Sport for Jove Theatre was founded in 2009 through the creation of an outdoor Shakespeare Festival in Sydney’s Hills District and Leura in the Blue Mountains. The brain-child of Artistic Director Damien Ryan, the Festival produced a repertory season of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Ryan, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Ryan and Terry Karabelas.
The company’s first performance was A Midsummer Night's Dream on December 7, 2009 in the Roxborough Park Rose Garden, Baulkham Hills. With Ryan’s house across the road, the Rose Garden provided a perfect opportunity to build a high quality production with a genuinely local character. Shakespeare in the Rose Garden utilised more than 25 actors, musicians and crew, was run on a donation only basis and sold out the bulk of its season.
The inaugural Leura Shakespeare Festival in partnership with The National Trust of Australia (NSW) was presented in the exquisite Everglades Gardens, Leura in January 2010. The festival played for just seven performances and was almost completely sold out.
SfJ returned to the Hills in December 2010 with the newly branded Sydney Hills Shakespeare in the Park. Having outgrown the Rose Garden, the season was moved to Bella Vista Farm Park where the company presented a remounted Romeo and Juliet in repertory with a promenade production of As You Like It to more sold out audiences. January 2011 saw a return to Leura, adding to the shows premiered in the Hills an updated staging of the acclaimed A Midsummer Night's Dream. The 2011 Leura Shakespeare Festival also included three special performances at the Norman Lindsay Gallery in Faulconbridge. This season also saw the foundation of the relationship between Sport For Jove and its principle sponsor, Premier Fire.
March 2011 saw Sport for Jove return Shakespeare to Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden, as the headline feature of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Autumn of the Arts Festival. The company presented a three week rep season of As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream drawing large audiences and significant critical acclaim.
"There are marvellous modern interjections into the Elizabethan text and costume choices, yet it is true to the farcical spirit of the original."
Troy Lennon, The Daily Telegraph
On 1st June 2011, Sport for Jove took possession of their premises on Whiting St, Artarmon. Complete with office, storage and rehearsal space, Whiting St spoke volumes for the achievements of the company to date and the promises of the future as a major contributor to Sydney Theatre.
A significant step towards that promise came in the form of the company’s production of Stephen Jeffrey’s The Libertine in August/September 2011. Staged at and in partnership with Darlinghurst Theatre Company, The Libertine (directed by Ryan and Karabelas) saw Sport For Joves first departure from Shakespeare richly rewarded. With script, cast, design and direction all roundly praised, the production enjoyed sold out performances (including the entire final week), a raft of positive press coverage and attendance from some of the industry’s biggest names.
“The BEST night I have had in the theatre, with a play, this year... Intelligence, integrity, discipline, passion and love are all in evidence in this production of THE LIBERTINE.”
Kevin Jackson’s Theatre Diary
The production was nominated for 5 Sydney Theatre Awards, 3 Timeout Awards in 2011, and a Sydney Morning Herald Metro Award for Best Production; It won Best Independent Production, Best Actor (Anthony Gooley as Rochester) and Best Actress (Danielle King as Lizzie Barry) at the Sydney Theatre Awards; and won the Timeout People’s Choice Award for Best Production.
Sport For Jove’s continued its summer festival seasons at the end of 2011 with productions of Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew which also won widespread critical acclaim and several award nominations.
“This is al fresco Shakespeare as you’ve probably never seen it before: loaded with verve, wit and panache. Heck, you don’t even need ‘al fresco’ in that sentence...”
Time Out Sydney
In June 2012, Sport For Jove began a partnership with The Seymour Centre in Sydney, launching a major Education Program for NSW schools through a production of Hamlet. Once again Sport For Jove was praised throughout the industry which demanded a return season in 2013.
“one of the best productions of anything I have ever seen, one of the best Shakespeare's - and way the best Hamlet. Truly do your mind, your soul and your love of theatre a favour and go and see it. I went to a school's session today - you could have heard a pin drop.”
James Waites, Theatre Blog, former SMH critic
Sport for Jove moves forward into the 2012/13 Summer Season with a new exciting repertory of Twelfth Night and a double billing of The Comedy of Errors and The Tempest. In 2013, Sport For Jove will stage 3 major productions, from 3 directors in 3 Sydney venues, employing over 50 artists and technical staff, and looks forward to expanding its education program to more NSW schools.