People are the real gold to discover in Gympie and one of those gems is Dr Sharon Hogan, founder and ‘Chief Energy Officer’ of Perseverance Street Theatre Company.
Named after one of the oldest streets in Gympie, the professional theatre company is independent, not for profit and dedicated to engaging and developing young, regional, emerging artists.
Sharon took a year off her job as a senior educator at James Nash State High School to start the company because she believes the arts are as important as the three Rs: ‘reading, writing and arithmetic’.
‘The arts are not an extra or a frill,’ says Sharon.
‘We all hear the rhetoric about the importance of three Rs. I have noticed that often our most disadvantaged students are discouraged from pursuing creative subjects or lives. Yet these students are often more engaged when they have the opportunity for learning through creativity.
‘There are intrinsic benefits to participating in the arts, as well as economic benefits. It’s not just about audience attendance and economic returns. There is a measurable positive social impact.’
Working at James Nash, Sharon has observed the challenges of being a young person in this region.
‘Not all students have a supportive home environment that encourages creativity and engagement with the arts,’ says Sharon.
‘There’s a lack of arts infrastructure and creative pathways for young people in the Gympie region. Young people I was teaching were asking why would we take a creative path when there’s nothing here?
‘So, we started a professional theatre company with some of those young people.’
Perseverance Street Theatre was born in February 2022 and has an office and studio space in a shed in Barter Street.
‘Amazing things can happen in a faded green shed’ says Sharon.
Bold, relevant stories
The company has a clear direction.
‘We nurture young emerging artists to ensure ambitious, bold, courageous, urgent and relevant stories reach audiences of all ages.
‘Our productions represent the diversity of the Gympie community and bring their stories to life.’
In the first two years of operation, the company established the Perseverance Street Academy offering theatre and drama education in a range of formats at reasonable prices and a schools touring performance program linked to the English, Drama and Wellbeing curriculum.
Arwen, an academy graduate says: ‘This course was one of the best experiences of my life; being with a group of really motivated and passionate peers. The coaches who lead the academy are some of the most trusted people in my life.’
In 2022-23, the company also staged four theatre performances including:
- GRIT: The Stories. The Town. The Music. An original play based on extensive research and interviews with Gympie residents who experienced recent floods
- Lizard: a schools’ touring show exploring the complex topic of toxic relationships
- A Monster Calls: a youth theatre response to the book by Patrick Ness (and also a feature film) about a high school student facing his mother’s illness and school bullying
- Antigone: a redux version of the famous Greek play by graduates of Perseverance Street Academy’s advanced acting program.
Actors and crew are paid award wages, while staff like Sharon and the board members are volunteers.
Serious chops in arts and education
Although Sharon humbly calls herself ‘the bogan from Logan’ (where she grew up), she has a long and impressive career in the arts and education.
She’s been a drama teacher, run Queensland Theatre Company education programs, lectured in drama at QUT, USC and Griffith University and has a PhD in drama education and a masters in professional ethics.
A job as head of the arts at James Nash State High School brought her to Gympie in 2017.
‘I fell in love with the region, the topography and the young people and how creative they are and how much untapped talent is here,’ says Sharon.
That untapped talent got a chance to shine in GRIT, Perseverance Street Theatre’s first production which Sharon and the team created to reflect the Gympie community.
Resilience a big part of Gympie’s story
‘An obsession with the resilience and tenacity in Gympie consumed our thinking early in 2022. A record breaking destructive flood may have shaped our focus.
‘We were curious about what gives the people of our town and region the courage to get back up again. This is where the idea for GRIT emerged.’
There are now plans to tour GRIT in other Queensland towns where the resilience story will resonate.
However, resilience is not the only story Sharon says there is to tell about Gympie and surrounds.
‘It’s not just the gold story,’ says Sharon.
‘Gympie was a meeting place for First Nations people. It continues to attract people from all walks of life. I’m wondering about a play about the Mary Valley.
‘There’s significant homelessness and children in care in the Gympie region. There are so many issues to explore, regional voices to hear and great achievements to celebrate.’
‘We are interested in telling cathartic stories with quality theatre that really connects with audiences.’
This strategy seems to be working for the company which is enjoying good reviews and audiences.
’Some people drove from Noosa to see GRIT and commented that we’ve never been to Gympie before’, says Sharon.
Bums on seats is not the only goal: this is theatre aiming to connect with and affect audiences, cast and crew in ways that build empathetic, resilient and empowered communities.
‘People were coming out of GRIT with their hands on their hearts,’ says Sharon, who directed the play. ‘One audience member came out and said I want to see this again’.
Thanks to a recent grant from Gympie Regional Council, GRIT will tour small halls across the region in February, 2024.
Social justice ethic
Sharon aims to be in Gympie for the long haul and persevere with introducing quality theatre and giving young actors career paths because she is driven by an ethic of social justice.
‘We are aiming to build a cultural legacy for the region and ensure that Perseverance Street Theatre Company is an arts organisation that will be here for generations to come.’
FEATURE PHOTO: Grace Martin