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Australian Theatre continues to suffer a Brain Drain

By Kevin Summers - posted Wednesday, 15 May 2002

It may come as a surprise to many Australians that Vienna's foremost Aussie actress at present is not Ms Kidman or Ms Blanchett. Certainly not Rachel Griffiths. It is Melita Jurisic.

Hello? Melita who? Who is this woman, now the toast of Austria's famed centre of culture? How did she acquire this status? Well, not through starring in some Hollywood blockbuster but through her deeds on the Viennese stage.

While Jurisic has appeared in film and television - a decade ago she won the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival for her work in the Tale of Ruby Rose - she is happiest treading the boards. But lack of decent work in Melbourne last year saw her accept an invitation from the self-exiled whiz-kid director, Barrie Kosky, to play Medea at the Schauspielhaus theatre where the production and her performance were exuberantly praised.


When the actress returned to Melbourne earlier this year to visit her father we found time to lunch over noodles and a cheap bottle of white. Back in Vienna she was to appear in five plays, the highlight being Macbeth.

"You'll be great as Lady Macbeth," I innocently declared. She responded with a slight rise of the left eyebrow.  "I'm Macbeth."

I was sufficiently chided. This was, of course, a Kosky production. The cast was all female. "You'll be great as Macbeth."

Then my rather slow mind clicked into gear. "In what language might you be doing it?" "German, of course." "Melita, you don't speak German." "I'll learn it phonetically."

"Hang on, you're not content with crossing genders but you're crossing tongues, too?" The imagery was ordinary but she understood the intent. "It's a bit of a stretch."

She said this without artifice for it is not in her nature. It was her job, the job she loved, and she would do it. There is little doubt that she will once again be the talk of Vienna for her work.


All this raises the question: why is Melita Jurisic not stretching her talent in Melbourne? Or Sydney? Or anywhere in this wide, brown land? And why has Kosky decided that Vienna is a better bet than Oz?

The answer may lie in a Jurisic aside: "There is just so much theatre in Vienna. It's part of their culture." As a result of this mindset, the arts community is nurtured and encouraged through generous subsidies. In Vienna, scores of theatre groups receive sufficient funding to, at the very least, ensure their survival.

In all our major cities the government dollar for theatre support is increasingly an endangered species. What money exists flows to a few large, well established but increasingly bureaucratic companies. This is in keeping with the recommendations of the 2000 Nugent Enquiry into arts funding. Other tyro groups (often the most innovative and dynamic) remain outside the money loop and struggle to receive decent funding.

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About the Author

Kevin Summers is a Melbourne actor, playwright and freelance writer.

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Australia Council
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