Interview: Harvest Rain's Tim O'Connor
Katherine Sullivan | On 28, Sep 2015
He has worked with some of Australia’s most respected performers, having directed Ian Stenlake and Val Lehman in Oklahoma!,Amanda Muggleton in Blood Brothers, Daryl Somers in Guys and DollsÂ and Frank Woodley, Simon Gallaher, Jon English and Julie Anthony in Spamalot (which won a Matilda Award for Best Musical in 2014).
Â In 2014, he mounted an arena production of Cats starring Marina Prior alongside over 800 performers at the Brisbane Convention Centre. It was seen by over 13,000 people and went on to become the largest production of Cats ever staged in the southern hemisphere. He also produced the 30th anniversary production of The Pirates of Penzance starring Andrew O’Keefe, Nancye Hayes and John Wood, directed by Simon Gallaher.
Tim has received 9 Del Arte Chart awards for his work in the theatre and won a Groundling Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Queensland Theatre Industry. In 2012 he was nominated as Brisbane Person of the Year and in 2014 he won a gold Matilda Award for his work with Harvest Rain.
Â His next project will be directing Into the Woods at Qpac in October 2015.Â Following that he will produce an arena production of Hairspray at the Brisbane Convention Centre in 2016.
TCI:Â How did you come to be the CEO and Artistic Director of Harvest Rain Theatre Company?
Tim O’Connor: Itâ€™s a long storyâ€¦..but if I tell the quick version, basically when I left school all I wanted to do was become a director and a producer and run a theatre company, so instead of going to university I just attached myself to Harvest Rain and volunteered in the office, answering phones and making coffee. I did that for 3 years, every day, for no money (I was very poor as a result) but after a while Iâ€™d been there so long that people came to rely on me for important tasks and they eventually had to employ me. Over time, I took on more and more responsibility and as the people who were running the company at the time started to move on to other ventures, I was able to start taking the reigns. It was all very accidental – I was in the right place at the right time. But at the same time, I worked really hard (for no money!) to be in that right place at the right timeâ€¦..and I donâ€™t believe in accidents! It all happened for a reasonâ€¦.and here we are now!
TCI:Do you remember the first ever show you went to as a child and the impact that it had?
Tim O’Connor: Vividly, and do you know whatâ€™s hilarious, it was a show presented by Harvest Rain. In fact, it was one of the very first shows Harvest Rain ever produced – way back in 1986, they put on a childrenâ€™s pantomime called Matthew’s Journey in the old Sydney Street Theatre at New Farm. My Mum took me along to see it and I was terrified and mesmerised all at once, and fascinated by the magic of it all. Isnâ€™t it hilarious that as a five year old, I saw the first show that the company I now run ever produced. I love how life does cool things like that.
Tim O’Connor: Itâ€™s my absolute favourite musical. I directed the show ten years ago, and Iâ€™ve often thought over the years that Iâ€™d like to have another crack at the piece being a little older and wiser. The first time I directed it was before I had children, and I saw the whole thing very differently. Now Iâ€™m a father, the piece has a whole new meaning to me. So I wanted to explore what it means to me now. Plus, Rachael Beck, Rhonda Burchmore and I have been talking about it for the last five years, kind of dreaming and scheming of how we would love to do the show. I got sick of talking about it and decided it was time to actually do it!
TCI: Into the Woods is a production suitable for the whole family. How important do you think it is that younger generations are exposed to the theatre?Â
Tim O’Connor:Â I think the truth is that while Into the Woods is about fairytales and has plenty in it that is â€œfamily-friendlyâ€, it also has plenty of moments that are incredibly deep and dark and gritty and challenging. I think thatâ€™s the best kind of theatre – the sort that doesnâ€™t pander to children, but that presents truth to them without sugar coating it. I think itâ€™s so important for younger people to discover theatre, but I also think itâ€™s important that we donâ€™t talk down to them. I think thatâ€™s the beauty of Into the Woods – it talks in the language of fairytales about some really deep life issues. Itâ€™s something people of all ages will be able to connect with.
TCI: You have worked with some talented people over the last few years from Marina Prior to Frank Woodley. Have there been any particular career highlights for you?Â
Tim O’Connor: Iâ€™m really lucky that lots of wonderful famous folk want to work on our shows. Itâ€™s such aÂ treat to get to know people I grew up admiring. Iâ€™ll never forget the first time I spoke to Daryl Somers – he rang me on the phone to chat about being in Guys & Dolls and I felt like I was on an episode of Hey Hey its Saturday. Totally surreal! Working with Frank Woodley was a bit the same – heâ€™s always been a comedy idol of mine, so having to direct him was wonderful and intimidating. What could I possibly hope to knowÂ about comedy that Frank Woodley doesnâ€™t already know! But thankfully he was just the nicest guy. As is Marina, and all of the big stars weâ€™ve worked with in the last few years. When you get to know them, you realise weâ€™re all the same. And thatâ€™s the part I love – getting to call my heroes my friends. Iâ€™m so lucky.
TCI: It has been announced that you will produce an arena production of Hairspray in 2016. What can audiences expect to see?
Tim O’Connor: Hairspray is going to be incredible. The show is a huge arena spectacular – there will be over 800 performers stage, so itâ€™s going to be the biggest production of Hairspray ever! Weâ€™re going to lift the roof on the Brisbane Convention Centre. Hairspray is such a high-energy, infectious kind of show – people are going to absolutely love it. Plus, Simon Burke will be in drag for this one – I think that alone is reason to come and see it!
TCI: Is there a musical you haven’t worked on but would like to?
Tim O’Connor:Â Not an existing musical, but I really would love to see The Princess Bride turned into a musical. Apparently itâ€™s in the early stages of development, but I wish theyâ€™d hurry up because I think it would be fantastic.
TCI: Do you have any words of advice for people who want to someday direct and produce theatre shows?Â
Tim O’Connor:Â You can do it! I know when I was coming up the ranks, so many people told me Iâ€™d never make it, and I think that was just because there werenâ€™t many people from my neck of the woods whoâ€™d gone on to do that sort of thing. But I say just because something hasnâ€™t been done doesnâ€™t mean it canâ€™t be done. If you want it badly enough, youâ€™ll find a way. Directing and Producing are tricky and challenging, but if youâ€™re passionate and curious about it, follow that curiosity. Donâ€™t let your fear stop you. Do the things you dream!
WhatÂ Into the Woods
WhereÂ Concert Hall, QPAC
WhenÂ 1 â€“ 4 OctoberÂ 2015
How Much $69 â€“ $119
More informationÂ To purchase tickets, visit theÂ QPAC website here
Image Credits: Tim O’Connor