Brisbane’s theatre scene is heating up.
Going to the theatre is back in vogue.
Once upon a time, getting dressed up in your Sunday best and watching thespians tread the boards was seen as the ultimate luxury, a world of escapism behind a red curtain.
Now we’ve got blockbusters on the big screen and a slew of social media apps that allow us to be the stars of our own show, while we watch hours of on-demand entertainment from the claustrophobic comfort of our own homes.
Who wants to go to the theatre when you’ve got Netflix?
Brisbane is bucking the trend, however — it seems we can’t get enough of live performances, especially those of the musical variety.
For the fourth year in a row the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) has exceeded 1 million visitors, with a record attendance of 1.4 million across this last financial year.
QPAC Chief Executive, John Kotzas, attributes the continued success of the centre to the public’s appetite for the arts.
“This last financial year’s record attendances have proven to us again that the community enjoys coming to QPAC and the centre is programming works across the year that appeal to all Queenslanders,” he says. “Shows like The Lion King, the centre’s exclusive season of the American Ballet Theatre and our longest running annual, sell out concert Spirit of Christmas all show that Queenslanders feel they belong here at QPAC.
“It is important for us as a Centre that the meaning making and storytelling continues out into the regions. Our regional simulcasts have reached a collective audience of more than 20,000 people, and in coming years this is something we are hoping will increase and ensure there are ample opportunities for those living in regional Queensland to enjoy what QPAC has to offer.”
It seems that everything from classics, to remakes and new works are capable of drawing in the crowds. shake & stir theatre co and QPAC are gearing up to present DRACULA by Bram Stoker, bringing the beloved Gothic horror story to the stage in the hopes of enticing in a new kind of audience.
It’s no secret that vampires have been a hot commodity the last few years and it looks like their allure has yet to diminish, with Brisbane audiences sinking their teeth into ticket sales.
Shake & stir co-artistic director Nelle Lee is no stranger to the world of theatre, having written and performed in productions across the country such as Helpmann Award nominated Statespeare, Tequila Mockingbird, Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts, Wuthering Heights and Animal Farm as well as having co-adapted and performed in 1984 and co-wrote and performed in Out Damn Snot.
“Unfortunately Brisbane does have a little bit of a stigma about being a small town up north,” she says. “A lot of the time people are just not aware of what’s going on up here. The independent theatre scene in Brisbane is thriving.
“Getting people back into the theatre has been one of our goals at shake & stir. We’ve just celebrated our 10 year anniversary and over those ten years we’ve collected an audience filled with university students, high school students and all kinds of people right up into that older bracket of people you assume would be quite familiar with the theatre.
“We try to lift the stigma that these older classics have on them and present them in a fresh new way.”
That’s exactly what the team have set out to do with DRACULA.
“It’s an adaptation of the novel and we’re trying to keep as true to the text and dialogue as possible but also bring it into a modern day understanding,” Lee says. “We haven’t set it in outer space but we’ve tried to bring out those themes that make it so enjoyable to read. It’s a supernatural novel but that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant.”
Lee, who plays both one of Dracula’s bloodthirsty and lustful wives and straight-laced heroine Mina Harker, promises the show will be a feast for the senses.
“We’ve worked hard to bring iconic moments of the book to life,” she says. “I don’t want to give anything away but it’s going to be amazing, it will really get your heart pumping.”
Strictly Ballroom is also set to appear on a Brisbane stage soon, with the nationally acclaimed musical set to draw an immense crowd.
Nadia Coote, who brings the iconic Tina Sparkle to life in the show, says Australians are really getting in on the act when it comes to musical theatre.
“There’s nothing better than live theatre,” she says. “There are people coming to the shows every weekend, they leave on a buzz. Love is in the Air is such a massive number that everybody remembers and people come up and dance on the stage with us. That’s never really happened before.
“I lived in London for five years and obviously the culture there is very different. Everybody goes to the theatre. I’ve just been waiting for Australia to get on the bandwagon. At the moment, everybody is on their phones and it is all about technology. It’s nice to get out and do something with your family and friends and actually see live theatre with your own eyes.
“In the show, when Doug dances with Shirley, it’s a very touching moment and because we’re looking out at the audience we usually see people tear up. It’s very sentimental. That song has a very special place in many people’s hearts. Sometimes it’s because they love the film or because it was their wedding song.
“I remember one night seeing this elderly couple sitting in the front row. When the song came on the husband grabbed his wife’s hand with tears in his eyes and they danced. There’s something about seeing these people crying that made me cry up on stage, too.”
Strictly Ballroom will play at QPAC from 9 September to 30 September. DRACULA will play at QPAC from 13 August to 29 August. For more information, visit www.qpac.com.au.