Anne Pender – Taking it to China: Recent Australian Productions on Tour


Anne Pender

University of Adelaide

Taking it to China: Recent Australian Productions on Tour

Writing in their Platform Paper in 2012, Alison Carroll and Carrillo Gantner, put forward a strong case for Australian engagement with audiences in a range of Asian countries, complete with information about current developments and funding realities. Their argument was predicated on the facts that our economy was ‘robust’ and we had a ‘vibrant arts sector strongly supported by government’ (3). It’s difficult to make the same case now after the decimation of our economy brought about by the global pandemic. But the reasons for engaging with our Asian neighbours face to face, performer to audience member, culture to culture, are unchanged and arguably even stronger than they were in 2012. 

In the intervening years at least a dozen Australian theatre companies have taken their work to China. Companies offering opera, ballet, spoken word drama, physical theatre, puppetry and children’s theatre have all toured or appeared at festivals, some of them offering productions over multiple years. This paper explores the recent experiences of three travelling productions and their reception by Chinese audiences, against a backdrop of expanding access to, and increasing interest in Australian performance in the People’s Republic: Saltbush, an immersive children’s theatre production from Insite Arts, Baba Yaga, a children’s play and co-production between Adelaide’s Windmill Theatre and Scotland’s Imaginate, and desert , 6.29pm, a play produced by the Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre.

The paper considers the spaces of transformation afforded by the three touring productions, contemplates what we can hold onto after the interruptions of the pandemic, and speculates about performance futures, exchanges and connections between China and Australia, as we emerge from the restrictions of the past year to re-build. The paper also considers the new developments in touring opportunities in the context of the history of Australian theatre on the stages of China, and its evolution from the first performance of Jack Hibberd’s A Stretch of the Imagination in 1987, to the present.

Alison Carroll and Carrillo Gantner, Finding a Place on the Asian Stage, Platform Papers No 31, Sydney: Currency Press, 2012.


Professor Anne Pender holds the Kidman Chair in Australian Studies at the University of Adelaide. Anne has taught in literary and theatre studies at King’s College, London, the ANU and the University of New England. Anne’s books include Seven Big Australians: Adventures with Comic Actors (2019), Players: Australian Actors on Stage, Television and Film (2016), From a Distant Shore: Australian Writers in Britain 1820-2012 (2013), co-authored with the late Bruce Bennett,  One Man Show: The Stages of Barry Humphries (2010), Nick Enright: An Actor’s Playwright (2008) co-edited with Susan Lever,  and Christina Stead: Satirist (2002).