The theatre director

Interview with Marion Potts Malthouse Theatre Creative Director and CEO.

“The one bit advice I give myself, in moments where you feel that encroaching sense of self-doubt is just to remember that the project is larger than yourself. The big cultural projects we all undertake in Australia are bigger than us. If you can think of something that’s important then you’re always ready to go into battle for it. You have to almost remove the focus from yourself.” Marion Potts.


You all know how I excited I get after discovering someone creating opportunities for women within their industry. Well, this week’s engaging gal is the awesome Marion Potts, the first Australian female to assume creative control of one of our finest theatre companies, The Malthouse Theatre.

This isn’t a post congratulating her for bringing “women’s” theatre to the stage it’s about her bringing amazing, ambitious, risky theatre to audiences.

Pretend you’re a fly on the wall and meet Marion.


Martine Harte: You have been artistic director since 2011 what does the chance to lead this amazing company mean to you?


Marion Potts: Personally it means I can do really satisfying work that exercises my creativity. It also means I can have an impact on the world around me – if you believe culture is vital to the shaping of a society then it’s a vehicle through which I can kind of really contribute.


Martine Harte: I’ve read you were bitten by the theatre bug very early?


Marion Potts: My parents were the kind of people who exposed us to the arts. I was taken to theatre a lot as a child but I think the turning point was a production I saw when I was as school, Twelfth Night. We had studied Shakespeare a little bit at school and I’d had a similar reaction to a lot of students: it was inaccessible, it was long, it was boring – it was just very hard to find points of connection with as a young teenager given that we were just reading it in a classroom.

We went to see this production and I was absolutely blown away. It was immediate, it was funny, it was sexy, I felt like I could understand every word which has to do with the calibre of the performances and the production I suppose. Anyway, our school bus had to leave before it was over!

I was so desperate to see how it ended that I asked my parents if they could take me back, it was probably at that point I thought, ‘gee this would be a really cool thing to do.’


You speak about the importance of extending ourselves beyond our comfort zones, what do you mean?


Marion Potts: Oh look this is a thing that comes directly from what I do day-to-day which is direct theatre works. One of the hugely important aspects of creativity is to reach beyond your comfort zone, if you feel fear then chances are you’re at your creative best.


We love that!


Marion Potts: Yeah, but I think it does extend beyond the rehearsal room and I think it is particularly challenging for women (I’m generalising hugely here) but I certainly see that in others.

I have lots of male colleagues who live happily outside of their comfort zone and they take some of the most brash and brave decisions imaginable.

But women on the whole, whether it’s due to a heightened fear of failure or whether a kind of conditioned response to being asked to excel, they sort of censor themselves I think.

The world for a lot of women is outside their comfort zone, so it’s about developing that capacity to believe in oneself and to back oneself and take the sort of gambles that people do and not be afraid of failing I guess.


Is there a technique you recommend when you’re directing? 


Marion Potts: I think it’s a process and I think it’s actually just about doing it and learning that on the whole there are good people out there who are going to support you no matter what.

The stakes are very high for women in terms of failure because if women fail the repercussions are pretty brutal, they don’t get on to the next board or they don’t get promoted or they don’t get the next gig, but not doing it is no answer.


The one bit advice I give myself, in moments where you feel that encroaching sense of self-doubt is just to remember that the project is larger than yourself. The big cultural projects we all undertake in Australia are bigger than us. If you can think of something that’s important then you’re always ready to go into battle for it. You have to almost remove the focus from yourself.

How do you approach programming for each season at the Malthouse Theatre?


Marion Potts: We have a clear artistic vision, the company has values around our work. One of them is around creative risk, we do need to push boundaries and be daring. It also needs to be rigorous, it needs to be properly researched and conceptually rich. And then finally it needs to be about something , tackling an issue or throwing open a provocation that we really need as a society to articulate and to think about.

Obviously it has to be entertaining and it has to be theatre.


Do you have a dream collaboration?


Marion Potts: A major international collaboration that sees Malthouse working with an international company but where there is genuine creative engagement across the seas. There are a number of fantastic companies across the world with whom we are creatively and politically aligned.


You must have unusual hours, we have a bit of an obsession with the elusive answer to managing time, how are your hours?


Marion Potts:  My hours are hideous! (laughs) It’s not a very family friendly profession, there’s a lot of night work, hours are irregular and when you’re directing a production you’re working 24-seven so juggling that has been one of the biggest challenges I would say.

I find it one of the hardest things to navigate, I’m comfortable dealing with boards, with funding bodies, challenging performers but the thing that I find the hardest is the balance, trying to carve out a workable balance between my family commitments and my work commitments.

I know a number of women articulate the idea that you never feel fully successful at either.


And that’s ok you know? Any learnings you can share?


Marion Potts:  I’m really lucky in that I have a very understanding and supportive partner with whom I can negotiate because it is a constant and ongoing negotiation around the parenting roles and the work roles as well. (Potts is married to Australian playwright Ned Manning)

The thing that works for us is there is flexibility within that and my partner is prepared when I am available to step in, he allows me to step in and then pull back. Together we’re very proud how we manage it.

So there’s a shared philosophy that comes into play but then there are a series of really practical things, I have rules around how many nights a week I’m out, how long I’m prepared to travel and spend time without my kids and sometimes those rules get broken but they are there to ensure my focus is where it needs to be for the majority of the time.


Ten years time where are you and what are you up to?


Marion Potts:  I think part of me will always want to be practising, I’ll always be happy in a rehearsal room, energetically and creatively, But there are high cultural priorities to do with the promotion and profile of Australian artists overseas. Being part of a global conversation and being part of the international arena is what I’m increasingly interested in.


Find her on Twitter here

Or check out what’s going on at The Malthouse Theatre here