In October next year, The Arts Centre’s State Theatre, home to most Production Company shows, will close for several months to allow an upgrade of its backstage mechanics. In 2022, it will likely shut again for a major refurbishment as part of the Victorian government’s $1 billion overhaul of Southbank’s arts precinct.
This second closure could last two or three years, though an Arts Centre spokesman says that no dates have been confirmed. With blockbuster shows dominating the Regent, Princess and Her Majesty’s theatres for the forseeable future – and the The Production’s Company’s not-for-profit structure requiring short seasons in large venues to remain viable – Pratt and her team chose to bow out. Their decision was cemented by the thriving state of Melbourne’s musical theatre scene.
“Our original goal was to stimulate the industry and that’s exactly what’s happened,” Taylor says.
“When we started, Melbourne had one summer musical plus our three musicals every year and that was it,” Mackenzie-Forbes adds. “We’ve helped artists who weren’t ready to go straight into a long-running commercial musical; they needed the experience and a leg-up first. Now you have Opera Australia, Victorian Opera and the Melbourne Theatre Company doing musicals, which is wonderful.”
Pratt’s habit of greeting guests before each show (she attends every performance, not just the opening nights, paying special attention to those who appear shy or lonely) sums up The Production Company’s ethos for Taylor.
“I’m not making this up; I really have seen people bring in photos of their family because Jeanne remembered the details [from their last conversation] and would ask about them,” she says. “We call it ‘The Production Company family’ but only because other people in the industry were already calling it that.”
On Saturday, the company debuted Ragtime, its final show of 2019. Set in the early 20th century, it tells the stories of three groups during a fraught period of US history: African Americans, Eastern Europeans and wealthy white suburbanites. “I first inquired about getting the rights in 2003 but this is a musical you can’t do until you have the right mix [of performers],” Mackenzie-Forbes says. “With everything that’s happened recently, it feels particularly relevant.”
Pratt, he adds, is already considering other ways to support musical theatre: “She doesn’t look back, she always wants to know what’s next. If she hadn’t created The Production Company in 1999, our industry would be far-less interesting.”