One of the great joys of living in Canberra during the winter months is that it gets quite cold at times. Although many see this as appealing as a sober audience with Pauline Hanson, this essentially means that there is plenty of time to spend indoors, whether that is rugging up at home watching repeats of Skippy on GEM with a herbal tea and tissues, going to see the latest Marvel or Lars Von Trier film, or indulging in the latest offering from the mostly wonderful world of local theatre.
It isn’t hard to be impressed by the attention given to theatre in Canberra. Taking a walk through Civic or Acton alone will confirm as much, where there are no less than four theatres (Canberra Theatre Centre, ANU Arts Centre, The Street Theatre and the REP) offering shows for the young, old and everyone inbetween. Additionally, the existence of Teatro’s Vivaldi on our very own green campus means that you can live the dream of tucking into arancini whilst watching the latest theatrical offerings. Bucking the bogus idea of Canberra as the cultural equivalent of sanitary solution, the sizeable crowds to these various shows in my experience have highlighted just how keen Canberrans are to see theatre in all its shapes and forms.
One thing that is great to see, given the trend of the major Sydbourne theatre companies focusing on the tried and tested classic pieces of the theatrical canon (to mixed results it’s got to be said), is the zeal of Canberra’s theatre scene to put on new works. A special shout-out has to go to The Street, purveyors of all kinds of weird and interesting pieces often devised by locals ala Pigman’s Lament and The Chain Bridge. To be sure, there will always be your Mary Poppins’, Hamlets and Threepenny Operas that roll into town and are deservedly swallowed up by the public, but Canberra still manages to strike a neat balance between the old and the new, the lavish and the intimate. That is not to say that other cities around Australia don’t offer this, but they notably also do so with a much larger population than the bush/farm/campus capital.
Musicals appear to tap into a particularly special part of Canberra’s cultural heart, with a multitude of song-and-dancies a constant source of entertainment from Gunghalin to, ahem, Queanbeyan (they count people…) It is always impressive to see the skill and panache that the so-called amateur companies put into shows that defy their budgetary restrictions, whilst retaining the DIY charm that bigger productions often lack – casts in all shapes, colours and sizes and curiously fun directorial choices – being the ones that spring to mind. Closest to home, the Interhall production of Sweeney Todd promises to be a bloody good (and minimally controversial) night out at the theatre, just going to show yet again, the passion and drive within the student community to put on memorable stage works. This is why the continued existence of the Arts Centre is fundamental to the scene, as it nourishes and provides an outlet for student and local achievement. A campus without it would feel hollow – missing a key facet of the university student experience.
Of course, the relationship between watching theatre and being a student is often similar to that between W.W.E. and reality – they do not always go hand-in-hand (we students is poor if ya didn’t know, guvna) – but luckily concession ticketing is available at most box offices. Plus, if you reckon you wear black better than Cash, theatres around the place are always looking for ushers with the reward of seeing the whole show for scratch. Additionally, joining clubs such as the fabulously non-allergen N.U.T.S (the student-run theatre group on campus) and theatre-going groups on Meetup.com is a great way to see shows at reduced prices and to meet fellow lovers of the theatre. You don’t even have to audition.