Pro-Am Group Aims to Fill the Northern Cultural Void

It’s a poor review for Queensland’s arts scene when Australia’s fastest growing state is still condemned as a ‘cultural wasteland’ by its own historians (Ross Fitzgerald) and MP’s (Queensland opposition leader John-Paul Langbroek).

Now the label has reared its ugly head again, as the upcoming Australian tour of Waiting For Godot bypasses Brisbane. But Blue Fish Productions, the city’s latest ‘Pro-Am’ theatre group, is hoping to fill the cultural void with a musical journey back to the dark ages.

Not the Bjeke-Petersen years, but crowd-pleaser, Monty Python’s Spamalot, which plays at the University of Queensland’s Schonell Theatre until May 1.

“There really isn’t a stepping stone in Brisbane for people to break away from amateur theatre. There’s a huge gap between amateur and professional theatre,” says Julie Whiting, owner of Blue Fish Productions and musical director for the show.

“There’s a lot of people who’ve had to move away to pursue what they want to do, in relation to being on the stage.”

Opting to create her own opportunities in Brisbane rather than move, Julie has been involved with community and amateur theatre for almost a decade, including five years as musical director for numerous productions including Spamalot’s Queensland premiere on the Gold Coast.

Julie chose the show for Blue Fish based on that experience, as well as for the appeal it held beyond traditional theatre-goers. This will be Spamalot’s first staging in Brisbane, and – Julie hopes – its most professional in the state so far.

“The way I see Pro-Am, is that the standard of the show is a lot more professional than you would expect to see at an amateur or community production. For example, our musicians are all being paid, while our actors are receiving an honorarium.”

Most of the artists involved are looking to step beyond the bounds of amateur work. Some of the cast, including Lionel Theunissen and Tye Shepherd, have already done so, with impressive credits across musical theatre, opera and other theatrical forms.

Julie cites the lack of suitable venues in Brisbane as one reason for the city’s perceived ‘cultural wasteland’ status.

“I think the number one problem in Brisbane is there’s just not enough venues. So you get the big, professional shows that can’t come here because there’s no availability or the theatres don’t have the facilities,” she explains, mentioning Wicked as an example.

While there are no firm plans for Blue Fish beyond Spamalot, “at the moment it looks like we will probably do another show.”

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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