Mouche Philips
Mouche Philips Nigel Carboon

Byron gets its own theatre company

IT’S HARD to believe that Byron Bay, that mecca for culture of all kinds, has never had a permanent theatre company.

Maybe for those of us living in the region, this anomaly had somehow passed us by, but fortunately for Byron, it didn’t go unnoticed by talented actor and producer, Mouche Phillips, who moved to the region four years ago.
Phillips has been an actor since she was 12 years old, starring in the Australian feature film Playing Beatie Bow.

Phillips then followed up with a successful career appearing in most of the Kennedy Miller productions in the 1980s. As Phillips describes it: “I spent most of my teenage years in the corridors of Channel 7. I went from A Country Practice, Saturday Morning Live, Rafferty’s Rules, to Home and Away. As well, I was cast in most of the ABC children’s shows and then the ABC drama series GP.”

At 17 Phillips moved to London to ‘tread the boards’, and at 19 she was accepted into the prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama, with its famous patron, Dame Judi Dench.

Returning to Sydney in the mid-1990s, Phillips started producing pub theatre with a group of talented friends, Jeremy Cumpston, Simon Lyndon and Joel Edgerton. These energetic actors-turned-producers, morphed into the ‘young gun’ theatre legends, Tamarama Rock Surfers.

Phillips describes this period as hectic and exciting: “At the same time I was producing with Tamarama Rock Surfers, I starred in PorkChop’s first show, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. That, in turn, led to me being appointed PorkChop’s full-time producer, which then led me to developing new work to stage at the Opera House. My love affair with producing theatre was truly developing.”

Phillips built up an impressive theatre-producing resume with one of the highlights being the production of Last Cab to Darwin, starring Jackie Weaver and Barry Otto for PorkChop and staged at the Opera House and Black Swan theatre in Perth.

The play was hugely successful and was picked up for a national tour. In among producing successful theatre, the energetic Phillips managed to also star in the television series Water Rats. Most recently audiences will remember Phillips in her a role as Sandy alongside her good friend Susie Porter in the locally produced ABC drama, East of Everything.

I first met Phillips through Susie Porter and was impressed straight away by her energy and her sunny disposition. It was obvious that this was someone who was capable of creating anything she wanted.

Phillips was drawn to the Northern Rivers region due to her own upbringing on the northern beaches of Sydney. Phillips wanted a similar healthy experience for her children.

“After a time of being a stay-at-home mother, I saw an opportunity to get back out there and give back to the community coming from my previous work as a theatre producer,” she says.

Ripe Productions is the idea of Phillips, and Phillips clearly saw the Byron Community Centre venue as the right place for the venture. Phillips describes the partnership between Ripe Productions and Byron Community Centre as: “Producing, presenting and developing exciting programming for the community, mostly – though not restricted to – theatre.”

Paul Spooner, general manager of the Byron Community Centre, cited the inaugural Bob Dylan show for the 2010 season as: “Thrilling audiences across three nights. It was a great show to launch our 2010 season. Mouche Phillips has the right mix of creativity and experience to ensure audiences won’t be disappointed.”

According to Phillips, one of the objectives of Ripe Productions is to offer an alternative to the beach and pub culture for which the region is obviously well known.

“I became aware that there was no permanent theatre home in Byron Bay,” she says. “There was some theatre, but it was produced in an ad hoc fashion. The vision was to create a season program; to give locals the chance to see what everyone else is seeing nationally – but most importantly, to nurture creative locals. That is my vision.”
Fortunately for Phillips, Byron Bay is not a hard sell as a destination for performers.

“Some of my best friends are very talented, well-respected actors and they’re all very supportive of my endeavour to produce quality productions for this region,” she says.

“In practical terms, they have factored that in by reducing their fees to make productions possible. And of course, they all love to come to Byron.”

Phillips describes NORPA (Northern Rivers Performing Arts) as obviously in a well-placed position in the Northern Rivers market.

“NORPA have been incredibly generous in sharing some of their shows with us in Byron Bay – shows that we believe will work in both Lismore and Byron Bay and will ultimately serve the region as a whole,” she says.

Phillips believes that the NORPA-produced Engine will be particularly powerful, looking as it does at the young lives lost in car accidents and the devastating after-effect of road accidents.

NORPA artistic director Julian Louis, in turn, welcomes Phillips’ contribution.

“I think her effort and dedication to theatre in the region is fantastic to see and I’m hoping Byron Bay audiences will get into the groove and see more theatre. They will need to develop their audience – that’s the key to the success of any artistic venture,” he says.

According to Louis: “The more theatre in the region the better. Theatre is a really hard art form; it demands disciplined collaboration between all the mediums, however, theatre is also a very inclusive art form. With Phillips’ experience and bravery, together we can hopefully capture and grow more of a Byron Bay audience. To have someone else adding to the existing theatre here is a really positive thing.”

The remainder of Ripe Productions 2010 line-up include an Indigenous film festival for May 29 to mark Reconciliation Week.

Shadowboxing is a one-man show with Aaron Jeffrey, scheduled for June, as is a NORPA-produced one-woman show by Tammy Anderson, then Sydney Festival’s Spiegeltent sensation Mojo Juju are scheduled for September.
This will be followed in November with Duck Variations, a play by David Mamet, and to end the 2010 season, a Classic Australian Film Showcase.

According to Phillips: “Looking forward to 2011 we will see what shows we can produce ourselves, what we can attract from other regions, and what we can share with NORPA. There are only a handful of professional theatre companies producing new work regionally in Australia and NORPA – fortunately for us and fortunately for the region – is one of them.”

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