Reflecting on 17 years at Terrapin with Kevin O’Loghlin
After more than 17 years at Terrapin, my journey is coming to an end. I joined the company as General Manager in January 2006, and in early 2018 decided that it was time to get more balance into the work/life thing and move to part time, aiming to provide bookkeeping services to arts and other not-for-profit organisations. I was fortunate that Terrapin decided to restructure at that point and I was happily able to keep working for the company as its Finance Officer.
I moved to Queensland in late 2021 and continued working remotely for Terrapin, but now that balance thing has tipped fully towards the life part and I’m giving up the bills for bridge, bowls and body-boarding.
Terrapin in 2006 was a small company of two full time staff, the occasional part-timer and the goodwill of artists and arts workers. Its bedrock, staging shows in Tasmanian schools, provided stable, but stagnant, output; with the company trying to establish regular Tasmanian in-theatre engagements and out-of-state touring. The company had managed the occasional mainland and the odd international engagements previously; under the directorship of Annette Downs, the first international tours were undertaken – Desires to Budapest, and later Little Red to Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. The Big Friendly Giant also undertook massive successful mainland tours; as a theatre manager from Victoria, I had previously staged this as part of one of its tours. But it was difficult to maintain ongoing touring networks, achieving only the odd one-off international and national tours of other shows.
The little show that could
In late 2006 Frank Newman was appointed Artistic Director. Frank brought a fresh, dynamic vision to the company’s potential which impressed our funders and secured the company for three years. With no time to waste, Frank and I began using our contacts and making connections, with fellow artists and organisations in Tasmania and the mainland. With the confidence and support of the Australia Council for the Arts, we forged connections into international arts markets.
One of Frank’s early works, Boats, became the little show that could. Initially seen in Tasmanian school halls, over 400 performances later the show would be seen all around the world, and be part of a national controversy, when a different production was announced as the winner of Best Production for Children on the night of the 2012 Helpmann Awards, only for the dawn (and media) to bring the news that Boats was the actual winner.
Frank’s first work, Explosion Therapy, was seen by chance by an Australian producer working in Shanghai, but in Tasmania on holidays, which resulted in a subsequent tour, the creation of a co-production and ongoing engagement in China, at least until Covid hit and put a screeching stop to things.
These two initial productions opened a new world for Terrapin. The USA became a regular market; the China connection re-opened doors to Hong Kong and wider Asia. International recognition provided impetus to the national arts network, in particular the festivals circuit.
Sam Routledge succeeded Frank in 2013, and with a vision of adding interactive works to traditional venue-based productions, Terrapin began forging connections into the UK and Europe and a widening market of Australian festivals and city arts centres.
A new iteration
In 2018 Terrapin was ready for its new iteration. The little company of two full time staff was no longer sustainable; it was the right time for me to stand down and hand over to Executive Producer Belinda Kelly, who, along with Sam, has overseen significant change to make Terrapin recognised as a member of the elite National Performing Arts Framework; grow the impressive reach of the company to audiences worldwide; and provide greater professional opportunities for Tasmanian artists and arts workers.
On stepping down as General Manager in 2018, over the previous 13 years Terrapin had produced 21 productions, which included two international collaborations, and produced 36 tours, of which 13 were international.
But Terrapin still tours its shows into Tasmanian schools. Reaching every part of the state, in many places without theatres, where Terrapin’s visit may be the only performing art that a child sees that year. That will always be the company’s bedrock.
I’ve had the privilege of working with Frank and Sam to build on Terrapin’s foundations and secure its viability. I’ve been mystified by watching many artists and arts workers display their skills with limited resources and without commensurate financial recognition. I’ve been thrilled by audiences enjoying watching, or being part of productions. I’ve gained great satisfaction in successfully representing the company to peers in international markets.
Will I miss watching creative people fulfilling their genius? Yeah, probably. Will I miss the work? Nah, definitely. But it will always be the best job I ever had.
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