WORDS BY RHYS WILLIAMS
The Sydney Opera House. Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne. West End in London. Broadway in New York. These are the places you expect to find a thriving hub of arts and culture.
When you have a passion for the arts, growing up in regional Queensland can feel like you’re missing out on something bigger. Getting a foot in the arts door can seem insurmountable. To pursue a career in the arts or make an impact you have to leave home and work that much harder.
Here in Bundaberg, our artistic spaces are not purpose built. The Moncrieff Entertainment Centre started life as an open-air cinema. The Bundaberg Art Gallery was a bank. Riverfeast was a marine school. Yet these venues attract and cater for touring shows from across the world. They show off the Region’s emerging talent and have helped springboard hundreds of young local, aspiring performing artists into highly accomplished careers.
So what is it that continues to drive this success, particularly in a regional area that is often overlooked for funding over larger cities?
Some say it’s sheer determination and a willingness to work hard that gives Bundaberg performers a distinct edge. Others believe it is the sense of community and willingness to come together that is unique to regional communities like Bundaberg.
The Region is home to talented educators, who operate schools like Drama Queens, BTR Music Academy and Encore Dance Studio. They have worked in the industry and are passionate about passing their knowledge on to the next generation.
Social amateur theatre groups, such as the Bundaberg Players Inc, produce pantomimes, musicals, murder mysteries and comedies for young and old. Music groups like Bundaberg Sinfonietta, Bundaberg Symphony Orchestra and the Bundaberg Municipal Band, fill our halls with awe-inspiring music.
Some of the Region’s best performing artists enjoy the pleasure of playing to a home crowd and treat their pursuit as a hobby or side hustle. Others go in search of the bright city lights and head out into the world to do incredible things, like working with Opera Australia, Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Queensland Theatre. They’ve joined arts companies in New Zealand, Shanghai and New York, and appeared on Home and Away, Matrix and Mad Max. We’ve featured just a few local success stories on the following pages.
The Bundaberg Region is culturally rich. Artists are backed by a community that wants to see them shine. Our combined breadth and depth of knowledge is something to behold. There is much to be proud of. We can hold our own.
TIME TO SHINE
Eisteddfod conjures up many images. Fussy mothers, anxious children, a dark auditorium heavy with anticipation and beautiful sounds.
Very different to the events held today, the first eisteddfod has its roots in Wales, with the earliest account in 1176, hosted by Welsh Prince Rhys ap Gruffydd. Welsh bards (professional storytellers) would weave new poems to compete for the ultimate prize of a lovely chair. In Welsh, eisteddfod aptly means sitting together. Today, the National Eisteddfod of Wales continues to gift a ‘lovely chair’ to the winner of the poetry section in a ceremony called Charing of the Bard.
When the eisteddfod arrived in Australia, there was no chair and it was expanded to include music (both instrumental and vocal), prose and drama, even dance.
The Bundaberg Eisteddfod was first held in the early 1970s and has been held annually ever since (with the exception of COVID-19). Children and teens up to 19-years-old perform in the categories of instrumental, vocal or drama in solo, duo or group and are assessed by a qualified adjudicator.
“My experience at the Eisteddfod was seeing my music friends from other schools, swapping instruments and struggling to figure out how to play a bassoon before I got on stage with my trumpet. It was cheering on my fellow ‘friendpetitors’ as they nailed ‘that’ song. It was performing a comedic duologue that I thought was subpar at best, then struggling to concentrate with all the laughter in the room. For me, it was learning I had something, and finding out what that was.” Rhys Williams
While adjudicator comments and critiques are an important part of the event, it is easy to misinterpret feedback or be unsure what was meant. To further enhance the learning opportunity provided by the Eisteddfod, the committee has arranged for adjudicators such as Kate Schirmer (vocals), to run a workshop after the Eisteddfod to work with entrants to help improve their skills for the following year.
While the experience and professional feedback is invaluable, monetary prizes in the forms of bursaries are also given from Bundaberg’s artistic alumni. Talented individuals, who have worked the stages of Broadway, West End and Australian companies, provide prizes individually targeted at performers at different stages of their growth, who possess certain qualities or excel in specific disciplines.
For many, the Eisteddfod is one of the few times when performers compete and see others do so. The arts can be isolating at times and it’s often difficult to connect with those who share the same passion to perform. It’s the place performers find their community and share their amazing gift.
Suellen Cusack-Greensill, a former Eisteddfod participant and current Eisteddfod committee member, summed up the event’s importance.
