Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt) (21:00): I rise tonight to highlight the great work of a local theatre company, the JUTE Theatre Company. JUTE has recently been successful in receiving another triennial grant from the Australia Council for the Arts. JUTE’s artistic director and CEO, Suellen Maunder, wrote to me to let me know that they really appreciate the federal support and would continue to punch well above their weight.
JUTE came into being in 1992 when three passionate theatre makers-Kathryn Ash, Suellen Maunder and Susan Prince-met in Cairns and the creative sparks began to fly. JUTE’s first production launched in 1993 in the height of summer in a shed with no air conditioning. Nevertheless, it was an instant success.
Over two decades, JUTE’s artists and audiences have been part of an extraordinary outpouring of new Australian stories, producing over 65 new works from regional theatre makers. It is the country’s largest producer of new Australian plays. Together with KickArts Contemporary Arts, JUTE successfully lobbied for $2.7 million in capital works funding to develop the Centre for Contemporary Arts-an incredible contemporary arts performing space.
This year JUTE will present five very diverse pieces of life-changing storytelling. Propelled, which is the first one, featuring Doug Robins, was a very uplifting story of living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a degenerative terminal disease. The audience rose to their feet for a standing ovation every night of the performances. Although the season in Cairns has finished, JUTE is looking at touring this work to Australian and international festivals.
Another exciting work is the comical Proper Solid, by Indigenous playwright Steven Oliver. It is about the first Australian Aboriginal President in 2067 who is suddenly flung back in time to 2014. Unfortunately, the state government’s financial situation means they have had to make cuts to the arts. This has led to some challenges for JUTE in providing their public performance program.
Suellen tells me that Propelled was a particularly important show as it gave voice to someone with different abilities. However, to enable this production to go ahead, JUTE had to dig deep into the budget for the remainder of the year. Suellen is very keen to find a champion for this work who might be able to help cover the $30,000 shortfall. There is a fantastic opportunity for corporate sponsorship here and I strongly urge any interested businesses to get in touch with Suellen.
Looking to the bigger picture, my involvement in the development of the white paper for Northern Australia has really highlighted to me the importance of regional arts. When we are looking at how to get people into regional areas, it is not just about incentives like tax breaks. There are other liveability factors, and being able to enjoy the arts, both visual and performing, is certainly a major part of that. It may not be a pull factor for people looking to move to Cairns but it is certainly a retention factor once they get there.
I actively support JUTE and Suellen Maunder. It is an absolute credit that a small regional city like Cairns has produced a theatre company like this. We have to be very proud of them. In fact, in 2012 I featured in the local newspaper in my boxer shorts with a couple of young female performers to promote their Studio Shorts show. I have no doubt that I significantly increased the attendance of that show!
Over the years-and you may find this surprising, Madam Speaker-being the culture-vulture that I am, I have attended a diverse range of these productions, from a show about the colourful history of Spanish settler Jose Paronella titled The Impossible Dream to a fantastic play this year starring Aaron Fa’aoso and Jimmy Bani called Half and Half.
It is important that we recognise the value of our performing arts and provide them with the appropriate funding. At the same time, it is not just about the support from local, state and federal governments; it is also about the community. My wife Yolonde and I have just purchased season tickets for this year’s five shows to show our encouragement. We need to be publicly supporting our local theatre, otherwise we will face the consequences of losing not just this facility but the ability to create new stories that contribute to our regional identity.
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