When COVID-19 brought TheatreiNQ’s 10-year birthday celebrations to a standstill, Directors Terri Brabon and Brendan O’Connor did not let it ruin their quest to celebrate the monumental milestone. If anything, it has granted them with the opportunity to reflect on a decade of providing local employment, promoting the value of the Arts to Townsville’s community and economy, all the while sustaining their robust business plan that will continue to thrive in years to come.
“It feels phenomenal to be celebrating 10 years!” Terri says.
“I feel like I haven’t been breathing for 10 years and finally (thanks to Covid-19 actually) I’ve been forced to stop, turn around and look at all that we have achieved.
“It’s been really cathartic to stop myself moving forward for a second and just look back at what we’ve created and how we have grown as a business.”
TheatreiNQ began its journey in 2010 to save the Annual Shakespeare Under the Stars production after the death of Artistic Director Jean-Pierre Voos. Since this time, the company has established business success by implementing and maintaining a robust business model which has enabled them to support local artists and generate their own revenue streams.
“It’s very important to Brendan and myself that the performers, who let’s face it are usually the last ones given any form of payment, are valued and respected for the quality of work they create” she says.
“However, with our limited funds, I’m very proud of the job we’ve done so far, with all of our ensemble receiving shares of the profits from our Seasons.
“Due to this approach, our growth over the past ten years has felt very sustainable and authentic.”
TheatreiNQ has grown organically over the past decade, and thanks to the company’s strong business acumen they have been able to provide opportunities in the areas of Training, Professional Development and Arts Employment, particularly through the Bridge Project, a training and mentoring program. Terri explains how their ultimate goal is to provide more job opportunities for local artists, starting with bringing back their Bridgees as paid guest actors.
“Our approach has always been to “make a difference” – that includes both making a difference in the lives of our ensemble, our community and our audience, as well as making a difference in the way regional theatre sees itself or is represented,” continues Terri.
“We look for the best ways to utilise the particular skills and strengths of our ensemble to grow the company whilst at the same time, looking for where the opportunities are to develop the arts and create job opportunities in our region.”
“Ultimately, our dream goal would be to be able to provide more job opportunities for artists, both home-based but also home-grown such as our returning Bridge Project Alumni,” she says.
Despite their success, the process has not been easy, and Terri makes note of the challenges they have encountered over the past decade, especially when first establishing the company.
“Well firstly – money!! As any business person will tell you, starting any business takes a lot of money. 60% of new businesses fail within the first three years and we actually had a big decision to make in our third year,” she explains.
“Brendan and I had also been running the company whilst also still working as actors in Melbourne. In that third year, we knew we had to give it our best shot of surviving beyond those first three years.
“We moved back to Townsville to devote ourselves full-time to growing the company, which I’m so glad we did.”
The Townsville City Council has recently introduced the 2020-2024 Arts Strategy, a new plan dedicated to supporting the emergence of local artists in the Townsville region. Their report identified the Arts as a key contributor in boosting local economies, fostering entrepreneurship, and creating jobs and skill development. Terri elaborates on this, explaining how the Arts are an investment for the regional economy since they play an integral role in building culture and lifestyle.
“I would say the Arts is an investment into the quality of life of your community,” continues Terri.
“People want to live in capital cities because of the variety of culture on offer.
“The top consideration in people considering taking a job regionally, is lifestyle.”
Terri and her team have made many fond memories over the past decade, however, some of her highlights include moving into their office and rehearsal space in Allen Street in 2013 and creating the Bridge Project – a Training Division which aims to guide regional talent towards a career in the professional industry.
“Having our own Clubhouse for the first time; a space that the ensemble feel belongs to them. That was really important,” she explains.
“Also, creating the Bridge Project is probably the best thing I have ever done. However, I honestly love my job and each production or season has its own swings and roundabouts. I’m still learning so much and I’m still so excited by the ensemble and by projects we might create together.”
“The past ten years have honestly been the best ten years of my life – the good and the bad.”
This year’s season of Shakespeare Under the Stars will also celebrate Terri’s 50th production with her partner and co-founder Brendan O’Connor, where the two will perform as Beatrice and Benedick in the romantic comedy, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
“To be playing Beatrice and Benedick in seems pretty much the perfect way to commemorate our 50th production together, so, everything happens for a reason!” she continues.
While the outbreak of COVID-19 has meant the cancellation of TheatreiNQ’s Tenth Birthday Celebration, the company have found new ways to celebrate and ensure no one misses out on the fun.
“Having to cancel our entire Tenth Birthday Celebration Season due to COVID-19 (which was huge and a massive workload for me) meant I had a much more relaxing year of self-reflection,” she says
“We decided to celebrate instead by producing a 120-page picture book of glorious photos by our company photographer Chrissy Maguire.
“Under normal circumstances, I would never have found the time to do that task any justice. But I had the time to go through the past ten years of photos and found myself delighted by the memories, the faces – it was really cathartic. And I love that book now – it’s a treasure! I wouldn’t change it for the Season we had planned. I’m so pleased we created that book for the company.”
Despite TheatreiNQ still having many obstacles to overcome due to COVID-19, (including heavy restrictions in their upcoming Shakespeare in the Park performance), they continue to maintain an optimistic approach to the future.
“It’s ‘a brave new world’ now and we are taking each day as it comes, which I like. It allows us to be more in the present with our creative decisions,” Terri explains.
“We will work hard to get this year’s Shakespeare Under the Stars up in Queens Gardens, despite heavy restrictions meaning financially it will be difficult.”
“There is so much up against us at the moment, but we are the little company that could and that has never changed. All I can say is, we will be doing our best to make a difference.”
Georgie Desailly for BDmag.
Image Credit: Chrissy Maguire