Andrew RossThe Brisbane Powerhouse celebrated its 10th birthday on, fittingly, the 10th May. With a decade under its belt, this seemed like the perfect time to talk to Artistic Director Andrew Ross about where the building on the river has been, and where it's going.

Speaking to me from rainy New Zealand (where he’s previewing possible work to bring to Australia, as well as promoting some Powerhouse artists to festivals there) Andrew Ross likens his role as Artistic Director of the Brisbane Powerhouse to his previous career as a theatre director. "When you begin a show, you imagine what it's going to look like. And then maybe the vision develops and perhaps even changes throughout the rehearsal process and you look back at the end and think 'Well, that's what I imagined, and maybe even a little bit more'". 

So what did he imagine for the Powerhouse when he took on the position in 2003? "I wanted it to be a public space, a place where people could hang out. And I wanted it to cater for a really wide demographic, not just the demographic that's usually associated with the arts".

It’s a vision he's achieving through generous support from the Brisbane City Council (who provide the bulk of the funds for the development and running of the Powerhouse), an emphasis on free programs for all ages, and by producing and supporting new Brisbane work.

In 2007, the Brisbane City Council undertook a $3.5 million renovation of the Powerhouse, including adding the deck that overlooks the Brisbane river, expanding the old Spark Bar into a bigger bar and restaurant and making the Turbine Platform (where a lot of the free performances happen) into a larger space.

Developments like these have turned the Powerhouse from a place to simply “see theatre” to a creative and social hub in Brisbane. Anyone who’s ever tried to find a seat on the gorgeous riverside deck on a lazy Sunday afternoon knows that, and it’s something that Ross is particularly proud of.

“We used to be closed on a Sunday!” he says. “And when people used to come and see a show, they’d arrive just beforehand and leave straight after.” Now, with two restaurants, a bar, live free music every weekend and artistic exhibits that change regularly, going to the Powerhouse is really more about making a night of it.

And when you make a night of it to see a show, it’s becoming more and more likely that what you’ll be seeing will be home grown Brisbane work. With venues like the Powerhouse providing more opportunity to see affordable, accessible theatre, Brisbane is developing an audience that’s passionate about creativity, and according to Ross “This gives Brisbane performers the chance to create work for those audiences and broaden the arts in Brisbane.”
{xtypo_quote_right}I wanted it to be a public space, a place where people could hang out. And I wanted it to cater for a really wide demographic, not just the demographic that's usually associated with the arts.{/xtypo_quote_right}
The Powerhouse has produced work like “Paradise” with Backbone Youth Arts and toured shows like “Roadkill” and “The Importance of Being Ernest”, that have been created for and at the Powerhouse with Brisbane-based artists in the lead. Ross and his team are keen to produce a lot more work in-house and says "We've been working hard over the last couple of years to develop relationships with potential parties to enable us to fund more of these sorts of things."

As well as theatre, the Powerhouse is also instrumental in supporting and promoting local music, with their free Live Spark concerts every Sunday, featuring a selection of Brisbane bands and artists, and their regular Friday night program featuring a different "resident" band each month.

Even though he points out that it's virtually impossible for him to choose any "favourite" performances or shows from over the years, Ross does say that "there were lots of things I thought were terrific." He names The Brodsky Quartet's collaboration with Powerhouse artists-in-residence Topology and the intimate concert that Miriam Makeba gave at the Powerhouse just a couple of years before her death as some of those "moments you can't forget".

And there'll be plenty more of those unforgettable moments in the months and years to come, including more challenging, exciting work from Brisbane, Australian and international artists. In the very near future though, the Powerhouse will officially celebrate its 10th year with the party to end all parties on Sunday 16th May. With free concerts, stencil art created especially for the Powerhouse by world-renowned artists Blek Le Rat and Kasino and activities for children and adults alike, it looks like the Brisbane Powerhouse will party in just the way that Ross always envisioned: with something for everybody.


Image Credit: -
Top Right - Andrew Ross. Photo - Studio Impressions

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