Independent Spotlight: Upstart Theatre Company

Jesse Phillips as Demetrius - Upstart Theatre's Midsummer Fringe World 2013
Jesse Phillips as Demetrius – Upstart Theatre's Midsummer Fringe World 2013

I’d like to begin my next Spotlight by saying a few words about what it means to be an independent theatre maker in Perth and why it’s vital to get a view of the forest while still examining each of the trees. For me, the exciting thing about Perth’s independent theatre scene is that there are so many ways to go about doing what we love and are passionate about. Everyone has a different formula; each of the practitioners I talk to has the same goals, but have very different approaches to their work. So it’s the diversity and the do-it-yourself spirit that makes the independent sector so fascinating to explore.

However, there is, by nature, a kind of separateness that comes with the territory. There seems to be different pockets or camps, and although there is a bit of bleed-over from one group to the next, especially amongst groups that get their work produced through The Blue Room, there isn’t much of a sense of unity or solidarity. There’s not a great machine behind it all, like there is with the annually funded entities, so groups tend to come and go intermittently around projects. There are, of course, exceptions; the next company in our Independent Spotlight, Upstart Theatre Company, is one of them.

Upstart was formed in 2007 and has been producing work since 2008. Garreth Bradshaw is one of its founding members and its Artistic Director. I first met Garreth a couple of months ago after seeing their last production Animal by Kay Adshead, down at the Pakenham Street Art Space (PSAS) in Fremantle. The experience he and his company created with that show in that venue was really exceptional and unique, and it was clear that he had some great ideas in mind for Upstart.

Firstly, he’s embracing social media and recognising it for the powerful tool it can be. For Animal he opened up the previews to a couple of “tweet seats” so that followers could catch live updates of the show; and rather than having paper programs that people tend to leaf through and leave behind, he had the Upstart business card available at the bar, which has a QR code on the back that sends people over to the Upstart website for a full list of the show’s cast and creatives.

But beyond that particular show, Upstart is making sure to stay in contact with its audience through social media, not just by advertising new shows and upcoming projects, but by attempting to engage its followers in a two-way exchange. So rather than just blasting messages, Upstart is trying to bring its audience into the experience as much as possible, so that participants feel a sense of part-ownership in a show and a kind of involvement in its success.

Patrick Downes as Puck in Upstart Theatre's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream
Patrick Downes as Puck in Upstart Theatre's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream

This reflects in the work that Upstart puts on.  For Fringe World this year, they produced an immersive Midsummer down at PSAS (which they’ve made their home base) and they’ve got an immersive Romeo & Juliet in the works for next year’s Fringe. Garreth says all of their shows have had some element of actors speaking directly to the audience, or interacting with spectators in some way. The through-line is that Upstart wants its audience to participate directly in the company’s life and they see this as an essential part of making theatre for Perth.

Garreth really wants Upstart to reflect the eclectic cultural makeup of Perth and he’s very much focused on using local actors in pieces which reflect the mix of old and new to be found here. He’s seeking a universality, not only in artistic themes, but also in Perth’s independent theatre world. He worries that there’s a lack of unity among independents, but he hopes to foster a better industry that can sustain healthy competition and avoid the destructive kind.

Upstart has a number of projects in the works. This coming Saturday night they’re having a free play reading for a new work by lauded Perth playwright Nathaniel Moncrieff (author of the award-winning play Sleepyhead which was produced by Upstart for The Blue Room Summer Nights in 2012) titled Our Lady of Gehenna. They’ve also just announced the launch of a Pozible campaign to draw crowdfunding for a remount of last year’s well-received The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. Then, as I previously mentioned, they’re planning an entry of Romeo and Juliet into Fringe World 2014.

Being an independent theatre maker in Perth is not easy. The general opinion seems to be that funding is drying up, which is sending the independents scrambling, trying to rethink their methods and come up with new strategies for finding water. Garreth and Upstart are finding water by keeping up with the times, staying consistent with their brand, staying in touch with their audience, staying aware of trends over east and overseas and slowly introducing them to the Perth market. And of course they also attract some of Perth’s best independent creatives and produce work that reflects the zeitgeist. If they can maintain that combination of elements, they’ll probably be able to weather the funding draught, the competitiveness and the race to find affordable space to put on shows.

And with any luck, these young Upstarts will keep growing into old Upstarts in the years to come.

Upstart Theatre Company presents

Our Lady of Gehenna by Nathaniel Moncrieff

FREE public reading

24 August, 2013 7:00pm

Pakenham Street Art Space, Fremantle

Pozible campaign information:

Upstart general info:



twitter: @Upstart_Co



Cicely Binford

Cicely originally hails from Dallas, deep in the heart of Texas, USA. She graduated from Texas Woman's University with a Bachelor of Arts in Drama. While at university, she had the opportunity to explore as many aspects of the theatre world as she could fit under her belt, both as a performer, as well as in a number of different design and technical roles. After moving to Australia in 2007, she found herself back in the theatre world, performing, designing, and even directing once again, with a passion rekindled by the increasingly vibrant theatre and performing arts scene in Perth. She is also an avid photographer and can often be found around town at various performing arts events with a camera strapped to her neck. Her aim is to have her finger on the thriving pulse of the arts scene in WA through participation and immersion in everything it has to offer.

Cicely Binford