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self-confessed mediocre actor, the new
associate artistic director of Bell Shakespeare
Peter Evans is neither coy nor apologetic about
“As an actor I was average at best,” he says.
“I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t have
whatever that talent is – it’s grace, I suppose – I didn’t
“But I recognised it when I saw it and I could articulate
what I needed to achieve with it – and that’s what you
need to be a director.”
An extrovert from his early school years, Evans
completed his studies in English and art history at
Auckland University. Acting was merely a side pursuit
through the university.
“I never stood out as an actor but I was always very
vocal and probably quite critical about the directing,” he
“My interest in theatre is the live spectrum – the
relationship between the actor and the audience. I find it
“One day when I was about 20, someone at the
university said ‘why don’t you direct the next play?’.
“Honestly it had never even crossed my mind – up
until then I was going to work in a gallery. But I knew
from the first day in that directing room it was what I
wanted to do.”
Peter founded and ran the Stronghold Theatre
Company and in 1995 decided to study directing at the
prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in
He continued directing until 1998 when, fed up with
the struggles involved in pursuing art as a career, he
took a brief hiatus as an actor’s agent.
“It’s what anyone goes through who works in the arts
really – it can be a long, hard slog.”
His career took a turn when he followed the woman
he was dating to Melbourne. There he was working with
students at the Victorian College of Arts and doing odd
acting jobs when he was approached by the Melbourne
Theatre Company to direct The Daylight Atheist.
“I suppose in a sense that was my break – it got me
into big professional theatre in Australia,” he said.
Renowned Australian actor Garry McDonald was in
the audience when the production debuted, and invited
Evans to direct at Sydney Theatre Company. His career
gaining momentum, he was eventually named associate
director of the Melbourne Theatre Company. All the
while Evans was also building a relationship with Bell
Shakespeare and a friendship with its founder and
industry titan, John Bell.
“John Bell gave me one of my first gigs back in 1997 –
Macbeth,” he recalls.
“I was a very young director and John came to me
and asked if I would be interested. He put his faith in me
really early on.”
Macbeth was followed by The Two Gentlemen of
Verona and The Tempest for the company.
“I feel like I’ve had an inevitable relationship with the
company,” Evans says.
Evans’ inherent talent to direct players around a stage
is incarnated in his ambitious first production in his new
role – Julius Caesar.
This modern take on the classic transports a
momentous piece of Roman history to the “corridors
of backroom politics”. Built around suits and set in
nowhere land, this contemporary interpretation will
speak to all times and resonate in the land of the public
Interestingly, Evans insists he had selected his new
project before the Kevin-Julia saga unfolded – the
uncanny timeliness of the production was purely
“What was absolutely brilliant was that in the second
week of the election when all the leaks were happening,
three front benchers in a row all called Kevin Rudd an
‘honourable man’,” he said.
“Let’s face it – it’s a play that’s never out of date...
These things were happening 2000 years ago, they’re
happening now and they’ll probably be happening in the
next 2000 years.”
The play presents a group of people – politicians in
this case – who enact a preemptive strike on what they
feel is a dictator in order to create a sort of democracy.
“So they have very good intentions but the violence
with which they enact that begets violence,” Evans says.
“The outcome means more and more destruction
and death. It’s a political drama, a suspense drama – a
“Directing Julius Caesar has been one of those
processes that has shown me how fantastic is the
industry in which I work. It’s a real privileged position to
be in – I get to spend my time making art, creating for
people and thinking about what makes us human.”
Julia & Julius
“For Brutus is an honourable man; So are they all, all honourable men.”
JULIUS CAESAR ACT III, SCENE II
Photos: Rohan Thomson
Peter Evans’ debut play as the new associate artistic director is about to hit the Canberra Theatre Centre.
BY DIONE VAN-HEER
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