Insights From One Of Sydney's Brightest Young Independent Producers On: Acting, Producing and Workhorse Theatre Company.
Troy Harrison is the Artistic Director of Sydney's acclaimed, independent Workhorse Theatre Company. Their last production, Stephen Adly Guirgis' -'The Motherf**ker with the Hat' was nominated for Best Independent Production at the Sydney Theatre Awards. And off the back of that success, they were invited to remount the production as a part of the inaugural season at the Eternity Playhouse in Darlinghurst. I was fortunate enough to be able to ask Troy some questions on what it's like to be an actor, producing your own work and running your own theatre company. I now have the pleasure of sharing his answers with you here, so check it out:
M: Hey Troy, huge thanks for chatting with us, first of all, can you tell us what you're working on at the moment?
T: We are currently working on getting our own theatre space. The plays that we have coming up have not yet been launched so will have to let you know at a later date.
M: How many hats do you wear on a regular basis? ie producer, actor, writer, director.
T: Actor, producer, film writer and am just starting to get into the directing side of things. I also teach acting at the Actors Centre Australia and a few other places.
M: So out of those which roles have you loved since the very beginning and which have you had to learn to love over time?
T: I always loved acting. Always. I love writing, although it can be the most frustrating of all the hats I wear. I am yet to direct anything outside of when I'm teaching but have a feeling I am going to love it.
I had to learn to like producing, it s a lot of hours and really hard work being an indie producer for film or theatre. Until you have tried producing you have no idea of the time and effort involved.
M: What have been the most significant, tide changing events of your career to this point as an actor, then as a producer?
T: As an actor there have been 2 quite impactful points. Working with Larry Moss the very first time he came to Australia changed my whole attitude to my career. You had to submit to be a part of it and being chosen along with some of the country's best actors and holding my own amongst them gave me a lot of confidence. The next was playing the lead role of Jackie in The Motherf**ker with the Hat. All the pieces of all the work and study I have done over the years just seemed to fall into place with this character and play. I was very proud of the work I did in that production.
As a producer it was by far making our first production happen. Like I said it was a lot of work and the fact that we had such a successful first production built our belief that we could produce a high standard of work.
M: What was the story or the steps that took place that lead you to that moment. Could you tell us that story?
T: As an actor I truly feel that every moment leads to the next and it all just came together for Motherf**ker. You never stop learning. I love that.
As a producer, We started as a group of actors who just wanted to get together on a regular basis to work on scripts and to challenge each other. Pretty quickly we decided that we were putting so much time and energy into what we were doing that we should look at putting on a night of our work. Even quicker we decided to give ourselves a name and to do it properly. So we became Workhorse Theatre Company and have never looked back.
M: What has been the biggest impasse in your career so far? Something that made continuing seem futile.
T: Right now it's a lack of theatre space in Sydney. It is so stupid that there is not a venue that is there for emerging artists to showcase their work. Everywhere these days is curated, Sydney is in dire need of more affordable indie theatre spaces. It's really tough.
M: What was the biggest thing you learnt from that experience?
T: You want a space... go get your own.
M: What was the first show you produced?
T: It was the Australian premiere of Sheila Callaghan's THAT PRETTY PRETTY; OR, THE RAPE PLAY.
It did very well for us.
M: If you could speak to the version of yourself that produced that show what would you tell them?
T: Remember to take your producer hat off earlier each night before the show and put your actor hat on.
M: What do you wish an older wiser version of yourself would explain to you now?
T: That it'll all be worth it. Keep going.
M: Who have been some of your best mentors to this point?
T: We have very much created this company from scratch on our own. We've had help, guidance and support from some people like Mitchell Butel and Adam Cook but it has mostly been driven from us wanting to create something great. We have learned along the way. Trial by fire as they say.
M: What advice would you give to would be first time producers looking to create their own work in Sydney?
T: It depends on what you're wanting to do. If you're looking to just put a play because you want to act in something on or if you really want to create a theatre company. Because they are two really different things. If you just want to act in something then my best advice would be to get your team (actors, director, designers) and just do it. Find a venue, rehearse and just do it. The best advice we were given first up was to invest in a publicist. If you don't it'll just be family and friends turing up to see your work.
If you're wanting to build a Theatre Company then you need to realise that you are setting up a business. You need to treat it as such.
Bank accounts, taxation, business status with the government, setting up an ABN, registering your business name etc.... and that's just the start from there you need to look at your business structure: for profit, not-for-profit, gaining DGR status all which will decide if you can apply for grants or ask for tax deductable donations. There's a lot that goes into setting yourselves up as a company so if that's what you'd really like to do then be ready for long nights. It's a business. And then you still need to produce your productions.
M: When you've had great audiences for season of your shows, what have you seen as the major driving factors for that success ? Well known text? Any specific marketing strategies? Reviews? How have you gotten people through the doors early?
T: People will always come to see good work. You don't need to choose known text but you need to set yourselves a very high bar for the standard of work. Especially being a new company. You'll get known for your standard very quickly so aim high. This includes only casting yourself in a role if you are right for that role. You need to forget your ego and cast yourselves right.
Our first production wasn't a known play but we had great reviews and word of mouth from the production was also a big driving force. From there it's continuing to grow and become known for that standard of work. People need to trust you as a company and the only way to do that is to continually produce a high standard of work.
We made sure to get a publicist because it's no good putting on great work if noone sees it.
We did a lot of ticket giveaways for the first week of the run just to get the maximum amount of people through the doors as word of mouth is your best friend.
There's a lot more to it than all that I've written but it's a good place to start. You'll figure it all out as you go along.
And that's a wrap. Thanks so much for reading guys, please join me in thanking Troy Harrison for taking the time to provide his valuable insights and leadership on such an important element of what we do as artists which is of course create our own work! If you'd like to follow the Workhorse Theatre Company Story or get in touch with Troy himself you can check them out on FB at https://www.facebook.com/workhorsetheatrecompany?fref=ts or Twitter @workhorsetc As always, work smart, think big and keep chasing your goals. Thanks Guys.
Film and Theatre Actor Based in Sydney. Creator of Script Gym. Lover of Stories.