21/05/2021 - 09:00

Cherry on top in Perth return

21/05/2021 - 09:00


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Kate Cherry is bringing her business and arts experience to new projects in Perth.

Cherry on top in Perth return
Kate Cherry is directing the play You and I. Photo: David Henry

Kate Cherry says she learned how to sell art by watching her family make a living from the theatre. 

Ms Cherry’s father, Wal, ran theatres and worked as the artistic director for Melbourne Theatre Company, while her grandfather was involved in set design. 

It was her experiences growing up in an artistic environment that instilled Ms Cherry’s love of the art form and taught her how the arts could provide a business opportunity. 

“From the age of three, my dad would wrap me up in a dressing gown and take me to see work that I loved, and that’s where I developed my fascination with theatre and theatre-making and its possibilities,” Ms Cherry told Business News.

“Everyone always made their money from the theatre work they did, so you get a keen awareness of the bottom line from a young age.” 

Ms Cherry’s upbringing has put her in the unique position of having worked in both the business and the artistic side of the arts. 

She has directed more than 70 professional opera and theatre productions, which have been performed on stages in Seattle, New York and Hong Kong, and is a former artistic director and co-chief executive of Black Swan State Theatre Company of WA and ex-chief executive of the National Institute of Dramatic Art. 

Ms Cherry said her willingness to understand how the business side worked gave her the chance to influence financial decisions. 

“If I didn’t learn how to look at the business side of things, I never would have earned the right to be at the table,” she said. 

Working out what sold came naturally to her; talking about it did not. 

“I went out and read everything I could about people like Janet Holmes à Court; I studied her engagement with the arts, I learned whatever I could from being around my board at Black Swan,” Ms Cherry said. 

“I had an instinctive understanding of what would sell and what wouldn’t sell, and I set about learning how to talk about that.” 

Ms Cherry joined Black Swan in 2008, just when it was transitioning to becoming Western Australia’s state theatre. 

That shift involved meeting requirements set out by the state and federal governments, including co-productions with other state theatres, attracting national and internal artists, and producing work featuring emerging artists. 

Subscriptions grew 175 per cent, single tickets increased by 100 per cent, and philanthropy quadrupled during Ms Cherry’s eight years at the company. 

From there, she moved over to the east coast to lead NIDA, the National Institute of Dramatic Art. 

The changes Ms Cherry brought to the institute improved its position in The Hollywood Reporter’s ranking of performing arts educational institutions from 16th to 10th in just 18 months. 

Financially, she returned NIDA to surplus by implementing $1 million in cost-cutting measures.

But her tenure was short-lived, and Ms Cherry stepped down from the role in 2018 after nearly two years, with a desire to find a more creative outlet for her skills. 

“When you are in a structure like that there is less room for creative thought, it was purely running a business,” Ms Cherry said. 

“I am really engaged with business when it serves creativity, when you are building something.

“I’m not so interested in just maintaining structures, I like colouring outside the lines.” 

Her first creative project was directing Madama Butterfly for the State Opera Company of South Australia and taking it to theatres in New Zealand and the US. 

After the season, Ms Cherry and her family returned to Perth, where her now-teenage son had spent his younger years, with the intention of using the city as a base. 

She was in the process of lining up operas in the US when COVID-19 hit, leaving her teaching Berkeley Rep School of Theatre students over Zoom and looking for more opportunities locally. 

Now, she said, Perth was an exciting place to be, given the McGowan government’s commitment to build a film studio at Victoria Quay in Fremantle, and WA’s relatively COVID19-free status. 

“The fact that a studio is coming here, the fact that Kate Walsh [of Grey’s Anatomy] is living here and is excited about the community and the work that can be done,” Ms Cherry said. 

“I’m really looking forward to the idea of helping shape Australian scripts and working with great actors and continuing to make Perth my base.” 

Ms Cherry is currently directing the play You and I for Theatre 180, formerly called Agelink Theatre, with performances at Burt Memorial Hall in the CBD in May. 

The play stars Perth actors Darius Williams and Sophia Forrest and explores a love story between a young man and a woman who is waiting for an organ transplant. 

It has a personal meaning for Ms Cherry, whose friend found out he had kidney failure when he was young, and has required multiple transplants, but uses the experience as a reminder to appreciate life. 

Ms Cherry said she was also in the process of setting up a new theatre company, which would present something different to audiences. 

The company, which will be run mainly by women and based in Perth, will create shows to be performed outside of a theatre. 

“I love storytelling in unique places and then also I’m talking to a few writers who I collaborate with who will come on board and create work that doesn’t go into a theatre,” Ms Cherry said. 

“We would ideally do opera and theatre in places like the Sunset [Heritage] Precinct or the Girls School, or by the beach.”


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