Vision for ABC Kids and Family

The current program line up on ABC KIDS looks exciting and varied, and led by the enormously successful BLUEY is on an excellent trajectory.  Acquiring and commissioning programmes from the ABC’s most reliable partners locally and from Canada, UK and Europe while exploring new opportunities with other countries which hold the same values would ensure that the channel remains a very safe place in the minds of parents of young children.

ABC FAMILY has a slate of rich and stimulating programs such as Doctor Who for older children in the target band which inspire thought and enquiry while encouraging a sense of adventure and participation.

The social programs and escalators specifically for girls of recent years have been excellent and very important for empowering young women, but an unintended consequence has left boys and adolescents disenfranchised and feeling worthless.  Add to that the negative coverage of some older male behaviour and many adolescents now feel outcast and unvalued. Our society should be growing adolescents into wonderful partners in adulthood!

I think there is an opportunity on this platform to do much more specifically for boys aged 10 and upwards.  For a while now one of the most powerful influencers for boys aged 15 is Andrew Tate.  This is a complex social issue but I suspect the absence of content that specifically engages boys 10-14 leaves a vacuum that is being filled by influencers who promise to give them back some agency, authority and control.

There is a real opportunity here for the ABC to spearhead an initiative that presents alternatives to the voices most influencing boys and young men.  This could involve events in regional areas as well as capital cities around the country and streamed with online interactivity.  It could have a moving focus, for example: discussion forums involving groups from different schools, unusual sports meets, school-based community projects, cultural events, science / space / astronomy events – anything that can give boys and adolescents agency.

Perhaps a forum engaging directly with some select online self-improvement influencers would work.

The English psychologist Richard Reeves is an expert on the problems facing boys and adolescents and outlines them in his book OF BOYS AND MEN.  He runs the American Institute for Boys and Men and is passionately trying to find a way forward for this group.

I believe that ABC offers a platform that is brilliantly positioned to start addressing these issues for boys in the upper band of the 2-14 year old target demographic.

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My Freaky Family

It’s an easy laugh – enjoying a family that’s weirder than yours. But when nations collide and people get hurt… well that’s no laughing matter. Luckily we don’t have to take the clash of these people too seriously in this highly enjoyable comedy.

A 3D animated feature film, it was made largely in Sydney by Pop Family Entertainment with a lot of help from crew in Ireland and India.

My first role was Storyboard Artist and following that I was booted up to Layout Supervisor. I was very lucky to work with Layout Leads Kim Allen and Tim Quarry, the very finest of professionals who were ably supported by a battery of young and keen layout artists.

The star of our crew was without doubt the phenomenal Lauren Gavas our Line Producer who, with the wonderful Andrew McMartin, battled enormous freaks and ghouls to finally carry the production to the screen.

The film premiered at the Sydney Film Festival in June to a full house and will razzle the cinemas in October 2024. The entire crew were amazing to work with, especially Mark Gravas the director, and I’m very grateful to Carmel and Gerry Travers for the dazzling opportunities they gave me on this production. Watch out for it – it will be well worth the wait!

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Tom and Meg, teenagers in a school play, are bobbed and buffeted in a waters meet of social change in 1967, striking out through family eddies for their own identity one moment and floundering against the will and grief of their parents in another.

In Shakespeare’s KING LEAR we see a portrait of offspring’s sense of debt and obligation to parents clashing against the shoals of parental ambition for those offspring and the agony and tragedy that follow form the bloody meat of the play.

In his play AWAY, David Gow finds an insightful resonance with LEAR as the teenagers traverse the currents to adulthood while the adults deal with past grief and failing ambition in changing times.

We’re left to see how leaving the safety of a secure and familiar world can bring a hidden strength, a stronger being, renewal to both parent and offspring.

It’s a powerful play and arresting to see so many familiar images, details and historical moments especially for those of us who saw the 60’s. It’s easy to see why this play brought David Gow to our attention. Once more, Sport for Jove’s new production displays the remarkable depth and talent of the company.

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The Taming of the Shrew

Sport for Jove’s highly acclaimed production of this comedy was a delight that surpassed my highest expectations. Setting the play in 1920s silent movie Hollywood and making Kate a bold and spirited aviatrix was as near a stroke of genius as any re-imagining of Shakespeare.

Most notable were the wonderful performances, especially Danielle King. Also brilliant were the clever manoeuvrings of the cast through the film set, the screen movie clips and the inspired use of sound effects in the space as Kate barnstorms the ensemble.

As always Damian Ryan writes very illuminating notes about the play and their performance – read more about it here.  Just brilliant!

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Hay Fever

I caught Hay Fever last Thursday week. Silly time of year, autumn, to contract such a flush of the senses but the actors fairly bristled and blustered through Noël Coward’s witty dialogue as they lolled in the bath tub, broke a barometer and hated breakfast. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Heather Mitchell excelled herself – I hadn’t seen her do so well with comedy! And all of the cast kept the pressure up brilliantly, Helen Thompson especially.

