Kantor to leave Malthouse ~ theatre notes

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Kantor to leave Malthouse

Hot off the Malthouse's press machine: Michael Kantor today announced that he will depart the Malthouse at the end of 2010, after six years as artistic director and CEO of the company. He'll be leaving to pursue other opportunities as a freelance director.

"Theatre is the most malleable and mercurial of artistic forms, and needs to constantly reinvent itself to stay alive and relevant," said Kantor in today's statement. "My hope is that Malthouse does exactly that, while continuing to surprise and astound audiences with theatrical journeys in the dark that enliven the mind and enrich the imagination, both on its stages and as it takes work around Australia and to the world."

Since taking over the Playbox in January 2005 with executive producer Stephen Armstrong, Kantor has introduced diverse and flexible programming and a series of mentorships and artist residencies. He instigated the ‘Malthouse Greenlight’ project towards ecological sustainability and has toured Malthouse productions nationally and internationally.

By the end of 2009, he will have overseen the world premiere of 36 new Australian works, with Malthouse productions playing to over 250,000 patrons in Melbourne, and many more in 25 seasons in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra, Brisbane, Auckland, Vienna, Amsterdam, Kuala Lumpur, London and Edinburgh. Most recently Kantor’s production of Optimism played to a sold out season at the 2009 Edinburgh International Festival. That show will tour to next year's Sydney Festival, and his production of Happy Days opens at Belvoir Street Theatre this October.

As Malthouse chair Simon Westcott says, Team Kantor has positioned the Malthouse as one of the most energetic, innovative and collaborative in the country. A new AD will be appointed in early 2010, with the position advertised late this year. With Neil Armfield's departure from Belvoir St next year (programming as his swan song a remount of his masterly Diary of a Madman, starring Geoffrey Rush), this opens the door to a new era in both Sydney and Melbourne. And opens a rich field of speculation about who will take over these signal positions.


Gilligan said...

Who do you think will get the gig Alison?

Alison Croggon said...

Absolutely no idea! I guess it depends who applies.

Anonymous said...

What about Peter Russell Clark? Do you imagine he has a chance, Alison?

Alison Croggon said...

He could probably give good kitchen consultancy, I guess, which is always a consideration in showbiz. Not sure of his background in the world of thespia.

Anonymous said...

My vote goes to Tom Wright, probably the brightest man working in theatre today. A gifted writer and, after his years of working with Kosky and Benedict Andrews and under the tutelage of Robyn Nevin and the Actors Company at STC, he is ready and qualified to take over his own place. His talent is wasted carrying the drinks for Cate and Andrew.

Neil Trudinger, Carnegie said...

Hmm what that company needs is a breath of fresh air after all that stodge.

How about Kate Cherry?
Kate Gaul?
What's Roger Hodgman doing these days?
Why not just give the whole thing to Red Stitch?
Chris Bendall?
What about Joanna Murray-Smith?
Neil Pigot and Julian Meyrick in a double team?
Jonathan Mills looking for something less taxing post-Edinburgh?
Would Alana Valentine move down here?
How about Hilary Glow?
Kerryn Goldsworthy?
Peter Craven?
Jack Hibberd?
How happy is Kristy Edmunds at VCA?
Wesley Enoch busy?

Once you get started the possibilities are endless, and the thrill of theatre wells up in you.

Tom Wright said...

Thanks Anon

I know who you are.

I would respond at length but I have to rescue the bosses' UDL's from the freezer.


Anonymous said...

Congrats to Kantor for leaving before he gets moribund - shame Simon Phillips didn't do the same several years ago...

Christine B said...

Melbourne can have Alana Valentine ... I bags Tom Wright for Belvoir!

Anonymous said...

Simon Phillips is NOW doing great things for MTC - leading a new venue (much more successfully than next door neighbour), new studio, artists programs etc. Sure the main program plays to pretty much the same audience as ever, but he is a rare example of an AD who is actually spreading his wings with time, at least in terms of organisational development, if not actual play directing. Whereas Malthouse over the last couple of years, sadly, has pandered ever more to Melbourne's snobby theatrical elite with either impenetrable or irrelevant "stodge" as someone's earlier post puts it. Sure, their production values are great, but Malthouse shows come and go at a rate of knots, and precious few of them make any impact on the broader Melbourne community whatsoever. Malthouse = well-endowed theatre ghetto! Time for a more open, digestible and widely resonating program.

Alison Croggon said...

Hoo boy. How about some acknowledgement here about the astounding transformation from the utterly moribund Playbox (or does no one remember that? people really don't have memories here, do they?) to the lively and well-patronised Malthouse? Whether you like the work there or not, that's what Kantor did. Credit where credit is due, I think.

I hope whatever comes next builds on the spaces the Malthouse has opened. That would be exciting. Some of you seem to think the culture should snap back to what it was, like an overstretched rubber band. Are we really that small?

