FAM­ILY FIRM

Fa­ther and son Rob and Ge­ordie Brook­man are join­ing forces in Ade­laide to run the State Theatre Com­pany. They talk to Michaela Boland

The Weekend Australian - Review - - In Profile -

GE­ORDIE Brook­man is ex­hausted. With only a day’s no­tice he has agreed to meet at Ade­laide’s fa­bled Ital­ian cafe Par­la­mento and even though it’s only just past mid­day he is pretty much slumped at the ta­ble. He smiles and of­fers a warm hello as he swiftly or­ders cof­fee but his eyes have the glazed look of some­one who is run­ning on adrenalin.

Lit­tle won­der. Months ago the 31-year-old free­lance theatre di­rec­tor ac­cepted the task of pro­duc­ing the an­cil­lary en­ter­tain­ment at the Ade­laide Fes­ti­val’s club, Barrio, so he has been work­ing late each night wran­gling props and peo­ple, then log­ging time in the fes­ti­val of­fice dur­ing the day.

He is also pre­par­ing to be­gin re­hearsals for a pro­duc­tion of Martin Crimp’s The City with Nowyesnow, the in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­tion com­pany he runs with his wife, play­wright Nicki Bloom. In ad­di­tion the cou­ple has an 11-month-old baby, Theodore, who hasn’t seen much of his dad lately.

Then there’s the big one. On Fe­bru­ary 27 Brook­man was named as suc­ces­sor to Adam Cook as artis­tic di­rec­tor of the State Theatre Com­pany of South Australia, where he is set to fol­low in the foot­steps of leg­endary names in Aus­tralian theatre in­clud­ing Ge­orge Ogilvie, Jim Sharman and Si­mon Phillips.

He doesn’t of­fi­cially start the job un­til the end of this month but al­ready has turned his mind to choos­ing next year’s plays and who will di­rect them. He needs to be­gin lock­ing down key cast mem­bers for those plays and to se­lect set and cos­tume de­sign­ers. ‘‘ Pro­gram­ming at this stage of the year is al­ready a fair way through,’’ he says, ac­knowl­edg­ing, how­ever, a cer­tain level of panic.

STCSA is the only Ade­laide theatre com­pany with an an­nual sub­scrip­tion sea­son and each year it has usu­ally pro­duced one or two plays with a large in­ter­state com­pany. In 2010 it staged David Har­rower’s Knives in Hens with Melbourne’s Malt­house Theatre and it part­nered with Queens­land Theatre Com­pany on Michael Gow’s first play in a decade, Toy Sym­phony (Brook­man di­rected both in the last year of his three-year stint as the com­pany’s as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor).

Noth­ing un­usual there: co-pro­duc­tions have al­ways been in play as a way of shar­ing costs and cross-pol­li­nat­ing creative tal­ent. But the change in lead­er­ship at most of the na­tion’s lead­ing theatre com­pa­nies in the past five years has brought in­creased in­ter­est in col­lab­o­ra­tions. Theatre com­pa­nies also are stretch­ing their boundaries by work­ing with dance, cabaret and mu­sic artists, and part­ner­ing with lo­cal fringe and arts fes­ti­vals to pig­gy­back on their mar­ket­ing heft.

Brook­man wants to see plenty of this at STCSA. ‘‘ Col­lab­o­ra­tion is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant and cer­tainly we’ll be en­gag­ing the com­pany as heav­ily as pos­si­ble in the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion,’’ he says, although he is com­ing late to those con­ver­sa­tions for next year. As he launches into that web of pos­si­bil­i­ties, he knows that in three short months his de­but sea­son will need to be pretty much set­tled. Then, in Oc­to­ber, he will present his pro­gram of eight or so plays for the scru­tiny of the in­dus­try, STCSA’S 3369 sub­scribers and thou­sands of sin­gle-ticket buy­ers.

Look­ing ahead to that mo­ment, he says: ‘‘ I think I’ll be ner­vous, ex­cited and, hope­fully, qui­etly con­fi­dent.’’ That con­fi­dence stems partly from his run­ning mate. At the same time as his ap­point­ment was an- nounced, his fa­ther, for­mer Syd­ney Theatre Com­pany gen­eral man­ager Rob Brook­man, 58, was ap­pointed STCSA’S chief ex­ec­u­tive.

Brook­man Sr is also wran­gling with the lo­gis­tics of his new job, con­firmed within just a few weeks of the po­si­tions be­ing ad­ver­tised. Syd­ney-based at the mo­ment, Rob is stay­ing with Ge­ordie. He has come to Ade­laide for the fes­ti­val but has locked him­self away dur­ing the day­light hours to com­plete two con­sul­tancy re­ports ahead of start­ing the role.

