Doctor of Philosophy
School of History and Politics - Faculty of Arts
Davis, Desmond, Opportunity lost: NSW regional theatre companies 1976 to 2003, PhD thesis, School of History and Politics, University of Wollongong. 2007. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/84
From 1976 to 1980 six professional theatre companies were established in NSW outside the capital city Sydney. They were titled Regional Theatre Companies after similar entities in Britain. They grew and flourished into the early 1990s. Then one by one, almost at the height of their activity they began to fail. By 2006 there was only one fully professional regional theatre company operating in NSW. This is the phenomenon which is the subject of this thesis. What distinguished these companies as a group, what did they contribute to regional and national life, how did they arise, what did they achieve and why and how did they decline? The overarching question is of their significance in Australian cultural life and the significance of their failure. Was it an “opportunity lost”? These questions have not been systematically addressed in any study and the purpose of this thesis in addressing these issues is to contribute to and invigorate the public debate on the nature of the national theatre enterprise. The six companies for examination are Hunter Valley Theatre Company in Newcastle, Q Theatre in Penrith, Riverina Theatre Company in Wagga Wagga, New England Theatre Company in Armidale, Murray River Performing Group (MRPG) in Albury/Wodonga and Theatre South in Wollongong. The researcher himself was a participant observer in this story as co-founder and Artistic Director of one of the companies. The methodology for the study is therefore an interpretive and reflexive one. Qualitative, interpretive and reflexive research allows for complexities and enables the researcher to explore multiple possibilities and to place him or herself more visibly in the story, aiming always for interpretation rather than the representation of the apparent reality. Pierre Bourdieu defined theory as a temporary construct which takes shape for and by empirical work. Bourdieu’s own theories provide an appropriate theoretical framework for this study. Regional Theatre Companies are studied as a distinct agent or sub-field within the larger Field of Cultural Production. Competition of agents within a field is an invariant property of Bourdieu’s Fields and will determine the dominant and dominated classes within the field. The competition within the Field of Cultural Production is for cultural capital, which in turn will determine who can impose the legitimate definition of art in each particular position including theatre. The dominant class so determined will achieve a position, albeit a dominated one, within the Field of Power in which the struggle is for political and economic capital. The thesis will demonstrate how the major performance companies became the dominant agents in the Field of Cultural Production. This competition for cultural capital takes place in what the thesis identifies as sites of struggle. Among these most relevant for regional theatre are excellence versus access, mainstream versus alternative, elite versus popular, metropolitan versus regional, and global/national versus local/community. The dominant class will be in the former of these dichotomies and the regional theatre companies will be found in the latter. There are two visions of an Australian national theatre: one is a vision of an infrastructure of companies in city and country creating a body of work reflecting and expressing the pluralist identity of Australian culture; the other is a vision of major enterprises in major cities creating work of “excellence” and presenting an image of Australian cultural life internationally. The regional theatre companies of NSW had the capacity to be a significant part of the former vision. They found new audience for the theatre, and they found it not only with the traditional repertoire but also with work that was especially relevant for the diverse strands of the regional population, and still further with work which expressed, validated, celebrated and constructed a regional cultural identity. Their work was presented in a style and an environment suited to the nature of their audience and justifiably described as popular. They made mistakes, and often floundered and lost direction, and it would be an exaggeration to claim that they consciously pursued or completely achieved these objectives. Their story is not of an undeniable achievement but of an opportunity lost.