CEO Torben Brookman chats all things Theatre Royal

The iconic Theatre Royal Sydney is reopening its doors!

Built in the 1970s, the theatre has been a staple of Sydney’s theatre scene. The theatre has recently undergone a massive refurbishment, reviving the beautiful historic building just in time to welcome audiences back to the theatre. Torben Brookman is the CEO of Theatre Royal, and has been an integral part of the restoration and relaunch of the space.

Torben Brookman

Torben is an experienced producer and presenter with a wide range of experience across commercial theatre, festivals, venue management and funded organisations. Along with producing and presenting throughout Australia and New Zealand, Torben has specialised in producing and touring productions throughout Asia since 2001. Torben is Joint CEO of GWB Entertainment, with previous roles including Deputy Executive Director of the Adelaide Festival, General Manager and Executive Producer of The Ambassador Theatre Group Asia Pacific, Executive Producer of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and Commercial Projects at the Adelaide Festival Centre and Associate Producer at The Really Useful Group Asia Pacific, Producer at the Adelaide Festival of Arts and General Manager of the Australian Festival for Young People. Torben is a prolific producer of first-class theatrical productions with recent shows including West Side Story (Australia, Germany, New Zealand), School of Rock (Australia, China, Korea, New Zealand), Matilda the Musical (South Africa, Singapore, China, Philippines), The King and I (London, Tokyo, UK), 1984 (Australia, New Zealand, Singapore), The Rocky Horror Show (Australia). He is also an Executive Councillor of Live Performance Australia.

Can you tell me a bit about your role as CEO of Theatre Royal, Sydney?

Torben:  My primary role is being across the various sort of day-to-day operations, the team that we have running the venue itself, and the overall programming strategy. In some ways it’s an extension from other things that I’ve done in the past – I’ve had experience programming venues before and producing shows, all those sorts of things. I think with the Theatre Royal, the exciting thing is that it’s effectively a new venue coming coming back to the scene in Sydney as a venue that’s been missed for for a number of years in the whole landscape. So I think it’s exciting that there’ll be a venue of that kind of twelve hundred seat size that sits between the larger commercial houses and then some of the smaller venues. It’s going to fill a really important place in the whole ecology of all the shows that are happening in Sydney.

The theatre holds a really significant place in Sydney’s arts scene, and it’s so nice to see it being restored.

Torben: One of the key things that we’ve focused on with the refurbishment and renovation has been to effectively open up the theatre to to the audience. So it used to feel like a concrete bunker… now, the front edge of the the of the lobby rather has been removed, and it’s this great big wraparound glass entrance that comes off King Street. I think the public and the audiences are really invited into the building from the beginning. And then as soon as they step inside, a lot of the older architectural features that have been there from the beginning have been either restored or uncovered and and are showing in a way that really brings the building back to how it was intended to be right when it opened 40 years ago. Everything is geared around showcasing the work of the original architects and builders, but at the same time, doing so in such a way that feels comfortable and contemporary and modern. So it’s a really beautiful nod to the past, but also making good of all the innovations that have occurred over in the modern time as well. I think, hopefully, it’ll end up being an experience that that feels sort of approachable but elegant and sophisticated for the patrons and a really comfortable experience.

Sydney’s Theatre Royal undergoing renovations | Photo by David Boon

There is already such an array of shows programmed for the theatre – the pop-rock Jagged Little Pill, the classic Gershwin An American In Paris, and the folky Bob Dylan The Girl From The North Country… I think that really speaks to the versatility of the space.

Torben: We wanted to basically make sure people would see everything that the theatre could do. For something like Jagged Little Pill, you know, they’ll feel a kind of that energy and and intensity that’s coming off the stage… then moving on to something like Girl from the North Country, which feels onstage more like a play with music rather than a kind of a a big, sweeping musical. And then right through to An American in Paris, which is an epic, sweeping kind of stage, set up the musical. So hopefully in those first three shows, we really showcase what the venue can do and also give a kind of an indication of the the feel of programming that we’re intending to have moving through the venue.

From the outside the theatre looks very slick and modern, but is it still the same traditional theatre house inside?

Torben: Yeah, absolutely. It’s in every way, shape and form a traditional lyric theatre. The one thing actually is that it does retain that many of the theatre’s around the country don’t have these days is a counterweight flying system – it’s been increasingly taken over with automated flying systems. So that’s something quite special, as we had it restored and updated as well. A lot of the energy is being spent in the auditorium and in the front of house areas, but also the back of house areas.

I think it’s so important to be restoring these old theatres, especially when Australia does have a limited number of theatres when compared to somewhere like Broadway.

Torben: I couldn’t agree more. I think once they’re gone, you can never get them back. That’s one thing. Cities often lament the theatres that have been torn down, and the fact that the Royal was able to be retained and restored is really special. There’s hopefully be a few others along the way in different cities. There’s something about going into a space that has history that is not necessarily brand new, something that has a past… it has all of that, that lived experience. And then, sharing that in a live way with a live audience… you can’t replicate that anywhere else. It just adds extra layers to that experience.

Is it exciting to finally be reopening the doors after the last few years we’ve had?

Torben: We’re delighted to be opening having this initial season in December because it feels like such an energy growing around this kind of reopening of Sydney. It feels like there’s a real sense of sort of vibrancy and hope. We’ve seen that we’ll be living with COVID for quite some time, but it feels like we’re actually finally got to the point where we’re we’re moving forward, hopefully as a whole nation. Being part of opening a venue to invite people in a in a safe way to celebrate live performance feels special. It’s been a very tough couple of years for the live entertainment industry, and I think there’s so many people who are just desperate to get back out there and do what they do best – present shows.


Click here for more information about Theatre Royal Sydney.

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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