When we speak a few days later Rob says of his sit­u­a­tion: ‘‘ In a weird kind of way this is ful­fil­ment of a child­hood dream.’’ When he was a mem­ber of the Univer­sity of Ade­laide Dra­matic So­ci­ety in the 1970s it shared its Union Hall with the pro­fes­sion­als from the newly minted State Theatre Com­pany. ‘‘ At that time I thought, ‘ One day I could do that,’ but it’s taken quite a long time to get to that point,’’ he says.

He is some­thing of a leg­end in South Aus­tralian arts. Since grad­u­at­ing from Ade­laide Univer­sity in the early 70s in a city where premier Don Dun­stan was en­gi­neer­ing a vi­brant arts in­fra­struc­ture, Rob has worked with most of the city’s big­ger arts or­gan­i­sa­tions. He di­rected the 1992 Ade­laide Fes­ti­val, was pro­gram di­rec­tor of Ade­laide’s Fes­ti­val Cen­tre and was found­ing di­rec­tor of the world mu­sic fes­ti­val Wo­made­laide.

Then in 1999 he moved to Syd­ney where, as gen­eral man­ager of STC, he was yin to artis­tic di­rec­tor Robyn Nevin’s yang. At the na­tion’s big­gest theatre com­pany he im­ple­mented the changes ad­vised by He­len Nu­gent’s re­view of fund­ing to the per­form­ing arts. He also steered the fund­ing, con­struc­tion and launch of the Syd­ney Theatre and man­aged the first few sea­sons of Cate Blanchett and An­drew Up­ton’s ten­ure as co-artis­tic di­rec­tors.

Af­ter re­tir­ing from STC two years ago he has un­der­taken a hand­ful of sig­nif­i­cant con­sult­ing jobs, in­clud­ing work­ing with stake­hold­ers and the Baranga­roo De­liv­ery Au­thor­ity on po­ten­tial roles for the arts in the Syd­ney har­bour­side precinct.

At STCSA he will have over­sight of a com­pany with about one-quar­ter the turnover he man­aged in Syd­ney. ‘‘ It’s a very dif­fer­ent scale of op­er­a­tion, which is some­thing I’m look­ing for­ward to,’’ he says. ‘‘ One of the rea­sons for step­ping down from STC af­ter 11 years was just the sense of not be­ing able to con­tinue at quite that pace, and as I pointed out to peo­ple I lasted five years longer than any­one else.

‘‘ A smaller com­pany like this, you still have to work in­cred­i­bly hard be­cause there are less peo­ple to gen­er­ate the work, but it’s not go­ing to be quite the same fre­netic pace STC was. We were open­ing a show roughly ev­ery 21/ weeks.’’

Rob did not ap­ply for the Ade­laide job when it was ad­ver­tised late last year af­ter Pamela Foulkes sig­nalled her in­ten­tion to move on. His in­ter­est was piqued, how­ever, when the job was re-ad­ver­tised in Jan­uary with the ad­di­tional ad­vice the board was in­ter­ested in ap­pli­ca­tions from a team af­ter Cook also sig­nalled his in­ten­tion to leave.

STSCA’S chair­man, businessman John Irv­ing, said the chief ex­ec­u­tive’s po­si­tion was re-ad­ver­tised not be­cause the ear­lier job ap­pli­cants failed to en­tice but be­cause so many of them expressed con­cern they didn’t know who they would be work­ing with. Af­ter eight years as artis­tic di­rec­tor it had be­come known Cook was not sure how much longer he would con­tinue.

Irv­ing says the board re­ceived ‘‘ some bril­liant ap­pli­ca­tions and some great ideas’’ but ‘‘ we could not go past the com­bi­na­tion Rob and Ge­ordie put to us . . . Most peo­ple re­gard Rob as the very best theatre ad­min­is­tra­tor in the coun­try and Ge­ordie is among the very best di­rec­tors.’’

Ge­ordie says he can’t re­mem­ber if he or his fa­ther first sug­gested they ap­ply for the jobs. ‘‘ We’ve al­ways talked about how good it would be to work to­gether but I thought he’d men­tor me or some­thing,’’ he says.

Now they are to work shoul­der to shoul­der, with the son chiefly re­spon­si­ble for creative de­ci­sions while his fa­ther over­sees fi­nances. Ge­ordie, though, ex­pects their roles to over­lap. He de­scribes him­self as hav­ing a good head for fi­nan­cial man­age­ment, hav­ing spent so many years free­lanc­ing, and adds that Rob is ‘‘ very much at the creative end of be­ing an arts ad­min­is­tra­tor’’.

He shrugs away the no­tion

it may be

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