FEATURE | The Age, MKA Launch

New company to make the playwright the star

Author: Robin Usher
Date: 20/10/2010
Words: 568
Source: AGE
Publication: The Age
Section: News
Page: 19

MKA Richmond plans to foster hot new theatre works, writes Robin Usher.

MELBOURNE’S newest theatre company plans to open with a bang  presenting 25 new plays in a month from November 3. MKA Richmond will open a new space behind Richmond rail station the organisers hope will become a hub for new writing from Australia and south-east Asia.

“We want to put on shows that are hot off the press,” says the company’s general manager, Glyn Roberts. “We are interested in new writing, rather than something that is tried and tested. So we won’t be presenting anything that has transferred to [London’s] West End.”

Roberts, 27, is a playwright, as is the company’s artistic director, Tobias Manderson-Galvin, 26. They hope the new company will fill a gap they say exists in Melbourne’s independent theatre scene.

“The accent will be on the playwright as the principal artist,” Roberts says. “Melbourne’s theatre scene is very rich, but there is nothing that focuses on the writer.”

They hope the new venue, which seats 44 people, in a converted warehouse apartment, will become like London’s Royal Court, Soho and Bush theatres, or Sydney’s Griffin, which concentrates on new writing.

“It is fine if you are in a theatre group, but that is going to be unlikely for writers who tend to be lone wolves,” Manderson-Galvin says.

Roberts says that director’s theatre pioneered by Barrie Kosky has been unchallenged for nearly 20 years. “That means the director is seen as the main artist,” he says, referring to such artists as Benedict Andrews and Simon Stone.

“But if the director decides to throw away half the text, perhaps they should have decided to do a different play to start with,” Manderson-Galvin adds.

Writers who have offered their work in the month-long opening season include London expatriate Ben Ellis, Declan Greene, Rob Reid, Dina Ross and Ned Manning.

Other writers include Van Badham, literary manager of London’s Finborough Theatre, and the Japanese-Sydney writer Akira Matsumoto. “We are interested in the best new writing, no matter what style,” Manderson-Galvin says.

The works include both short and full-length plays and will be presented as readings. Ticket prices are set at $5 in the hope that people will come to see the new premises and have a drink.

The project, which includes Georgia Fox as marketing manager and literary manager Carolyn Butler, is self-funded, but they plan to apply for grants and seek philanthropic support.

They are aware that St Kilda’s Red Stitch Actors Theatre struggled for more than six years to get funding before receiving regular grants.

“They knuckled down and held on tightly, believing all the time in what they were doing,” Roberts says.

They are planning to stage two seasons next year, each of four plays that will be performed in repertory. Most will be Australian, but two are likely to be from Asian writers.

Manderson-Galvin, whose play Dogmeat was performed at La Mama last month, is planning to travel in Asia over summer making connections with independent theatre companies.

He lived in Ireland for six months last year, studying at Limerick. Roberts lived in Europe, including Germany and England, for five years until 2005, when he returned to study politics at Monash University.

“London showed just how much support was available to writers, but that sort of venue hub was missing in Melbourne,” he says.

MKA Richmond presents 25 new plays in one month from November 3 to December 3 at 8pm, 2/24 Tanner Street, Richmond.