“I was thrilled when I found out,” says Neil Armfield about his inclusion in the Same Same 25. How does this innovative director feel about being a role model and an influential figure in Australia’s creative industries?
“I’m just trying to do the best job I can, trying to take money out of the motivation and create work that’s the most interesting, the most enjoyable, that has the most to say about the country and the world.”
Company B, housed at Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre, has been Neil’s life’s work. He’s been there since the beginning, back when the company was nothing more than a 600 strong syndicate of artists who had all pitched in to save the venue from demolition. “I’ve been trying to build up a place of theatrical storytelling that’s both consistent in its power but always surprising. We have a focus right through the company on this communication of story, where the actual artistic event is always the crucial light of the company. We’ve always had a parity pay structure – where everybody is paid the same wage - it’s always been a structural underpinning of this philosophy. It’s a great equaliser - it has its problems but has been an essential part of our growth.”
When asked who his role models have been, Armfield quickly names Jim Sharman, fellow Same Same 25 member David Marr, as well as the late Patrick White. “Patrick was a very powerful mentor when I started directing. He came and saw the first professional production that I did and wrote a play for me out of that. Over the last ten years of his life we were very close.”
So what, in his opinion, have been the major moments at Company B? “Definitely the establishment of our first subscription season in 1988. For me, doing ‘Diary Of A Madman’ in 1989 and taking it to Russia in 1991 with Geoffrey Rush and Lydia Miller. The classical productions – ‘Ibsen’s Ghost’, The Shakespeares – especially ‘Hamlet’ which we did in 1994-95 with Richard Roxborough, Geoffrey Rush, Jacqueline MacKenzie, Cate Blanchett and Gillian Jones. And of course ‘Cloudstreet’, which for me in many ways it was the culmination and the high point - then taking it to London twice, then New York, Washington, Dublin - it was everything that the company had been working towards and had stood for.”
In addition to theatre direction, Armfield has directed opera, film and television. In 1988 he received the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Performing Arts.
So what does Armfield think of the future of Australian theatre and film? “I think it’s going quite well,” he laughs. “You get these commentators announcing the death of film or the death of theatre regularly and you think ‘well, it seems quite alive from my perspective.’ Things go up and down, but I do think things are growing.”
By Christian Taylor
The Same Same 25 is an annual celebration of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians. They are publicly nominated, and chosen by a panel of community leaders.
For the past two years, the announcement of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians has attracted widespread national media attention and focused on the achievements and influence of a varied and inspirational group of people.