The iconic Richmond performing space, The Owl and the Pussycat (now simply Owl and Cat Theatre), is under new management with its new owners committed to making and fostering relevant, contemporary and striking theatre.
After a five year tenor, founder of 5pound theatre, Jason Cavanagh, was set to leave The Owl making it nothing short of serendipitous for eager, young and passionate theatre makers Thomas Ian Doyle and Gabrielle Savrone to follow their dream.
Independent theatre itself is a tough gig, never mind managing a performance venue, but Doyle and Savrone are intent on making their mark. Their partnership is strong and supportive, in fact, their next project, Riot, was written by Doyle and will be directed by Savrone – the joint venture being a taste of what’s to come for the independent theatre.
Read on as the duo share their thoughts, aspirations and offer valuable tips to others embarking on the Indy trail:
Thomas Ian Doyle :Our vision is to create a place where artists strive to push the boundaries. A place where those undiscussed issues can be discussed. Personally, I feel there is a lot of value in confronting theatre- as long as the work explores ‘why’ we feel confronted. Once upon a time the thought of women working was confronting- gay marriage, people with different skin colours sitting next to each other on a bus- these were all once confronting issues (and in some places still are today). I think it is the artists duty to find what confronts us today- and explore why.
Venue management for me is more a necessity than a passion. Being our own managers gives us the freedom to create and curate the art we want to see without restrictions. Both of us are artists at heart, so the ‘managing the venue part’ we find challenging at times, but we are learning quickly. Remembering that we are working towards something important helps us to get through all the boring admin etc, and we also have a lot of wonderful people around us who are always helping. Running a theatre takes an immense amount of work, and we are very lucky we have such talented and hard-working people offering help.
Gabrielle and I met at university (less than a year ago) and creatively we clicked, picture a room full of hundreds of fluorescent light bulbs all lighting up at once, it was that sort of intense- and we named our first season after that first feeling we both had!
We disagree daily, which is part of the reason I think creatively we work so well together. What a dull experience it’d be if all we did was nod at each other and agree. Friction is after all what creates the sparks to make the flame.
Business in the arts is a difficult slog, money being the prime problem, or I should say, lack of. I think with any business the most important aspect is your product, and in our case our product is the art- so most of our energy focuses on improving that, we are constantly reassessing how we can make the art better.
We’re very excited about our second season: Bold, we have some fantastic new productions we cannot wait to share with Melbourne. Some advice I’d give to artists looking at going down similar paths would be to always follow your heart. And if you can’t find the type of art you want to see, then take risks and make it yourselves.
Gabrielle Savrone: When I was 24 years old I found this theatre after applying for a fringe show called ‘Three Women’ by Sylvia Plath. I fell in love.
I went on to perform the first play I have written and devised here, as well as my first one woman show “What is the matter with Mary Jane?” By Wendy Harmer and Sancia Robinson ( Which I am now performing at the Seymour centre in august!)
While working here on Mary Jane, Jason Cavanagh told me that he planed on closing the doors. I was so saddened by the thought of Melbourne losing an independent theatre I couldn’t bear it. A lot of theatres are hard to access or get into and this was a space that allowed experimentation – It couldn’t close!
I went to the bank and got a loan and took over, completely unprepared really but with a lot of passion and drive to keep artists working, and a space that allows people to try and be included in a world that is hard enough as it is to get a break in. A space that encourages those who are left of centre, to make their own work and are passionate enough to self-fund and self-manage their art.
Luckily I convinced the bank – and it was perfect timing, as I had just finished my arts degree and Thomas and I met at university and fell into creative love at first sight. Our strengths complement each other’s weakness’s and we love to create together, so.. we decided .. we’d do it together, let’s keep the theatre alive! We now live upstairs, painted the bathroom into a crime scene and love to have a good karaoke session when no one is around!
Practically, running a venue is very time demanding, and we have to work other jobs to afford the bills. Challenges include the leak in the kitchen roof, breezy rooms in winter, the lack of a decent lighting rig for creative ideas, the footy crowds and definitely selling tickets! Having to do 4 roles each at the venue + our other jobs isn’t easy.
The rewards are worth the effort though, knowing we are leaving a positive impact on Melbourne’s theatrical history, knowing were keeping artists in work, and getting experience, knowing we can help people who may not have had that opportunity before.
Knowing we can put on our art as a creative duo. All of these things are amazingly satisfying and worth every tear.
Our vision for the venue is simple. We want the owl and cat to be a space where people know if they see a show – it will be contemporary and challenging and of high standards. We want people to know they can audition, no matter their background, that they can experiment with their work and be supported, and that they belong.
Our vision for our art as creatives and the seasons of work we are producing is to make current, relevant, new and demanding work. Visually captivating and with solid story telling, combining text, image and creativity.
The long term goals are to become a Not-for-profit organisation that can receive funding and sponsorship and to be able to run a programme for foster kids who can’t afford to pursue their creative interests as well as have a mentoring programme where we can train up talented kids and give them a job. We are doing this anyway out of our own pocket at the moment and the joy it brings is amazing, we hope to grow this, as well as affordable workshops with top industry professionals who want to share their art, for arts sake and not for money. Our goal is a new generation of theatre, one that shares and gives and creates a community. A place where people can belong, and be pushed to be their best selves with their art forms.
June 1 – June 14