When I meet with producer Theresa Famularo in the bar at HOME in Manchester, she’s a few days into a whistle-stop visit of the UK and merrily contending with a heavy downpour of English rain. She’s here to scope out potential venues for a future UK tour of family show Fluff.
Famularo is the founder of Cre8ion, an Australian producing company that works across such diverse stage formats as children’s theatre, cabaret, comedy, dance, drama, music and physical theatre. Additional productions currently on its books include The 7 Sopranos, Virginia Gay’s Songs to Self-Destruct To, Random Musical, Treasures, and Winter’s Discontent.
Unusually for an arts company, Cre8ion receives no arts council funding at all. Instead it acquires the exclusive rights to produce and promote works across extensive touring routes in Australia and overseas.
Famularo admits that for an independent producer such as herself, there’s a particular risk involved – new works, after all, need a great deal of financial backing. ‘There is always something you need to invest money in, whether it’s the building of marketing materials, or making sure it’s tourable and that you have all the bits needed to do so. We have to make sure we have the money to make that happen.’
Famularo takes a three-pillar, self-sustainable approach to Cre8ion’s business model: work must have a global context and be commercially viable, while two other arms of the company bring in the profit – one via corporate entertainment and appearances at conferences, trade shows, launches and special events; another via the delivery of large-scale events. ‘We take the profit that comes in, and we then cycle it into making these large-scale investments in new work,’ she explains.
One such work that has been a staple Cre8ion production for some years is the family show, Fluff. ‘It’s an incredibly funny, dark and tragic story about lost toys, as told by the Gingham family. We’ve been taking that piece around the world for a few years; last year it toured the US, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia. So far in 2015 it has done a few dates in Australia, but it’s been a quiet year because of the cast’s commitments on other projects.’
Famularo describes Fluff as ‘a beautiful children’s show’ that has won something of a cult status among its fans. ‘There are some people that have been to this show so many times that they’re now bringing their own children. It’s a work that is becoming part of the Australian canon.’
The story of the production began in 2009 when Famularo met the show’s creator, Christine Johnston. ‘As soon as I met Johnston, I thought there was something very interesting about her as an artist. I went away and did some research – and then arranged to meet up with her again.’
Ahead of that second meeting, Famularo tracked down a private copy of Fluff from when it had been performed at a festival in 2009. After watching a quick run through, she sat her two three-year-old nieces down for a litmus test. ‘There was something about the show that was really cool and really unique. My two nieces were taken aback by it, as was I. So I figured that, since I’d watched it and had the same reaction as them, there must truly be something special there.’
Johnston welcomed Famularo’s interest, and Cre8ion set about establishing a tour for the work. In many respects, Fluff is the perfect candidate for this sort of recycled investment: a family touring show means the audience is readymade, plus it has a small cast and crew of five and its simple flatpack set weighs just 700 kilos (half of which is made up of cardboard boxes).
The promise of a UK tour is something of a long-held dream for Famularo, and she’s now into the third year of planning and conversations with various UK venues and festival directors, one of whom has seen the show five times. She’s also in talks with producers in the Middle East and Asia.
In the meantime, she’s busy at work with The 7 Sopranos, a glamorous group of professional opera singers that completed a tour of Australia in May and is about to return to the studio to record its second album. The brainchild of Tarita Botsman, The 7 Sopranos seeks to make attending the opera accessible – some- thing it accomplishes through entertaining renditions of popular classics from La Traviata, Carmen, La bohème, Phantom of the Opera, Toreador and Nessun Dorma, all delivered soprano style.
A new production is currently in development, says Famularo. ‘It’s a celebration of the soprano voice, and it’s a work that really excites me because it converges a whole range of disciplines, art forms and technologies. The tension keeps building throughout, and there are some beautiful, humorous and touching moments.
‘We’ve invested in Botsman to create an amazing piece of work that’s something of a pastiche of the opera world,’ the producer adds.
‘Do audiences have to understand the pastiche? Not really – we’re telling a new story, and that story is very clear. But what we’ve done with this show, in essence, is to take out all the boring bits of opera and keep in all the fun bits.’