On the banks of the Parramatta River, Riverside Theatres opened its doors in 1988 as part of a project to mark the Australian Bicentenary. Next year, this vibrant Western Sydney venue will celebrate 30 years of providing film and theatrical performances to the community.
Director of Riverside Theatres, Robert Love, reflects on how far the venue has come since the early days and its ability now to cater to a wide range of tastes.
“We’ve become a lot more eclectic and diverse,” he tells Theatre People. “We’re like the smorgasbord of delight when it comes to performing arts – you can have everything from prawns through to roast beef or to Pad Thai … It’s really a very diverse program of professional presentations, but also community presentations and sometimes a fusion of both of those.”
The three theatres within the Riverside complex house more than 700 events a year and, as Love attests to, the variety is remarkable.
“We have some things that come from more western, traditional antecedents, but we’ve got a lot of stuff that comes from different cultural backgrounds and also different sorts of art form fusions.”
Love’s career in the performing arts has spanned more than four decades and included work for the State Theatre Company of South Australia, Sydney Theatre Company, Fox Studios and News Limited. He commenced as Riverside Theatres Director in 2000 and was this year recognised for his service to the performing arts as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
Love discusses how the program compiled to celebrate Riverside’s 30th anniversary year seeks to reflect the broad interests of the venue’s audiences and the community.
“We continue to increase the audience numbers that are attending each year,” Love says. “That’s partially to do with Parramatta growing … but it’s also to do with programming and … making sure people know what we do. As I like to say, we don’t really have ‘an’ audience. We have lots of different audiences, and all of that makes up our audience … There are some people who are repeat attenders, but that’s really quite a small proportion of the total audience. Most people come here once or twice a year and that’s it. So, we provide that smorgasbord approach, where people can pick what they want.”
Next year, Riverside will present two international productions – Taha, based on the life of Palestine poet Taha Muhammad Ali, and a family production direct from London entitled Wilde Creatures, inspired by Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales.
Love says the venue also hosts independent shows one wouldn’t necessarily expect to see in Parramatta. He mentions Who Am I …? starring Russell Cheek, which will arrive at Riverside in 2018.
“I saw this show a year or so ago in Sydney,” he says. “It’s really a show about him, when he appeared on Sale of the century and won $300,000, and he’s got all the old video of it. [The show is] him on stage and you see the process as he goes through … It’s nail-biting as you follow his progress.”
Next year will be the third anniversary of Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta, which will present four world premieres and six Australian plays.
“The National Theatre of Parramatta is a very important opportunity to actually develop shows which have a resonance for people who live in Parramatta and Western Sydney,” Love says. “In some cases, we’ve done plays that are not actually written in Western Sydney, but are then given a Western Sydney treatment, or the directors take them on board and make them our own here in Western Sydney.”
Exploring themes of family, identity, belonging and love, National Theatre of Parramatta’s 2018 productions include Flight Paths, The Girl / The Woman, (Generation 3) Sleeplessness and Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, as well as an encore season of Stolen, which first played Riverside under the direction of Vicki Van Hout in 2016.
‘The Girl’ and ‘The Woman’ form a double bill, with each of the two plays written by Aanisa Vylet.
“The Girl is really her story, and The Woman is really her mother’s story, and it’s a lot about their relationship – or lack of relationship – and how that works,” Love explains. “That’ll be really interesting.”
Other highlights of the 2018 season include Nakkiah Lui’s Black is the New White from Sydney Theatre Company, Opera Australia’s Madame Butterfly, Hayes Theatre Co’s hit musical Calamity Jane, and Packemin Productions’ Shrek – the Musical. Additionally, multi-award winning company Sport for Jove will return to Riverside with three Shakespeare plays – The Tempest, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
On top of all of those, and consolidating its reputation as a leader in children’s programming, Riverside is presenting 10 children’s productions, which will include Michael Sieders’ The Magic Pudding, Stalker Theatre and Out of the Box’s adaption Creature: Dot and the Kangaroo, and Windmill Theatre Co’s Big Bad Wolf.
“And it goes on,” Love says. “There’s no shortage of choice, that’s for sure.”
The future looks bright for the 30-year-old complex, with the NSW Government having this year allocated $100m to the re-development of Riverside.
“That will be a big change because when that happens, the new Riverside will be 50% owned by the state and 50% owned by the council, whereas the current Riverside is 100% owned by the council,” Love says. “That’s a bit of a change to the paradigm and it’s also an indication of the state’s commitment to actually engage in Parramatta around arts and cultural activity which really, to date, has been solely the province and the responsibility of the council.
“With the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences coming and the Riverside re-development, you’re starting to see the state taking a role in the development of arts and cultural activities in Parramatta. That’s an important new development and a critical one to really make it work.”
And in celebration of its 30th anniversary year, Riverside has launched a new membership program for patrons 30 years and under. The 30 Club will offer significantly discounted tickets across all programmes, exclusive offers and special activities for a $30 annual membership fee.
For more information, visit the Riverside Theatres’ website at: