Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Theatre of Image takes a final bow

by Helen Musa

Kim Carpenter with his artwork

EVERYBODY from Meryl Tankard to Wendy Whiteley seemed to be on hand as actors, directors, designers, stage managers, composers and writers crowded into the National Institute of Dramatic Art on Sunday (September 8) to mark 30 years since Artist Kim Carpenter founded his distinctive enterprise, Theatre of Image.

The company is well-known in Canberra, having appeared in 1990 for the National Festival of Australian Theatre in 1990 at the National Gallery of Australia, “Swimming in light: The world of Lloyd Rees,” at the Canberra Theatre Centre in 2015 with “Monkey: Journey to the West” and for “Little Beauty,” the work commissioned by and performed at the National Portrait Gallery in 2010 and 2018.

Those who hadn’t heard the news beforehand were dismayed to hear that Carpenter and producer/executive director, Neil Hunt, were bringing the curtain down on the company which, since first appearing at Brisbane’s bicentennial event 1988 with “The Sky Wizard”, had brought top class visual theatre to a generation of children, and quite a few adults too.

The celebration and farewell event, which included the release of a 100 page commemorative book,  was opened by Amanda Morris the executive director, Conservatoire at NIDA, where Carpenter, described as “a serial innovator,” had studied from the age of 17.

Former Vice Chancellor at Macquarie University and the chair of Theatre of Image for all but three years of its history, Professor Di Yerbury, said Carpenter had been the first person to integrate film with theatre and reminded the audience that in 2012, his production of “The Book Of Everything” had been named by the “New York Post” as one of the best productions of 2012.

In a video message from overseas, former long-time ambassador for Theatre of Image, Hugo Weaving spoke of the impression the company had made on his own children’s upbringing and of society at large.

Some of Kim Carpenter's designs for the Australian Ballet's "The Happy Prince," 2020.

Theatre director Gale Edwards compared Carpenter to international visual theatre exponents Philippe Genty and Robert Wilson, while former administrator of the company, Lisa Hamilton, described how carefully Carpenter had listened during a visit south to meet Arthur and Yvonne Boyd at Bundanoon as he was preparing to stage his Boyd-themed work, “White Heat” at the Art Gallery of NSW.

In a similar vein, author Gillian Rubinstein described the caring way he had engaged with Sydney Roma community when he was staging, “The Gypsy Boy.” (O Romano Chavo) even approving his minimalist approach to text. “If Kim could get rid of the word, he would,” she suggested.

Whiteley praised Carpenter’s unique sensitivity to the paintings of her late former husband Brett, seen in his preparations for the multimedia production, “Brett & Wendy” which premiered at the Riverside Theatres during Sydney festival this year— by no means, she said, to be compared to the opera “Whiteley.”

As for Carpenter, visual theatre is alive and well and green fields lie ahead as he says, “I see my future years dominated by my key gift – drawing and painting to make pictures.”

Theatre of Image’s production of “The Happy Prince,” which remained in its repertoire for 16 years, is in the process of being transformed into a new ballet to be choreographed by Graham Murphy to a score by Christopher Gordon and to be staged by the Australian Ballet in 2020.

And the R word?  “That’s a terrible word, ‘retirement’ – never,”  he said.

To purchase a copy of the 30th Anniversary Theatre of Image book email theatreofimage.com.au
A shorter version of this report appeared at citynews.com.au