It's literally the Dream. Theatre is, at last, confirmed to return to Melbourne, with a bumper summer of outdoor performances including Shakespeare and a children's classic at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Australian Shakespeare Company artistic director Glenn Elston says, as long as there is government approval and regulations allow, audiences will be treated to music, comedy and theatre in the Gardens – at a time when the main indoor theatres might still be closed.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream starring Melbourne actors Richard Piper and Alison Whyte will open on December 18, followed by that much-loved summer institution The Wind in the Willows on December 19 and Macbeth on January 30. Tinkerbell and the Dream Fairies will open at Ripponlea House and Gardens on December 22.
From left: Ryan Hawke, Alison Whyte, Glenn Elston and Richard Piper.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui
"To be able to go out, watch, reflect and enjoy theatre as part of a group, sharing that moment, will be both stimulating and healing for everyone," Elston says. "People are reaching out for this because the need for theatre is imperative to the health of the human psyche."
It is the first in a hoped-for run of announcements for a summer arts season as the city reopens. Malthouse Theatre is seeking funding for an outdoor stage in Southbank with cabaret-style seating for performances of theatre and music.
A ticketed light, sculpture, performance and sound installation IMAGINARIA is scheduled to open at The District Docklands from Thursday, November 26, And the Sidney Myer Music Bowl is likely to see plenty of action, with Carols By Candlelight confirmed for December (though how many people can actually be in the Bowl to see it is still under review).
In the Gardens, Elston says, audience numbers will depend on the precise rules at the time of opening. He expects there may have to be reduced attendance, to accommodate social distancing, and is presently ticketing for a maximum audience of 200 at each Shakespeare performance and 100 at the children's shows.
Under the state's current COVID-19 roadmap, outdoor entertainment venues can open in the next "Third Step", though with low patron caps and restrictive density limits. In the "Last Step", with no new cases in the prior fortnight, the patron cap is higher and under "COVID Normal" outdoor venues have no patron caps or density quotient, though they must still follow a safety plan.
"To some degree we're making a prediction of what it'll be like in December," Elston says. "If we don't get it ready and on sale now, it won't happen at all."
If the show must go on with reduced capacity "that’s just the economic reality of it", he says.
People are reaching out for this because the need for theatre is imperative to the health of the human psyche.
Temperatures will be taken at the door and hand sanitiser provided. Extra staff will be hired to ensure social distancing takes place, marshalling audience members when required.
When booking online, ppeople will be required to provide details for contact tracing. Door sales will be a "last resort" option with forms to complete before gaining entry.
"We’ll do whatever the directives are, complying at all levels and have been working for some months on a COVIDSafe policy," Elston says.
The shows will also be live streamed on select evenings for those who prefer to watch from home.
Elston says the benefits to his little community of actors and the wider community of people who enjoy coming to outdoor theatre "creates an obligation for us to perform" – his productions, also including The Wind in the Willows in Sydney and Tinkerbell and the Dream Fairies in Adelaide, will employ 70 actors, crew and staff.
Royal Botanic Gardens director and chief executive Tim Entwisle welcomed the announcement, saying they were "thrilled to have our long term partner Australian Shakespeare Company kick off our 175th anniversary year in 2021 followed by a program of rich cultural and nature engagement events".
In addition to the theatre season the ASC will stage a musical comedy show at 6pm on Australia Day and an expanded Sunday Sunset Series every Sunday thereafter, with diverse performances including a 30-piece orchestra performing classical music in the Mozart by Moonlight concert and a 20-piece band performing show tunes in Broadway Unplugged. There will be comedy acts, Shakespeare in Concert and cabaret.
"We’re absolutely pumped about this – it feels like coming out of a cave," Elston says.
Tickets go on sale on Saturday, October 3 at shakespeareaustralia.com.au.
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