venue was dark until Yes, Prime Minister hit the Comedy and A Chorus Line came stampeding into town to lighten up Her Maj, but only for a short time. The Regent has been dark since the closing of Love Never Dies in December and the Princess hasn’t really had any sort of long running show since Hairspray. It won’t be until May when both theatres are filled again with Annie and Moonshadow respectively.
It seems a lot of the problem with all these dark theatres is the result of producers planning so many years in advance, holding theatres to the point that other shows go elsewhere and then seeing shows fall through. The sudden axing of the Sydney season of Rock of Ages and the long-awaited Les Miserables 25th anniversary season that never eventuated (thanks, I believe, in part to the making of the movie) have helped cause these gaping holes.
But of course many producers would say- ‘what can we do’? To ensure a show has a smooth transition around the country, theatres do need to be booked up to two years in advance. The problem is when something falls over and the whole equation falls apart for everyone.
Yet I do wonder if sometimes there is a little too much forward planning. Too many shows get auditions way way too far away from show’s openings and this is the fault of the overseas creative teams. Why we need international directors to come in and direct a show is a hot topic I will examine later in the year as it requires many discussions with local producers.
The long advance seems to screw everything up. But it does give producers like Tim Lawson, (who likes to survey the playing field before bringing a show in, sometimes at short notice and holds auditions quite close to the start of rehearsals) a chance to surprise us with a hit and unexpected revival of A Chorus Line: and his next little extravaganza Chitty Chitty Bang Bang later in the year.
Tim doesn’t hold audition years away from the show’s scheduled rehearsal periods, and I believe he often gets some terrific actors who are willing (and wanting) to take jobs ‘right now’ rather than wait 12 months for their contracts to begin, because of the short notice he gives.
We are all pleased Legally Blonde has FINALLY announced its cast and is edging slowly toward opening night and rehearsals, but how many years will it have been from first audition to opening night? This sort of long advance makes actors insecure and I can tell you, drives agents crazy.
The Australian theatre scene poses many questions about timing and organisation and personally, I do wish we could all operate on a little shorter time line.