Kookaburra's Founder Broke
Kookaburra Founder Peter Cousens says the demise of his music theatre company has cost him his reputation and his home.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald Mr Cousens revealed the great personal financial cost of the failed venture.
"Having guaranteed the debts of the company, I have materially lost everything - my home job and no doubt, my reputation," he said.
In recent issues of Stage Whispers I have speculated on what the total losses have been for the company. It's now confirmed that when it closed it owed $1.6 million. This amount on top of cash raised by Peter Cousens - means that speculation that Kookaburra chewed through well over three and a half million is right on the money.
Writing in the SMH Cousens says the debt stands as a reminder of how vulnerable the arts are to social and economic upheaval. He also claims that the administrator has found no evidence of mismanagement.
Well Peter - surely something could have been managed better.
Cousens even boldly declares that some of his most criticised decisions weren't so daft after all and he should have gone harder. He regrets not keeping the national anthem as a fixture to be played before every performance. And he regrets not calling Stephen Sondheim's bluff.
Kookaburra's biggest trouble came when Peter Cousens authorised edits to the musical Company when a cast member was sick.
"Apologising to the world to appease Sondheim's threat to threw everyone out of work for my emergency cuts," he said.
"No-one had the courage to defend our decision to keep the curtain up and I wish I had the courage to call his bluff," he said.
In the current issue of Stage Whipsers I canvassed varying opinions on the demise of the Kookaburra.
A producer from outside of Sydney is furious at the way the media has set upon Peter Cousens.
“That whole response to Kookaburra, with Pete being so savagely vilified, I've found really disturbing. Graham Murphy had to be bailed out by the Government 3 times; the Australia Opera was in the red for millions and also had to be bailed out ... there was no expose on how they misspent or squandered the government money. ... but we champion them when they post a measly 400K surplus!!”
“In the commercial theatre investors know the arena is speculative ... high returns for high risk, no one forces the money out of their wallets; that's the partnership. Spamalot, High School Musical, Man of La Mancha, Eureka in recent times have all lost money for their investors ... not one of the producers made front page.”
Other reactions have been less sympathetic.
A common thread is that Peter Cousens was counseled many times by senior people in the industry about the direction of the company and ignored them.
One reader wrote.
“Your analysis of Kookaburra was balanced and insightful. As I told the company since day one Kookaburra should have put on Australian musicals from the start and always used their headquarters, the old Phillip Theatre, to stage all their shows.
“They had everything in one place and a beaut space to hold the numbers who'd support Aussie musicals and concert stagings of American classics.”
“I think they threw away what they should have been about and did so with catastrophic programming.”
David Spicer’s original feature on Kookaburra for Stage Whispers March / April edition can now be read on-line by visiting the Subscribe area of this website.