After months of lockdown that left theatrical venues as silent and bare as a deciduous tree in winter, the buds of new life are finally emerging at the Darlinghurst Theatre Company, writes Rita Bratovich.
Everything may not exactly be coming up roses yet, but there is a sweet fragrance of freshness in the air for the Darlinghurst Theatre Company.
Its residence, Eternity Playhouse, is stirring with activity again after being forced to close its doors back on March 18, literally a day before the much anticipated opening of A Chorus Line.
Now the company is about to launch into Bloom – a month long festival of multifarious entertainment which re-imagines every space in and around the venue.
It’s the theatre’s second major venture since restrictions started loosening in NSW. In June, the Darlinghurst Theatre Co. held Red Carpet, a three week program of cabaret-style entertainment coupled with the superb dining menu of the on-premises Two Trout Restaurant. The dinner cabaret shows were held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights with a premium line-up of performers. It sold out within days.
Bloom is a much more embellished version of Red Carpet.
“It’s going to turn Eternity Playhouse into a real hub for East Sydney,” says Co-Artistic Director Amylia Harris.
She and fellow Co-Artistic Director Glenn Terry have had to be inventive and resourceful these past few months, keeping blood running through the veins of the theatre company while adhering to ever-changing Covid-19 regulations.
After Red Carpet in June, they were able to reinstate Next In Line, an Australian playwright development program funded by a City of Sydney Council Cultural Grant. Through the program, the theatre brings new writers together with dramaturgs, directors, actors and the company’s own Producer/Head of New Writing, Leila Enright, to develop, workshop and perform readings of new works. It’s the thin edge of the wedge in terms of restarting things.
Bloom, on the other hand, flings the theatre doors wide open. The main auditorium upstairs will be used for the first time since March, along with the entrance foyer, downstairs bar and restaurant sections, and, in a thrilling expansion, the outside frontage on Burton and Palmer Streets.
“What’s really exciting is that we are opening up and expanding our dining food and beverage offering, which means that we will actually have outdoor dining, which is wonderful!” says Terry, who has been wanting to have al fresco dining at Eternity Playhouse for a long time.
They envisage having roaming performers to entertain outdoor diners. Indoors, there will be cocktail tables in the entrance foyer, and an L-shaped dining area downstairs, with a stage at the corner of the ‘L’.
“When people think of Eternity Playhouse they think of it as a gorgeous little 200 seat theatre. Well, we’re basically turning it into a little cultural centre. We’re going to have upstairs, we’re going to have downstairs, and we’re going to have outside,” says Harris.
There will, of course, be strict Covid safety provisions in place, which will be adjusted in line with any shift in regulations. The plan will focus on maintaining distance and cleanliness. Mask wearing is not compulsory (at time of writing) but strongly recommended.
Bloom is a collaborative festival involving The People of Cabaret, the Sedition Festival, and a Great Southern Nights gig featuring the stomping brass of the Hot Potato Band, among other acts. The resulting program is a smorgasbord of cross-disciplinary performance, drag, comedy, discussion panels, live music and even open mics.
The People of Cabaret is a collective formed by people of colour who are performers and artists in burlesque, cabaret, and related fields. It was founded by director, Miss Cairo, to give voice and visibility to people of colour. Miss Cairo has curated a program for Bloom that is bursting with glamour and excellence while embracing cultural, racial, and gender diversity.
Some of the most talented people in the business will headline shows across the full breadth of the festival. Each Thursday during the festival, Andrew Bukenya will host Thirsty Thursday, a night of cocktails, special guests, singalongs, drag, show tunes and whatever tickles your bits. BYO sheet music if you feel like tackling the microphone for an improv performance of your own.
There’s only one event that has a strict dress code and that’s the Resurrection Ball on 31 October. Filled with fear and totally queer, this Halloween party will raise the dead with live music, DJs and deadly performers. Costumes are compulsory.
The Sedition Festival is a celebration of art, music and culture that takes place over several weeks in Sydney. This year, Eternity Playhouse is exhibiting artworks as part of the art trail. Bloom will also kick off with a Sedition event: Painting the Brave New World, a panel moderated by Toby Creswell, and including Marina DeBris, Susan O’Doherty and Jason Wing, and followed by performances by Dog Trumpet, Mark Callahan and Mark Mordue.
“We really want to be looking at what people want now,” says Harris, explaining the impetus behind the Bloom Festival.
“What does it mean in this current world – which is a very different world to the one we lived in before March? What do people want now? How do they want to come together?”
It’s these sorts of questions that have stimulated innovation and opened up new possibilities; arguably one of the positive by-products of the Covid crisis.
Terry adds: “What we definitely would like – and I think this is something that every artist or director of any festival at the moment anywhere really wants – is for people to enjoy themselves.”
The Bloom festival runs from Thursday, 29 October to Sunday, 29 November at the Eternity Playhouse, 39 Burton St, Darlinghurst. For more information, visit www.darlinghursttheatre.com.
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