I often feel, at this time of year, the almost-overwhelming desire to quit being a sensible, self-sufficient and proud woman and instead marry someone obscenely rich, and live out my days as a trophy wife. Why? Because this time of year is Subscription Season.

It’s a magical time, when all of Sydney’s mainstage theatres reveal their wares for the following year:  all dressed up in colourful brochures, names attached, blurbs accompanying and tantalising you, beckoning you, like the window of the most incredible lolly-shop ever… but you can only afford ONE bag of lollies.

That’s what I feel like when I read all those brochures. A kid in a giant candy store… without enough money. I read every page, look through every item, and I get so confused and tangled up in the sheer CHOICE of it all, I end up a shaking wreck! On the brink of a floor-pounding tanty because I can’t decide whether I want the bag of mixed jellies, or the box of mouth-watering pralines… or that giant jar of colourful boiled humbugs…

Which brings me back to my original desire. Perhaps if I could marry rich, I could afford a full subscription to EVERY theatre. Not only that – I’d also have the time to be at the theatre every night, since I wouldn’t have to work. And that would be glorious, and my life would be perfect and I’d never have to choose again!!

Unfortunately, my pride and sense of self-worth prevent me from marrying for money. Hence, I must choose only one subscription. I find this such a daunting task, I decided this year to try my best to dissect each theatre’s season so as to compare them fairly against one another. I hope my observations can help you in making your choice too. I’ve tried to keep my dissection scientific, and not let my own opinions of each choice made by the theatres colour the information I’ve set out here (if you’d like my opinions, ask me at the bar… but only if you don’t have to be anywhere else for a while…).

At STC, things have been fairly tumultuous of late – what with the Artistic Directorship swapping hands so many times. Nevertheless, they have managed to programme a season which looks like it could be quite strong. There isn’t much here that is ground-breaking or particularly daring but all-in-all it’s a good mix. Of the 15 plays STC will present next year, we have 8 Australian writers (plus one Aussie adaptation of a Russian), 4 brand new works and 7 premieres. Continuing on a theme from previous years, Andrew Upton has adapted another classic (Three Sisters), Kip Williams “continues his exploration” of Caryl Churchill’s work (Cloud Nine) and a recent local hit is remounted (The Bleeding Tree).

Notably, most of the STC “superstar” regulars of the past few years are missing from the 2017 lineup. Names like Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Geoffrey Rush and Richard Roxborough were oft seen on season brochures at STC in the recent past, but in 2016 they all disappeared – Rose Byrne being the “big name” this year in Speed-The-Plow. I can’t help but wonder what it has done to their ticket sales.

Gender parity in the arts is a huge topic right now, and unfortunately STC doesn’t stand up to that test particularly well in 2017. Women in Theatre and Screen (WITS) recently published a handy independent analysis of gender parity in all Sydney mainstage theatres’ coming seasons, based on number of female writers and female directors included in their 2017 programming. Only 34% of writers and directors at STC in 2017 are women.

Here’s a snapshot of the STC 2017 season (you can click the image to enlarge it):

stc-2017-season

See the STC 2017 brochure here: https://d2wasljt46n4no.cloudfront.net/files/Season%20Tickets/2017_Flippy_WebVersion.pdf

Belvoir schedules 10 plays in their 2017 Upstairs season, with six Aussies, two Americans, a Norwegian and a Brit. Two of the ten plays are short-run re-mounts of recently successful shows, “back by popular demand” (The Dog/The Cat and Jasper Jones). It’s hard to tell for sure which plays are premieres, but there do appear to be several shows which are fairly new, or new to Sydney. There seems to be a fair mix between comedies and dramas next year, and also a fair mix between men and women leading the charge: in 2017 Belvoir achieves 50% gender parity in writers & directors across the Upstairs and Downstairs seasons.

Here’s a snapshot of the Belvoir Upstairs 2017 season:

belvoir-2017-season

See the Belvoir 2017 brochure here: http://belvoir.com.au/subscribe/2017-season-book/

Over at Ensemble, we have ten plays making up the 2017 season, all ten of which are comedies. Keeping things mostly pretty safe in their selections, it’s still good to see several new Australian works (four of which are world premieres). Artistic Director Mark Kilmurry  directs an ambitious four of the ten plays, with one play (The Plant) yet to have a director assigned. Unfortunately, gender parity takes a bit of a blow here: only 16% of directors and writers in 2017 at Ensemble are women (keeping in mind that The Plant has no director attached yet).  There is also a cabaret showing on four nights in September and October, Trevor Ashley’s Barbara and Me, the second Streissand-centric show in the year’s calendar (the other being Buyer and Cellar, programmed for October).

Here is a snapshot of Ensemble Theatre’s 2017 Season:

ensemble-2017-season

You can see the Ensemble 2017 brochure here: http://ensemble.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/2017-Brochure-vWEB.pdf

Up in Kings Cross, Griffin Theatre Company promises “a year of theatre to remember”. The mainstage season comprises four plays, all Aussies of course. Three new works make up the majority of 2017 at Griffin, with a revival bringing up the end of the year. As usual, there are some lovely daring choices here. In 2017 Griffin manages 50% gender parity across its mainstage season (but not its independent season).

Here’s a snapshot of Griffin Theatre Company’s 2017 mainstage season:

griffin-2017-season

See the Griffin 2017 season here: http://www.griffintheatre.com.au/whats-on/2017-main-season/

Last but not least, let’s have a look at Darlinghurst Theatre Company. A predominantly light-hearted season of six plays, of which we are told all six are premieres (although they are being a little bit cheeky with Kindertransport, if you ask me). Three brand new Aussies grace the DTC stage next year, mixed in with two Brits and an American.

As the company which sparked the formation of WITS in the first place, it’s heartening to see that DTC has changed their tune in 2017. They have programmed a female-led season, with 59% of writers and directors being women.

Here’s a snapshot of Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s 2017 season:
darlinghurst-2017-season

See the DTC 2017 brochure here: http://www.darlinghursttheatre.com/pdf/dtc_2017_season_brochure-online.pdf

The major themes which stuck out to me during my perusal of the 2017 season brochures were, across the board, citizenship, family and love. There’s a lot going on in Sydney next year examining relationships and acceptance, abuse and courage, the stories we tell ourselves and those closest to us, and Love. Just oodles and oodles of Love. For which I will marry, over money.

Kitty Hopwood – Theatre Now & Talking Arts