Cate Blanchett, Oscar-winning actor, global warming protester and skin care advocate, has a new role.

Together with playwright husband Andrew Upton, she will take over from Robyn Nevin as artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company next year. It’s a glitzy, very Sydney, decision, and a fascinating one, which will no doubt help the STC get big stars and funding through the door.

Another Oscar winner, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has co-starred with Blanchett and is also a co-artistic director of the LAByrinth theatre group in New York, is already lined up to direct Upton’s new play Riflemind in 2007.

But it seems many people in the Sydney acting and directing community will have their backs up about the possibility of more imports (although union quotas will operate against this) – they are already a little peeved that the STC started up an ensemble, The Actors Company, to reuse the same actors for multiple shows over multiple years.

As for the appointment, the cogs have clearly been turning for a while, with Cate starring in the company’s 2004 production of Hedda Gabler (adapted by Upton), not to mention her upcoming directorial debut with Pinter’s A Kind of Alaska  presented on a double bill which sees Upton directing Reunion – which will now be the subject of intense scrutiny.  

Rumours that the dynamic thespian duo would end up at the helm have been doing the rounds for months in theatre circles. Murmurings could be heard a month ago at the SMH blog, The Green Room, where reader “Dean” wrote that  “Cate and Andrew are clearly being groomed to take over the STC”.

It’s difficult to know yet how the couple will share the workload. But given Blanchett’s hectic film schedule, it’s likely that she will be more of a figurehead while Upton is the hands-on, day-to-day operator.

For Nevin, who came under fire recently after her daughter Emily Russell was given a position at the company, it’s a somewhat narcissistic choice. Directing Blanchett in Hedda Gabler, Nevin told the SMH she saw something of herself as a young actress in the Oscar winner’s approach.

I sort of recognised the qualities and the tendencies; she always had a clear and strong overview and a great interest in the play, not just her own role in it. She and I used to talk about the play a lot and I thought, ‘Yes you’ve got a directorial interest’. 

So will this be the start of a trend? Could the Melbourne Theatre Company one day be run by another actor-spouse team, Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey