Big ideas in the arts: Seymour Centre's new direction at 40

4 November 2015

Drawing on its historic ties with the University of Sydney, the Seymour Centre will launch the Great Ideas Performance Series, a program that marries captivating performances with academic insights.

Taiwanese choreographer Huang Yi will take to the Seymour Centre stage in 2016 with his large-scale robot Kuka in Huang Yi and Kuka. [Image: Jacob Blickenstaff].

The Seymour Centre is set to break new ground as it celebrates its 40th anniversary this Thursday, launching a revamped brand and a fresh program for 2016.

Drawing on its historic ties with the University of Sydney, the Seymour Centre will launch the Great Ideas Performance Series, a program that marries captivating performances with academic insights. This new series joins the annual Reginald Program of new works from emerging arts companies and the Centre’s Arts-Education program as Seymour's three core curated programs for 2016 and beyond.

The Great Ideas Performance Series delivers Australian-first performances alongside post-event forums led by experts from across the University of Sydney, who will delve into the issues raised by each show.

"The Seymour Centre has always been a hub of innovation in the arts, and now at the turn of a new decade we have a series that cements our standing as a truly ideas-driven arts centre," said Tim Jones, Artistic Director of the Seymour Centre.

"We're excited to mark this important milestone by taking advantage of the Seymour's unfettered access to the intellectual creativity and world-leading research right on our doorstep at the University of Sydney.

"Audiences are increasingly seeking theatrical experiences that not only entertain, but also engage on a cerebral level. The Great Ideas Performance Series will deliver performances that make an impact, contribute to change, and provoke thinking around the world’s big questions."

The Series marks a return to the vision of the Seymour Centre’s namesake benefactor, Sydney businessman and philanthropist Everest Reginald York Seymour, whose $4 million bequest helped fund the construction of the Centre after his death in 1966. Seymour's gift was left for the purposes of building a space "to serve as a centre for the cultivation, education and performance of musical and dramatic arts."

Great Ideas Performance Series

The Great Ideas Performance Series kicks off in March 2016 with an intriguing blend of engineering and dance, as acclaimed Taiwanese choreographer Huang Yi takes to the stage with his large-scale robot Kuka in Huang Yi and Kuka. Harmoniously weaving together the art of dance and the science of mechanical engineering, this poetic work is presented in association with Brisbane Powerhouse and as part of the 2016 Rob/Arch conference, led by the University of Sydney.

Another exciting production premiering in August 2016 is The Hansard Monologues: Age of Enlightenment, a follow-up to the popular Hansard Monologues: A Matter of Public Importance. Derived from the transcripts of the official Parliamentary record, playwrights Katie Pollock and Paul Daley capture and distill the passions and the policies, the characters and the crises of the nation’s discourse into a dramatic, amusing and at times sobering ride through the big issues of our time. The season will be rounded out with a discussion led by academics from the University's Department of Government and International Relations.

October 2016 will see the world premiere of Letters to Lindy at the Seymour Centre, a play exploring the now-legendary Azaria Chamberlain case through the prism of more than 20,000 letters that Lindy Chamberlain received during her trials and imprisonment. Presented in association with Sydney Law School and commissioned by Merrigong Theatre Company, the production both re-appraises and examines this extraordinary chapter of Australia’s recent history and one woman's journey through grief.

Following a successful run on the West End, Broadway and the Royal Court in London, The Nether premieres at the Seymour in a new production by Catnip Productions in November 2016. Set in the near future, this provocative play by UK playwright Jennifer Haley presents a world in which adult men live out their criminal fantasies online, and probes the increasingly pertinent issues of thought crime and ethics in the digital realm.

Other works in the Great Ideas Performance Series include No End of Blame, presented by Seymour resident company Sport for Jove, and Suitcase Stories 2016, a unique showcase of 30 stories performed by young refugees within their first year of arriving in Australia, presented by Treehouse Theatre.

Celebrating an iconic history

Since it opened in 1975, the Seymour Centre has become one of Sydney's leading cultural hubs.

It's a venue that has played host to some of Australia's most famous faces, with Nicole Kidman (in her professional debut), Geoffrey Rush, Jackie Weaver, Judy Davis, Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett and Mel Gibson among the stars to have trodden the boards in their earliest productions.

The Seymour has also welcomed a remarkable array of international artists and companies to the stage in its first 40 years, including Florence and the Machine, DV8, Royal Shakespeare Company, Steven Berkoff, Robert Lepage, Seal, Neill Finn and Eddie Vedder. It has served as a versatile performance space for Australian companies such as Nimrod Theatre Company, Belvoir, The Australian Opera, Musica Viva, Circus Oz and in its early years, Sydney Dance Company.

During Belvoir's renovations, the award-winning plays Who is Sylvia? Or The Goat and Keating! – The Musical were staged at the Seymour to great acclaim. Major international presentations at the venue include Theatre de Complicitie’s Three Lives of Lucie CabrolStreet of Crocodiles and Winter’s Tale.

"The Seymour has, without doubt, been the venue for some of Sydney's most memorable theatre experiences, some that still live in the memories of many theatre-goers among the best theatre they've ever seen," Tim Jones said.

"The Seymour has also been the place where emerging arts companies have been 'taken-in' to become resident organisations, and provided a range of benefits to help them reach their potential and move to the next level of sustainability."

At the 40th Anniversary Celebration event on Thursday 5 November, the Seymour Centre will announce a new residency with independent musical theatre company, Squabbalogic

Current residents include: