Rob CROSER ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
John LOGAN BENEFACTOR
Independent Theatre has been enthralling Adelaide audiences with top quality theatre of strong dramatic significance since it began almost 30 years ago in 1984. Its work covers the gamut of theatrical writing, from Ancient Greek tragedies to Australian and world premieres of brand new plays.
The company was founded by Rob Croser, David Roach, Allen Munn and Pattie Atherton and a team of other committed theatre lovers, all who were driven by a passion to allow Adelaide audiences to experience theatre that wasn't being done by any other company at that time.
In recognition of all its achievements since its foundation, IT's Rob Croser and David Roach, were presented with the Adelaide Theatre Guild (ATG) inaugural lifetime achievement award, called ‘The Richard Flynn Award’, at the ATG’s glittering annual Curtain Call Awards ceremony in September this year.
Nikki Gaertner, chair of the ATG Awards panel said at the cremony; ‘It is a great honour to present this award to Rob and David. Through them, Independent Theatre has been wowing audiences for almost 30 years with over 90 productions. Thanks to their vision and passion, Adelaide has been treated to many amazing theatrical experiences. Their work is inspirational and I know that all who work with them are proud to part of such a great company.’
On recieving the award Rob said; ‘This Award honours the many incredibly talented and wonderful people we have been privileged to work with over those 30 years. We have been lucky to work with some of the best actors, technicians, designers and theatre staff in Adelaide. Other amazing opportunities have included collaborating with international playwrights John Logan and Sam Adamson, Frank Galati, Jon Marans and Charles Smith, as well as Elaine Steinbeck, while adapting East of Eden. And also the work with the Indian and African communities of South Australia – helping to bring the richness of their cultures to the wider theatre-going public of Adelaide. We treasure it all but it has only been possible, and enjoyable, because we have done it together.’
In 1983, Rob helped found Independent Theatre and has been its Artistic Director from that time. Since 1984 Independent Theatre has produced three plays every year, all but two directed by Rob. In addition, he has actively sought to widen the company's repertoire by searching out, negotiating directly with overseas agents and playwrights, and obtaining premiere rights to new works. His establishment of contact and subsequent friendship with international playwrights Frank Galati, John Logan, Jon Marans, Charles Smith - as well as former I.T. actor, now playwright, Sam Adamson - has provided Independent Theatre with unique artistic opportunities.
In addition to directing (and occasionally acting) Rob has successfully written many stage adaptations of classic literary works – A Tale of Two Cities, The Lady of the Camelias , E.F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia, Cold Comfort Farm, and The Three Musketeers. In particular, he constructed, from 10 plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, a monumental two-part cycle of Greek tragedies entitled The Blood of Agamemnon which was staged at The Space in 1996. And his adaptation of the Steinbeck novel East of Eden at The Playhouse in 1998 was approved, endorsed and supported by Elaine Steinbeck, the novelist's widow.
Original works and many World Premieres
To commemorate the centenary of the birth of John Steinbeck, Rob wrote a theatrical celebration of the life and works of the great novelist. Called Steinbeck 100, it was performed on February 27, 2002, the actual centenary day of his birth, and Rob conveyed, to the cast and audience, the personal good wishes of Steinbeck's widow, Elaine, given by phone that very day.
Rob's next World Premiere was his stage adaptation of the great classic, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights , staged at The Odeon Theatre in mid-2002, starring Nicholas Opolski as Heathcliff and Tahli Corin as Cathy. In 2003, Rob adapted one of Charles Dickens' best loved works - Great Expectations. It was staged in two parts over four hours, and performed at the Odeon Theatre. Then in 2004, with encouragement and mentoring from IT's benefactor John Logan, Rob used his own voice to create a new play Daniel Deronda, based on one of his favourite novels by George Eliot, but updated to 1930s Germany.
In 1995, to commemorate the centenary of the Oscar Wilde criminal trials, Rob compiled a theatrical documentary on Wilde's life and court trials. Judging Oscar was drawn entirely from original source materials through meticulous and extensive research of letters, autobiographies, trial transcripts, etc. It was performed by Dennis Olsen as Wilde, on the actual centenary day of Wilde's conviction.
