Celebrating 50 years of the State Theatre Company

Man wears yellow and black check suit holding a theatre mask standing in front of a red stage curtain
State Theatre Company Artistic Director, Mitchell Butel. Photo: Claudio Raschellá
The State Theatre Company is celebrating half a century of theatre-making. This milestone has been reached with the help of many generations of artists, audiences and patrons.

For State Theatre Company South Australia’s Artistic Director Mitchell Butel, his time at the beloved mainstage theatre company has been twice marked by the golden milestone.

“I turned 50 in my second year of being Artistic Director of this wonderful company. I was in rehearsal for the first show I had programmed, Dance Nation, with a hugely talented, mostly South Australian cast. I loved turning 50, not only because the amazing cast and company staff gave me the best birthday lunch I think I’ve ever had and because I had just started leading a company that I admire so much, but I loved what 50 meant – half a century, a chance to look back at what you’ve achieved and a chance to look forward with excitement to all the things yet to be achieved,” he says.

“I feel at 50 I finally became the person I’d been wanting to be. And that feeling has continued while at State Theatre Company South Australia.

“It’s been spookily awesome that in my fifties, I get to celebrate this year the golden anniversary of the Company being permanently enshrined as a part of South Australian life and culture.”

It’s been 50 years of phenomenal, ground-breaking theatre that has launched and developed the careers of so many great Australian actors, directors, designers, writers, composers and crew. A company that has given joy, provocation and delight to literally millions of audience members of all ages.

While the company was founded in 1965 as South Australian Theatre Company, it was officially established in 1972 after being legislated by an act of parliament by the great former Premier Don Dunstan.

More than five decades—and over 600 shows—later, the company has built its reputation for its commissions and staging of new work, the ambition of its programming, its education and touring programs and its leading collaboration across the industry. Many Australian actors got their start at the company, such as Sarah Snook, Edwin Hodgeman, Judy Davis, Mel Gibson and Hugo Weaving, and the company has nurtured the careers of SA artists both on stage and off.

The State Theatre Company workshop and wardrobe team is known as the best in Australia, with their skills being called upon locally and nationally.

The company also has a brilliant Access program, offering AUSLAN interpretation, captioning, audio description and audio enhancement so every audience member can have the full experience.

“So many South Australians’ first taste of theatre happened at one of our shows, and that is still happening with many of our young audiences,” Butel says. “There are those who saw shows in our very first season and who are still coming.


“People often stop and tell me about their favourite shows over the years—shows that reflected what was happening in their lives, shows that marked key life moments for them, shows that gave them a new way to see things.”

At the heart of the company are its subscribers.

“Anyone can become a subscriber – it’s a bit like subscribing to Netflix except you get more thrills and kicks when you see actors live and up close,” Butel says. “You choose which plays you like the look of, you book which nights you think you might like to go (which you can change at a later date too if you run into problems), pick the best seats in the theatre and get a huge discount on what you’d otherwise pay if you bought a ticket on the night. And you end up with a calendar with some lovely theatrical treats awaiting you and your friends and for which the work is already done.”

“I love our subscriber family. Many have been coming for many years, while others have just discovered the joys of witnessing a whole season of great work. I love hearing from all of them and they help us shape the direction and style of the work we do. Our Subscribers are the soul of the company. The memory of the Company lives in the minds of our audience.”

Photo: Claudio Raschella

Butel says next year’s season is perhaps “one of the most exciting seasons we’ve ever presented”.

“The season contains an acclaimed, internationally best-selling South Australian novel brought to life in a world premiere (The Dictionary of Lost Words); a musical homage to one of the world’s greatest singers (Lady Day, based on the life of Billie Holiday); two of the hottest and most heart-stopping Australian plays in recent history (Prima Facie and At What Cost?); an immersive, interactive night of laughter and theatrical magic (Every Brilliant Thing); a deep dive into the one origin story we all have in common (Welcome to Your New Life); and a Tony Award-winning classic tragicomedy (The Goat) starring Claudia Karvan and Don Hany.

“Theatre is a gymnasium for empathy, a place to feel what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes, a place to gather to contemplate our world and its stories and the way we live and want to live. That’s a special thing and makes our city and state a better place to be,” Butel says.

“It’s an honour to be the custodian of the Company. Our goal is to produce phenomenal, inclusive and transformative theatre that enriches South Australian and Australian culture. And have some fun while doing it.”

statetheatrecompany.com.au

@statetheatresa

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