For art’s sake: the life and times of powerhouse arts publicist Amanda Buckworth

Amanda Buckworth, pictured, has been a major force on Sydney's arts scene since the 1990s. Photo: supplied.

Sunny Grace meets arts maven Amanda Buckworth, powerhouse publicist and one of Sydney’s most passionate patrons of the arts.

Ever since she saw a production of Oliver as a small child, Amanda Buckworth felt the allure of the stage. Today, she is one of Sydney’s best known arts publicists, supporting and promoting the arts from nightclub cabaret to the Sydney Opera House.

She started as an aspiring actor but decided to give it up when a producer suggested she needed to lose weight for a role, despite already being petite. With no formal training in PR, she worked her way up from an assistant at the cabaret club at the old Kinselas at Taylor Square, learning on the job and creating her own media list.

Following this was a year at John Frost, then a job at Marian Street Theatre as the publicist. From 1994 till 1999 she was at Glen Street Theatre before starting her own PR firm, with Glen Street as her first client. By 2005, a more commercial world beckoned, with Sesame Street Live, which – much to her surprise – also provided a great income.

Since then, she has promoted hundreds of shows including Strictly Ballroom, Cirque de Soleil, Jersey Boys, The Addams Family, Rock of Ages, Stomp, various school spectaculars and even Rick Stein at the Sydney Opera House. 

In the 2000’s she had a cabaret venue called Statement under the State Theatre with two other partners. It started as a labour of love and went on to be very successful, featuring the likes of Queenie van de Zandt and Genevieve Lemon.

While working full time, she was also parenting four daughters. She became very good at juggling these roles and recalls a funny incident when she was working on Sesame Street Live.

“We had an appearance on Channel Seven’s Sunrise,” she tells The Sentinel. “We decided to take Cookie Monster and Elmo along. Unfortunately, on the day, we could not get a person to go into the Cookie Monster suit – so, I had to do it! 

“The problem was I had taken along my four-year-old daughter as the TV people wanted a gang of little ones to be in the audience sitting at the feet of Elmo and Cookie. I asked someone to help wrangle the little people, including my daughter as I had to go and get into the costume. During the interview – live to air – my daughter started staring at me, making direct eye contact. She then started to scream out, ‘Mummy, Mummy!’ and pointing. A quick-thinking producer whisked her away before any further damage was done!” she laughs.

Amanda’s family have supported her every step of the way throughout the years. Photo: Amanda Buckworth/Facebook.

Her willingness to go above and beyond for her clients is part of her success but has led to some unusual situations, such as when Hale and Pace came to town. “We were at Channel Nine and suddenly the producers asked them to do a skit rather than an interview. They looked at me and said, ‘We need to get some papadums.’ So, I had to go and track some down in the 40 minutes left before the show, which was live.”

She roared off in her car, searching Artarmon, and finally found a little supermarket. She ran in, “like a hysterical woman calling out, ‘Have you got pappadums?’ Thankfully he had them and I got back with ten minutes to spare. And now I can’t even remember the joke. But they were forever grateful and kept in touch.”

There have been some stand out performers for Amanda over the years. “I remember seeing Susan Prior in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in the ’90s at Glen Street. That was probably the first time I’d ever seen her, and it made an indelible impression. And now I watch anything she is in,” she says.

“I also remember seeing the first performance from Cate Blanchett straight out of drama school (Oleanna) at the Seymour Centre. I was completely and utterly mesmerised, I couldn’t move. Got the same tingle with Jessica Marais and Hugh Sheridan in Sweet Charity at NIDA – triple threats those kids.”  

Amanda wasn’t sure what would happen to her business, AB Publicity, when Covid hit in March 2020.  Six shows were cancelled in a week. Despite the fear of not knowing how long it would go on she remembers “a sense of camaraderie as everyone reached out to each other to see how they were going”.

However, she notes, “Without the government support I can’t imagine what could have happened. I’d never been to Centrelink in my life!”

One positive from Covid was helping her find a work/life balance, allowing her time to care for her grandchildren one day a week, a role she very much enjoys.    

Amanda hasn’t let the disruptions of Covid-19 hold her back. Photo: Amanda Buckworth/Facebook.

Business is still a little precarious with Night At The Barracks, set to feature Caroline O’Connor and Jessica Mauboy, being postponed until later in the year.

Amanda believes there is still a lingering sense of ‘FOGO’ (fear of going out) due to Covid.

Still, there’s no slowing down for the arts doyenne, who, as we spoke, had plenty of work coming up including the multi-city tour of Potted Potter, Heathers The Musical and the rescheduled Night At The Barracks

She admits she is more discretionary with the work she takes on these days but has no desire to retire. Not bad for someone with no formal training! Her theme song could be ‘I’m Still Here’, written by the late, great Stephen Sondheim, as Amanda continues to thrive in the often fickle world of showbiz.

For more on Amanda Buckworth and AB Publicity, visit www.abpublicity.com.au.

Sunny Grace is a writer, producer and director who divides her time between the NSW Northern Rivers and Sydney. Her website is located at sunnygrace.com.au.

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