The Sydney Theatre Company (STC) is reportedly wracked with discord and low morale over the re-appointment of Andrew Upton as Artistic Director (AD).
STC staff have told City News key “creatives” are dismayed by the re-appointment of Upton, who has held the position of AD jointly with his wife, Hollywood star Cate Blanchett, for the past five years.
In August, STC Chairman David Gonski announced that after “an extensive national and international search” to replace the pair – whose tenure concludes in December – the company had settled on Upton as the “new” AD for a period of three more years.
Staff and contractors say the decision smacks of nepotism.
“Are we seriously meant to believe that after searching the globe for someone to replace Cate and Andrew, the best possible person happens to be already working at the STC, and it happens to be Andrew?” said one playwright, who wished to remain anonymous out of concern for future employment.
“It’s just nepotism.”
Key complaints over Upton include his penchant for minimalist “black box productions” (pared down, unadorned sets with black walls), a preference for “street clothes” over costumes, and an emphasis on adaptations of foreign plays over new Australian works.
A costume designer, who also preferred to remain anonymous, said: “With these endless black box productions there’s nothing for us to do. No sets, no real costumes to make. It might be trendy to have actors in a bare room but theatre is supposed to be theatrical.”
Similar concerns have also been voiced outside the company.
Kevin Jackson, who taught acting at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) for 28 years, posed blunt questions about the recent adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s Face To Face, on his respected blog Kevin Jackson’s Theatre Diary.
“When did you last see a show with only furniture in a black box, wheeled on and off by stage crew?” he asked.
“When did you last see a set of mono-chromatic costumes looking like our own clothes?
“When were you last bored in the theatre, with a grave sense of déjà vu [over] content and production design techniques?”
STC General Manager Patrick McIntyre sought to allay concerns about Mr Upton’s approach.
“Forthcoming STC productions may counter concerns about so-called black box productions – there are numerous large, complex and beautifully designed works to come,” he said.
Mr McIntyre expressed disbelief at staff dissatisfaction with Mr Upton.
“This is very surprising,” he said. “When the Chairman announced the appointment to an all staff company meeting, it was greeted with spontaneous warm and prolonged applause.”
Mr McIntyre said the STC Board had always wanted Mr Upton and Ms Blanchett to stay, and only looked for a replacement because “Cate and Andrew … were contemplating moving overseas.”
“When [this] changed, the Board asked Andrew if he would reconsider and stay on … The Board absolutely believes he is the best person for the job.”