Blanchett opens doors to Sydney theatre
AFP - 11 minutes ago
SYDNEY (AFP) - - Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett is flinging herself sideways across the stage with her arms swinging by her side -- by her own description looking like a monkey.
The 39-year-old, known for her regal portrayals of Queen Elizabeth I, is not caught up in some avant-garde play in the darkened auditorium of the harbourside Sydney Theatre.
She is merely giving a vivid flashback to a time when she hurt herself while performing in a West End play some years ago and continued to act on, despite excruciating pain and an inability to move her right side.
"I was literally simian-like walking around the stage," she said.
The candour from one of Hollywood's brightest stars parallels Blanchett's plans to open up theatre to Australians, as she and playwright husband Andrew Upton take over the artistic leadership of the Sydney Theatre Company.
The couple, who took over the reins of country's largest acting troupe in January and whose first programme commences in 2009, want to "really try and open up the nature of what we do at the company," Blanchett said.
"There is a magic, obviously, that happens in the theatre," she explained to some 300 people at a recent Sydney Theatre Company open day session.
"And you don't want to demystify that entirely.
"Like I never want to know anything about a play or a film -- I just want to go in as a virgin audience and have that experience without being interrupted by too much information or prejudice about what the show's going to be about.
"But it is interesting, I think, to know how the sets are put together or how that play came about."
As part of this mission, the pair plan to introduce readings and backstage tours as part of their emphasis on behind-the-scenes operations.
The couple, who have three sons -- Dashiel, 7, Roman, 4, and Ignatius, eight months -- also want to produce more shows for children and cut ticket prices.
Broadly, they want people to feel welcome at Sydney Theatre Company venues, which nestle among other cultural sites near Sydney's historic Rocks area such as the Sydney Opera House and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
"It doesn't matter to us if you're interested in seeing plays because plays aren't everyone's cup of tea," Upton said. "But feeling like you're welcome here."
Blanchett, who rose to prominence internationally with her portrayal of the virgin Queen in 1998's "Elizabeth," has already thrown herself into Australia's cultural life since making the harbour city her home.
Just days after giving birth to her third child in April, she was in Canberra to lead debate on the arts at Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's future-looking 2020 Summit.
The following month she joined prominent arts figures in condemning moves to prosecute a renowned Australian photographer on obscenity charges, after his portraits of near-naked children provoked outrage.
Blanchett's view on this matter may not have gelled with public opinion and she is aware that some Australians may equally find live theatre confronting.
"It's different to being in an audience in a film, clearly, because you're much more passive, because you can walk out and no one will see if you walk out and the actors will never know," she said.
But the woman who recently played a Soviet villain in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" hopes that during her and Upton's three-year appointment at the STC, theatre will become more accessible.
"If we are going to earn the right to keep calling ourselves the Sydney Theatre Company then we have to be relevant and engaged with the life of this city," Blanchett said.
"And if theatre ceases to become relevant, it does become obselete."
She and Upton are realistic about the problems facing the company, including recent funding deficits which have gone as high as 300,000 Australian dollars.
To this end, they have already secured the patronage of Italian fashion icon Giorgio Armani, and are planning a secret production with Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh, whose films include "Ocean's Eleven," "Traffic" and "Erin Brockovich".
They will also be capitalising on Blanchett's ability to boost box office takings as she did when she took on the lead role in Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler" for the Sydney Theatre Company in 2004.
Which brings Blanchett back to the question of whether she will perform in all her slated roles in the STC's upcoming season, even if she sustains an injury such as she did on the West End those years ago.
"I will go on," she said.
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Australian actress Cate Blanchett (2nd right) and her playwright husband Andrew Upton (2nd left) outside the Sydney Theatre Company. The Oscar-winning actress and her playwright husband are planning to open up theatre to Australians by taking over the artistic leadership of the harbourside Sydney Theatre Company.
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