Time to say goodbye

Saying goodbye is never an easy thing and for that reason, this column is perhaps the toughest I’ve ever had to write.

Today I bid farewell to AussieTheatre.com as its Managing Editor and hand the reigns to Erin James, who will do an amazing job and together with Matt Edwards has already instigated some impressive changes on the site.

In many ways I want this column to not be about AussieTheatre.com, but moreso to be about what has been an amazing ride in the theatre industry for myself.

But of course, the website is at the core of that and there is so much to be said.

I started this concept way back in 2003 with a naive view of what the whole industry was about and by the time we started to make big-time waves in 2006 and 2007, lessons had well and truly been learned, mistakes made, and a future direction sorted.

Not in a million years would I have expected the kind of response and support AussieTheatre.com has received over the years and I am proud of everyone who has worked on the website during my time as the Managing Editor.

I believe that we created a new, unique portal for theatre in this country and I truly believe that AussieTheatre.com has covered theatre news like no other media outlet has in its history. Along the way, that may have ruffled a few feathers, but as I tell my team of journalists at the newspaper I edit as my ‘day job’, if you aren’t creating a response, you aren’t doing your job correctly.

As for me, I am so very grateful for the ride that I have had in the theatre world. It has been a ride beyond what I could have ever imagined as a youngster growing up in Penrith, and it is a ride that has given me back far more than I have ever put in.

Theatre – both on and off stage – has opened my eyes to a world that, 10 years ago, I barely knew existed. It has introduced me to people I never would have expected to meet and given me experiences that I will never, ever forget.

Memories? There’s many.

For the one that sticks out most, I probably can’t go past the whole fascinating Kookaburra story, which I guess in some ways, well and truly put AussieTheatre.com on the map. That remarkable couple of years saw something with so much passion and drive behind it become a bizarre car wreck of sorts that had so many twists and turns, it was sometimes hard to keep up.

Nobody can question the dreams, inspiration and drive of Peter Cousens, however, and the lofty goal of creating a national musical theatre company may not have been achieved with longevity, but Kookaburra did have some proud moments and some very, very good productions.

Kookaburra’s productions of Company and Little Women are amongst my top 10 shows I saw during my time as Managing Editor of AussieTheatre.com, and will forever live on in my memory.

Other shows that deserve mention for being exceptionally good are Titanic (which unfortunately, failed to fire at the box office), Wicked (one of the biggest things we’ve ever covered on the site), Jersey Boys and Priscilla, which has now gone on to remarkable international acclaim.

And I must mention The Hatpin, the extraordinary Australian musical by James Millar and Peter Rutherford that made the industry sit up and take notice. It was an extraordinary piece by two extremely talented individuals.

A great theatre memory for me is roaming the streets of Redfern with Caroline O’Connor one night looking for the closing night party of The Hatpin. We figured it wasn’t in ‘The Block’, but we ended up their anyway.

And yes, that was one of many very, very late nights along the way. The opening night parties were all fabulous, and one can very quickly feel very spoiled.

As for saying thank you, there are so many people who deserve recognition and if you’ve contributed to the website’s success but don’t get a mention here, then I apologise – but you know your contribution is well thought of and I would never intentionally leave anybody out.

Firstly, I’d like to thank the late Judith Johnson, who was the first of the major commercial publicists to give AussieTheatre.com a push-along and invite the site to opening nights, at a time when we were desperately trying to find our feet.

To that end I thank all of the publicists we’ve worked with over the years who have helped ensure AussieTheatre.com got what was needed, namely Merran Doyle, Amanda Buckworth, Ian Phipps, Geoff Sirmai and JP Bolton. There are many, many others – and I thank you all.

I would like to thank Belinda Wollaston and Skye Crawford who were there at the beginning of this crazy ride.

I thank all of the reviewers and contributors over the years, including Joanna Erskine, Maz Dixon, Anne-Marie Peard, Rohan Shearn and everybody else who has written for the site. There are literally so many, that it is impossible to remember everyone, let alone name them all.

I thank all of the advertisers who have made it so much easier to keep the website online and have helped make the late nights and long hours worth it.

I thank my partner Stacey for her ongoing passion, support and love. It does not go un-noticed nor is it forgotten. Our first date was to the theatre, and hence I in a round-a-bout way have the industry to thank for the amazing, crazy relationship we have today.

Thanks to the incredibly talented Erin James, who has been my Deputy Editor for a number of years but from tomorrow, takes the top gig. The website is being left in very capable hands.

Of course, I thank all of you, the readers. Without your hits, feedback, views and comments over the years, the site and I would be nowhere. I am so grateful to you all.

And finally, I want to say thank you to the people who I today call friends because of the theatre world. And whilst we may not see each other every day and in some cases we don’t talk all that often, this whole industry is unique in that friendships are long-lasting and can very quickly re-ignite.

So, with a big deep breath, I raise a glass to Octavia Barron-Martin, Andrew Benson, Andrew Threlfall, Bev Kennedy, Blake Erickson, David Woodward, David Hawkins, David Campbell, Lisa Campbell, Eddie Perfect, Geoff Castles, Grant Jones, Greg Eccleston, James Lee, James Millar (here’s to the steak nights), Kate Maree Hoolihan (surely there are more crazy nights to come), Kate Walder, Kaye Tuckerman, Les Solomon (I’ll miss the calls and emails), Lisa Scope (thanks for taking me to New York for the first time), LJ Smith, Lucy Durack, Lucy Maunder, Luke Joslin, Natalie Gamsu, Neil Gooding, Phil Scott and Zoe Jarrett.

There are many, many more – and to you, I also raise a glass.

Whether it be a big budget musical, or a show at the tiny Old Fitzroy Theatre, theatre is always magical. And at whatever level I saw it at over the last decade, I’ve always been swept up in that magic.

There’s been good shows, bad shows, indifferent shows… but they’ve all had that theatrical aura and I will most certainly miss it.

So again, I thank this amazing, incredible industry for what it has given me – experiences that I will never forget, friendships that I will always have and memories that I am so very grateful for.

I think many expect a parting shot and yes, there will be a few things to say.

Firstly, to the publicists and producers… I plead with you to recognise and understand that if theatre is to grow its media interest, the ‘controlling’ aspect needs to be tossed aside.

So often theatre-types complain about the lack of arts coverage compared to sport, but a deeper look finds that much of the sports coverage is based on rumour, breaking stories and unique information.

On at least a dozen occasions during my time as editor, publicists or producers have asked me to remove stories that have later turned out to be 100 per cent correct. It is not the way to handle the recognition of a business that is crying out for more and more coverage in metropolitan media.

Can you imagine political or sports journalism being controlled in such a way?

Secondly, the Helpmann Awards need to be totally overhauled. We need a true indication of the best of the best and at the moment, the rules and bizarre technicalities of the Helpmanns do not achieve that goal.

This is an industry with so much potential, and so much passion, yet on so many occasions, I have witnessed it shoot itself in the foot.

AussieTheatre.com will continue to grow and it will continue to provide content that is unrivalled anywhere else. I’m looking forward to sitting back as a reader, and a casual observer.

I’ll still be hanging around until year’s end, but I say goodbye to the top gig as of now and I become a humble contributor.

I wish Erin and Matt all the best with this venture, and I believe that under their guidance, AussieTheatre.com has its best years ahead of it.

For me though, it’s time to clean out the editor’s desk.

That you for your support. We’ve done amazing things together, and I feel much richer for my involvement with this website, with theatre, and with all of you.

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