Musical success puts Canberra Theatre Centre firmly on the map

From big budget stage musicals to the latest in contemporary music, tours are flocking to the ACT.
Musical success puts Canberra Theatre Centre firmly on the map

Missy Higgins. Image supplied.

Until recently, Canberra audiences wishing to see the latest major musical theatre production had to take a trip to Sydney and Melbourne for their entertainment fix.

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Despite its location between the two state capitals, Canberra tended to be overlooked on the touring circuit, a situation which clearly frustrated the team at the Canberra Theatre Centre.

‘[People] shouldn’t have to travel out of the state to see a concert … to see everything that every other major city in Australia has,’ said Suzanne Hannema, Assistant Director & Marketing Manager, Canberra Theatre Centre.

A concerted effort saw the 2017-2018 season of the musical Mamma Mia! open at Canberra Theatre Centre last November. A smash hit – running for 26 performances over three weeks – the show’s success bodes well for more major tours adding Canberra to their itinerary in the future.

‘Producer Louise Withers and our Director, Bruce Carmichael, worked for a very long time to get Mamma Mia! to come here, knowing that if it was successful, it would open the doors for Canberra in future – and that’s exactly what has occurred,’ Hannema explained. 

‘Because it wasn’t just proving to Canberrans that they should come and see a major musical in their own city – it was convincing musical producers and the industry that they could come to Canberra and be successful, which from a long-term view for Canberra was important.’

The Canberra Theatre Centre team did considerable work in the years leading up to Mamma Mia!’s ACT premiere, testing the water with a range of productions that targeted the general public.

‘We put a lot of effort and energy behind it and the market responded and responded well. So we knew that the appetite was here. Now, after Mamma Mia! we know that the musical appetite is here,’ she said.

In addition to the forthcoming season of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, more Canberra tours of major theatre and music theatre productions are in the pipeline, Hannema indicated, although details are still under wraps. But it’s not just musicals that have caught the eye of the team at Canberra Theatre Centre – live music, too, is something they are keen to present more regularly.

‘We’re expanding the amount of contemporary music that’s coming into the venue and people are responding very positively.’

Just as the Centre had to convince producers that Canberra audiences would respond well to music theatre, so too have the team had to demonstrate to band bookers and promoters that there is a market for contemporary music in the ACT at their venue. 

‘There are plenty of other cities that promoters could tour to that are similar in size to Canberra including Wollongong, Newcastle, the Gold Coast. And, in many respects, Canberra is a bit unproven,’ Hannema explained.

‘So it was a matter of convincing them to take the chance on Canberra Theatre Centre. It was then up to us to prove that we could attract audiences. Thanks to a strong marketing team, we were able to do just that. Now, the venue is on the map.’

The success of Canberra Theatre Centre’s expansion into the world of contemporary music can be demonstrated by some of the performers who are now including the ACT on their upcoming Australian tours. 

As well as an upcoming Reconciliation Day Eve concert on 27 May featuring Archie Roach & Tiddas, Hannema lists some of the upcoming performers who have added Canberra Theatre Centre to their touring itinerary.

‘In the coming weeks, Missy Higgins, Iron and Wine, Guy Sebastian, Suzanne Vega, Branford Marsalis will perform at the venue. We also have Patti LuPone, Ian Moss and Kasey Chambers – and a few more that I can’t mention at this stage. It’s quite an exciting time for us!’

Visit canberratheatrecentre.com.au to learn more about Canberra Theatre Centre and its program.

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Richard Watts

Thursday 10 May, 2018

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R FM, a program he has hosted since 2004.

Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management, and is also a former Chair of Melbourne Fringe. The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, he has also served as President of the Green Room Awards Association and as a member of the Green Room's Independent Theatre panel. 

Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend in 2017. Most recently he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize for 2019.

Twitter: @richardthewatts