Urban Theatre Projects

And here is a good news story! Bankstown has produced some of Australia’s greatest sporting champions: John and Ilsa Konrads, Steve and Mark Waugh, Ian Thorpe, Jeff Thomson and Len Pascoe. What is less well known is that it has produced some of Australia’s most talented artists:Bryan Brown, Human Nature and AC/DC are all Bankstown boys. It is also the home of Urban Theatre Projects, a first-class theatre company telling stories of the suburbs—gritty, real-life, outstanding work—and taking them to the world. Their latest production is called The Fence.

In November, the parliament came together to apologise to half a million Forgotten Australians —men and women who grew up in orphanages and institutions, abused, mistreated and forgotten. The Fence tells their story—the story of people who do not know how to love because no-one ever loved them; people who do not know how to be parents because they never had them. The title for the play was inspired by a man who went into an institution at the age of four. All he remembers of the next 12 years is the fence that kept him in. It is powerful, painful and compelling. I want to thank the artistic director, Alicia Talbot, and the executive producer, Michelle Kotevski, for bringing this important story to the stage. Their work will help ensure that the light that we have shone on a dark chapter of Australia’s history is not allowed to dim.

At this year’s Sydney Festival,The Fence played to near sell-out audiences. Now they are hoping to take it around Australia. The international arts community is also taking note. This year, during the Soccer World Cup, Urban Theatre Projects will stage its own production of The Football Diaries at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa. Later this year, they will take up residency in East London. They have been commissioned to create a new work with the local community that will be staged in London as Olympic fever peaks in two years time. They have also been asked to make a new work for a Korean festival and, much closer to home, a new work here in Canberra. All of this has been achieved from a small office in Bankstown and a storeroom with no air conditioning that doubles as a rehearsal space. Fortunately, this is about to change.

Work is now underway on a $5.8 million Bankstown arts centre, and I am glad to say that half the funding for that project comes from the Rudd government’s economic stimulus plan. When it is completed in November the centre will house under one roof for the first time the Bankstown Arts Society, the Bankstown Theatrical Society, the Bankstown and District Lapidary Club, the Bankstown Youth Development Service and, of course, Urban Theatre Projects. The site of the arts centre used to be the Bankstown Olympic pool, where champions like John and Ilsa Konrads once trained. It is kind of fitting, then, that Urban Theatre Projects will be based here, producing world-class theatre and helping forge for Bankstown a reputation for excellence in the arts—something long overdue.