Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett has worked wonders in her role as artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company, which she shares with husband Andrew Upton. She has attracted international stars, won new sponsors, boosted audience numbers, scored rave reviews and transformed the company’s finances.
She’s also greened STC headquarters with solar panels and rainwater harvesting. And she’s doing her best to turn Walsh Bay into an arts precinct, to create “a cultural ribbon” stretching along the waterfront from the Opera House to Barangaroo.
Blanchett and Upton believe the changes are necessary in order to match what Melbourne and Brisbane have already got, and to restore some crackle and pop to the harbour city.
“She’s certainly shaped the company,” STC director and actor Jonathan Biggins told The Power Index, “not only artistically, but also in the greening of The Wharf.”
“In their first two years they’ve transformed the company and the way many people feel about it,” the STC board proclaimed last year, in extending the dynamic duo’s contract till the end of 2013.
Of course, people in Campbelltown may not give a damn about what Cate’s done. With Georgio Armani as patron, and Audi and UBS as key sponsors, it’s clear the STC is largely for a privileged elite. But Sydney’s cultural image is important for tourism and the life of the city, even if most people do prefer to play the pokies, go to the footy or watch TV. And on that score, Cate is doing famously.
When she and Upton were hired in late 2007, without the job being advertised, several critics said they lacked the necessary skills, and accused the STC board of being starstruck. But the improvement has been dramatic. Armani signed up within days, and sponsors soon followed. The company had been losing money and struggling to stay afloat. It is now making record profits of around $1 million a year. The recent production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, adapted by Upton, and starring Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, John Bell, Jackie Weaver and Richard Roxburgh, took $3 million at the box office.
Last month, the STC took the play to Washington DC and New York and wowed the critics on Broadway, with The New York Times’ Ben Brantley describing it as “outrageously funny”, “heartbreaking”, and one of the happiest events of his theatre-going life.
Two years earlier, Cate had grabbed rave reviews with the STC’s touring production of A Streetcar Named Desire.
As well as taking Sydney theatre to the world, Blanchett has brought international stars like Philip Seymour Hoffman and William Hurt to Australia.
But she’s also been doing her best to develop Walsh Bay into the city’s arts hub, where bars, cafes, restaurants and small arts spaces could flourish. She has helped secure a ferry terminal at Barangaroo (which will be just along the harbour) and drummed up an evening and late-night bus service to The Wharf. When Kristina Keneally agreed to provide it last year, Blanchett gave the then premier a huge hug and bubbled, “that’s the best news I’ve had all year”.