I’ve known the play for years and wondered why the STC revived it now? It occurred to me a day or so later that a portrait of collisions between self-absorbed, self-indulgent middle class bohemians resonates beautifully with the modern young set who peer constantly through the window of their smart phones at their own private universe. Hmmm… Noël, you’re still singing to us 90 years later!

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King Charles III

Last Friday I had an audience with King Charles III. In an animated session when many contemporary issues were aired he (spoiler alert) threatened to dissolve parliament and confronted abdication in, at times, a quasi Shakespearean style.

Some speeches were delivered neatly in the bard’s idiom and several scenes ended with rhyming couplets, consciously drawing some continuum (and profundity) between the successions of the British monarchy as portrayed in Shakespeare’s history plays and our time which anticipates a change of monarch.

These humorous touches lightened a re-examination of the relationship between monarch and parliament in a finely performed and beautifully mounted Almeida Theatre Production presented by the Sydney Theatre Co. Although written from the UK perspective it has relevance for us in Australia.

It was great to see the British actor Robert Powell here in the flesh!

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John Cleese & Eric Idle

Hmmm… the Ides of March. Last night I saw two Pythons live at the State Theatre in Sydney.  An omen?  Whatever, it was a buzz to see these comedy legends in the flesh – even from up in the gods.

Like Pythons they put the squeeze on political correctness, indulged in a bit of bad taste and singing, reminisced about working in the early ’60s when political satire was taking serious shape, and performed a sketch or two written for pre-Python shows, Do not Adjust Your Set and At Last the 1948 Show.

My party all felt that less reliance on video clips from their glory days and a bit more live sketch comedy would have made the evening even more delightful. Mr Idle was in fine voice.  Mr Cleese was paying off his marriages. We all left laughing.

I had no idea some Pythons wrote material for the late great Peter Sellers. Egad!

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The Pearlfishers

I saw Opera Australia’s dazzling production of The Pearlfishers last weekend and I’ve been swimming in Bizet’s music ever since.  The score was an exotic delight from the first note of the overture to the last echo at lights out – sumptuous, textured and highly coloured. The orchestra balanced well with the powerful principle voices which were true and resonant and by the end the conductor was sopping wet!  Everyone gave their all.

Set on a Sri Lankan coast, the production design was built on a blue-orange colour theme and the decaying temples on the beach evoked a sense of superstition and vulnerability.

The duet sung by the friends Nadir and Zurga, In the Depths of the Temple, is the most sublimely beautiful duet in all the opera I’ve heard – it always moves me to tears.

Bizet was another child prodigy who at 36 died far too young.  He wrote Pearlfishers at 24. (His later opera Carmen is one of the most popular in the repertoire.)  What might he have composed had his art matured even further?  We’ll never know, but see this production!

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Tom Stoppard is a staggeringly brilliant playwright!  The somewhat Georgian symmetry of the stage set belies the chaos of the intersection of ideas and times that will play out across the space until some order is restored and most questions are answered.

The play slips seamlessly between two periods 200 years apart while dealing with the transition from classical to romantic sensibility, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, chaos theory, ambition and human infidelity – it could only be conceived by a giant intellect.

This Sydney Theatre Company production revelled in the challenge of staging two times concurrently and Ryan Corr was perfectly convincing as the tutor, Septimus.  I heard every word he uttered.  The other leads were excellent too, although some voices got a little lost at times when they spoke from the back of the stage.

For more information about the production see Kate Hennessy’s article in the Guardian, although I don’t agree that the play was as flat as she suggests.  I was intrigued from the start, marveled at the play’s ingenuity and delighted in Stoppard’s wit, jokes and funny moments.

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La Traviata

This is the fourth year for Opera New England – an initiative that couples great vision with bold ambition.  Their offering this January was Verdi’s La Traviata in which Violetta, a high-class courtesan (read ‘party girl’) returns to society but tragically succumbs to tuberculosis… not, however, before two suitors fight a duel over her.

The cast I saw was truly first rate.  Kathryn Williams, a soprano coloratura Masters graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music was electrifying as Violetta with enunciation so clear I heard every word!

Michael Butchard, a graduate of both the Sydney Conservatorium and the Royal college of Music, London was the most charming lyric tenor whose voice blended beautifully with Ms Williams’.  The quiet buzz of the night surrounded Timothy Newton as Dr Grenvil whose bass voice produced moments of gravitas both full and rich.  A graduate of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music we’re destined to hear much more from this superb young talent.

Months of work go into these productions.  The vocal mentor was the highly esteemed Rowena Cowley from the Sydney Conservatorium.  The 18 piece orchestra is drawn from Armidale and the surrounding districts and sounded wonderful! I saw their production of La Boheme in 2014 and Carmen in 2015.  The northern New South Wales region is inestimably richer for these productions and long may they continue!

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