|Louisa Robertson drives a crane on the set of La Traviata|
|Executive Producer Louisa Robertson|
Louisa Robertson, executive producer for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour (HOSH) Carmen, is a woman on a mission. At Sydney’s Opera Centre you tend to catch only brief glimpses of her, often as she rushes past you in a corridor or on a staircase, in hot pursuit of some obstacle destined to be demolished before lunchtime.
When you track her down for a chat, it quickly becomes apparent why this OA executive is so well suited to her role. Even more so than her calm resolve, Robertson’s calling card seems to be a silvery giggle that adds an element of fun to the huge responsibility that goes with her position: she may flatten obstacles in her way with the efficiency of a bulldozer, yet she seems to do so lightly, almost playfully.
For her, the biggest challenge of the inaugural HOSH (La Traviata) was getting relevant local authorities’ consent to build an outdoor theatre at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. It took months to establish who would be the overall consent authority – HOSH bridges land (Royal Botanic Gardens) and water (Roads and Maritime Services) and therefore requires consent from both these authorities. Establishing that the City of Sydney would be the umbrella authority, took some head scratching. “We had to work through mass confusion to get to that point,” Robertson says, with a laugh.
Without a hint of the panic that many must have felt at the time, she recalls the circumstances: “It was getting later and later in the year. Once you hit the Christmas period, that site gets used extensively and no one wants to see a barge drilling pylons into the harbour.” In the end she managed to obtain a temporary licence agreement that enabled OA to start work.
|Gianluca Terranova and Rachelle Durkin|
rehearsing at Olympic Park for La Traviata
With consents in place and construction work on its way, Robertson tackled the task of finding a space big enough to accommodate rehearsals. It took a few months to settle on the Olympic Centre at Homebush. “They didn’t have all the time periods that we needed, but they ended up shuffling around a few things and we had to empty out the rehearsal room a few times.”
Now that the pylons are in place and OA has a three-year development consent with the City of Sydney, it would be easy to assume that producing HOSH Carmen will be a song. But Robertson smiles at this notion. “In some ways it becomes more difficult when you’ve done it once. The Royal Botanic Gardens, for example, now that they know what they’re in for, are asking a lot more questions, and they’re being far more particular.”
And not only the Royal Botanic Gardens. Says Robertson: “Everyone saw the plans on paper, and was fine with it, but when those huge structures went up it was unlike anything they’d imagined. They went, ‘Well…ok. This is what you’ve been planning.”
Besides partners demanding more information earlier on, after the runaway success of HOSH La Traviata, everyone has sky-high expectations of HOSH Carmen “We face a different set of challenges this year,” Robertson says.
Having earned her stripes working with OA Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini on the Brisbane Festival in the decade before she joined OA, Robertson describes her role in HOSH as “a conduit among all the stakeholders and departments”. Besides keeping everybody on track, that means overseeing the budget, “which is always fun!” and looking after OH & S compliance, which caused a few sleepless nights during preparations for La Traviata.
|A wide shot of the set, chandelier and fireworks on|
the waters of Sydney Harbour
“We were still completing construction by the beginning of rehearsals, which meant that people in hard hats and steel-capped boots were working on the set while the director wanted to come on site in thongs…eeeeeeek! We absolutely do not want that to happen again.”
Hard hats and steel-capped boots are not the only safety issues that Robertson has to consider. There’s also rain, wind and lightning. But she’s cheerfully optimistic about these imponderables. “In all my experience of organising outdoor events, I only ever lost one ticketed performance to rain.” Rain did cause cancellation of one HOSH La Traviata performance. “The Bureau of Meteorology told us that a hail storm was heading our way from Parramatta. It never arrived and an hour after we’d cancelled, the rain had cleared up and the stars had come out…and everyone had gone home!” She laughs her silvery laugh. “You can only make sure your staff is briefed and calm and professional about it.”
Does she ever panic? She thinks this over for a while, then says: “Actually, panic is not the right word. I get concerned.”
Opening night, for example, caused some concern. “The site was not fully ready, but it appeared to be to the untrained eye.” She laughs. “On the Thursday before opening night we did a 24-hour shift. We have an amazing team; absolutely everyone was determined to make HOSH succeed.
“That’s the thing about working in the arts: people are so passionate about what they do. It’s wonderful to be able to tap into that passion.”
Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour - Carmen is showing from 22 March - 12 April 2013. Click here for more information and tickets.