Trailblazing: Watch This, Company and the rise of independent theatre

Two years ago, Melbourne based production company Watch This barely even existed. Now, after two highly acclaimed productions, 11 Green Room Award nominations, a successful regional tour and a passion for creating first-class, engaging work, they are ready to take the theatre world by storm.

Watch This Artistic Director Sonya Suares. Image by  Julian Dolman
Watch This Artistic Director Sonya Suares. Image by Julian Dolman

Each individual triumph that Watch This has achieved over the last two years is impressive on its own: sold out seasons, rave reviews, stellar casting, securing the rights to some wonderful works in Sondheim’s canon, industry recognition and award nominations to name a few. But taking a step back and viewing all of those achievements with a wide angle lens makes you realise just how extraordinary this company is.

They are trailblazers. And they are only just getting started. Watch THIS!

Their first two shows, Assassins and Pacific Overtures garnered 3 and 8 Green Room Award nominations respectively and are up against some major productions from commercial and subsidised companies like The King and I, Les Miserables and Once. Nods for Best Production, Best Direction, Best Musical Direction, Best Choreography, Best Design, Best Lighting Design, and Best Supporting Actor indicate the calibre of work being produced by Watch This, and it’s time to make some noise about this little company that could!

Sonya Suares – Artistic Director of Watch This – says the recognition from these industry awards is incredibly validating. As a “ship that sails on guts and good will”, it is her hope that the accolades help to “secure financial support to match the artistic investment in our projects” for future productions.

“The nominations are especially important for our artists and creatives”, she said.

“It acknowledges the depth of their talent, creativity and sheer determination that, for example, every one of our Pacific Overtures design team who delivered an incredible aesthetic on a shoe-string budget and brutal technical constraints were all nominated alongside their (sometimes multi-million dollar) cousins in the sector.”

Independent music theatre is booming in Australia at present, and Suares is sure a new appreciation for the art form is being cultivated. Passionate artistic belief in a project breeds creativity and allows audiences the chance to see work that artists really want to put before them. It’s an exciting time to be working in the sector.

[pull_left]All of these projects run on love, so that creates quite a different rationale for the producers and creatives who put them on the stage[/pull_left]

“It’s so wonderful to see this flowering in Melbourne and across the border in Sydney. All of these projects run on love, so that creates quite a different rationale for the producers and creatives who put them on the stage. They are all works that people passionately believe in artistically – producers then look to solving the (often frightening) commercial equations afterwards.”

2015 is going to be a huge year for the newly incorporated company, which until now has been running on a project by project basis.

“We’ve come out from under the comforting umbrella of Auspicious Arts Projects and incorporated”, Suares said, proudly.

“Around the time we had twenty-one people headed on the road and we’d built all these amazing relationships with artists, creatives and presenters in our sector, I thought it was time to bite the bullet. We have a great model, we know what we’re doing, we should keep doing it! So I guess it felt time to make it official! It just means we’re in a better position to implement our long term creative plans.”

And the creative planning never stops, it seems, as Watch This are ready to announce their 2015 project.

For the first time in 15 years, Melbourne audiences will be treated to a professional production of Sondheim’s Company. The show broke ground on Broadway 45 years ago as the first ‘concept musical’ and now this ground breaking new incorporated company will produce the piece at fortyfivedownstairs. Sounds too serendipitous to be true, doesn’t it?

Watch This' production of Pacific Overtures. Image by Jodie Hutchinson.
Watch This’ production of Pacific Overtures. Image by Jodie Hutchinson.

“It’s not just a fitting title in our first year of incorporation but I think, being one of the more accessible works in the Sondheim cannon and another ensemble show, an opportunity to make a real splash”, Suares said.

Company has found its time. A musical comedy that explores relationships through the lens of a central character in romantic, even existential, paralysis – how 21st century can you get?”

Directed by Kat Henry, Choreographed by Michael Ralph and Musically Directed by Isaac Hayward, the show will play from September 17 – October 4.

Casting will commence shortly, and judging by the brave and talented teams Watch This have assembled in previous productions, the ensemble cast of Company will be stellar.

“We are committed to holding auditions for each of our shows so we’ll be briefing from Thursday 12 March and we’ll invite artists to audition from there. Auditions will be Friday 3 – Sunday 12 April. We can’t wait to assemble the next knock out ensemble!”

Suares believes in this company with all her might and it’s incredibly evident that she has every reason to. Her greatest achievement thus far is keeping the company afloat, but it’s also the greatest challenge. If anyone is inspired to support Watch This via the Australian Cultural fund, you can donate to their bold little grass-roots outfit online HERE.

“If anyone feels inspired to help us out on this front, we’re gratefully accepting donations via Australian Cultural Fund to help us build capacity and keep doing what we do. Donations are tax deductible and you’ll go straight to heaven. That’s my understanding.”

Be an angel. Let’s build a sustainable, professional independent music theatre industry together.

Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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