Sharp Short Theatre at Riverside Theatres

Sharp Short Theatre is a short play competition for writers, directors and performers who are 18 years and under. Plays are entered into a heat with the best from each heat moving forward into the Festival’s Gala Final. All plays must be ten minutes or less in duration and written, performed and directed by people who are 18 years of age or younger. 

Sharp Short Theatre is a youth arts initiative with a focus on promoting the works of students in theatre. Its aim is to unearth and cultivate the next generation of Australian theatre professionals.

Carly spoke with Producer Amy Matthews about this fantastic initiative and why it's so important to get young people involved in the theatre. Read the full interview below:

Amy Matthews

Now in its fifth year, Sharp Short Theatre is a chance for the next wave of theatre talent to learn from industry mentors and showcase their stories on Riverside’s stage. In order to partake in the productions, one must enter the short play competition for writers, directors and performers and must be under the age of 18. Can you tell us a bit about the initial inception of this competition and how it has continued to grow over the last five years into what we will see this year.


As a performing arts venue- we provide very venue based programs to schools and families. That is, students come to US from all over the state to see quality professional theatrical performances, and our schools and families program has grown exponentially over the past 15 or so years. We wanted a way that we as a VENUE could offer a development opportunity to budding playwrights, directors and performers- engaging them beyond just seeing a show. We thought that best way really, is to provide our VENUE, along with the expertise of our staff. The fact that these students can showcase their work on our professional stage, with professional stage managers, lighting and sound technicians and industry mentors is I feel the most valuable part of this competition. This is what gets our regulars coming back year after year. The prizes of course are also fantastic, generously donated by many of our industry colleagues- performing arts companies that work with us as a venue and share our passion for developing and nurturing young talent. But the great thing is you don’t have to win a prize to get a very valuable unique experience that you can’t get any other way.


The growth of the competition is really all thanks to our participants. We listen to them, what works for them, what they find the most rewarding. We have changed prizes based on what sorts of things we’re seeing from them. For instance, last year we created a new performance prize ‘Best Ensemble Performance’ in addition to the individual performance prizes, which honours the fantastic group devised and chorus work we see in the competition. We have sought prize donors that offer prizes based on what has been successful in previous years, what the students really engaged with. We can’t thank our participating schools and teachers enough for getting on board and being partners with us in our endeavour.


This year, we see 4 new schools enter the competition, which is a record number of brand new schools in the 5 years we have been going.


Obviously the fact that the competition provides opportunities specifically to those under 18 is unique and focuses on fostering an encouraging environment for young people to engage with the arts. How do you go about first discovering the emerging talents within these young people and then what do you believe is our responsibility as an arts industry in terms of nurturing this talent to allow the next generation of artists a platform with which to engage and create?


The discovering part is easy- they come to us and it’s easy to see talent when it’s right in front of you. It really is their amazing teachers who work with them on the lead up to the competition, encouraging them to enter, giving them the tools they need to create, who do the hard work.


Sometimes, you see those talents develop over the years. You see students who start on one level and then come back year after year improving each time- and by the time they leave that have taken their skill to a whole new level. Sometimes, that natural talent clear from the outset. What we do in that case is make sure we provide those naturally talented young people with the opportunities to gain new skills (e.g. maybe if they start off performing- they should try their hand at directing next time?) and also the opportunity for them to connect with the right people in the industry that can really help take their career to the next level (which is what a lot of out prizes do).


In terms of it being our responsibility, it’s a hard one to answer. I am not sure it’s a responsibility as much as an opportunity for evangelism. Get them while they’re young, show them the value we see in being creative, in engaging with theatre. Let them see the light! I think perhaps our responsibility is not so much around offering it in the first place, but in ensuring that if we DO want to be evangelical- if we do want to preach to the young, we do it in way that serves their needs. And we do it the best way we can, only with their best interests at heart.


Can you talk us through the four days of competition leading up to the finals. What does it look like for the young people involved, can you tell us about the process, and why may audiences want to come and take part in this competition?


It’s busy but so fun! We start each heat the way every professional theatre starts when getting in a new company- with a WHS induction. Not very exciting but VERY important.

The students then get allocated their dressing rooms. No matter if they are 6 or 18, they LOVE this bit. Having a dressing room with mirrors with the lights around them- it’s stuff of dreams!

We then have tech runs where each group goes through their piece with the lighting and sound queues. After their tech run, each group gets a 15 minute feedback session from one of our mentors who are professional theatre practitioners. The feedback is usually practical. It’s often their first time performing on a big stage so often it’s about staging (stand at the front of the stage) or about little things than can easily be implemented before the evening performance.


After the tech runs there is a full dress run, a dinner break (again, a highlight for the students!) and then the show.

What audiences get is INSIGHT. You really get a sense of what is on the minds of these young people. What sparks their imagination, what worries them about the world, what they aspire to be, what they’re ‘into’ right now. It’s fun and inspiring to watch. There a lots of laughs, a few tears, a few gasps (last year there was a very distinct move towards horrors and thrillers!) and I always have a great time watching the final performances.


You have positioned the competition as a platform for artists to grow from. With this in mind, can you tell us a bit about the work that the young people involved put into their pieces prior to competing and what you hope that participating in the competition will teach them. What is the ultimate goal for the festival and what do you sincerely hope participants leave talking about and considering?


The work students put in varies. Some are working on their piece all year, some only a term. Ultimately, what we tell the students is that they will get out of it what they put in. For some, the competition is just something fun to do and a chance to make some new friends and have a great time performing on stage. For others, it’s a real opportunity for them to develop their craft and maybe explore whether this is a real career option for them.


Either way, the ultimate goal of the competition is just to give students an opportunity to create- and to provide those who do want to move forward with this in the future with the right basis or launch pad. We don’t expect that every student will get the same thing out of it. And that is fine. Ultimately, we just want to give them the best experience possible each year- so that they come away thinking ‘that was great’.




Favourite production you have ever seen?

I see an average of one show a week so this is a really hard question! Probably the one production I’ll never forget is a little show called “White” by Catherine Wheels Theatre Company in Scotland. It is for very young children ages 2-5 and it just is a beautiful and awe-inspiring experience for these little ones. Look it up. If I tried to explain it I wouldn’t do it justice.


You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

NEW YORK CITY. Without doubt.


Dream show to direct or produce?

Not a show, but I would like to produce/curate an international children’s theatre festival like Dream Big in Adelaide or Awesome in Perth.


Plays or musicals?

I think I prefer watching plays, but I do love a good musical- particularly if it’s new work. I also love a good show tune!


A hobby you have beyond the theatre?

I like to cook. I am not fantastic at it because I don’t get a whole lot of practice with my busy life, but when I can dedicate some time to it I do love to try new recipes and have a play with flavors.


What’s next for you after this show?

My next BIG project is Riverside’s Spot On Children’s festival which I coordinate in the September/October school holidays each year. It’s basically a week of programming for children and families here at Riverside and its lots of fun.

Sharp Short Theatre heats begin June 1 2019. You can get your tickets here.

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