A Symphony of Change
The All-Female Orchestra Behind Bankstown Theatre Company’s Into The Woods
Photograph of the orchestra, above, by Benjamin Oliver
In a groundbreaking move, Bankstown Theatre Company’s current production of Into The Woods features an all-female orchestra. We delve into the inspiration and journey behind this transformative decision, exploring the perspectives of the Music Director David Catterall, along with esteemed members of the music community.
Inspiring Change Through Equality
David Catterall, the driving force behind this innovative choice, vividly recalls a pivotal moment that sparked the idea.
"I was so inspired to see a cast of 6 incredible women, alongside a visible band of four exceptional female musicians," he reflects, referring to a performance of Six the Musical at Sydney Opera House in 2020. This experience served as a catalyst, illuminating the pressing need to champion gender equality within the theatre community.
Gianna Cheung, a Sydney-based music director and musician who plays piano and flute, shares valuable advice for fellow music directors considering a similar choice.
"As an MD, you are in a position of leadership and the choices you make hold much greater significance and influence... Cultivate an environment and a culture that celebrates diversity and tolerance because that’s how we can grow further as artists and as people."
A Unique Interpretation
With a passion for pushing boundaries, David envisions the all-female orchestra as an opportunity to showcase the diverse range of interpretations and techniques that musicians bring to the production.
"They will tell this story in a way that’s never been heard before, albeit still staying true to the music written on the page," he observes. This promise of a fresh perspective is poised to elevate the audience's experience, offering a unique sonic tapestry woven with individual artistic expression.
Anna Smith, a violinist from the Blue Mountains and principal violinist of Penrith Symphony Orchestra, believes that an all-female orchestra can leave a lasting impression on the audience.
"I hope the audience will be impressed but hopefully not surprised that an all-female orchestra can perform with such expertise. I also hope that the next generation of young girls can be inspired to take up a musical instrument and strive for excellence in music and the arts."
Embarking on this transformative endeavour was not without its hurdles. David encountered difficulties in filling certain positions, given the high demand for musicians. Undeterred, he remained resolute in his commitment to the cause.
"I sought help from other Music Directors to find recommendations for some chairs," he reveals. Additionally, in a testament to adaptability and dedication, some musicians were invited to participate on their secondary instruments, further enriching the ensemble's dynamic.
Kellie Manning, a multi-instrumentalist with a rich history in musical theatre, expresses her privilege in being part of this production.
"Being part of an all-female orchestra for this production has been a wonderful experience for me. I have been blessed to play with many very talented musicians in my career and feel absolutely privileged to be able to produce such high-quality music with my fellow female performers for this production of Into the Woods."
At the heart of this decision lies a profound sense of responsibility. David emphasises the significance of mindful hiring practices, particularly at the community level.
"We are, for some, the first experience people will get to see live theatre," he asserts. With this in mind, he believes it's imperative to actively seek out and provide opportunities for talented female musicians, who all too often find themselves underrepresented in the industry.
Matt Herne, one of Sydney's most in-demand music directors in the community circuit, recognises the potential impact of this initiative.
"I think what David's doing in terms of setting out to work with an entirely female identifying orchestra is a good step in terms of encouraging all of us to think outside the box and re-evaluate the people we work with... we can encourage new people (and those from diverse backgrounds) to get a step up and be involved - particularly in seats that are more traditionally male dominated."
Koren Beale, the resident music director for Blackout Theatre Company, played a significant role in the initiative, contributing to the Sydney premiere production of Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame and a recent production of Heathers the Musical. She believes that this decision is "a testament to the power of breaking down gender barriers in the world of music and theatre... adding a unique and wonderful dimension to the timeless tale of Into The Woods."
A Harmonious Future
As the production has already commenced, with only three more performances this weekend, David's hope for the impact of this decision is clear.
"I envision a future where orchestras are diverse and representative of the talent that exists within our community." With this all-female orchestra, Into The Woods promises not just a musical experience, but a transformative statement that resonates far beyond the stage.
About Bankstown Theatre Company
Bankstown Theatre Company (formerly known as Bankstown Theatrical Society) is a community non-for-profit organisation whose objective is to stage high quality musical productions, plays and pantomimes.
Their multi-talented members contribute to all facets of our stage productions, both on and off the stage. They are involved in a myriad of tasks ranging from costuming, designing and building sets, lighting, properties, selling tickets, seating patrons and selling refreshments.
The company rehearses at the Bankstown Arts Centre and stage multiple productions a year. These are currently performed at the Bankstown Arts Centre and The Bryan Brown Theatre.
About Into The Woods
James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim take everyone's favourite storybook characters and bring them together for a timeless, yet relevant, piece... and a rare modern classic. The Tony Award-winning book and score are both enchanting and touching.
The story follows a Baker and his wife, who wish to have a child; Cinderella, who wishes to attend the King's Festival; and Jack, who wishes his cow would give milk. When the Baker and his wife learn that they cannot have a child because of a Witch's curse, the two set off on a journey to break the curse. Everyone's wish is granted, but the consequences of their actions return to haunt them later with disastrous results.
Production images by Grant Leslie Photography.
BTC’s Into the Woods Orchestra
Flute/Piccolo - Kerryn Blanch
Clarinet - Kellie Manning
Bassoon - Ash Hanson
French Horn - Denbigh Morris
Trumpet - Liz Gilberthorpe
Piano - Gianna Cheung
Synthesizer - Noeleen Neideck
Percussion - Bea Brabante
Violin - Anna Smith
Viola - Bonita Silva
Cello - Heather Hinrichs
Double Bass - Astrid Henderson
The Bryan Brown Theatre, Bankstown.