‘I DO…BUT – 2006’
From its inception, PYT has been intrinsically engaged with the diverse communities and cultures across western Sydney. Our first project Ratbags (1987), written by Donna Abela, was an award-winning initiative of Liverpool CYSS, a support scheme for unemployed young people. The project galvanised local artists community workers keen to establish a youth theatre in a region bereft of arts facilities and stigmatised as a ‘cultural desert’. We took our name from our then derelict home – the Casula Powerhouse – and created works which, to this day, continue to blow the negative stereotype of “Westie” out of the water.
PYT’s ethos was shaped by successive Artistic Directors who each brought a particular driving passion to the company’s program, and evolved our practice in response to prevailing arts practices, and community challenges, strengths and connections.
Penny MacDonald’s background in street theatre and circus shaped Unleaded Theatre, an in-house troupe of trainee performers who took shows and workshops into schools, produced PYT’s show Reek Havoc (1988), and organised the incorporation of the company.
Jan Wawrynczak connected our fledgling company to the sector at large. PYT hosted the first NSW Youth Theatre Festival in 1989, and created works with CALD artists active in the Multicultural Theatre Alliance. With works like Shazam (1989), a collaboration with drug and alcohol service Odyssey House, Jan also placed community cultural development (CCD) at the heart of PYT’s mission.
Ben Ross opened our program up to migrant and refugee communities – a mainstay of our work for three decades. In 1994, PYT employed a design-led process with refugee students in Intensive Language Centres to create Threads, a performance which wove its narratives into the fabric of its extravagant costumes. Ben was the first AD to incorporate the methodology of the Theatre of the Oppressed into our CCD workshops – especially Forum Theatre – which were in high demand in schools and among the youth and community sector.
Under Michael McLaughlin, PYT’s expanded program included three large-scale, inter-generational, site specific works created in collaboration with Citymoon Vietnamese-Australian Theatre Company (Bruce Keller and Binh Ta); Finding the Buffalo (1998), a promenade work in the grounds of the Phuoc Hue Temple at Wetherill Park, is one of PYT’s most significant works. Michael was also the first AD to collaborate with the Aboriginal community; created in partnership with the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council, The Living Floor Project (1999) brought to life the Aboriginal stories and images embedded in the Judy Watson painting on the floor of the Casula Powerhouse.
In 2003, PYT moved to the Fairfield School of the Arts (FSOA), and established an effective partnership with Fairfield City Council (FCC). Katrina Douglas managed the capital development of our new venue while running a program that forged strong links with young people, artists, and communities from Fairfield and beyond. A highlight from this time was Divine Places (2004), a progressive performance staged at various places of worship, and involving numerous religious communities, which fostered cultural awareness and social inclusion.
Claudia Chidiac was the first AD to see the need for structured mentoring and training-based opportunities for emerging artists in western Sydney. These opportunities increased PYT’s reach across the region and contributed to PYT’s solid track record as leader in youth arts in Western Sydney; for example, the Forum Theatre event Can You Hear Me? (2006) reached 48 schools and audiences in excess of 4,500 students. The company also formed The Mixed Abilities Ensemble which devised new works such as Hard Daze (2007). PYT and FCC subsequently entered into a triennial agreement that supported core programs, such as the accessibility program, and launched Shortcuts, an annual short film festival created in response to a burgeoning film culture in Sydney’s West.
Danielle Antaki oversaw the exponential growth of Shortcuts which ran for twelve years. She continued PYT’s practice of developing new works in partnership with local schools and community organisations, for example The Violence Project with Sweatshop and STARTTS, and established the PYT Ensemble which has become a cornerstone of the company.
Karen Therese – PYT’s AD since 2014 – has drawn on the positive identity and history of the company to radically transform PYT into one of Australia’s most sophisticated and innovative arts organisations. A key focus for Karen is the promotion of cultural diversity and the development of Australia’s next generation of future artistic leaders. PYT has enriched and sustained relationships with the local Fairfield and Western Sydney communities, and established long term collaborations with the local Cabrogal People of the Darug Nation, and the Australian-Iraqi community. The expanded skills development programs in schools has created opportunities to professionally engage local young artists. These relationships have built trust, and allowed PYT to nurture and develop contemporary arts practice in the region with significant high-level outcomes.
In the last few years PYT has also formed key partnerships with Australia’s major cultural institutions and organisations including the Sydney Opera House, Biennale of Sydney, MCA, Critical Path, Parramatta Female Factory Precinct and Cementa, leveraging support for creating and promoting the company’s work and artists. By simultaneously drawing in partners, building deep community connections and making work of artistic excellence, under Karen Therese’s courageous and tenacious leadership, the demand for PYT’s work grew rapidly. To balance the demand, PYT has increased the organisational structure to include five staff, implemented a co-leadership model consisting of the Artistic Director and Executive Director, and currently has four shows that are being presented and pitched both nationally and internationally.
In 2022, PYT will celebrate its 35th year of which the last four years has been particularly impactful.
Founder of PYT and Board Member.