“I want it to be a place where they can share their gifts,” she said. “In a space where they can lose their nerves, knowing it will be subjective but also recognising that you take on the feedback as an appraisal. Take in the good and work on the rest. Because we are always a work in progress. It’s a place to make new friendships outside of school with like-minded people. Bringing all the artistic kids together, where they can be celebrated for their differences and not pitted against each other. Where we celebrate each other’s talents.”
The Bundaberg Eisteddfod will be held at CQUniversity Bundaberg campus.
For schedule or ticket information visit www.bundabergeisteddfod.com.au
Stage, screen and behind the scenes, many have ignited their passion for the arts in the Bundaberg Region.
The Gruchy Brothers
Tim and Mic Gruchy started life in Bundaberg before moving to Brisbane. Picking up projectors, they were pioneers in early projection and digital art. They started out making visuals for nightclubs, before evolving into creating interactive digital installations for theatres and galleries. They have worked with Opera Australia, Australian Dance Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company, and exhibited in China, Netherlands, New Zealand, USA and UK.
Suellen started singing on the Eisteddfod stage until she studied opera at the Queensland Conservatorium. After graduating, she has toured with The Celtic Tenors, was lead soprano in Scotland the Brave on Broadway. Suellen has returned to Bundaberg to help guide the Region’s next generation of performers.
Di Wills joined the Playhouse Theatre in 2005, stage managing, directing and acting as much as she could. As Arts Director at Creative Regions she produced projects, worked festivals and wrote plays like Blood Gravy. She ran the program Empowering Emerging Artists and gave voices to marginalised groups. She has most recently directed the 2021 Women in Voice and is a teaching academic with CQUniversity.
Trevor started dancing in Bundaberg from a young age. In a workshop at 16-years-old in Rockhampton, the Queensland Ballet Company had one of its dancers fall sick. Trevor learnt the choreography to replace them that day and was offered a position with the company after the show. Working with Queensland Ballet Company and Sydney Dance Company for a few years, he moved into musical theatre, touring in the Australian production of Cats. Trevor has returned to Bundaberg, working at Moncrieff Entertainment Centre, and looks to pass his dance knowledge to others.
Kate graduated from the University of Queensland in 2004 with a Bachelor of Music, and from the Queensland Conservatorium with a Masters of Music Studies. The Brisbane-based jazz, cabaret and music theatre performer joined The Rolling Stones as part of their Australian tour. As a conductor, Kate has worked with a number of church, school and community choirs over many years. Kate is a singing educator, working with several tertiary institutions including the Queensland Conservatorium.
Graduating from Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University with a Bachelor of Musical Theatre in 2014, Jackson’s stage credits include (but are not limited to): Death of a Salesman, Animal Farm, and Hair. He won the Matilda Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2018 for his role in The Owl and the Pussycat. He is currently in rehearsal for Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which he will play Bottom. In 2020, Jackson made his directorial debut with the children’s opera, There Once Was A Puffin, for which he also wrote the libretto alongside composer and collaborator, Luke Volker.
- Harley Breen: Comedian
- Ashley Carter: Associate principal trombone, Queensland Symphony Orchestra
- Penny Curd: Dancer and casting agent
- Molly deGunst: Opera singer
- Paul Dellit: Manager of Moncrieff Entertainment Centre
- Michael Dorman: Actor
- Shane Foley: Comic illustrator
- Michelle Hair: Designer
- Kym Halpin: Producer and director
- David Hamilton: Puppeteer and vocalist
- Liam Loweth: Playwright
- Joanne Manning: Dancer, singer, actor
- Brook McElligott: Actor
- Sarah McLellan: Singer, dancer, actor
- Anthony Miller: Actor, writer, director
- Gladys Moncrieff: Opera singer
- Alexander Morris: Principal bass clarinet, Sydney Symphony Orchestra
- Johnny Nicol: Filmmaker
- Guy Noble: Conductor, Queensland Symphony Orchestra
- Liam O’Malley: Associate principal trombone, West Australian Symphony
- Matthew Pearce: Actor
- Brett Praed: Actor and stuntman
- David Quarrel: Filmmaker
- John Rotar: Composer, conductor
- Kurt Royan: Post producer
- Jess Savage: Vocalist
- Luke Scotney: Talent agent
- Donald Smith: Country singer, opera singer
- Natalie Sweetapple: Singer, performer
- Jane Tallon: Cellist
- Colin Thrupp: Filmmaker
- Kyle Walmsley: Actor, director
- Adam Williams: Choreographer, model, presenter