Ralph Myers. Photo by Ellis Parrinder.

Ralph Myers. Photo by Ellis Parrinder.

Hello. Thanks for coming and sitting in a dark theatre on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Sydney.

I think it’s safe to say that people were quite surprised when in 2009 I was appointed to this job. I was too. It was a pretty left-field appointment – I was young, I had never run a bath before, let alone the third biggest theatre company in the country, and I was (and still am) a set and costume designer – not a profession that has been the traditional nursery of Artistic Directors. I was, however a practicing artist – a busy theatre-maker, plucked from freelance life and given the unfathomably wonderful task of being the artistic leader of one of the finest theatre companies around. It was a pretty daunting experience. I found myself thrust into a whole new raft of situations that I’d previously, in my sedate life as a hard-drinking international theatre artiste, not found myself in.

As it happens there was, in those first few months of my tenure here, a meeting of all of the artistic directors of all of the major performing arts companies that could be assembled in one room at one time. It was held in a light-filled room above the MCA, overlooking the harbour and the opera house.

In that room was the crème of the Australian performing arts. Actors, directors, playwrights, dancers, violinists, choreographers and composers who had risen to the top of their professions and were now charged with the task of leading the twenty eight largest and most established performing arts companies in Australia.

It was an intimidating group of people to find myself amongst.

Once I’d gotten over my fear, I looked around at this esteemed group of people and I was struck by a remarkable thing. They didn’t look like artists at all. With the exception of myself, and maybe Mike Finch from Circus Oz, pretty much everyone else was in a suit. I was, it won’t surprise you to hear, wearing a clapped out pair of jeans, a torn shirt and a pair of Dunlop volleys. Looking at the rest of them though, they looked more like the annual meeting of a group of insurance executives than a gang of artists.

So here are some of the finest and boldest artists – the great dreamers of our culture – dressed up like real estate agents.

I was mortified. Other than feeling embarrassingly underdressed, I felt sad. What had we done to these people? Why did they feel the need to adopt a corporate uniform just to meet with each other… read full transcript.