Learn about Jove’s history, artistic mission, and more
History of Jove
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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 saw the foundation of the relationship between SFJ and its principal sponsor, Premier Fire.
March 2011 saw SFJ 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.
On 1st June 2011, SFJ took possession of their premises at 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 SFJ’s 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 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.
SFJ 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.
“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
In June 2012, SFJ began a partnership with The Seymour Centre in Sydney, launching a major Education program for NSW schools through a production of Hamlet. Once again SFJ was praised throughout the industry which demanded a return season in 2013. A partnership was also begun with Riverside Theatres in Parramatta when a production of Hamlet was taken there and an intensive symposium schedule for Drama students was also started.
For the 2012/13 Summer Season SFJ presented a new exciting repertory of Twelfth Night, and a double billing of The Comedy of Errors and The Tempest. In 2013, SFJ staged 3 major productions and expanded its education program to more NSW schools.
2013 saw exciting industry recognition for SFJ’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac; this came in the form of multiple award wins at the Sydney Theatre Awards, including Best Independent Production and Best Direction of an Independent Production for Ryan.
Over the next few years, SFJ continued their now established Summer Season at both Leura and Bella Vista Farm, where familiar faces continued to return each year and enjoy the wonder of Shakespeare outdoors.
SFJ also continued to stage adored mainstage productions. In 2014, SFJ staged 5 new hit productions, including All’s Well That Ends Well, A Doll’s House, The Crucible, The Comedy of Errors, and Othello.
AWTEW was winner of the Sydney Theatre Award Best Independent Production, Best Sound Design of an Independent Production, and Best Lighting Design of an Independent Production, while The Crucible, A Doll’s House, and Comedy of Errors all walked away with Best Actor and Actress awards.
In 2015, in partnership with the Seymour Centre, SFJ staged a production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men directed by Iain Sinclair. This production won many awards at the Sydney Theatre Awards, including Best Independent Production, Best Direction of an Independent Production, and Best Stage Design of an Independent Production.
“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
In 2016, SFJ staged the Ancient Greek classic Antigone, co-directed by Damien Ryan and Terry Karabeles and starring Andrea Demetriades and William Zappa. This production also took home a number of Sydney Theatre Awards, including Best Direction of an Independent Production, Best Female Actor, Best Male Actor, Best Stage Design, Best Lighting Design, and Best Costume Design. There were also a fantastic productions of Michael Gow’s Away, co-directed by Ryan and Samantha Young, and The Taming of the Shrew directed by Ryan.
2017 was yet another great year for SFJ productions with a re-staging of Cyrano de Bergerac, Howard
"...this is marvellous entertainment from one of our finest directors and a terrific company. Do not miss."
Barker’s No End of Blame directed by Ryan, and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest directed by Kim Hardwick.
Then in 2018, SFJ had a very significant year that marked 10 years of incredible theatre-making and 10 summers of outdoor Shakespeare. It was celebrated with their most ambitious season yet in Rose Riot. This was an adaptation by Ryan of Shakespeare’s extraordinary history cycle, broken into two productions that made a full cycle: The Hollow Crown (Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V) and The Wars of the Roses (Henry VI and Richard III). 2018 also saw productions of Moby Dick directed by Adam Cook and a new play by Alana Valentine, Ear to the Edge of Time directed by Nadia Tass.
"Damien Ryan directs his adaptation with astonishing clarity and imagination. It is a herculean undertaking. At about four hours, the energy of these warring roses does not wilt."
In 2019, SFJ’s Education Season continued to grow, engaging more than 35,500 students across over 300 schools. Along with this, a new Summer Season venue was added in Parramatta at Old Government House. That year, a new production of Romeo and Juliet directed by Ryan, and Twelfth Night directed by Christopher Stollery, were staged for audiences across all three venues.
Then, like much of the theatre industry across the globe, SFJ faced a difficult year in 2020 with the effects of COVID. Despite theatre closures, SFJ took on the Herculean task of digitising their Education Season content to ensure that students and teachers across NSW were still able to gain valuable educational content. This migration to a digital
space included sharing production videos of the most loved productions, along with cast Q+As, and the creation of all new Digital Symposiums.
In 2021, SFJ look forward to continuing their much-loved Education Season, along with the Seymour Centre and Riverside Theatres, while also bringing some exciting new work to the world. Despite the hardships, SFJ have continued to thrive and bring the magic of Shakespeare and the classics to audiences across NSW.
