Sydney Theatre Company was formed in December 1978, following the closure of The Old Tote Theatre Company the month before.
The then Premier, the Hon. Neville Wran, approached Elizabeth Butcher who had been seconded from NIDA to administer the Old Tote, and asked her to set up a new state theatre company, to perform in the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House.
Butcher established its legal identity and managerial structure, and proposed the name, Sydney Theatre Company. With John Clark (Director of NIDA) as the Artistic Adviser of the first season, five theatre companies were invited to produce six plays to be presented by STC as the 1979 Interim Season in the Drama Theatre.
The first production, by The Paris Company, was A Cheery Soul, by Patrick White, Australia's Nobel Laureate for Literature, directed by Jim Sharman, featuring Robyn Nevin as Miss Docker.
In June 1979, Richard Wherrett, then one of Nimrod Theatre's co-Artistic Directors, was appointed Artistic Director of STC to plan and organise activities for the 1980 season. The first STC-produced play was The Sunny South, 1 January 1980, by George Darrell, with music by Terence Clarke, directed by Richard Wherrett, assisted by John Gaden.
In its early years the company operated out of several rented premises around the city, producing 38 productions in five separate venues. Elizabeth Butcher, STC Administrator, was given the task of finding one location that could house all the activities of the company, and a theatre.
After an extensive search, Butcher had the vision to propose the derelict Walsh Bay Wharf 4/5 as STC's new home, immediately envisaging the capacity of the building to fulfill all requirements of space, location and additional venue.
More than three years of obstacles budgetary and bureaucratic overcome, on 12 September 1983, NSW Premier, the Hon. Neville Wran, announced that the State Government had approved the expenditure of $3.5 million dollars to finance the re-cycling project. The 60-year old ironbark timber wharf warehouse built to load cargo onto ships tied up alongside, was converted into premises suitable for creating, producing, performing and enjoying theatre, without sacrificing its historical integrity or context.
The Wharf was officially handed over to STC in a plaque-unveiling ceremony on 13 December, 1984. In 1985, The Wharf, by architects Vivian Fraser in association with NSW Govt Architect JW Thomson, won the Sir John Sulman Medal awarded by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (NSW Chapter) for a work of excellence in public and commercial architecture.
The first STC production in The Wharf Theatre (now Wharf 1), 17 January 1985, was Late Arrivals, by Pamela van Amstel, directed by Wayne Harrison in his directorial debut. (Wayne Harrison went on to become the second Artistic Director of the company, in 1990.) The play was part of a season of one-act plays called Shorts at the Wharf.
Since 1984, and the visionary adaptation and re-use of an industrial site by Sydney Theatre Company, Walsh Bay has been transformed into an arts precinct and residential area, which continues to attract adjunct services.
Other performing arts companies and organisations now enjoy premises at The Wharf, including Sydney Dance Company, Ausdance, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Gondwana Choirs, Sydney Children's Choir, The Song Company, Australian Theatre for Young People, Regional Arts, Accessible Arts and Bangarra Dance Theatre.
Nearly a quarter of a century's use later, The Wharf, by Vivian Fraser, in association with the NSW Government Architect, was presented the RAIA 25 Year Award for Enduring Architecture by the Institute.
Sydney Theatre Company Artistic Directors
- 2016 Jonathan Church
- 2013-2015 Andrew Upton
- 2008-2012 Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett
- 1999-2007 Robyn Nevin
- 1990-1999 Wayne Harrison
- 1979-1990 Richard Wherrett
- 1978-1979 Elizabeth Butcher (STC Administrator)
- 1979 John Clark
Image from State Records NSW: NRS 9856, Glass negatives [Maritime Services Board], Digital ID: 9856_2017_2017000219-Burns Philp wharf 7, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, 1949.