Sandra Bates to Retire From Ensemble

Sandra Bates to Retire From Ensemble

Sandra Bates announces her retirement as Governing and Artistic Director of Ensemble Theatre after 30 years at helm. 

“2015 is my final season. What an incredibly joyous 30 years and it has been my privilege to have shared it with you all. I've had a ball. So if it's such fun, why stop? Macular degeneration is beginning to take its toll and it's time Mark Kilmurry, in whom I have total confidence, takes his turn to steer Ensemble Theatre into the future, without me peering over his shoulder. Hopefully, eyesight permitting, I'll be back to direct productions in the future.

“I want to thank all those people who have ensured Ensemble Theatre has not only survived but thrived over these 30 years:  the creatives, the back-stage folk and the incredibly hard working staff, a number of whom have been with Ensemble Theatre almost as long as I have.

“Most of all my heartfelt thanks go out to you, the audience, because without you, there is no us.”


“Sandra's final year as Artistic Director is sad and hard to think about. There are not many people in the world who give you an opportunity that changes your life. When Sandra invited me to be Associate Director at the Ensemble Theatre in 2005 she quite simply changed my life in many brilliant and wonderful ways. For that I will be forever thankful, and when the time comes, I will miss her hugely.

I regard Sandra as my mentor, my colleague and my good friend. Of course Sandra won't be far away and I will be bugging her to direct every season and for as long as she wants to... So for this next season: here's to Sandra Bates with my love and thanks.”

DAVID WILLIAMSON TRIBUTEto Sandra Bates on her 30 years at the helm of Ensemble Theatre

"The Ensemble Theatre and I have had a very fruitful relationship now for many years.  I love this little theatre and I love the philosophy that guides it and that philosophy has been driven for over thirty years now by one remarkable woman, Sandra Bates.  

“Her philosophy of theatre is disarmingly simple.  Program contemporary plays from Australia, America and elsewhere that have something to say to contemporary society.  Program plays that tell a strong

story that impacts on the audience rather than plays consumed by their own cleverness that few relate to or understand.  Plays of emotional impact that tell stories about real people facing real and pressing problems.

“The Ensemble is a theatre in which storytelling about contemporary society comes first and that's what I love about it.  And that's why in its long history the Ensemble has rarely asked for or needed

government subsidy.  Sandra has steered the Ensemble and allowed it to become a remarkable story of theatrical survival by simply insisting that its plays have meaning and power to an audience hungry for narrative and relevance.  

“Personally she is a powerhouse.  She has unbounded energy and enthusiasm and a theatrical intellect as sharp as any I've encountered.  Sandra goes straight to the emotional heart of a play she directs, and the actors know exactly what their characters are feeling and why they are feeling it.  The clarity of the emotional through line she gives them has resulted in 30 years of powerful theatre.  She does not have the design and promotional budgets of the subsidised theatres, but the truth of the performances she encourages engages an audience more than any extravagant eye catching design.  

“Make no mistake.  Sandra is a remarkable person of the theatre.  For all these years she has given her audiences the pulse of contemporary society.  It is sad that she's leaving.  She could have continued for many years but she feels it is time to step aside.  I'm sure that under the leadership of Mark Kilmurry,   the traditions of the Ensemble will continue and it will remain as one of the most audience friendly and theatrically relevant theatres in the land.” 

David Williamson has made a special donation of  $10,000 to Ensemble Foundation in recognition of Sandra’s 30 years at the helm. Sandra and the Ensemble team are delighted and grateful for this generous gift and hope it may inspire others to donate to Ensemble Foundation ensuring  the Ensemble Theatre continues to delight audiences  for the next 30 years.


1968 – Sandra joined Hayes Gordon’s acting classes

1971 – Sandra appears in Luther at Ensemble Theatre

1973 – Sandra appears in The Gingerbread Lady at Ensemble Theatre

1981 – Sandra’s play When In Rome is produced by Ensemble Theatre at The Festival of Sydney Playwrights at Phillip St Theatre

1983 – Sandra becomes Artistic Director of the Studios Rep Theatre (she directed 8 productions for the Rep)

1985 – Sandra directs her first play The Marginal Farm at Ensemble Theatre with Kate Raison in the cast

Jan, 1986 – Sandra is invited by Hayes Gordon to take over as Artistic and Governing Director of the Ensemble Theatre 

1987 – Sandra introduces the first ever subscription season at Ensemble Theatre

1989 – Sandra directs her 20th play for Ensemble Theatre,  Just Between Ourselves

1995 – Sandra directs her first ever David Williamson play Emerald City

1997 – Sandra’s production of Death of A Salesman at the Sydney Opera House is awarded John McCallum’s Critics Choice Glugs Award for Best Production

1999 – Sandra directs her first David Williamson World PremiereFace to Face and she appears in The Shoe-Horn Sonata with Lorraine Bayly

2001 – Sandra is made a Member in the Order of Australia for her services to Theatre and the Arts

2002 – Sandra is awarded the Variety Club Heart Award for Theatre

2004 – Sandra is awarded the Hayes Gordon Memorial Glugs Theatre Award for Outstanding Contribution to Theatre

2005- Sandra appoints Mark Kilmurry as Associate Director

2007 – Sandra’s production of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks wins the Helpmann Award for Best Regional Touring Production.  Sandra is presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Sydney Theatre Critics

2009 – Sandra directs The Ruby Sunrise, her 100th production for Ensemble Theatre

2010 – Sandra appoints Mark Kilmurry as Co-Artistic Director of Ensemble Theatre

2014 – Sandra directs David Williamson’s Jack Manning Trilogy at the Concourse

2015- Sandra directs The Good Doctor with Kate Raison in the cast, her final production as Artistic Director of Ensemble Theatre

Jan, 2016 – Sandra celebrates 30 years at the helm of Ensemble and hands the baton to Mark Kilmurry


Sandra Bates was appointed Governing and Artistic Director of the Ensemble Theatre in January 1986. She has had a long association with the theatre both on stage and as a director.

