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Looking Back to Look Forward



Speaking with LRT’s new chair Helen Johnston about the shifts in NSW’s cultural scene, diversifying the landscape and her vision for the LRT.

The Living Room Theatre is thrilled to welcome our new chair, Helen Johnson. With an incredibly rich background in the arts, Helen is a strong voice in Sydney’s cultural landscape, and her ability to bring together diverse voices and visions and audiences resonates deeply with the ambitions the LRT has carried for the past twenty years. We spoke with Helen about diversifying the cultural ecologies of the city, and ultimately how this runs in parallel to her vision for the LRT’s future.

Over the past twelve years, Helen has worked in large and small cultural institutions, from her current role at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, to the Australian National Maritime Museum, and Fairfield City Museum & Gallery. Primarily working as a curator and project manager, Helen has championed collaboration between artists and communities to communicate their stories and provide a broad public discourse, as well as fostering a tangible connection for visitors.

“I am passionate about working within and advocating for the cultural sector,” she says. “This is fundamental to the value of our society… I see my engagement with the Living Room Theatre as being an important and ultimately thought-provoking extension of this.”

“We are entering a time of interesting change,” Helen continues, “some of our large cultural institutions [in NSW] are undergoing periods of closure due to major refurbishments or new builds. This may lead to opportunities for small or independent arts practices and companies like the Living Room Theatre to expand our reach and engage with new audiences, so the possibilities to explore new territory are out there and exciting”. She also adds that “the new direction of the Australia Council, under CEO Adrian Collette, to invest in new artistic practice has been well received across the sector and will hopefully help to support the Living Room Theatre and other experimental theatre organisations in their future endeavours. So over the next year we may start to see a positive shift in the current landscape to a more inclusive and diverse cultural ecology”.

Next year, LRT celebrates its 20th birthday, which Helen notes is “a phenomenal legacy in what can be a very tough sector”. Helen says she is thrilled to be working with Michelle and the rest of the board, cast and crew of the LRT on the latest work ‘The foul of the air’, which currently in development, and a number of milestone events leading up to the twenty-year celebrations. “Michelle is an amazing juxtaposition, a wonderful ball of energy who can convey an incredibly dark subject matter with searing honesty and conviction. Her aim to ‘give voice to the voiceless’ resonates strongly with me, and is such a valuable reminder of something that I should be striving for on a daily basis”.

“I know I will learn a lot working with [this] supremely talented bunch of individuals. There are so many exciting opportunities coming up for LRT to showcase itself, and it’s a privilege to be part of making that happen and helping to embed the Living Room Theatre firmly within the cultural landscape!”