I’m relatively new to Sydney. Just over a year ago I landed in the inner western suburbs, first Glebe and now Leichhardt. It’s getting to the point now where I can navigate by something other than the Tower of Sydney and the stars, but I’m still not game enough to drive on Sydney’s roads. I grew up in Melbourne, which is to say I grew up in a city with a manageable traffic, a healthy fringe theatre scene, good coffee, and functioning public transport. Then I moved to Sydney.
For the first six months or so, I was at a complete loss. Sydney is considerably larger and faster than Melbourne, and I was flying solo without the social safety nets you build over twenty odd years. My first attempts to make contact with the local theatre and film scene were fairly disastrous and not a little embarrassing. In short, my advice to anyone traveling to Sydney from Melbourne is this: ditch the black clothes. Sydney producers can practically smell them. Then, slowly, something started to happen. I stopped comparing Sydney to Melbourne, pining for the lost comforts and havens of home, and started paying attention to those considerable artistic strengths that Sydney has of its own. I started to find more work, some of it more commercial than I was used to, but a lot of it also more challenging. In short, I started trying to make the city work for me, rather than actively working against it, and it’s amazing the difference that can make.
I’ve learned from other actors I’ve met in Sydney that a lot more artists here are straddling the professional/semi-professional divide, rather than just developing their own work. A large number of actors in particular in Sydney are aiming quite consciously for professional theatre, film, and television careers. Most of my experience in Melbourne has been with fringe and semi-professional outfits, and the knowledge base I’ve developed there hasn’t always translated smoothly.
It’s certainly true that the Sydney fringe theatre scene just isn’t as healthy as that in Adelaide or even Melbourne. I understand that this is due to a combination of slightly weird zoning laws and an emphasis on professional theatre. But a lot is being done to change that, and if you keep your eyes open there’s plenty of fringe and semi-professional work to find. And the professional theatre scene in Sydney is just phenomenal. The Belvoir, the STC, and others produce work of a consistently spectacular standard. Simon Stone, originally a VCA graduate has said that Sydney is a tricky place to start out in, but a great place to wind up, and as someone relatively new to the state, I can agree. There’s no ceiling to what you can put on here, provided you’re determined enough. But in the end, that’s true anywhere.
For the last several months I’ve been working up a show of my own after almost a year of working on other projects. And it’s been interesting deploying some of the tricks I learned in Melbourne, for example putting a show together with zero dollars, in the rather more commercial Sydney. But at this stage, at least, it appears to be working, leading me to believe that perhaps I’m not as completely out of my depth as I initially supposed.
I’m a Melbourne boy. I studied philosophy, grew up in the shadow of the Espy in St Kilda, and (god help me) I still think that Sydney coffee has nothing on the coffee back home. But I’m starting to see how there are strengths to the approaches of both cities, the focused community support networks of Melbourne and the strident, grand theatrical gestures of Sydney. With a little luck, I’m hoping to learn to be the little of column A that makes it way into column B. And who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll actually find a place in Sydney that makes a decent double shot latte.
Jasper is Theatre People's Sydney representative. If you would like to write or review for Theatre People in Sydney please contact Jasper at [email protected]