First published 2007

Imagine a world where no one was allowed to be an artistic director of a theatre company for more than 5 years. Imagine a place where artistic directorships were voted on by actors and crew. Imagine where the job security, superannuation  and safety  enjoyed by the current artistic director does not exist. How would this change the landscape of our current theatre scene?

What if the Artistic director’s artistry was in choosing other artists to make other scripts come to life? Some theatre’s seem to be under a tyranny of samey-sameness… as I like to put it… and yes, there are some new bright NIDA faces to add to the weather beaten director-ly ruts of the established theatre scene… but it all seems like a massive artistic case of déjà vu. Same, same, not different.

If you only had 5 years as an artistic director what would you program, how would you do it? What would the legacy be? Its sort of a similar question to “if you were on a desert island with only 3 books which books would they be?” or (my favourite question at the moment) “if you got paid $150,000 every year for the rest of your life, what would you do with your life?” Those who say “travel”
forget that they could run out of places to travel to… just as those who respond to the artistic directorship question say “I’d program classics or musicals” .. forget that they are a finite source …. If artistic directors had 5 years: one shot to get it right and leave a legacy, what do you suppose would change?

What if an artistic director handed all the creative ownership of the pieces over to directors, writer and actors who controlled the pieces? What if Ms Nevin never directed nor performed in an STC production. Would the choices of plays and casting change? What if Mr Armfield chose the directors to direct all the Belvoir pieces (In the same way Ms Wallace does)? What would these major companies produce? Who tells the artistic director that they are being self indulgent in “hogging” all the plays and all the roles? Who stands up and says “perhaps its not all about you and what you can do?”

I have never worked in a main stage theatre. I don’t know how it works… but this is how it seems to me. That the artistic directors choose what they want to do… and keep themselves in work.

Well I must say that I am very thrilled with one Sydney based theatre company at the moment… just on the basis of its choice to choose a non director as its artistic director… this seems to have changed the very dynamic of the theatre itself. Nick Marchand is a playwright. And I can say that from my perspective he is doing as an artistic director should, look forward and work hard.  None of his scripts have been programmed in this first year, and in fact he seems so engrossed and fascinated with the task of choosing and balancing the selection of plays, that he appears quite ego-less about it.

And from my outsiders perspective I find it refreshing that the artist director is not merely there to stamp their name over the season or to wield a fist of fury in justification of “I have arrived and its mine… all mine!!!!!!” Instead I think Marchand has handled his first 6 months I his new job with wonderful grace and dexterity.. and a huge amount of balance. And I am very surprised and grateful for the diversity and the fresh perspective on new writing he has introduced to the landscape of Australian theatre. Perhaps one can’t run a theatre company to its maximum effectiveness if one is involved in every show? But a clear and empassioned overview, such as Marchand’s may just be what the doctor ordered!