I'm sorry, but accusing art of being "elite" is almost Godwin's Law in arts debate (and if you don't know what Godwin's Law is, google it). What does it mean? Malthouse critics have for the past couple of years been calling the company too populist (too much song and dance, too little substance) - well, which one is it? Too populist or too elitist?

In my view, the Malthouse has really hit its stride over the past couple of years, and those who characterise its work as one thing - just Kantor's work, eg - are simply not looking. Anyone thinking a company that hosts, say, Beckett and Black Lung is stodgy needs to go away and contemplate the meaning of carbohydrate.

The MTC is a different organism to the Malthouse, and so it ought to be. The last thing this city needs is the Malthouse as a clone of the MTC (or vice versa, folks). The MTC has a far larger audience as it inhabits far larger theatres - which is why the only comparative box office figures that are fair and make sense are audience capacity (the percentage of seats sold, not absolute figures). On those figures, the Malthouse has been very successful. It has also, through various knock-on effects, helped to enrich the theatre culture in ways that were absolutely unimaginable in 2004. Witness the programming shifts at the MTC, which has been taking a few leaves - and artists - out of the Malthouse book.

Martin Ball said...

I agree Alison that it is important to give Michael Kantor due credit for revitalising the Malthouse. Anyone who remembers the final years of Playbox will give thanks for Kantor (though again, before we get carried away, that is not to say that Aubrey didn't himself achieve some good things in his time). But I would also agree with the criticism that too many Malthouse shows have been brightly wrapped presents with little inside. I would even include the much-lauded "Exit the King" here - which I found more chocolate box than main course - though I recognise this is probably my personal taste, and that the world (and the box office receipts) disagree with me.
More interesting though are Michael's comments in the Age, today, where he states that he is most proud of works like "Babes in the Woods" and "The Odyssey". I would rank these as some of the least satisfying of his creations; the first an indulgent pantomime, the second a glorious piece of staging which unfortunately served to obscure the great narrative it was trying to tell. This highlights to me that what Michael saw as his greatest strengths, others perceive as weaknesses. I suppose we are all like that - it's only artists who are brave enough to put their work out for criticism that have to suffer everyone else telling the they are wrong, and offering gratuitous advice on how to do their job better...

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Martin - fantastic to see you here. As well as its final year, which coincided with my beginning to go to the theatre again, I remember the first years of the Playbox at the CUB Malthouse with uncomfortable clarity. Admittedly, Aubrey wasn't responsible for those. I thought they were pretty ghastly, and said so, thus ensuring my absence from a number of Melbourne dinner tables.

I guess it's inevitable that the Malthouse is conflated with Kantor (and fwiw, I agree with you on the assessment of those shows, including Plague Year - you can look up my reviews - aside from Babes in the Wood, which was a fine and fun panto - odd that Michael doesn't mention Tense Dave, I think, which was a real high point).

But it does obscure what I think is the weight of the company's achievement, which is in how it opened its doors to a whole lot of different ways of theatre making and to artists who wouldn't previously have had a look-in on a main theatre stage anywhere in Melbourne. People like Lally Katz and Stuck Pigs, Peter Houghton, Jenny Kemp (ok, I didn't like that at all, but she's an artist who should have been in there), Paul Capsis, Margaret Cameron, Black Lung, Uncle Semolina & Friends, Marius von Mayenburg, Benedict Andrews, Ranters, Yumi Umuimare &c &c - not to mention the the inclusion of the dance programs the past couple of years - have blown open the vocabulary of theatre in this city. We wouldn't have seen Kosky's work at all in Melbourne the past few years if not for the Malthouse, and although some people might think that a fine thing, I think it wuld have been our loss. And they've still done plays - Patricia Cornelius's Love or Melissa Reeve's Spooks (which was directed by Tom Healey, and which I thought fab), or recently that brilliant Beckett or Harrower (although again I had problems with the production). The design culture is unparalleled - and I do think design - sound, lighting and set - really matters in theatre, just as I think writing does. It's always been a work in progress, but so is all theatre.

Martin Ball said...

What you highlight, Alison, is that perhaps Michael Kantor has been a better Artistic Director than a director per se. That is, while his individual direction of shows invites particular criticisms, his vision for the company as a whole has been very successful. Some might say that Simon Phillips at the MTC is the opposite of this - a brilliantly capable director who keeps the MTC chugging along in its all too comfortable groove. Of course people will find individual shows to prove me wrong (on both counts); thankfully of course we have two companies with different agendas, and pace Neil Pigot, a host of other producers to satisfy our curious tastes.

Gilligan said...

Would chris kohn be a chance?

Anonymous said...

bring on the k-dog

Anonymous said...

bring on Tom Healey

Neil T said...

It will be very interesting to see who gets the job at Belvoir St up in Sydney, given the recent history the two companies have shared.
Does anyone know who's on the shortlist up there (some of those names will crop up at malthouse you'd think)?

Anonymous said...

give them both to Gilligan.

way to go ya bloke.

Anonymous said...

bloke bloke bloke bloke.

mate mate mate.

cobber cobber cobber.


ya flamin mongrel.