Melissa Cantwell
Mel Cantwell speaking at the launch of PTC's 2009 season. Artist featured - Alyce Bunton. Photo - Ashley dePrazer

Melissa Cantwell is excited. As the new artistic director of Perth Theatre Company talked via phone to Australian Stage’s Anna Locke about the 2009 season, her enthusiasm and excitement for the future was evident.

The 2009 Season Transformations, comprising six productions including two WA premieres, an Australian premiere and an Australian exclusive was launched on Tuesday. “I’m very proud to be leading the company and leading the program” Cantwell states. 

The late Alan Becher, the first (and until now, the only) Artistic Director of Perth Theatre Company still looms large in the minds of industry people and audiences. Much of the 2009 season had been programmed by him, but Cantwell appears more than capable of continuing his vision for energetic, adventurous and ‘exciting’ work. 

Cantwell is a multi-tasker; a writer, performer and director with a Bachelor of Communications (Film) and Bachelor of Performing Arts (Directing) from WAAPA. Her recent play Marmalade and Egg (PTC and JUTE Theatre Company, QLD) was awarded Best New Play at the 2007 Equity Guild Awards. Her directing credits include Edward Albee’s The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia? (PTC – Best Production, 2007 Equity Guild Awards) ; St Nicholas (PTC); Animal Farm (WAAPA); The Proper Shoes (DADAA WA and ABC Radio); States Of Shock (PICA); (Winner, Best Production 2005, The Blue Room); and After The Fair (Best Premiere Production 2003 WA Fringe Festival).

“I love work of contemporary theatre, I love new work and I really like work that takes a new look at a classic. Work that has some relevance and relevance to now is my focus”. She continues to write, saying “I’ll always be a writer ... I’ve got a few pieces that I’m working on”.

Cantwell hasn’t stopped learning either, even as she takes on one of the most influential roles in the Perth theatre scene. “I think it’s important to keep looking up and learning and exposing yourself to other (directors) work ... and yes performers too. I like to work collaboratively in the room, so everyone is a part of the process ... I’m interested in opening up to different kinds of collaboration within the full spectrum of the arts world”.  A fair point, given Cantwell’s background in film and photography.

So what can Perth audiences expect in 2009 from PTC? “Alan always had a really interesting mix of shows when he programmed and 2009 is no exception.”

Peter Shaffer’s Equus is one such piece.  “Equus is just massive, it will be one of the biggest pieces of theatre nationally next year, let alone here in Perth ... (I’ve) never seen it before, so I’m looking forward to bringing a new perspective to it.” 

Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree is also a play Cantwell is looking forward to. Written for two actors, one of whom is “contractually obliged to have never read or seen the play until the night they have to perform it.”  It will be a surprise for the audience, not knowing who they will get as their guest each night. In other productions; “People have walked away with, I guess, a new perspective of what theatre is.”

Which is what theatre is all about; creating new perspectives, challenging, and entertaining, all things Cantwell seems willing to embrace in her new position. And change – not only within the programming, but the company itself. The new theatre in Northbridge is slowly rising out of the rubble, and PTC expected to move there in mid 2010. “It’s exciting; every time I go past there to have a look you can see more of it. We’re looking forward to having a new home that we can make work.”

“We’re very excited about the future and we’ve got a great team ... I think you’ll see an eclectic and contemporary mix of work from us in the future.”

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