Rob's more recent stage adaptations have been The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Vanity Fair, Pride and Prejudice. The 2013 season saw his World premiere adaptation of Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons.
Working with many different communities
In more recent years, he has chosen plays which have involved the company with performers from Adelaide's wider international communities. A Passage to India, in 2005, saw 14 actors from Adelaide's Indian Community help tell E.M Forster's tale of race relations in British India. And, in 2006, Cry, the Beloved Country brought 16 actors from all over the African continent into the company for Alan Paton's searing story about pre-Apartheid South Africa. Rob is especially proud of these ventures, which have enriched the lives and experience not only of the I.T. company members, but also the wider Adelaide theatre audiences.
These ventures have led to Rob's ability to produce and appropriately cast such plays as To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Stoppard's Indian Ink, Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson, as well as two magnificent new plays – Free Man of Colour and Les Trois Dumas, by American playwright, Charles Smith, who came to Adelaide and worked with Rob and the actors on both plays.
The 2014 season sees a continuation of this tradition, with the presentation of Athol Fugard's masterpiece "Master Harold" . . . and the boys.
Alongside Independent Theatre
Rob was born in Maitland, South Australia, educated at Scotch College and University of Adelaide, and is now a lawyer with the Legal Services Commission of South Australia. Since 1981, he has worked exclusively at the Adelaide Children's (now Youth) Court as an advocate and separate legal representative of Children in Child Protection proceedings. He is the most experienced children's solicitor in South Australia, if not the whole country. Rob was responsible for ensuring the practice of representation for every child in Child Protection cases, a practice which was subsequently made mandatory in State legislation. He has advised on child protection legislation both in South Australia and Tasmania. In 2010, he was awarded the National Children's Law Award for "Outstanding representation of the interests of children".
A devout Anglican, Rob is also actively involved with the Diocese of Adelaide and has collaborated with former Archbishop Ian George in presenting programmes of drama, music and history in St Peter's Cathedral. He also staged the Festival Theatre Service for the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie.
From childhood, Rob's abiding love has always been the theatre. He spent many years freelance directing for various Adelaide companies such as Therry, Adelaide Rep and St Judes. From 1976 – 1979 he was resident boarding house English and Drama tutor at Scotch College, and has directed shows for Pulteney Grammar School and Annesley College students. He was a member of the South Australian Youth Arts Board for 11 years, and has taught stagecraft to opera students at the Elder Conservatorium. He has directed Bizet's Doctor Miracle for the State Opera Young Artists' Programme, and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas for the Conservatorium.
In 2013, he and partner David Roach were each awarded Medals of the Order of Australia for their contribution to the Arts through Amateur Theatre. In the Governor's Multicultural Awards, February, Rob won the Arts and Culture Award "for an outstanding contribution through the arts and culture".
In 1990, in London, Rob Croser and David Roach saw a brilliant play called Never the Sinner, about the notorious Leopold / Loeb murder trial in 1924 Chicago. Rob was instantly attracted to the idea of presenting the play for Independent Theatre. This was the era pre-internet, and tracking down an unpublished play was virtually impossible.
It was not until 1991, when Rob was negotiating for the playwright Frank Galati to travel to Adelaide for the premiere of The Grapes of Wrath, that Rob discovered – from a Chicago newspaper article – that Frank had actually taught John Logan. Through Frank, Rob was able to track down John's agent in Chicago, and obtain an air-mailed photocopy of the play.
The company produced Never the Sinner, to tremendous acclaim, at Theatre 62 in November 1992. We were immediately invited to consider re-mounting the play at The Space in 1994.
Meanwhile, John's agent had, very cleverly, also sent along another of John's plays – Hauptmann – about the 1932 trial of the man accused of kidnapping and murdering the Lindbergh baby. I.T. immediately programmed this play for November 1993.
