After 18 years delivering bold and brilliant independent theatre to Sydney audiences, Rock Surfers Theatre Company regrets to announce that it has ceased trading from December 17 2015.
As is the case with many small to medium organisations in the sector, the Company has, when balanced against output, been under-funded and under-capitalised since inception.
“Ticket sales only cover a fraction of the cost of delivering an annual program for professional arts organisations. Support from foundations, individual giving and investment from local and government bodies are crucial in helping us to achieve our onstage ambitions,” said Rock Surfers Chair Nell Schofield.
She went on to say, “Our new Artistic Director Shane Bosher had put together what was possibly the Company’s best season to date for 2016. It was a bold new vision which championed a diversity of experience, backing female, GLBTI, Pacific Island and Asian-Australian artists in particular. It is a complex funding environment at present for the arts and sadly, due to a shift in funding priorities, we did not receive enough funding support to enable us to deliver it. Every effort has been made to find alternative funding to bridge the gap and we have been incredibly well supported by the Waverley Council, but we feel now that winding down the activities of the Company is the only responsible form of action.”
This is a voluntary decision from the Board of Directors to place the Company into a members’ voluntary liquidation where it is anticipated liabilities will be paid in full.
Founded in 1996 as Tamarama Rock Surfers and established at the Old Fitzroy Theatre the following year, the Company produced over 200 mainstage productions including the world premieres of over 130 new Australian plays in its 18 years of operation. In its early days, the Company was fearlessly led by artists such as Jeremy Cumpston, Ansuya Nathan, Zena Cumpston and Alan Flower.
Built on an ethos of backing the next generation of artists and audience, Rock Surfers acted as a parent company for literally hundreds of young, independent Australian theatre companies. It jumpstarted the careers of many leading Australian theatremakers such as Tim Minchin, Kate Mulvany, Toby Schmitz, Sarah Goodes, Ewen Leslie, Suzie Miller, Iain Sinclair, Sarah Giles, Josh Lawson, Brendan Cowell, Blazey Best, Jason Clarke and Sarah Snook.
From 2005, under the curatorial vision of Artistic Director Leland Kean, Rock Surfers further developed as a company that invested in contemporary performance practice. Many productions that premiered under the TRS banner went on to national and international success.
In 2011, with Associate Director Phil Spencer now on board, Rock Surfers took advantage of a meaningful partnership with Waverley Council, taking on a second, larger venue at the Bondi Pavilion. The curatorial frame expanded to include new international work, classical repertoire, children’s theatre and community-based participation projects. It also permitted the further development of new works incubated and hatched at the Old Fitz.
It was also here that Spencer and Kean developed its two now infamous development frames, SUMMER CAMP and BONDI FEAST, which cultivated new relationships with emerging independents.
Kean moved on in 2014 to take up a position as Artistic Development Manager at Merrigong Theatre Company and Spencer moved back into the independent sector to pursue various writing projects. In mid-2015, New Zealand’s Shane Bosher was appointed as Artistic Director, with a view to recalibrating the company and leading it into the future. He delivered the fourth iteration of BONDI FEAST alongside Festival Producer and Associate Director Rachel Chant and was poised to announce new interventions for the Company in 2016.
Bosher said, “We would like to thank our artists and audiences, who have fearlessly held hands together in the dark, grappling with necessary conversations about the human confusion that we find ourselves in. Collectively, we have built a rich cultural legacy of independent theatre in this city. Rock Surfers is thrilled to have been part of that.”
The bewildering confusion between dream and reality begins before one takes one’s seat in the theatre. You have to negotiate a building site and enter the Adelaide Festival Theatre by a side entrance (how like slipping into dream that is!), and put on a mask, so that it seems that the audience is itself on stage.