A resident company
From its inception, the Jane Street Season had relied on NIDA students and staff to contribute personnel and resources. The Season was established along the lines of repertory theatre: having a resident company rehearsing and performing in all plays was a traditional way of mitigating risks across a short season. The original NIDA Diploma in Acting was a two-year course and in 1966 NIDA sought funding for an Advanced Course in Acting to provide recent graduates with further training and a regular allowance. While the link between Jane Street and the Advanced Course was not planned, the first intake of students was employed on the 1966 Season, working alongside more seasoned professionals.
The Advanced Course in Acting students became the nucleus of each Season’s company. For young professionals Jane Street presented an opportunity for continuous work for a period of time: the 1970 students received $40 per week for 20 weeks, for example. For NIDA Design and Technical Production students the Jane Street Season was a fixture in the practical coursework. Fiona Reilly, then a design student at NIDA, remembers her involvement as designer of the 1973 production of Bon Bons and Rose for Dolly as a wonderful opportunity.
In 1973, NIDA introduced a three-year accredited Diploma of Dramatic Art. The Advanced Course continued as a fourth-year postgraduate opportunity, offering work to alumni such as Mel Gibson, Robert Menzies and Kerry Walker. Not all performers were graduates: Geoffrey Rush, newly arrived from Brisbane, was cast with Mel Gibson in the 1979 production of Waiting for Godot. While the later Jane Street productions are sometimes overlooked in critical appraisals of the Jane Street oeuvre, the 1979 Season production On Our Selection and the inclusion of Jane Street in the inaugural Sydney Theatre Company season that same year proved successful. The final Jane Street play Camino Real (1982) was also positively reviewed.
However, by 1983, the changes in funding sources and the sale of the Jane Street Theatre led to the demise of the concept of a semi-professional repertory-based company, at least for a time. During the late 1970s there had been plans to expand the Advanced Course and Jane Street model, but in 1984 the Advanced course was replaced with a Centre for Performance Practice, offering fee-based workshops and seminars, including the third incarnation of the Playwrights Studio.
In 1988, graduates Hilary Bell and Nell Schofield staged a new NIDA/Jane Street Season, a concept that was expanded in 1990 with the launch of the NIDA Company. The NIDA Company performed one or two plays per year until 2006 in much the same spirit as the original Jane Street Theatre.
Mother Courage and her Children
Mother Courage and her Children
Written by Bertolt Brecht
Directed by Aubrey Mellor
Performed 21 June 1978–22 July 1978
In 1978, the Jane Street Season changed tack completely and focused on directors reinterpreting Australian classics or European texts. Brecht was, at the time mostly performed by university students or community theatre and the production at Jane Street was the first professional production of Mother Courage in Sydney. The 1978 Advanced Course in Acting, which formed the nucleus of the Jane Street resident company, included Kerry Walker, Angela Punch McGregor, and Robert Menzies, with performances described as memorable (Kippax, Sydney Morning Herald, 23 June 1978). Mother Courage was extended by a week it proved so popular. That same year Punch McGregor won two Australian Film Institute (AFI) awards, but couldn’t attend as she was on stage at Jane Street in As You Like It.
Another Brecht play, The Caucasian Chalk Circle was directed by John Clark in 1979 as part of the inaugural Sydney Theatre Company season (at the Opera House Drama Theatre), curated by John Clark and Elizabeth Butcher. Starring Peter Carroll and Jennifer Hagan amongst a cast of 35, the production also included NIDA students in addition to the professional actors. Mervyn Drake’s music was featured with 54 songs written for the play. The play was enthusiastically reviewed.
On Our Selection
On Our Selection
Adapted and directed by George Whaley
Performed 20 June 1979–14 July 1979
Whaley’s adaptation of On Our Selection was a popular success and it transferred to Nimrod in 1979, before Whaley produced it as a feature film with Geoffrey Rush in 1995.
The genesis of the play adapted by Whaley is the books by Steele Rudd and a production script held by the 1920s start of the stage and films, Bert Bailey. As Whaley noted in a foreword to the Nimrod program, they ‘tried hard to retain the spirit of the books and the original play. We freely incorporated folk songs, folk tunes with new words written to suit the action’.
The Advanced Course students that year included NIDA alumni Mel Gibson, Kerry Walker and Robert Menzies, as well as Geoffrey Rush, who had studied in France with Jacques Lecoq. Geoffrey Rush regularly taught at NIDA when Whaley was Head of Acting.
Gibson and Rush also featured in the second Jane Street production that year, Waiting for Godot.
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Richard Cottrell
Performed 12 May 1982–12 June 1982 at the Parade Theatre.
English director Richard Cottrell had been working freelance in Australia and elsewhere since 1980, and was at NIDA teaching classes at the time of the production.
The 1982 Jane Street Season opened the Parade Theatre in March 1982, NIDA having secured the theatre for its own purposes following the demise of the Old Tote Theatre in 1978. On stage for Camino Real were a mixture of ten seasoned professionals including Ron Haddrick, Alexander Hay, Maggie Dence and Kate Fitzpatrick and 24 NIDA Acting students. The set, designed by Axel Bartz, was reviewed as ‘astounding’ with three to four levels, giving depth and height.
The performance started in the foyer: menacing, aggressive military ushers, inspected the audience, who were required to bear entry permits, which had replaced tickets. Mexican food was provided at interval. Cottrell himself found the production ‘enormously enjoyable’. Reviewing it in The Australian, Jane Cazdow considered the production a gamble that paid off.
It was, however, along with Rex Cramphorn’s The Provok’d Wife, the last Jane Street Season. The productions served to showcase NIDA’s move to the Parade Theatre rather than provide work for the Advanced Course in Acting. In 1988, as NIDA moved to the new purpose-built complex on Anzac Parade, new opportunities for young professional actors and writers opened up with the new NIDA/Jane Street Season, and the NIDA Company.