PROFILE | Julian Hobba, The Blue Room’s new ED

Posted by Cecile Lucas, May 29th, 2017

The Blue Room Theatre has a new Executive Director – please welcome Julian Hobba.

Julian is a Director, Programmer and Producer. Not only has he collaborated with many emerging and independent theatremakers during his four years as Artistic Director of the Aspen Island Theatre Company in Canberra, he was Program Manager – Arts and Culture for the Centenary of Canberra, and before that was Company Manager at Malthouse Theatre. He has written, directed or produced a number of his own pieces, including The Slip Lane (2016), Bartleby (2014) and Father.Son.Rule which was shortlisted for the 2008 Griffin Award.

Our Marketing Coordinator Cecile Lucas recently caught up with Julian to find out what brought him over our way, and what he has planned at The Blue Room.

CL: How familiar were you with Perth’s artistic scene before applying for this job?
JH: I’ve met a lot of artists from Perth over my time working in theatre, whether they had migrated to Melbourne, were touring shows or we were meeting at industry gatherings like the Australian Theatre Forum. Between those exchanges and my own interest in Australian theatre, I had a good sense of the macro-level changes in the WA industry and the work that was touring from here. I think in the past decade Western Australian work and artists have enjoyed much greater prominence in the national ecology – companies like The Last Great Hunt and Side Pony Productions for example – and Fringe World has become a greater focal point on the theatre calendar as well.

CL: What excited you about working at The Blue Room Theatre?
JH: There is so much energy and impetus around The Blue Room Theatre and I was aware of the critical role it’s played as an incubator for the work and the companies that have made the national impact I was referring to.

For me there’s a voice that Australian theatre has within Australian culture more broadly that I really gravitate towards it because it kind of makes life worth living. The voice is playful and irreverent and approachable. It’s inclusive and curious and unashamed. The Blue Room Theatre is one of the companies in Australia that embodies that voice, celebrates it, and creates a community around it.

CL: What do you see as your mission as Executive Director? Where do you want to take the organisation?
JH: The Blue Room Theatre has a great story to tell about the importance of the new, and new works of theatre. What we do equips the whole community to better understand, and communicate about, the contemporary world, the way it’s changing, and our relationship to one another.

I really see our mission, as a staff and a board and a membership about 500 people strong, is to do everything we can to support the artists who demonstrate that through their work 40 weeks a year in our two theatre spaces. What we exist to do is support the creation of great new work and great artists and make our venue accessible to the broadest possible audience.

As an organisation, we know that over the next period of the company’s life we need nurture work onto our stages that reflects the diversity and reality of our community. We need to enable the next generation of theatre artists and develop the most urgent voices. We also need to be a good collaborator within the sector and encourage established artists to be ambitious to make works of scale and tour.

Personally, I would really love to see lots of established artists apply to experiment at The Blue Room Theatre – to try that work they would love to do but sits just outside their comfort zone. It’s really exciting to see an artist who has great technique but is clearly discovering something new on stage in front of you.

CL: Are there any productions you’ve seen recently that you think will appeal to Perth’s audiences?
JH: My favourite show for 2017 so far was called Still Life and was at the Sydney Festival. I’m sure it would appeal to audiences anywhere.

It was directed by a Greek director named Dimitris Papaioannou, who is one of those senior artists I was talking about, maybe, who has done a lot of different things, like film and even directing events like the Athens Olympics opening ceremony, but always comes back to theatre to push himself and reconnect with the brilliance of live performance.

The show was about 80 minutes of vignettes inspired by the Myth of Sisyphus. It was largely physical theatre, including an opening sequence of at least 20 minutes which was just play with a large block of ‘marble’ that crumbled onto the stage as different performers were pushed and contorted through a hole in its middle; limbs in and out, from performers in twos or threes. And a thin plastic film, that was a roof to the stage, sagging over the performance and filling with mist. It was funny and also quite stark.

CL: What do you look for in a script? And what turns you off?
JH:Personally, I tend towards lyrical scripts I think – Greek classics, Tennessee Williams, Lorca and Tony Kushner were probably the first plays I really fell in love with; and Patrick White, Dorothy Hewett and Jack Hibberd from the Australian canon. I started out loving poetry and I think the stage can do lyricism in a way that other mediums can’t and it’s what makes play scripts special and unique.

What’s great about The Blue Room Theatre’s programming model, though, is that the decisions aren’t reliant on the tastes of just one person. We have a peer review system that brings expertise and familiarity with a wide variety of theatrical forms and work is programmed based on the strength of its ideas, its team and the thoroughness of its production concept and planning. I think that allows us to take the work that’s most ripe for a presentation within our seasons.