Sport for Jove's
Sport for Jove Theatre:
is determined to establish an original, compelling and energetic new theatrical voice in Australia
is a repertory theatre company, committed to offering audiences access to the lost tradition of ‘playing in rep’ – an exciting perspective on storytelling and the versatility of the actor’s and designer’s art
is an actor’s company, treating actors with respect and seeking to inspire excellence and humanity in all aspects of its work – a place where actors can feel they create and possess the work
is committed to nurturing and challenging young artists - actors, directors, playwrights, designers and technicians – through practical connection with the best industry professionals
is determined to work patiently and consistently toward new boundaries in the production of classical theatre in Australia - from Greeks to Shakespeare and modern classics
is dedicated to developing, workshopping and producing new Australian plays in Sydney and NSW regional venues
is founded on its members’ excellence in Education, and will provide a bold, vigorous and inventive program of syllabus-based works for NSW students and teachers through its ‘Rough Magic’ Education Program
is committed to offering audiences and artists a detailed, insightful, intelligent, surprising and affordable experience every time they come to the theatre
the company was founded with a commitment to gender parity and cultural diversity and continues that commitment today
Philosophy and Practice
“…when the world loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood, its common experience.
No mortal child was ever begot, only an immortal common image…”
Not many days go by when I don’t ask myself the question: why is it necessary to keep the flame of these old classic plays fresh and vital for future audiences? Why do Shakespeare anymore?
I hope we never stop asking the question because producing Shakespeare can never just become a reflex action, a simple exercise in bardolatory. And some days, as I drive out to a new school to speak to students or head into rehearsal on a 400-year-old English play, I lose faith in my ‘stock’ answers to that question. But with each renewal of contact with these plays, and with each new audience member I meet who has never experienced or ‘understood’ Shakespeare’s work before, the question answers itself exponentially.
The exhaustive interrogation of thought and human behaviour in Shakespeare’s plays is honest, compassionate and it changes the way I think, the things I feel, and the way I see the world, and it does those things for all of us when that special connection comes in the theatre. His plays are fuelled by a faith that we like Prospero or like Cordelia have the capacity to change, to forgive and to tell the truth.
It is no great mystery that the work endures so completely. Shakespeare’s observation of us remains painfully accurate and subversive. The language is inspiring, daring, playful and filled with extravagant flair and soaring emotional intensity. The plays never preach to our understanding but leave us with questions and humane challenges, allowing audiences to see themselves and their aspirations and concerns reflected on the stage, particularly in the way the plays obsess with the basic concept of living in a family and a community. They are like X-rays of the internal experience of being human, while also celebrating with vividness and popular appeal our relationships to each other.
In talking and presenting work to young people particularly, I profoundly believe in the enduring social value of these stories, their provocative questioning of human systems and instincts, their immense force as a poetic communal experience, and their open-ended capacity to reflect the personal and cultural experience of different peoples, different generations and different artistic tastes and styles.
And quite simply these plays always ask more of the performer. We are excited and inspired by the recurrent challenge that emerges for actors working on the plays of Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Chekhov in terms of the vast and ever-deepening imaginationthey demand, “that not-withstanding [its] capacity, receiveth as the sea”.
The Ancient Greeks placed the actor at the centre of that experience, consistently making powerful links between the actor (the human body, the mind, the instincts) and the musculature of the theatre itself, as if they were essentially one. They thrive on the palpable presence of the sacred, intangible, magical possibilities of performance when fuelled by an enlightened inner ‘life’.
As Peter Brook says, “If habit leads us to believe that theatre must begin with a stage, scenery, lights, music, armchairs…we set off on the wrong track…there is only one thing theatre needs: the human element.” In Japanese actor Yoshi Oida’s judgement, again, the actor and the theatre are, literally, one – “In Japanese the word for stage is butai, bu meaning ‘dance’ and tai meaning stage. Literally, ‘the place of dancing’. However, the word tai also means ‘body’, which suggests an alternate reading: ‘body of dancing’…in other words, the stage dances”, as if come to life. We dream at SFJ of a theatre experience that is richly physical, painstakingly rigorous in its control and understanding of text and ensemble-based in its storytelling.
Voice teacher Kristen Linklater has always been a passionate advocate of the specialisation and imagination required to bring Shakespeare alive - “Personal truth sometimes seems too small for Shakespeare’s poetic grandeur…classical drama has to be played on a human instrument that is radically altered even from a hundred years ago.” That instrument, “the twentieth century voice”, particularly in Shakespeare’s theatre of words, of emotional and linguistic ‘extremity’, must be reawakened to the “language of extreme expression” capable of coping with the “visceral and spiritual urgency” of work such as Shakespeare’s.
But above all it is the theatricality of the plays that can charm and dazzle us. Shakespeare’s art requires custodians and without detailed, insightful, intelligent, surprising and affordable productions of the work, there is no way to sustain a worthy or valuable role for Shakespeare and classical drama in any society or school curriculum. People, particularly the next generation of Australian theatre-goers need to ‘experience’ the work to recognise its worth.
Sport for Jove Theatre was founded with the intention of offering actors and audiences, both young and experienced, the opportunity to play with these ideas and goals in mind, to work patiently and consistently, to achieve new boundaries in the production of classical theatre in Australia.
Damien Ryan, Artistic Director