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Year of arts growth in Wollongong
The Wollongong-based Merrigong Theatre Company has reported that 10% more people went to see one of its productions during the 2010 season while visitors to the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre increased by almost 17%.
Despite the criticisms of local violinist Richard Tognetti (the Artistic Director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra), who, at the beginning of the year, described Wollongong as a "dark, troubled place" with little to offer aesthetically, it seems the city and its surrounding region does have a thriving cultural scene.
Wollongong has a lot going for it culturally.
Merrigong Theatre Company's diverse 2010 season has resulted in a strong year for the company, as the results in its recently-released annual report show.
While there was a 3% decrease in Merrigong's theatre season subscribers, their overall audience numbers maintained steady growth and increased by 9.4%. The venue's total audience and centre visitation had remarkable increases of 16.7% and 17.6% respectively.
Merrigong's Artistic Director/Chief Executive Simon Hinton commented, "this is perhaps in response to a deliberate strategy to broaden our program in the hope that we can, over time, significantly diversify our audience beyond core traditional theatre-goers."
Artistically, Merrigong achieved great success in further developing its reputation of bringing some of the best international and Australian theatre to the Illawarra. In association with their London-based producing partner Richard Jordan Productions, they toured Canadian Rick Miller's MacHomer to three other venues around Australia, their second tour of an international theatre work. Other international work presented to audiences was The Walworth Farce from Ireland's Druid Theatre and Royal New Zealand Ballet's Romeo & Juliet. Audiences also enjoyed work from some of Australia's best contemporary theatre-makers, including return visitors Bell Shakespeare, Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company, and new visitors such as Red Stitch and the highly-acclaimed Force Majeure. A highlight for many was the Belvoir / Black Swan co-production of smash-hit musical The Sapphires.
In 2010, Merrigong's producing arm reached another milestone, with the production of Caleb Lewis' Death in Bowengabbie (winner of the Judge's Commendation for Best Writing at the 2009 Adelaide Fringe Festival), which was adapted from a one-man show into a work for a cast of four.
Here, Hinton adds "it had excellent production values realised by a wonderful creative team and cast and our audience's response was further proof that high-calibre, professional theatre produced locally can sit comfortably in our season, next to the work of the very finest companies from around Australia and the world."
2010 saw Illawarra Performing Arts Centre receive the highest accolade available from industry and peers to performing arts centres in Australia. At the Australian Performing Arts Centre Association's annual Drover Awards for Touring Excellence, IPAC was voted Best Presenter by a selection of top performing arts companies who tour to venues across the country.
Steve Sanders, Chairperson of Merrigong's Board of Directors said "I had the pleasure of attending the BoardConnect symposium in Brisbane in November, an event for board members in the Performing Arts industry, and it was great to hear how well our company is perceived by the premier performing arts companies around Australia... We are fortunate to have such a strong team, focused on results and professionalism."
Together with local partner Illawarra Children's Services, Merrigong launched an adventurous new initiative, the South Coast Children's Festival. The three-day event saw more than 3,000 children and their families enjoy workshops, art, music, roving artists, and theatre in and around IPAC.
The Merrigong Theatre Company's 2010 Annual Report can be viewed at www.merrigong.com.au/media/files/AR2011.pdf
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