In April 1993, Rob and David were staying with frank Galati in Chicago, and asked Frank to arrange a meeting with John Logan. At that lunch, they invited John to come to Adelaide as I.T.'s guest, to attend the premiere of Hauptmann in November. John came to Adelaide, and met Nicholas Bishop and Russel Bedford, who had played Leopold and Loeb. Knowing that we were preparing to re-mount Never the Sinner in the Space the following year, John put an irresistible proposition to us. He had always wanted to re-write the play, and offered to come to Adelaide in 1994, and work with us on doing just that. Of course, the company snapped up the offer, and John spent 6 weeks with us, completely re-writing the play, which had its world premiere at the Space in August 1994. This "Adelaide version" of the play is the official published version.
John, Rob and David were, by now, best friends, and John sent Rob a draft of a new play about a heresy trial in the modern American Catholic Church. Rob loved the play, and John gave Independent Theatre the privilege of producing the world premiere of The View from Golgotha in 1996. Again, John came to Adelaide for several weeks, and worked with Rob and the actors, polishing and fine-tuning the script.
One Saturday morning, while staying with David and Rob, John received a telephone call from Oliver Stone in Hollywood, saying that he had read a screenplay which John's agent had sent him, and wanted to make it into his next film. John's life changed in that moment. The film was called Any Given Sunday.
Since then, John has gone on to write (among others) the screenplays of Gladiator, The Aviator, The Last Samurai, Star Trek: Nemesis, Sweeney Todd, Hugo and the new James Bond film, Skyfall. He has been nominated for two Oscars for his screenwriting.
In all this time, John has never forgotten his connections with Independent Theatre, and its nurturing of him as a young playwright. He has been enormously generous to the company with a number of benefactions. He continues to take an active interest in Rob's programming and adaptations.
John flew to Adelaide in 2000 to see War and Peace, and again in 2001 to see Cry God for Harry! In 2004, he returned for the company's 20th birthday celebrations, and to work – yet again – on the revival of Never the Sinner, for which he made further alterations to the script. At John's suggestion, the company programmed Pygmalion for 2005, starring Rob Croser and Tahli Corin as Higgins and Eliza. John flew out for that production as well.
In 2007 – after a decade away from the stage – John rang one day to say that he'd written a new play. Having been overwhelmed by a visit to the Mark Rothko room at the Tate Modern in London, he had researched and written a two-person play about that tormented artist and a young assistant.
The play – Red – opened at London's prestigious Donmar Warehouse in December 2009, and transferred immediately to Broadway, where it won 6 Tony Awards. From the moment of writing the play, John said that – once the first production had happened – he wanted Independent Theatre to produce it next, and for David Roach to play Rothko. Even after the play's enormous success in London and New York, John insisted that IT still have the play before anyone else – and this is what happened, when the Australian Premiere of Red took place in The Space in 2011, with David Roach as Rothko, and Paul Mawhinney as Ken.
Fortunately for world theatre – and hopefully for Independent Theatre – John is now writing more plays, as well as his screenplays, with a new play opening in London on March 25th 2013. Called "Peter and Alice", it deals with a meeting, in 1932, between Alice Liddell Hargreaves and Peter Llewellyn Davis, who – as children – inspired the creation of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Peter Pan". The play starred Judi Dench as Alice, and Ben Whishaw as Peter.
No sooner did "Peter and Alice" open, but John dashed back to Broadway, for rehearsals with Bette Midler, who starred in John's new one-woman play, "I'll Eat You Last", about legendary Hollywood agent, Sue Mengers.
Current projects include writing and producing an 8-hour television mini-series, called "Penny Dreadful" which went to air in May, writing the two most recent James Bond films, and writing the book for a new musical by Sting, called "The Last Ship", which premiered in Chicago in June 2014, prior to moving to Broadway. His screenplay "Genius" was filmed last year, and premiered at the Berlin film Festival in February 2016.
Ever-generous to Independent Theatre, John also gave the company the Australian Premiere of "Peter and Alice", which opened in The Space in August 2014 - twenty years to the month since Independent Theatre first used The Space, for the World Premiere of John's re-writing of "Never the Sinner".