HARD WORK: Djurra performance at Lismore City Hall by NORPA, directed by Kirk Page.
HARD WORK: Djurra performance at Lismore City Hall by NORPA, directed by Kirk Page. Marc Stapelberg

Best of 2017: NORPA delivered despite setbacks

IT was not an easy year for NORPA.

Flooding that crippled their offices, while trying to deliver an ambitious program, was a recipe for disaster; but the local team of creatives rose to the challenge and delivered not just what they had announced, but more, and they did it with the excellence that has become their trademark.

We had a chat to artistic director Julian Louis and general manager Patrick Healey about the year that was:

  • I have the idea that 2017 was a surprising, robust and challenging but ultimately positive year for NORPA. Is that correct?

Julian Louis: I think there are many words to describe the year we have had and you could definitely apply those three.

NORPA overcame the destructive power of mother nature in April and ended the year staging the work Djurra inspired by the Bundjalung creation story of this area where Gammi with her powers conjures the wind and makes the first waves.

Losing the whole downstairs of the performing arts centre in Lismore was certainly the most challenging as we were out of our office and set up behind the stage for 8 weeks but the team were amazing in dealing with this situation.

Patrick Healey: In 2017 we had seven sold out shows and Djurra was our highest selling show of the season.

Each year we see our audiences delight in new Australian work by NORPA that reflects our home in a regional area.

That is also sending a message to the performing arts sector nationally - Australians want to see quality original work and a regional setting is not a barrier to that work being made or appreciated nationwide.

The entire 2017 season sold well and we got lots of positive feedback.

Especially exciting in 2017 was seeing over 2,500 high school and primary school students from across the Northern Rivers attend performances.

We worked hard to deliver teachers notes, workshops and an education program that the students responded to wonderfully.

  • What were the most challenging moments for NORPA this year?

Julian: Developing and staging Djurra was challenging as in the last five weeks we had to pull a work together that was complex and ambitious, but the creative team devised a great work and we hope it has a future life outside this area.

We also seeded three other works and presented seven sell-out shows which meant we ended the year on a high.

NORPA's success is testament to the amazing audience for contemporary Australian stories and bold new hybrid theatre and dance.

Patrick: Unlike most regional city cultural centres, we do not receive programming funding for our annual Seasons.

That means we must program with an eye to breaking even over the whole season.

At the same time, there is increasing pressure on tour costs to bring work to regional audiences.

We are lucky to have fantastic audiences that support us, so we are able to take the risk of bringing the very best to the Northern Rivers, and not compromising that quality, because of their support.

We're also very luck to receive funding from Create NSW and the Australia Council for the Arts. That is because we make theatre and can attract funding to Lismore.

That benefits NORPA, but obvioudly has a broader benefit to our community being able to have a theatre making company that can attract and make the highest quality work available to our region.

A huge change has been the addition of seven new associate artists to help create new work and support our Artistic Director, Julian Louis.

Season 2018 has five premieres and several new works in creative development, which is unprecedented for any regional theatre making company in Australia.


Floodwater entering the Norpa office at Lismore City Hall.
DISASTER: Floodwater entering the Norpa office at Lismore City Hall. Contributed Yokok Hendrix
  • Were you surprised by the response from the general community and the arts community to help NORPA after the floods?

Julian: Yes and it was energising and extremely helpful in getting us back on our feet.

It's also a wonderful sign that the work you are doing is being supported and appreciated at a national level.

We were also supported by individuals, family and friends locally which we are so incredibly grateful for.

I also have to say that Lismore is one amazing community, ending the year also with celebration of arts and culture with Artstate.

Patrick: The response was incredibly positive from the arts sector and the local community.

We received donations to help us recover from performing arts companies, artists and arts workers in every state and territory.

NORPA has to buy and pay for everything that isn't the physical building itself: furniture, computers, technical equipment, telephones, etc.

We lost almost everything and raised enough to replace it and be no worse off than the day prior to the flood.

The way the sector rallied to help NORPA was proof to me that the sector holds NORPA in high regard and sees the important role we play in keeping regional voices and stories alive.


NORPA's creative team includes Janis Balodis, Kate McDowell, Mitch King, Jade Dewi, Kirk Page (Associate Director), Julian Louis (Artistic Director), Caroline Dunphy, Emma Saunders, Darcy Grant and Valley Lipcer.
NORPA's creative team includes Janis Balodis, Kate McDowell, Mitch King, Jade Dewi, Kirk Page (Associate Director), Julian Louis (Artistic Director), Caroline Dunphy, Emma Saunders, Darcy Grant and Valley Lipcer. Kate Holmes
  • What goals has NORPA set for itself and what changes have happened within NORPA recently that will support not just achieving those goals but also producing better outcomes in 2018?

Julian: This year we announced seven new associate artists that are working on their own works and aspects of our creative program.

This means we have greater capacity to create original works and support local artists.

This year alone we employed 138 artists just within our creative program, the majority of these were local, regionally based artists.

Alongside this we ran workshops for adults, children and drama teachers, we also represented the region at national conferences and Cockfight, a NORPA co-production, toured to the UK and America and will tour nationally in 2018.

Our goals now are to make high quality physical theatre that tells Australian stories in challenging yet entertaining ways.

Watch out for Wildskin in 2018.

Patrick: We remain an ambitious company and our goal is to still bring the Northern Rivers the best in international and Australian performance across multiple artforms, be it dance, music, theatre, or circus. But most importantly, we are a thriving maker of theatre in regional Australia.

The new Associate Artists along with Julian are fueling an amazing array of new work - Wildskin, Wonderbabes, Rovers, Sand and more - and are defining NORPA as a makers hub.

We have also aligned our team to support the makers.

Jo Porter is a nationally known and respected producer supporting our reach nationally. Our new board members bring a diverse array of industry skills that will help guide our future.