Sandra originally trained as a speech and drama teacher then studied Pharmacy at Sydney University and worked as a Pharmacist for 25 years.  Sandra joined Hayes Gordon’s acting classes in 1968.  She appeared in a number of plays including LUTHER, THE GINGERBREAD LADY and DEEDS for the Ensemble and in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE for the Old Tote at the Opera House (which she later directed herself at the Sydney Opera House in 2000).

Sandra also wrote the play, WHEN IN ROME, which was performed for an Australian Playwrights Season, then enjoyed four subsequent productions.

Sandra became the founding Artistic Director of the Studios Rep Theatre in 1983 and directed eight productions at the Rep before being invited to take over the position of Artistic and Governing Director of the Ensemble Theatre by its founder, Hayes Gordon on his retirement in January, 1986.

Some of the early plays Sandra directed for the Ensemble include THE MARGINAL FARM, BREL IN CABARET, SOME NIGHT IN JULIA CREEK, NEVER IN MY LIFETIME, the World Premiere of Alan Bennett's TALKING HEADS, A SHAYNA MAIDEL, THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, SINGLE SPIES, A DOLLS HOUSE, ROAD, HOPPING TO BYZANTIUM, OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY, MAN OF THE MOMENT (staged at the Seymour Centre), THE SEAHORSE, LIPS TOGETHER TEETH APART, THREE HOTELS, WAITING ROOMS, SOMEONE WHO’LL WATCH OVER ME, EMERALD CITY, THE LAST YANKEE, MR HALPERN AND MR JOHNSON, MONEY AND FRIENDS and WRONG FOR EACH OTHER. In 1997 she directed DEATH OF A SALESMAN staged at the Opera House Playhouse with Max Cullen and Lorraine Bayly as Willy and Linda Loman, which won the 1997 Most Outstanding Production Award chosen by John McCallum, senior theatre critic for The Australian newspaper. In 2008 she redirected this production at the York Theatre, Seymour Centre with husband and wife Sean Taylor and Jacki Weaver. 

Sandra has also directed the Sydney and Queensland seasons of INTIMATE EXCHANGES, the World Premiere and Australian tour of DOUBLE ACT with Barry Creyton and Noeline Brown and the national tours of  MIXED EMOTIONS with Lorraine Bayly and DOUBLE BASS with Henri Szeps, which she also directed for the Perth Festival. 

In 1999 Sandra directed the Australian premiere of the New York play, VISITING MR GREEN by Jeff Baron starring father and son, Warren and Daniel Mitchell, which sold out and transferred to the Footbridge Theatre. She also directed the World Premiere of the first of David Williamson’s community conferencing plays FACE TO FACE, which enjoyed great critical acclaim, transferred to the Footbridge Theatre for an extended season and toured throughout regional Victoria and NSW. In 2001 she directed the World Premiere of the second instalment of the trilogy A CONVERSATION which went on to tour NSW and Victoria in 2003 and directed the NSW Premiere of the final part CHARITABLE INTENT in 2006. Sandra was invited to direct  FACE TO FACE for the Perth Theatre Company, which was then presented at the Brazilian Festival in 2001.  In 2009 Sandra directed THE RUBY SUNRISE, which was her 100th production for Ensemble Theatre. 

Sandra actively encourages Australian content at the theatre and each year produces at least two or three Australian productions that are often World Premieres. World Premieres of new Australian plays produced at Ensemble Theatre over the last 30 years include David Williamson's CRUISE CONTROL, AT ANY COST, MANAGING CARMEN, LET THE SUNSHINE, WHEN DAD MARRIED FURY, RHINESTONE REX AND MISS MONICA, FLATFOOT, LOTTE'S GIFT, OPERATOR, BIRTHRIGHTS, A CONVERSATION and  FACE TO FACE,  John Misto's DARK VOYAGER,  HARP ON THE WILLOW, THE SHOE-HORN SONATA, GOSSAMER and SKY, Australian novelist, Sue Woolfe’s stage adaptation of her award winning novel  LEANING TOWARDS INFINITY, the musical THE VOYAGE OF MARY BRYANT with book and lyrics by Nick Enright, Henri Szeps’ I’M NOT A DENTIST and WHY KIDS? and  Don Mackay’s ACT ONE. 

In 2000, to celebrate the company’s 40 years in their Kirribilli venue, Sandra presented an enlarged season of 16 plays in four Sydney venues, at the Ensemble Theatre, The Playhouse-Sydney Opera House, The Footbridge Theatre and the SBW Independent Theatre.


AWARDS: Sandra's production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN at the Sydney Opera House was awarded the 1997 John McCallum Critic's Choice Glugs Award for Outstanding Production. Her production of THE PRICE was nominated for a MO Award for Best Theatre Production in 2002. Sandra's production of SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS was awarded the 2006 Glugs Award for Best Production and the 2007 Helpmann Award for Best Regional Touring Production.  Sandra was made a Member in the Order of Australia in 2001 for her services to theatre and the arts. She was awarded the Variety Club Heart Award for Theatre in 2002. In 2004 she was awarded the Hayes Gordon Memorial Glugs Theatre Award for Outstanding Contribution to Theatre. In 2007 Sandra was presented with The Lifetime Achievement Award by the Sydney Theatre Critics. 

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